Pogo’s diary notes from MK to Tokyo: RWC 2019

We’re off: We left Milton Keynes Station at 11:03 on Wednesday the 25th September bound for the Rugby World Cup in Japan via a stopover in Shanghai. Upon arrival in China we travelled into this modern built up Chinese city on the Maglev high speed train which travelled from the airport to the city in 7 minutes at a speed of 301 km/ph.

On the 2nd night I met up with members from the Shanghai rugby club and we watched the England v USA game adorned in my Old Wandsworthians blazer…any opportunity!

Tokyo: On arrival in Tokyo after a fairly smooth flight from China we headed to our hotel in Kuramae, a north east city location by way of the efficient rail service, it seemed to take more time walking through the station to connect with other subway lines which has been a recurring theme! On the first day of the tour we visited Sen-ji Temple which was an eight-minute walk from our hotel and whilst visiting the surrounding market we came upon a Samurai rugby shirt but at £150 a pop, there weren’t many takers!

Roppongi: When you are are travelling away on rugby tour with either club or watching International matches, you always meet interesting fans who are always willing to help out with information. On our first day I met an England fan who put us onto the “England Fans in Japan for the RWC 2019” Facebook page, which has proved very useful for travel, ticket exchange and meet ups. One such gathering was the ‘Premiership shirt night’ in the Hobgoblin pub in Roppongi, near Tokyo central district. We spent a great evening chatting with club supporters decked in team colours. I even spoke to a dreaded Tigers fan. Needless to say, I had too much to drink and after a while was led off by the ear-lobe back to my hotel room by my good lady wife Caroline!

On Saturday 5th October we headed off to Tokyo Stadium through the labyrinth of tunnels that represents the Tokyo metro system. We arrived at Shinjuku hub station and picked up a fast train to the stadium some 25 minutes away, which was packed with mainly English fans. One group dressed in kimonos adorned with the white face paint seen on Geishas with a red flag of St George daubed across their “fizzogs”. They were celebrating a birthday, the old missing shoe game was gleefully coming to a finale as they left the train, ha ha! Once off the train the thronging masses were regimentally moved to the right entrances by Japanese stewards “high fiving” madly and fans from both sides mixed in a cordial manner!

Once in the stadium we witnessed a strong performance from our boys against the Argies that probably sealed their fate in the competition by 6 tries to one albeit for a rather harsh sending off of the Argentinian 2nd row! Most in the crowd were a little peeved as the Japan v Samoa game was not to be shown on the big screens in the stadium after the match as they had done before due to the All Black game the following day. Typical anally retentive, oh well! On the way out we delighted in the win but were equally entertained by the great outfits, although sometimes I get the feeling attending internationals is more about the occasion than the game, somewhat trivialised by the endless attempts by non-rugby fans on this occasion dressed as an inflatable rose trying to start off the cursed spectacle of the bloody Mexican wave!!…fortunately, the girls were happy as they were accosted by a youthful Billy Beaumont…must be the Grecian 2000!

Footnote: I have to mention the toilets in Japan. They are bloody marvellous and every fan I met wants one,…rugby playing blokes obviously. Not only does the seat lift up when you walk in the door, but they are neon lit and the plastic seat is warmed, however the “piece de la resistance” comes after the deed is done, when you can fire a jet of warm water “up ya jacksee”. In fact, the toilet I recently visited can even alter the trajectory and pressure when certain buttons are pressed on the wall mounted control panel…very nice!

Typhoons Coming: Typhoon Hagibis has now arrived and departed creating flooding in many coastal towns. We took the decision to stay in the mountains which proved to be a right call as the weather was not as severe as it would have been in Yokohama where the England v France game was supposed to have been played.

One thing you can say about the Japanese is that they are real experts when it comes to natural disasters and their people obey orders that they are given by the government so the streets (even in Nagano) on a usually busy Saturday were deserted as the Japanese stayed at home. Interestingly we ventured out to the nearest pub to watch the Ireland v Samoa game which was fairly full with other British rugby fans!

