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The Yellow Perils – Yokohama F.C. (1909)

'The idea of Japs playing football ----in the English Cup too- struck them as being intensely amusing …'

So wrote the sports writer William Pollock of the fans and players before the match in his short story 'The Yellow Perils' which appeared in the  January 28th 1909 number of Pearson’s Weekly. It’s also unlikely that these same sceptics would have backed a Japanese rugby team to beat the South Africans in the 2015 World Cup in England.

'The Yellow Perils' is a fictional account of the exploits of a visiting soccer team, Yokohama F.C. in pursuit of The English Cup, where their extraordinary success in trouncing not only a few lowly London teams, such as Hammersmith Rovers and Shepherd’s Bush, but also such League One titans as Chelsea, Aston Villa, Newcastle United, Tottenham Hotspur, and Manchester City, astounded everyone who witnessed them play.

To those who watched the humbling of such a famous team as Chelsea, in 'the most remarkable game ever seen in football history', there was a real danger that if 'England was no longer supreme at a game in which a few years previously she had stood alone, it would mean that she would become the laughing stock of the whole civilised world; it would mean the triumph of yellow over white, of East over West'.

After all their other Division One opponents in the Cup had gone the same ignominious way, the secret of the Perils’ victories was revealed to the press. It seemed that a few years previously the wily Japanese government, conscious that success in sport was likely to play a vital part in enhancing a nation’s image in the world, had sent out academic spies (professors, no less) to study how English football had become so dominant. When they returned home with their findings the professors had taught their students the secrets of the game and even awarded degrees in the subject. Football became popular in a country that had never played the game before. Eventually, it was decided to send a team to challenge for the English Cup.

It was only when it came to the Final at Crystal Palace (there was no Wembley back in those days) that the Japanese giant killers finally came unstuck. It was a wet day and their opponents were Fulham. When all their previous successes were played on dry days, the 'wily Orientals' were able to ply their finely honed skills to the utmost effect. Now, with a pitch that resembled a ‘quagmire‘ the Yellow Perils found themselves physically unable to match a much stronger Fulham team used to playing with a slippery ball in English conditions. After the second goal had been conceded the Japanese were ‘mainly on the defensive ‘.

'Occasionally their forwards would go away with a promising looking rush, but always in the end a slippery ball was too much for them. They could not keep it under control as they could a dry one.
But if their kicking was painfully weak and uncertain, their heading was even worse. Previously heading had been one of the team’s most marked and perfect characteristics. They had been able to head the ball with the utmost certainty and precision imaginable. Now, with the ball as heavy as lead the case was altogether different. The first man who tries to head a long kick went down like a log and had to be led off the field, stunned. The next man who tried had an equally unpleasant experience, and after that, although they did not lack pluck, the Japs rigorously refrained from heading.
The Fulham men tumbled to this, and , the ball being furiously lobbed up by the halves and backs, the forwards just ran on, took it on the bounce, and rushed it past the Japanese defence…’ 

Even with an enhanced defence of two goalkeepers and three backs, the Japanese conceded goals and in the end went down 11- 0.  Thus ended the tour of the Yellow Perils. The reputation of England as the greatest footballing nation on earth was saved by the ‘miracle‘ of bad weather. It didn’t, of course, halt the inevitable rise of Japanese and Chinese ingenuity and determination in the wider world of hi-tech and heavy industry….but that’s another story. [RMH]

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