A diehard Beijing Guoan fan from Japan talks about his connection with China dated back to 1983.
By sportswriters Wang Zijiang and Yang Ting
KYOTO, Japan, May 5 (Xinhua) -- Born in Osaka, living in Nara and working in Kyoto for over 30 years, Hiroyuki Hashimoto turns out to be a fan of Beijing Guoan football club in China.
His first connection with China dated back to 1983. As a 16-year-old middle school student, he attended a package tour and visited the Chinese capital, which he could not forget after returning home.
He occasionally visited China after going to university, going as far as some remote areas like Xinjiang and Inner Mongolia and making many Chinese friends.
During another stay in Beijing in the mid-1990s, a friend took him to a Guoan match at the Worker's Stadium in central Beijing and he immediately fell in love with Beijing's only club in China's top-flight football league.
"Chinese footballers looked taller and stronger and the match was much more physical and moved at a faster pace than the matches at home," said Hashimoto in an interview with Xinhua.
He was especially overwhelmed by Guoan midfielder Cao Xiandong's performance.
"I really admire Cao Xiandong's technique," he said. "He was the beating heart of the whole team and the driving force in the attacks."
In the next years, once he was in China, he would always spare time to watch a game in Beijing. He had more chances in 2007 when his company assigned him to work in Beijing for two years.
The most glorious time for the Beijing club and their fans came in October 2009 when they were crowned Chinese champions.
Hashimoto still remembers the date of the match on that autumn night.
"It was October 31, we defeated Zhejiang Greentown 4-0 for the championship," he said. "I also remember the name of the referee, Yoshiro Imamura, because he is Japanese."
Hashimoto had already finished his working term in China and returned to Kyoto by the time of the match. With his season ticket, he asked for special leave from his boss and flew back to Beijing. The flight, he admitted, was bought with money saved without the knowledge of his Chinese wife.
"I celebrated the victory with friends in a Japanese bar. The next morning, I woke up and found Beijing was covered with snow, which made the game even more impressive and unforgettable."
Over the last two decades, Japanese football has grown much stronger. The Japanese national team has become a regular participant in the World Cup while the Chinese national team has been struggling, failing to qualify for the world's biggest football gala each time since 2002.
But Hashimoto said Guoan is his first love.
He sometimes travels to Tokyo or other Japanese cities to watch Guoan's game in the AFC Champions League.
"I was very sad when Guoan lost to Tokyo FC 3-0 on April 17, 2012," he said. "But last year, Guoan reached the quarterfinals after beating Tokyo. I was very happy."
Hashimoto, 54, took his twin sons, then only five years old, to Beijing for a Guoan match in 2019. Mobile apps have helped him watch Guoan's match live much easier during the COVID-19 pandemic.
"Football knows no borders," he said. "There are many people in Japan who like English teams. My team is Guoan."
Guoan, now managed by former West Ham and West Brom boss Slaven Bilic of Croatia, finally secured their first victory in the new season after two defeats, beating Dalian 2-0 Tuesday night thanks to Zhang Xizhe's two second-half goals.
"Bilic is a very famous coach with rich experience," Hashimoto said. "It takes some time for him to get used to the environment of Chinese Super League."
"I think we still have opportunities to win the champion this season. But we need to solve the problem of weak defense."