To my amazement everyone in the pub who was connected to Wi-Fi received an “Emergency Alert” audio message on their mobile phones from the local authority giving updates on the flood waters in the area, typically nobody from the rugby fraternity took a blind bit of notice as conversation continued unabated about another head high tackle and red card!

What a win for Japan over Scotland to top group A. I cannot remember ever seeing a first half performance like that from the hosts…as Gareth Edwards once famously said “I don’t know about the 3 R’s but I know about the 3 S’s, Speed, Support, Superb”! The atmosphere in the Red Lion pub in Nagano was fantastic, and the Japanese supporters were so courteous. One even offered his stool to Caroline. I am so pleased for them and the competition as a whole. So now Ireland take on the AB’s and Japan the Bokkers in Tokyo. Funny that…both northern hemisphere teams have their measure, bring on the quarters!

Hiroshima: The lyrics to “Enola Gay” are going through my mind over and over again. I cannot believe whilst sitting alongside the river on a beautiful sunny and peaceful day in Hiroshima looking across at the renovated remains of what would have been a fairly grand building that nearly 75 years ago and 600 metres above me the first atomic bomb detonated! I have never seen so many school children walking past the memorial edifices in the peace park, one group after another filed by obviously having their yearbook photos taken in relative happiness for school kids. These children of all ages were intermittently permeated with rugby touring groups, mainly Aussies, like us on their way down south to Oita for the QF’s. However, it didn’t seem right to shoe horn a rugby story into the newsletter under these circumstances, then out of nowhere these friendly faces popped into view…game on!

Quater Finals: The Quarters have arrived and we made the 2 hour trip from Kokura an industrial town in the north, to Oita on the coast. Whilst this trip has been brilliant and the people are so helpful, having QF’s in a town that does not have the infrastructure to host games is a major problem, which is really the main reason for passing up on tickets for the 2nd Quarter Final between Wales and France today! The England v Australia match was a great game and maybe the extra week’s rest for England and New Zealand made all the difference as they waltzed into the Semi-Final’s after big wins! One lovely thing I saw on the way back from the stadium was a couple of England fans pushing a disabled Japanese spectator back to the muster point for the buses. It was great to see and good on them, goodness knows how the guy in the wheelchair got to the stadium in the first place? it represents the spirit of Japan and rugby support in general!

Tickets for the Wales v France game were everywhere, in fact you couldn’t give them away and that’s because it was such a hassle getting accommodation near the Oita Stadium…which by the way was great. We were based with thousands of others in cities miles away and couldn’t face the trip back on Sunday, so we geared up for a day in Kokura watching the games in a pub. Aaargh, first major snag! Unfortunately, the organisation was so bad in the city, that they only had one hostelry showing the games and that was booked out by a local company…panic stations! We hurriedly checked with the information desk at the railway station where a kind lady informed us that we would have to travel 50 miles to Hakata to a Fanzone that ”may be open?” …so that’s what we did. We got to the park at the start of the 2nd half of Wales v France, a nail-biting finish for the Welsh…and I guess we all know who will not be playing for France again!

The Japan v South Africa kicked off with controlled expectation from the Japanese crowd some 500 strong, and they did remarkably well in the 1st half only to be a couple of points down. We chatted to a Thailand rugby international during the break which was a surprizing twist to the evening. The mood turned sombre in the second half as the Bokkers took control to very quiet low groans. The official clock was now in the red zone and the Brave Blossoms were out…bless them! Anyway, no rest for the travelling rugby wicked, so we were up and off again to finally get home an hour and a quarter later but a good evening out was had by all.

