An estimated 62,000 people crammed along a sunny Peace Boulevard yesterday afternoon, to congratulate local soccer team, Sanfrecce Hiroshima, on their first ever J League Championship.
Over 40 minutes, players and staff made their way along an 840m stretch of road, waving to the crowds from two open top buses, lead by two (Mazda of course) convertible sports cars.
While the crowd were obviously happy and very excited to see and show the players their appreciation, the mood overall was somewhat subdued. Although there were occasional cheers, the passing of the team was mostly noted by the rustle of hundreds of waving paper flags — and was, at times, a little surreal.
Once the parade was over, the buses headed over to Peace Memorial Park where around 20,000 supporters congregated for a rally. After paying their respects at the A-bomb cenotaph, the team made their way around the edge to the park through a tunnel of supporters high-fiving all the way.
From the bus tops in front of the Peace Museum, the MC did a great job of jeeing up the crowd, despite having to contend with speech after speech by the governor, mayor and sponsor after sponsor. The biggest cheer of the day came when Govenor Yuzaki declared that Hiroshima needs a dedicated soccer stadium in the city. I don’t know if he took everyone by surprise, but pledges to secure a soccer stadium followed from the mayor and all the sponsors. It would’ve been very hard for them to do otherwise, so it remains to be seen how genuine their commitment is in the coming months.
The other common theme of the speeches was looking forward to all returning in a year’s time to celebrate “V2”. That would be a huge achievement, but one thing is for sure, this traditionally baseball-mad, but championship-starved, city is now well behind their soccer team.