Home Global Game Asia Canadian Matt Lam ready to return to JEF United, to “help fans escape the chaos” of earthquake

Canadian Matt Lam ready to return to JEF United, to “help fans escape the chaos” of earthquake

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Matt Lam had just returned home from a training session when the earthquake struck. Even though Chiba, a suburb of Tokyo, was nearly 400 kilometres from the epicentre of the 9.0 temblor that triggered the tsunami that has claimed thousands of lives, the Canadian midfielder — and his mother, who was visiting at the time — they understood the gravity of the situation.

“The whole building rocked back and forth,” said Lam, who is back in Edmonton, training on his own, after his club, JEF United, decided to send players home after the quake. “Even though we were 350, 400 kilometres from the epicentre, we could really feel the shake.”

Luckily, Lam and his JEF United teammates were fine. The club’s home stadium wasn’t damaged. Lam will fly back to Japan on Sunday where the team will begin training, with an eye on a training camp ahead of the tentatively scheduled April 24 restart to the Japanese League season. L

am is on a one-year loan from FC Edmonton to JEF United, which hopes for promotion out of the Japanese second division in 2011. Lam and midfielder Sander van Gessel played with FC Edmonton in 2010, as the club played a series of friendlies. Coach Dwight Lodeweges and his assistant, Hans Schrijver, left FCE for JEF United in the offseason. All of them are fine.

Lam got one league game under his belt before the disaster. The team’s new right winger already has fans singing songs in his honour. Like most players in the Japanese league, he is itching to get back, hoping that having a normal soccer schedule back will help the country heal.

“I think the reason there’s such a rush on the schedule is that by playing, we can take people away from the chaos. We give something for people to look forward to. For an hour and a half or two hours, we can help fans escape the chaos that they are in.”

Matt Lam

After the quake, the club told its players to take the following day off. Two days after the disaster, the players had a kickabout “to get our minds off of it,” said Lam. “Then we started to realize just how bad it really was.” The club then sent the players home, telling them to train on their own. All Japanese divisions postponed all remaining March games and the dates up to April 24.

Lam vividly recalls the long lineups for supplies. “The supermarket shelves were empty. You would see lineups two kilometres long at gas stations. If you were trying to get gas, you would be in line for half a day. It was pretty chaotic.”

When Lam, van Gessel and the rest of the JEF United crew reconvene this coming week, they will try and focus on soccer — and get some semblance of normalcy back to their lives. When the club broke camp, the goal was to get back to the top flight. On April 24, that quest will begin again.

“In Japan, people see us as a first-division club that’s playing down in the second division. We don’t want to stay here too long. We don’t want to be seen as a second-division team. After one game, things were going pretty well, but there still is a lot of room for improvement.”

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