Semi Final: It’s Wednesday before the Semi-Finals and we find ourselves without tickets for the big game versus the “All Blacks”, the couple we are travelling around with took the punt before the QF’s and got two SF tickets before England had beaten the Aussies so good for him. We however were a little more cautious and waited until after the game but seemingly that’s too late, plus the fact it’s not just me I have to look out for as Caroline also wants to see NZ because that’s where she used to live. I contacted some friends from the Milton Keynes rugby club and I was offered 1 x Cat A for the game at £500.00 which I reluctantly turned down, but we did get 2 x Cat C tickets for the Wales V South Africa (SF) from the Milton Keynes boys, so that was a consolation. To obtain tickets for the NZ game, I have been putting out the “feelers” all week and even contacted my old company in Tokyo to see if they can help, but with little luck. I still have a few “irons in the fire” and may even get Freckleys’ tickets if he returns home, but that’s very unlikely. I even approached a group of Aussies in Kokura station and said “I don’t want to appear presumptuous, but do you want to off load your SF tickets for the NZ game” to which one replied that I was patronising and should “Sling my hook”! The biggest time waster has been trying to get tickets from the official Rugby World Cup ticketing site which between Caroline and I have spent numerous hours bombarding the site and getting the same knock back…tickets have now all gone! Anyway, folks I am sure you are not feeling too sorry for me and at least I will be able to get to one SF even if it’s the wrong one. I should have had more belief and not been so tight “Come on Dan Biggar”!

England Win: Well, I didn’t see that coming at all, what a mighty offensive performance by the boys in White against the All Blacks. That was a first win for England over New Zealand in a RWC match and how well we played. OK, I’ll come clean we got tickets on Friday night from a well-known source namely Steve “Dukey” Le Duc who had managed to get 4 tickets together. So, as a result of a most welcome phone call, Steve off-loaded his two tickets to Caroline and me, what a great guy! We were sat amongst a large group of Irishmen and the Leprechaun at the end of our row was the grumpiest one I have ever encountered even in possession of a big pot of gold. But the rest of the Munster men & women were top draw! I even got them singing “Swing low” with all the actions and I reckon that the communal singing only happened because I continued to shout for the Northern Hemisphere and I guess the Irish took a little ownership! After the game the continuous theme of toilets came up again, as never before have I seen the queues for the men’s like it with nobody queuing at the ladies. Anyway, there were no trees this time so I hung on! On the way home I couldn’t believe that the Kiwis were taking offers for their final tickets with the defeat not even an hour old, so I hope and believe there will be lots of tickets floating around this week.

As the saying goes “What goes around comes around” and this week has certainly been an illustration of that phrase. We headed up from Yokohama to Tokyo not really knowing if we would be able to get final tickets and in this possible transaction there is no winner and you will always be wiser after the event being told “if only this or if only that”! Demand for final tickets have reached an all-time high and at this time of writing they are scarce and very costly, especially when dealing with supporters from other nations that want to recoup their loses after going out of the tournament earlier than expected. What has been interesting and sometimes really rewarding is approaching likely looking people in the street on spec, we in the business call this “cold-calling” and it has been a source of great conversations and building of friendships. We now live in an age where social media plays a large part of our lives and that is where we have spent the most of this week tapping away on our phones connecting up with the official ticketing site that for all intents and purposes is as useful as a chocolate fire guard. Caroline took a picture of us looking totally fed up logging into the site and I posted it. Low and behold the next day I get a contact from the Leicester fan I met up with on the first night 5 weeks ago. We had swapped contact details, and he messaged me on Thursday to say he has 2 final tickets going spare, …I love the Tigers!

World Cup Final: So, we came up short and now need to wait a little longer to get our hands on the Webb Ellis trophy once again. It was a strange day really, as I prepared well by getting to the ground early and staying sober so I could soak up the atmosphere and get ready for the celebrations that lie ahead…which as you know, did not eventuate!

The people we have met have been truly great and the whole experience unforgettable even though I need to find a new arm and a leg. However, as one wise old sage reminded me “There are no pockets in a shroud”!

It has been an absolute pleasure sharing my trip with the OWMT newsletter and I hope you find my account informative and hopefully interesting, until we meet again…

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