Today's fan appreciation day was incredibly fun mixed with sadness.
Before the doors opened, fans were able to buy replica uniforms with no player number, but pre-decorated with marker by a player. I bought one by midfielder Jun Shimanuki, with his number, name, and a picture of Doraemon on the back.
First were speeches, with a message from the mayor of Mito, Director Miyata, and coach Maeda. Sadly, he confirmed that his 5th year at Mito would be his last.
Following this was only fun, though. Unlike last year, there were few things for spectators to do but just watching these activities was easily more exciting and rewarding than last year's typical fan interaction.
The cheerleaders performed, and the theme of the event was Hiramatsu vs. Yoshimoto, as the team split to form teams under those captains for the day. There were several events, including an exhibition futsal match and players making comedy acts. I took part in two events. The first was a 4 vs. 4 quiz race involving players and stadium staff, in which team related questions were asked and participants ran to put on a schoolboy's hat, then to the microphone to answer. I answered one out of the five questions asked in total for Yoshimoto team and a teammate got the next one, but Hiramatsu team's members beat us by getting the next three. The final question was "What is (defender) Owada's fetish?" Apparently, midfielder Ohashi knows that Owada has a taste for feet. The other event involved giving awards to players for their accomplishments, and I presented a trophy to midfielder Ogura.
The last event was astonishing. As the winner of the day, Yoshimoto team walked over to a table covered by a tarp, and uncovered it to reveal two dozen cream pies. Each victorious player could choose an opposing player, then take a pie and throw it into his face. Then, captain Yoshimoto allowed fans to take some shots. It soon degenerated into a playful wrestling match as players scrambled for the pies and slipped all over. Players were getting pied, fans were getting pied, and even a cheerleader got a taste. Anyone familiar with the original idea for the ending of "Dr. Strangelove" would have imagined a scene just like this.
At the end of the festivities, the players and coaches all lined up along the way to the exit and applauded the fans for their support. Each fan had the chance to greet anybody they wished, to get anything signed, or to take pictures. I took the time to shake Biju's hand for what might be the last time... I have a feeling he's a bit too expensive to keep around despite his good meshing with the team.
Afterward, the team president, some staff members, stadium staff, and cheerleaders met in a restaurant I frequent. It's near my house and I considered taking the scooter... The cold convinced me to drive. We were treated to a great buffet and many stories were shared. A drawing was held for some good prizes as well as some booby prizes. I won forward Iwadate's business card...