The UEFA Champions League has been trending in Tokyo after the world's first official store dedicated to the competition opened in the Japanese capital earlier this week.
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The human traffic flowing out of the subway and over the famed Shibuya pedestrian crossing in downtown Tokyo is a people watcher's dream. Yet there was a new addition on Tuesday to the sights and sounds the trendy Shibuya district offers: a navy blue coach adorned with the words "UEFA Champions League Official Store" and blaring out the tournament anthem.
Posters on the subway platform were also advertising the new store, a cooperation between UEFA and adidas promising Japanese football lovers a taste of "the ultimate stage".
The first of its kind, the UEFA Champions League Official Store is an Aladdin's cave of kits and memorabilia – one of the few places in the world, if not the only one, to sell the shirts of all 32 participating teams along with items such as training wear, match balls, scarves, watches, and numerous other souvenirs from the world's leading club football competition. Located on the ground floor of the Kamo soccer shop, the store offers an immersion into the competition and its history.
There are past final balls in display cases, an array of signed memorabilia including a shirt from the 2010 winning captain, Javier Zanetti of FC Internazionale Milano, black-and-white pictures of European Cup legends such as George Best and Franz Beckenbauer, and photographs of all the UEFA Champions League winners – among them, of course, a huge image of 2011 champions FC Barcelona. A large Sony screen also shows footage from past matches and will keep fans entertained with highlights and information throughout the upcoming season.
Three former European Cup winners were present to cut the ribbon at the opening ceremony – Franco Baresi, Daniele Massaro and Dida, all of whom lifted the trophy with AC Milan. Baresi, who captained the Rossoneri to their 1989 and '90 triumphs, declared: "This store brings happiness to football fans here, giving them the chance to get closer to the Champions League." The ambassadors all posed for pictures with the UEFA Champions League trophy which will be on display in the store for the opening week.
The assembled press had earlier heard speeches from Paul Hardisty, chief executive of adidas Japan; Guy-Laurent Epstein, UEFA Events SA marketing director; Ken Kamo, owner of 15 football shops across Japan; and Japan Football Association (JFA) president Junji Ogura. Video messages, meanwhile, from Japanese players Shinji Kagawa, Atsuto Uchida and Shunsuke Nakamura – reflecting on their experiences of UEFA Champions League football – underlined the progress the Japanese game has made over recent years.
Baresi, speaking in a Q&A for the benefit of the media, touched on this when recalling prior visits to Tokyo for Intercontinental Cup matches. "[There is] a great passion for the game and Japanese football is growing, there are so many players playing in Europe which will boost their experience."
According to Guy-Laurent Epstein, Japan has had more players in the UEFA Champions League than any other Asian country. Explaining the choice of Tokyo, he added: "The Champions League is on the one hand [about] football and mass market and on the other hand very prestigious, which fits very well with the values of Japan."
Daniele Massaro, scorer of two goals for Milan in their 1994 final success, later had a spell playing in the J. League and declared Tokyo the "perfect place" given the Japanese penchant for merchandise. "Here, as in England or Germany, people have more of a culture for this."
Considering that the store's planned spring opening was postponed after the March earthquake, it was fitting that the three ex-Rossoneri were headed for Sendai afterwards for a charity match with a Milan all-stars side. Massaro added: "I know the place and Japanese supporters and now working for Milan we see how many fans there are in Japan. We've come here with Milan Glorie to give a boost to the Japanese people."
One of the Italian club's Japanese fans, 11-year-old Go Yoneyama, was among the crowd gathered outside waiting for the store to open. The entrance was adorned with extravagant floral bouquets, as befits the Japanese tradition, yet the youngster in the red-and-white striped shirt was more interested in what was inside. "I hear it's the first Champions League store in the world. I just want to go in and enjoy being there."
ShibuyaFootballTower, 3-10, Udagawacho
Open 365 days a year, 10.00–21.00