Goodbye to that tensai guy, Shinji Ono

Debbie Spillane Columnist

By Debbie Spillane, Debbie Spillane is a Roar Expert

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    Shinji Ono was a big hit with the RBB. (AAP Image/Paul Miller)

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    The homage paid to Shinji Ono by the Western Sydney Wanderers faithful last Saturday at Parramatta Stadium was a highpoint after a fortnight of sadness and tragedy in sport. It was goosebumps material.

    I haven’t seen a bunch of Westies so passionately lauding a Japanese subject since the early 80s at the Sundowner in Punchbowl, when Chisel played “The Rising Sun”. But it was more dignified than that. (No, really!)

    As the 34-year-old former Japanese international took the field for his final regular season A-League game at Wanderland, the active supporters group, the Red and Black Bloc, held aloft an enormous and quite beautiful banner featuring a portrait of the club’s marquee man that had an appropriately Japanese art style about it.

    Either side of the main banner were two banners showing the number 21, Ono’s jersey number, and some Japanese text, which I never did get translated. (Roar crowd… anyone?)

    There was confetti, fireworks, Shinji masks and the torch-like effect of hundreds of mobile phones held aloft in the grandstands, as well as a range of lovingly crafted, appreciative signs on display all around the stadium. The word “tensai” (Japanese for genius or master) got a good run.

    In the 21st minute, again a reference to his jersey number, there were more fireworks, more confetti and the Red and Black Bloc started up a chant. When they called “Shinji!” from the northern end of the ground, the grandstands replied in unison “ONO!” and it was repeated over and over again at such a volume it was almost deafening, even from inside the ABC Radio broadcast box.

    Now, I go right back to the days of the awe-inspiring “Lillee, Lillee, Lillee!” chants at the SCG, that gradually accelerated with great fast bower’s run up, so I’m not new to the sights and sounds of goosebump-making mass adulation. I’ve been at Lang Park when the Queensland Origin side runs out and heard the thunderous roar of the crowd.

    But there was something different, something special about this surge of support for Shinji Ono. And it took me a while to put my finger on it. The answer started to unfold for me when, in the 89th minute, Ono was substituted – coach Tony Popovic’s way of letting the crowd once again show their appreciation for the individual.

    As the crowd roared, the slightly-built star stood on the sideline and gave a respectful little Japanese bow. The crowd went nuts.

    What dawned on me about the nature of the very vocal and visual support was that it wasn’t intended to rev up the little red-and-black wearing tensai, it was simply an expression of appreciation and adoration. A tribute to what he’d brought to the club.

    Sure, the Wanderers decided to let Ono go. Indeed he hasn’t been as influential this season as he was last season, when at least two of the goals he scored were gobsmackingly gorgeous. His delicate chip over the keeper from just outside the box against Brisbane and the lobbed pass over the defence that he regathered and scored from against Wellington will live long in my memory.

    And yes, I’ve seen other leading lights in various sports sent off with glorious shows of appreciation from their faithful supporters. But Shinji Ono couldn’t be more different to a Dennis Lillee, or a Barry Hall or a Freddy Fittler.

    He was in the twilight of his career when he arrived at Western Sydney. He was not glamorous. Let’s face it, as a Wanderers fan, hearing that Sydney FC were getting Alessandro Del Piero, Newcastle were getting Emile Heskey and we were getting Shinji was like hearing that two of you colleagues were bringing George Clooney and Brad Pitt to the office Christmas party, while your date was the nerdy little guy from IT.

    Shinji Ono didn’t win over fans by being physically imposing or handsome, by getting belted and bravely playing on, or by being cocky and aggro or saying outrageous things. He was polite, technically outstanding, and, ok, I’ll say it: Asian.

    Walk around any public place in any major city in Australia and how many Asian faces do you see? It’s quite clear the Asian population is growing rapidly. You can like it, love it, or resent it (as I know some do) but the truth is that’s who we are now. The wonderful thing about the A-League is it reflects and represents that reality.

    If a bunch of Westies can worship a smiling, polite, 30-something Japanese guy, that’s impressive. That’s important. That’s why I went home feeling so warm and fuzzy on Saturday night.

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    The Crowd Says (50)

    • April 10th 2014 @ 1:03am
      Matthew Skellett said | April 10th 2014 @ 1:03am | ! Report

      Bravo Ms Spillane Bravo Mr Ono History laid down in Satin Black and Red 🙂

    • April 10th 2014 @ 1:16am
      Paul Nicholls said | April 10th 2014 @ 1:16am | ! Report

      Nice article Deb. Shinji comes across as a real gentleman and a great sporting role model. A good ambassador for his country as well.
      Hats off to the WSW fans also.

