ALLEZ LES GARS – Spotlight on the Team: All France Rugby Club (from pp144-145 of the Oct 2007 Edition of “Rugby Magazine” – BUY IT NOW!)
In early August, a “Sayonara” party was held for Franco and Sinnasonne who will soon be leaving Japan. As the meeting time of 19:45 slipped by, there was still no sign that everyone was going to make it along. However, there was also no sign of concern on anyone’s face either. The party kicked off with 20 members, made up of people regular players, players who seldom make it to games, and friends.
All France Rugby Club. The origins of the club can be traced back to the Rugby World Cup, about to begin its 6th tournament in September.
In 1987, three Frenchmen and a Kiwi who were sitting in a Roppongi Bar gearing up to watch the very first world cup picked up a rugby ball and said “why don’t we start a club ourselves”, and that became the start of the club. The club was officially put together later that year. Made up of businessmen and residents from overseas, and of course Japanese team members, the club went on from there, growing and shrinking through the years to make through to its 20th anniversary year, in the same year as the World Cup is being held in France.
At present, the club turns out to play games in the company oriented “Construction League” in the spring, and the “Shuto League” in the Autumn. The club trains on weeknights. It sweats though training together with another team from the Shuto League, training on an inner city university rugby ground.
“Even when we lose, the team still hits the town afterwards as if it has won, regardless. Many Japanese think that all “gaijin” teams are too strong, but that’s not strictly the case with All France (laughs). The point is that we all are there to play social rugby, and enjoy playing rugby with our mates.”
The person offering this introduction to the club in rapid fire Japanese is Kiwi lock, Simon. He has lived in Japan 10 years and works in Tokyo as a lawyer.
Although made up of a wide range of nationalities, professions and ages, the members of All France predominantly come from the French Embassy and securities companies and banks with head offices based in France. The current club president and team prop, Matthieu, hailing from Lyon, is one of those members working at the French Embassy. He came to Japan as a university masters student, and has been with All France now for 3 years.
“I started playing rugby in high school. However, there are lots of guys in All France who have never played previously. Because of this, players don’t need to be of a certain level to join. You don’t even need to speak French. We all manage to communicate using English and Japanese.”
When things heat up on the pitch, players often begin talking in their native tongues, meaning that three languages can often be heard being used. As last year’s captain, Antoine who plays at prop explains. “Communication during the games is mixed. But the most important terms are “Allez les gars” (“let’s go”) and “En sont bleus” (“together”). That makes all eight guys in the scrum pull together as one.”
Antoine works at a French securities house known in Japan as a sponsor of international tennis. All France receives financial sponsorship from this company in exchange for having the company logo on their jerseys. As a result, team expenses and membership fees are not needed. As a result, it can be said that they are in a very fortunate position as a club team.
“However”, hesitates Antoine…
“We have just lost two more guys. We need more guys to come and help us out. Anyone is welcome!”
Just as you can hear, the main challenge for the club over the years has been to maintain a stable base of members. At present, there are a total of about 40 people in Japan who are involved in club games, but many of these people return to their home countries or assigned elsewhere after just a few years in Japan. This summer, the pâtissier Franco will return to France, and embassy employee Sinnasonne will leave for a new posting overseas. None of the current members are even precisely sure of when the club was established.
What protects the club from succumbing to this precarious state of affairs is its open atmosphere toward accepting new members, and the Japanese team members who love the club.
“Without him, All France would probably disappear.” This is what team mates have to say about club manager Koji, who is relied on by his team mates and possesses fluent English ability. Koji acts as a go between for those members that aren’t fully capable in Japanese, assisting in match organization and post match events in izakaya.
“I’m also involved with other clubs, but the good atmosphere of this club is really unique. You can’t find it anywhere else,” says Yuji, who is himself about to turn 50.
“The guys here teach you to love playing rugby. They are sincere when they tell you that age doesn’t matter at all. I can still go on playing. This has really opened up a new world to me.”
In spite of coming from the heartland of rugby himself, Simon only actually started to play rugby after his arrival in Japan.
“In NZ, I never really considered becoming a rugby player. All the rugby players you see there are huge (laughs). After coming to Japan, I joined thinking it would be a good way to make friends. I always watched rugby in NZ so I had a clear image of how the game was supposed to be played, but when I started playing, I wasn’t able to do anything right and in the first game I played, we got hammered. Still after the game, guys would say things like ‘hey, you threw a good pass back there’. If in all of 80 minutes, you only do one thing right, everyone will come and praise you for it later on. That always made me feel a bit apologetic, and want to play better for the team next time. And that is what everyone does, week in and week out.”
There are more than 100 people registered on the mailing list that shares club and match information. However, as Koji explains, “more than half of those members aren’t even in Japan any longer.” Regardless of how long they spent in Japan, many still want to keep up with how the club is getting on even after leaving Japan, and look forward to receiving mails telling them how their mates are getting on. For these members who love the club win or lose, these are not just “memories of Japan”. These members are still even now considered full members of the club. On the day of the sayonara party, responses came on the mailing list saying “I’m going to raise a glass for Franco and Sinnasonne here at the same time.”
When the time comes to leave Japan, it is now a timeless club tradition to present departing team members with a Japan national team jersey. However, on this particular day, that presentation ceremony didn’t take place.
“Pierre is the one who was supposed to bring the jerseys that we bought, but he went drinking somewhere else. Everyone’s always like this…”
Koji looked apologetic, but managed to have a chuckle at it all.
Photo 1 “Get Together at the Pub” [Caption: In September All France celebrates its 20th anniversary party. “Past members of the club, present members of the club, and anyone interested in joining is welcome to join us” says Simon. Look for details on the club HP.]
Photo 2 “Four Players in Team Jerseys”.[Caption: In the new jersey on the left is Graham from South Africa. After going back and returning to Japan a number of times, he now has “a whole heap” of farewell jerseys that he has received.]
Photo 3 “Party Scene” [Caption: The sayonara party held in Shibuya. As the night goes on, more and more people come and join.]
Photo 4 “Team Play Shot” [Caption: All France has regular fixtures twice annually with fellow gaijin club YCAC. The photo here was taken from their 2003 match.]
Photo 5 “Photo from the HP” [Caption: Team shot from after a match. All France is involved in overseas events such as the Manila Tens and Bangkok Tens, which provide a place to meet up with team mates who have left Japan in the past.]
Do you feel like another All France video? Here you go!