On October Sunday 8th in Saginuma, Kanagawa on NSK's sport field, NSK hosted the Friendly Cup 2017 in a new seven aside mixed format. The Friendly Cup recognises NSK and the UK's relationship going back to the 70s. Since then through to the present day NSK and the British Embassy of the United Kingdom's Embassy in Tokyo have continued to enjoy good relationships through sport --- predominantly football! In the reason years this relationship took form in what is now well known as the Friendly Cup.
The original Friendly Cup was started by Richard Oppenheim as a 4 team futsal competition, held on the British Embassy grounds in Hanzomon followed by a garden party. The first friendly cup had 2 Embassy teams, NSK and a guest team from Nagoya.
The next year the friendly cup expanded into a 6 team competition and bbq featuring NSK, The Keidanren, Spanish Embassy, the Nagoya team and two Embassy teams. Each year the cup grew in stature and became a celebration of good relationships between all the invited guest teams.
One unique element of the friendly cup has been always running the competition with no referees, relying on the good manners and sportman like behaviour of the teams to resolve any disagreements. And interestingly the Friendly Cup has never needed a referee!
This year NSK took back the role of host and expanded the Friendly Cup to a mixed 7 aside competition with the primary aims to increase participation as the last two Friendly Cups the teams and guests were limited by capacity! With BEFC now fielding two 11 aside teams and the only international Ladies team in Tokyo it was just as well! And recognising the success of the ladies team and expanding on the theme of participation this year the Friendly Cup was defined as a mixed tournament with limits put on any side not fielding a mixed line up!
This year's guest teams in the Friendly Cup alongside BEFC and NSK were Adecco, the Keidanren and NPO Esperanza, with Adecco making a return to the competition and Esperanza making their debut.
Alongside the Friendly Cup concept and spirit of relationship through sports and participation each guest team also brought with it similar outlooks and principles which everyone shared.
Adecco are well known as the largest staffing company in the world and are hugely focused on promoting inclusion and fairness in the workforce as well as a healthy work and life balance.
The Keidanren (Japan Business Federation) is a huge organisation in Japan, and one that has been championing specific initiatives with the government to encourage Japanese workaholics to go home on time! Premium Friday is an initiative that on the last Friday of every month workers are allowed to go home early afternoon (3pm) in order to be with their family, socialise or enjoy more lesiure time. This is also combined with encouraging companies to close their offices in the evenings to force workers to go home -- recognising the importance of leisure and socialising time for a healthy society.
New comers NPO Esperanza are also very interesting and were supported by funds raising from BEFC for their E's Cafe project. Esperanza focuses on inclusion for those with disablilities, again using sports as a way to empower people and create community. The E's Cafe project being specifically innovative in Japan, as Esperanza opened up a Sports Cafe which would hire those with disability who generally in Japanese society are unable to gain proper training and work opportunities due to stigma attached to their demographic.
BEFC and NSK for a long time have been promoting inclusion and good relationships through sports where no matter the background etc of any individual, through sports we can all come together and form good strong relationships and understanding --- and so far this has always proved correct!!
And it proved correct again, with a fantastic tournament in beautiful weather as the 5 teams battled it out in a round robin competition. The opening games were tight as teams came to terms with the new format and low scores despite NSK opting for full sized goals to increase scoring chances and the fun. However it soon opened up with The Keidanren and BEFC putting on strong performances. As the teams all found their groove BENSK (BEFC x NSK) upped their performance putting in some high scoring wins but a little too late.
Adecco like BENSK also started to get into the flow into the later matches and despite playing some of the nicest football of all the teams, it was a surprise to see Esperanza end the tournament in last place.
The 3rd / 4th final became an almost immediate replay of Adecco vs BENSK (2 matches before) with Adecco's smaller squad having to deal more with the fatigue than BENSK who seemed to have been saving it a little late, and BENSK ran in comfortably 3rd.
Then in a very tight final BEFC went 0 - 1 to the Keidanren to give The Keidanren their first Friendly Cup --- which we know they must have been very happy about!!
Every Friendly Cup we present a Most Valuable Player Award where a player is nominated by the Captains of each team. It only reinforced the Keidanren's win, that the tournament MVP went to Keidanren player Nobuyuki Ariyoshi.
The Keidanren have been the only team to have fielded a mixed team in all previous competitions! Therefore it was somewhat ironic that for a mixed tournament they were the only team that wasn't this year.
The limitation we placed on the non-mixed teams was that the opposition captain could mark one of the players with a yellow bib to 'not have any goals scored by them counted'. This allowed the mixed team to restrict the opponents best goal-scorer or limit a key player to re-address the balance and encourage mixed participation. So it became increasingly funny as Nobuyuki Ariyoshi as well as the tournament MVP was also the poor guy picked by the opposition in nearly all games to wear the yellow bib! So despite the yellow bib being a limit placed on a team it was also strange a mark of honour!
All in all the Friendly Cup was once again a great competition, exciting football, excellent teams and of course... no need for referees!
You can download a zip file of images from the competition here >
(This is an open Google Drive Folder, so if you would like to upload your own photos for other people you can do it here)