    • April 10th 2014 @ 1:43am
      rugb said | April 10th 2014 @ 1:43am | ! Report

      the banner said ありがとう which is thankyou

    • April 10th 2014 @ 4:25am
      Bondy said | April 10th 2014 @ 4:25am | ! Report

      Lovely tribute Deb , I think Shinj has smashed the mould about needing the supposed big name marquee would a Francesco Totti or Michael Owen had the same impact in the HAL ? I’d suggest not.

      I love the meticulous behaviour of the Wanderers supporters in the 21’st minute up they go loud and proud for the little No 21.

      The last paragraph is very poignant Sydney’s West has copped a bad run for years in the press culturally but Ono’s presence for the Wanderers has surely broken some moulds especially for even the dullest of intellects .

      I’ll remember Shinj as the player who always had a smile on his face and a solid command of the English language too.

      There was a solid crowd for that turnout as well, as a Mariners supporter good luck to them for the final series but not to much I hope.

    • April 10th 2014 @ 7:25am
      Arvind said | April 10th 2014 @ 7:25am | ! Report

      Thank you Debbie for a fine tribute to a wonderful player and to us bogans of the West. There were many tears shed on that night.

      I remember when we went to meet Shinji when he first arrived at the airport. I don’t think Shinji expected anyone to be at the airport to greet him and here was about 50 people screaming Ono Ono.

      In one of the first games he played one of our players was clearly fouled and Shinji protested to the referee to no avail. In the very next movement the player who had fouled had the ball, Shinji went and hit him from the back. He picked up a yellow but got up with a smile. The crowd went bananas as this was a typical Westie response.

      I met him in the city one day outside of game time and he happily signed my daughters shirt.

      What a great player and human being and he will be forever a legend with Wanderers support and probably our first hall of famer when Wanderers get around to it. Damn tears in my eyes again.

      Comment from The Roar’s iPhone app.

    • April 10th 2014 @ 7:37am
      nickoldschool said | April 10th 2014 @ 7:37am | ! Report

      Big loss for the Wanderers and the Australia’s sports landscape. Although am sure Debbie genuinely loves Shinji Ono, I still felt that her article shows there is still a lot to do to fully integrate/accept Asians in Aussie sports (and society).

      “He was in the twilight of his career when he arrived at Western Sydney”. So were Del Piero, Heskey, Gallas and most marquee players moving to Oz, no? Then I don’t really get the comparison with AdP and Heskey (then Brad Pitt etc…). Sure Ono wasn’t in AdP’s league, not many players are, but I still think he was, and has proven still is, as good a player as all other marquees moving here. Maybe he wasn’t rated by most Australians but isn’t it the issue that Asian sportsmen are not given the same consideration than other sportsmen, despite their achievements?

      I sincerely hope Shinji Ono’s presence at the club helped bridge the gap between anglo aussies and Asian-aussies and I hope that, sooner rather than later, Aussie teams and the socceroos will have Asian-aussies in their ranks and everyone will find this ‘normal’.

      And when we get there, Debbie’s last sentence will finally make sense “The wonderful thing about the A-League is it reflects and represents that reality”.

      • April 10th 2014 @ 8:14am
        Batou said | April 10th 2014 @ 8:14am | ! Report

        Good post Nick. I felt the same. Signs both of progress made and progress yet to be made perhaps…

        With regards to Ono, I think that it was his attitude and humility as much as his skill that won everyone over so comprehensively. Similarly to ADP he has been a real gentleman and shown the type if class that famous athletes aren’t necessarily renowned for.

      • April 10th 2014 @ 8:39am
        Franko said | April 10th 2014 @ 8:39am | ! Report

        I think Asian footballers have been held in fair regard in Oz for a while, we just haven’t got enough of them.

        Kim Dong-Ki was a very good footballer at Adelaide City, Shengqing Qu was held in high regard by Adelaide United fans.

        Also remember Miura at SFC, Seo and Van Dijk at BR, Surat Sukha at MV etc etc.

      • April 10th 2014 @ 9:34am
        Titus said | April 10th 2014 @ 9:34am | ! Report

        It is a pertinent point, even if it is sad that we are still struggling with it. I follow Football because I love the game but I also love that it reflects modern Australia and that it has the power to act as a unifying force for the future Australia. Players like Shinji play a part in this and I would love for the new Asian visa spot to be a marquee position so we can attract quality Asian players to help further integrate Australian society within the region.

        On the celebrations, I thought they were fantastic, but why do Mooy, Hersi and Polenz not get a send off?

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