Naoki Matsuda 松田直樹

My passion for football has been on the wane in recent years, something that may or may not be due to the fact that in my humble opinion, most players in the UK are overpaid, overprotected, ignorant, racist, womanising, alcoholic thugs with barely enough social skills to buy a pint of milk and barely enough footballing skills to play their way out of a paper bag. Taking this into consideration, and seeing as England are currently battling it out in Euro 2012 (no doubt doomed to be knocked out on penalties in the quarter-finals), I thought that now might be a good time to tell you the story of Naoki Matsuda.
At fifteen years old, Matsuda was playing as a striker for the junior high school team in his home town of Kiryu City, Gunma Prefecture, when his coach had a request from Ikuéi High School in nearby Maébashi, asking if they had any decent defenders. The coach suggested that Matsuda try a change of position, and it soon became clear that this was where he had been destined to play all along. Having progressed to the Ikuéi High School team, he became the subject of a bidding war between no less than ten professional clubs, and was eventually signed by Yokohama F Marinos. (For no discernable reason whatsoever, the ‘F’ of Yokohama F Marinos is short for flügel, which among other things means ‘wing’ in German, and marinos is Spanish for ‘mariner’.) Matsuda was named in the J-League team of the season in 2000 and 2002, and won the title with Yokohama in 2003 and 2004. He represented his country at every level from under-15 onwards, and boasted the rare accolade of having played at two Olympic Games, including a match at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics that became known as the ‘miracle of Miami’, when the under-23 side beat Brazil one-nil. He was in the Japan team that made it through the group stages of the 2002 World Cup, and ended up with a total of 40 caps, scoring a goal in his final match in 2005.

It is with Yokohama, though, that Matsuda will forever be associated, and where he made 385 appearances, scoring 27 goals and earning the nickname ‘Mr Marinos’. He is also third on the J-League all-time list for red cards, and was by all accounts quite a prickly character, not to say downright scary (his autobiography, published in 2009, is called Toh-soh-nin (闘争人 / Conflict Man). In order to induce the proper fighting spirit before matches, Matsuda would often ask his teammates to slap him, a habit that once backfired when he was diagnosed with concussion. During a Nabisco Cup match in 2003, he became incensed by what he saw as foul play by a member of the opposition, and was heard to shout ‘Yaru yo! Yacchau yo!’ at the referee. Roughly translated, this means ‘I’ll do you! I’ll fucking do you!’ and was subsequently adopted by the Yokohama supporters as a terrace chant. Matsuda didn’t always get on with his superiors, either, and during another Nabisco Cup match, this time in 2007, he apparently ‘glared’ at the manager as he was giving orders from the sidelines, and then refused to shake his hand after being substituted.

But such incidents merely served to endear Matsuda to his fans, and to demonstrate how passionate he was about the game. In a match in 2000 when Avispa Fukuoka opted to sit back and defend the lead they held over Yokohama, he stopped in the middle of the pitch, sat down on the ball and started hurling abuse at the opposition players. At a tearful post-match press conference, he said, ‘Those guys aren’t professionals. They don’t seem to understand how their supporters feel, how desperately they’re fighting for them.’

With ten minutes still to play in a match in the 2007 season, Matsuda volunteered to play in goal when Yokohama’s keeper was sent off and their quota of substitutions had already been used up. Perhaps most incredibly of all (money-grabbing Premiership players, take note), he accepted a 40% pay cut when the club were encountering financial difficulties in 2007.

Yokohama finally decided to let Matsuda go in 2010, and after sixteen years of loyal service, he signed for Matsumoto Yamaga, who at the time were a semi-professional team in the third tier of the Japanese league. During a training session for Matsumoto on 2nd August 2011, Matsuda collapsed with heatstroke and was rushed to hospital. He had suffered a heart attack, and while for a time doctors managed to restore a faint heartbeat, Matsuda never regained consciousness, and passed away two days later, on 4th August 2011. He was just thirty-four years old.

As well as his wife and three children, Matsuda’s funeral was attended by numerous members of the Japanese footballing fraternity, including the entire playing staff of Yokohama F Marinos, and among others, FIFA president Sepp Blatter sent a personal message of condolence. More importantly, Matsuda’s death highlighted the importance of AEDs – automated external defibrillators – which are designed to be used in just such an emergency, when someone suffers a heart attack and professional medical help has yet to arrive. It is believed that Matsuda’s life might have been saved had there been an AED on hand at the training ground where he fell ill, and there has since been a concerted effort to raise awareness of AEDs, and to equip a greater number of sports facilities, workplaces and public buildings with them.

Both literally and figuratively, Matsuda gave his life to football, and nowhere was this exhibited more clearly than in a speech he made on 4th December 2010, after his final game for Yokohama at the Nissan Stadium.

Speeches by the manager and club president were all but drowned out by chants of ‘NA-O-KI! NA-O-KI! NA-O-KI!’ and even after the players had performed a lap of honour and left the field, the chants continued. Eventually, Matsuda re-emerged from the changing room and took up the microphone, and this is what he said:

‘Thank you very much for supporting me over the past sixteen years, even though I’m so selfish and impertinent. I’ve always been a bit crazy, but everyone has cheered me on, so…

I like to think that I’ve fought hard and put my heart into every match for the Marinos. Of course I’ve pissed a few people off as well, but your support has given me strength.

‘The Marinos’ supporters are fantastic. At a time like this I can’t quite put across how I feel about you, but anyway, all I can say is that you’re the best. And I just feel thankful.

‘I don’t really know what I’m saying any more but… It’s just that, I fucking love football, and I really want to carry on playing.

‘Football really is the greatest. I suppose there are still some people out there who don’t know anything about it, but I just want to appeal to them through who I am

‘I really want to show everyone what’s great about football, so please let me carry on doing what I’m doing.’

I can’t imagine Wayne Rooney ever making a speech like that (actually, I can’t imagine Wayne Rooney ever making a speech), let alone one as heartfelt or as eloquent, and apart from the poignancy Matsuda’s words have acquired in retrospect, they resonate because they express what so many football fans feel – what I felt when I was a boy, and what I still feel occasionally when I watch a football match – and embody the kind of qualities that are so often lacking from the modern game.

(In case you’re interested, here’s a transcription of Matsuda’s speech in Japanese, as borrowed from this website:

「16年間、本当に生意気で、わがままな自分を応援してくれて、本当にありがとうございました。バカでずっと生きてきましたけど、みんなが応援してくれた から…

自分のマリノスの1試合1試合は気持ちを込めて戦ったと思うし、もちろん俺にキレた人もいると思うし、でも、みんなの声援が自分の力になりまし た。


ただ、もう何言ってるかわかんないけど… ただ、オレ、マジでサッカー好きなんすよ。 マジで、もっとサッカーやりたいっす。



3 thoughts on “Naoki Matsuda 松田直樹”

  1. “‘I’ll do you! I’ll fucking do you!’ and was subsequently adopted by the Yokohama supporters as a terrace chant” – fantastic, that made me smile. On Wayne Rooney’s skill as a public speaker I cannot comment as I am not sure I have ever heard him speak at all…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *