Written by Gareth Jones
The Fosters Narita Cup began in Sugadaira, Nagano far from its current location here in Narita. The original event made use of the many perfectly manicured rugby grounds in the mountains of Nagano and offered jaded Tokyo city dwellers a pleasant weekend with mountains, nature and excellent playing conditions. The brainchild of Troy Beard, the original Sugadaira Cup began in 1996.
The early days featured the Go-Kong, the Samurai and the Tokyo Goannas in a round robin on the Saturday and an Australia vs Japan match as a special feature on the Sunday. The Goannas even kept a lodge in the mountains which they also used as both a ski lodge and football headquarters. This happy arrangement continued for many years and reached its peak in 2002, when Box Hill North from Melbourne entered the competition for the first time. In 2002, we had four teams. The addition of a team from outside Japan spiced up the competition immeasurably. The local teams couldn’t wait to have a go at the new boys. And didn’t they love it!! Box Hill North was beaten by the Goannas in the round robin series on the Saturday, but when Box Hill North met the Goannas again on Sunday in the 2002 Sugadaira Cup Final, Box Hill North won comprehensively.
In 2003, the event was hit by the SARS crisis. With Box Hill North scheduled to make their second appearance and commitments from newcomers such as the Osaka Dingoes and two teams from Singapore, we were looking at the most exciting event in Japan’s history. Then the dark cloud of SARS spread across Asia. From soccer to rugby, the SARS crisis destroyed nearly every other Asian sporting event in 2003. But thanks to the tireless efforts of the organizers of the Japan AFL, we successfully moved the competition to Narita and skillfully negotiated the bureaucratic minefield put up against SARS. This proved we could not only organize a great event but we could overcome any crisis. The new location next to Narita International Airport made organizing international events easier. Despite SARS, the 2003 Narita Cup was a raging success. The 5 star Radisson Hotel adding an element of luxury never before seen by those who remember camping in the mountains of Sugadaira. And the result, Tokyo Goannas bridesmaids again, thumped by the Singapore Wombats.
In 2004, the Fosters Narita Cup was again held in luxury at the Radisson Hotel, and we have to love this hotel, they give us a beautiful ground, let us add Australian Football goal posts (a first for Japan and a rarity in Asia) and they have the best breakfast a footy player could ever hope for.
The 2004 Fosters Narita Cup comprised both men’s and women’s teams. Informal women’s football began in 2000 in Tokyo but in 2002 the Osaka Bilbies were formed and began serious training and regular games. Thus, Osaka took the lead in women’s football through the formation of a formal team and challenged Tokyo to follow and create their own women’s teams. This led to the hastily formed Tokyo Geckos and the participation by the Irish women who eagerly seek strong competition to sharpen their skills as a team. The Irish are a formidable team and are the Asian champions in the GAA. The 2004 Narita Cup provided the Tokyo Geckos and the Osaka Bilbies with a good benchmark to measure how far they have improved over the last year. And the result was tremendous footy proving that women’s footy has definitely arrived in Japan and that the Irish women will always be tough competitors.
In the 2004 Narita Cup the Samurais were sensational, winning the event and showing the rest of Asia how strong Japanese footy is. Since 2003 till 2008 the Games were played for the Narita Cup but in 2009 the name of the Cup was called the Japan Cup..