Arsenal will visit Indonesia, Vietnam and Japan as part of Asia Tour 2013 this summer. Ahead of the trip, we're getting to know more about the Club's fans - and this week it is the turn of Arsenal Japan president Mika Campbell.
How excited are you, and the whole of Arsenal Japan, about this summer's tour games against Nagoya Grampus and Urawa Red Diamonds?
I am very excited about it. So many European and English teams have come to Japan since the J-League started 20 years ago. We had given up even dreaming about Arsenal coming, so it is a great surprise that the team are finally coming to Japan!
What are Arsenal Japan planning on doing in the build-up to the game?
I am not sure if we can plan anything too far in advance. It’s up to the Club how far in advance they release details of the Japan tour. I know everyone wants to attend events that involve first-team players, so if we know well enough when we can arrange things, we would like to arrange parties in both Nagoya and Tokyo (Saitama).
What about when Arsenal arrive in the country, what will you do to celebrate their arrival?
If we find out when the team arrive and depart, we will encourage our members to be there to greet them at the airport and hotel.
What was the reaction in Japan when you found out that Arsenal were going to visit?
We were all happy with the news especially because the tour was cancelled two years ago due to the earthquake and tsunami in north Japan. Not many people remember Arsenal's first visit to Japan in 1968, so for most of us, it is a dream come true.
How much is the excitement building as the tour gets closer?
Freddie Ljungberg visited Tokyo recently. I was surprised by how popular he still is. I could feel everyone is getting excited about July.
What have people said to you about the tour - are your family and friends excited? What about other members of Arsenal Japan?
To be honest, I get more pressure from other teams’ supporters because Manchester United are coming on the same week as Arsenal. They have Japan’s best player, Shinji Kagawa, so the media might pay more attention to them, but we know we have enough serious supporters to make the tour successful.
"We were all happy with the news especially because the tour was cancelled two years ago due to the earthquake and tsunami in north Japan"
Why are Arsenal so popular in the country - what is it about the club that attracts so many fans?
Denis Bergkamp brought so many fans to the team first of all. Then, a year after, Arsene Wenger became manager. As everyone knows, Mr Wenger was the manager of Nagoya Grampus Eight before he joined the Arsenal.
Who are you and the rest of Arsenal Japan particularly looking forward to seeing?
Of course, we are looking to seeing most of first-team players, but especially Ryo Miyaichi. He had an unlucky season with injuries but we know he has an ability to break through to the first team and we are hoping it happens this season!
What makes these players so popular in Japan?
That's simple. We support all players who wear the Arsenal shirt.
What reception can the Arsenal squad look forward to from the Japanese people?
Japanese people are normally quiet and polite. So, they might feel they are not so popular at first, but I am sure they will realise that Japan is a country of respect and hospitality and inside their hearts, they are passionate and serious about the team more than any other Asian country. I am very confident that most players will say they love Japan most after the Asia Tour!
What will the conditions be like in Japan in July - how hot will it be?
It is quite hot and humid. You feel you cannot breathe properly because of the humidity, but it is very good for your skin. It is like a sauna!
Tell us about your own love of Arsenal - when did you first become a fan of the Club?
Although I am Japanese, I live in Highbury and my house is only two minutes away from the old stadium. I became a fan in 1989 when Arsenal became champions of the old first division at Anfield. Ian Wright made me a mad Arsenal fan and he is still my idol along with Thierry Henry.
What are your first memories of being an Arsenal fan?
It is not my first memory, but just after we won the Cup Winners' Cup in 1994, I ran outside and hugged and kissed everyone in the street! There were so many people milling about, but not many young women there. I do not understand why I did it myself!
What is it about Arsenal that makes the Club special?
Arsenal treats supporters as people who support the team and the Club, and not as customers. I hate being treated as a customer. We cannot just change the team like we change our favourite shops.
What will it mean to you to see Arsenal play in Japan?
Japan is very far from England and there are so many supporters who are just dreaming of watching a game at Emirates Stadium but cannot make it. For them, it is a once in a lifetime experience and I really do hope they will have a great time!
What have been your personal highlights of supporting Arsenal down the years?
When Dennis Bergkamp said ‘Thank you for working hard to run the Supporters Club.’ I could not believe someone like Dennis would show his appreciation to us. That is enough to keep us running for 100 years! Thierry Henry also said the same thing. It is an honour to work hard for the Club.
"Arsenal treats supporters as people who support the team and the Club, and not as customers"
Tell us about the history of Arsenal Japan - how has the fan group grown over the years?
We became a 'recognised supporters club’ 11 years ago. Previously, I ran a non-official fan site called ‘Arsenal News’ for about two years. We became the Official Supporters Club in 2004, and although we have not grown much in the last ten years, we are growing far more rapidly since the club made an announcement of the Japan tour.
What events do you organise? Where do you watch Arsenal games?
We have arranged tours to watch the first team’s games at Highbury and Emirates Stadium several times and occasionally get together to watch the match live on TV, but because Tokyo is a very big city and the time difference is so great, it is difficult to get together all the time. We just finished our Annual General Meeting the day after the event with Freddie Ljungberg. Akihiko Nishioka, who is a commentator for Premier League TV coverage and is a famous Arsenal fan attended the meeting and it was a great success.
How many of you are hoping to go to the games this summer?
We have arranged over 200 tickets for both games. I am sure there are some members who purchased tickets directly from a ticket agent, so there will be a lot of us at the stadium.
When did you become part of Arsenal Japan? How proud were you to become a member?
I started the Japanese Arsenal Supporters Club 11 years ago, and the name changed to Arsenal Japan when we became the Official Supporters Club, so I cannot say much about becoming a member, but I still remember my first meeting with the Club. I was very nervous but knew that was the first and the last chance for me to talk to the Club directly. I was surprised how I was treated and how they took me so seriously. We obviously had good times and bad times, but Jill Smith, the supporters clubs’ liaison officer always helped us and supported us, and I cannot thank her enough!
How pleased are you with how Arsenal Japan has grown over the years?
I am not really happy with the current number of members because I know there are thousands of Japanese Arsenal supporters who have not joined us yet. So, this is a very good chance to encourage these Japanese fans to sign up!
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