Düsseldorf - Backroom staff may play an integral role in the smooth running of a professional football club, but only rarely do they get the public recognition they deserve. However, with Bundesliga 2 side Fortuna Düsseldorf bolstering their relationship with the city’s Japanese community, one non-playing club employee is firmly in the spotlight.
With Düsseldorf boasting roughly 10,000 Japanese inhabitants, Gengo Seta, a former reserve player at the club, has been tasked with raising Fortuna’s popularity amongst fans from the Land of the Rising Sun.
When Germany hosted the 2006 FIFA World Cup, the prospect of experiencing the tournament first-hand was too attractive a proposition for Seta to turn down. “Whie I was studying for my sports management degree, I learned that the structure of sport was very strong here and decided I should move to Germany,” said the now 32-year-old of the decision that led to him joining Düsseldorf's reserve side back in 2005/06.
After it became apparent that a professional football career wasn’t on the cards, though, Seta opted to use the knowledge he had gained from completing an internship in Fortuna’s PR department to further the club’s cause among his fellow countrymen. “We took it upon ourselves to try and make Fortuna interesting for the ever-growing Japanese community in Düsseldorf,” Seta explained.
Since the creation of the club’s Japan Desk in 2008, Düsseldorf now have a tailor-made club magazine, sent out every three months, and a dedicated website, both in Japanese. There’s no doubting that Düsseldorf are catering to their supporters from the Far East. Seta says the work he does is just “one of many means with which we’re trying to raise the awareness of the club amongst Japanese residents".
Indeed it would appear that Seta's work is beginning to bear fruit, and Fortuna’s reach now stretches deep into the heart of the community. The city itself now boasts the largest Japanese population of any German metropolis, annually celebrating 'Japan day', an even at which the club participate, with a stand set up to sell official Fortuna merchandise.
However, the latest innovative development taken on by Seta and his team has seen Düsseldorf open their doors to the younger generation of followers, as they now offer stadium tours in Japanese. Whilst asking questions such as, “Is this where Andreas Lambertz] ‘Lumpi’ gets changed?”, the wide-eyed children are taken inside the changing rooms, down the tunnel and out into the stadium to stand pitchside.
For the kids, though, the highlight of the tour comes when they leave the ESPRIT Arena, as they are then surprised with the opportunity to come face-to-face with the Düsseldorf squad at the club’s training ground. Though former Japanese forward Genki Omae is no longer around, it is nonetheless a perfect day out for the next generation of Fortuna fans, who, if the growing number of Japanese members is anything to go by, will undoubtedly have their part to play in the future of one of Germany’s foremost Traditionsvereine, all thanks to the vision of Gengo Seta.
Adapted from the Official Bundesliga Magazine