Past Events


Tohoku Students play football at Wembley!

30 November 2011


On Thursday 24 November, Japanese high school students from the disaster-affected region of Tohoku travelled to the UK for a once in a lifetime chance to play at England's sacred home of football, Wembley Stadium. The pitch at Wembley was kindly offered by the FA to show their support for the reconstruction efforts after the Great East Japan Earthquake which struck Japan on 11 March this year. Organised by the Embassy of Japan and the Japanese Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the match was also attended by Mr David Bernstein, Chairman of the Football Association, Sir Bobby Charlton, who came all the way from Manchester, Rt Hon Jeremy Hunt MP, the Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport, and Sir Trevor Brooking.

This wonderful event originated from a meeting that Ambassador Keiichi Hayashi had with FA Chairman David Bernstein in April, where the Ambassador explained to the Chairman about the severity of the disaster and the need for relief activities to help the victims. Mr Bernstein said at Wembley "I was impressed by the Ambassador's initiative and drive to make something happen to help people back in Japan who were suffering from the terrible devastation of the earthquake". During this meeting, Wembley was offered as a venue to support reconstruction efforts. Ambassador Hayashi followed up with the idea to host high school students from Tohoku to come and play on the sacred pitch of Wembley. On request from the Ambassador, the Japan Football Association (JAF) made the arrangement to form a special team of students selected from three stricken prefectures of Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima, to encourage them to have hope for the future and inspire them to elevate their passion for football. This idea was realised through the assistance and cooperation of many other organisations and companies.

In his welcoming speech, Ambassador Hayashi offered his deepest sympathy and condolences to the visitors and the people of Tohoku for their suffering in the wake of the earthquake and tsunami. He thanked the organisers and guests for making this special event possible.

"Today's match will provide unforgettable memories for the 16 high-school students from the Tohoku area," he said. To the students he asked them to enjoy playing on such a special pitch and to proudly show off their skills, and encouraged them to return home with the message that both British and Japanese people so far away in the UK are wholeheartedly standing by the people of Tohoku.

The visiting team played against Teikyo School UK and London Japanese FC, with the Tohoku team showing incredible passion and spirit to go on to win both matches.

After the matches, students climbed the famous stairs to the Royal Box where Sir Bobby Charlton presented them with signed memorabilia and other souvenirs. Sir Bobby Charlton first played at Wembley himself at the age of 15. He said that it was an experience that he would never forget and he hoped that the students from Tohoku enjoyed the same experience of playing at Wembley as a teenager as he did.

Captain of the Tohoku team, Kazuki Saito, spoke after the match of how he and his team mates were deeply moved at being invited to Wembley. "This is somewhere we could never expect to play football and we are honoured to be given this chance," he said. "Members of the team are from different prefectures in the Tohoku region but we have all gone through similar experiences of losing our loved-ones, friends, and homes. My family has moved around several times to various different temporary housing since the earthquake. I could not play football at all for about a month and thought of quitting football altogether. But after this experience of playing here I realised how important football can be, in particular the support and exchange that crosses country borders, and I wish to always have football as a part of my life from now on."

Click here to view the event programme (English and Japanese).