Grassroots International: Northern Leagues United

As part of the build-up to April’s first ever Northern League Day Japanese football fan Mike Innes wrote this post about Cobaltore Onagawa, ruminating not just on the after-effects of the recent tsunami but also on Cobaltore’s integral part in the community before, during and after the disaster. Mike’s article led directly to the formation of Onagawa Supporters, which has already raised enough money to pay for youth team equipment – one of the many things which were lost when the coastal town of 10,000 people was struck by a 15-metre high tidal wave on March 11th 2011.

Founded in 2006 to help counter the problems of depopulation and give young people a reason to remain in the community, Cobaltore are members of the Tohoku League, a grassroots football league which covers the relatively sparsely populated northernmost part of Honshu. Cobaltore are a focal point of the town and are followed by hundreds of local fans – many of whom are among the more than 1,000 people still unaccounted for. After the tsunami, the football ground was put to use as an emergency shelter and the club’s players banded together to help with the aid effort.

Northern Leagues United will take place from 11.30am on Saturday July 9th 2011 at the Birtley Sports Ground near the Angel of the North. Birtley’s Under-17 and Under-18 sides will start the day off with an hour-long friendly, followed by a Football Writers vs Northern League Fans match for the Onagawa Cup at 1pm. Among those planning to take part are Simon Bird from The Mirror, Mark Douglas (The Journal and Sunday Sun), Joe Daunt (Metro Radio), Simon Pryde (BBC Radio Newcastle), Richard Mason and Scott Wilson (Northern Echo), Iain Macintosh (The New Paper and Sports Illustrated), Mike Grady (Morning Star), Grant Russell (STV), Ian Cusack (When Saturday Comes), Stuart Fuller (The Ball is Round), Jeff Livingstone and David Hartrick (In Bed With Maradona), and Paul Chow and Paul Robinson, two of Whitley Bay’s Wembley heroes. The Fans’ team will be coached by Ian Chandler, a four-time FA Vase winner as Whitley Bay player and manager. At 3pm Birtley Town will be playing fellow Northern League side Ryton and Crawcrook Albion.

Entrance is £3 for adults and £1 for those aged over 65 or under 16. All proceeds will go to Cobaltore Onagawa and Birtley Town, a local football club which, despite having no major sponsor, has an FA Charter Standard award for its work in the community and maintains youth teams at every age group (Chelsea’s Northern Ireland under-21 international Carl Magnay and Hartlepool United’s Michael Mackay are both products of Birtley’s junior teams). July 9th also marks the official opening of a new volunteer-built clubhouse at the ground. Food and drink will be on sale and we’ll be announcing lots of extra entertainment between now and July.

A message from Onagawa:

“Amidst the devastation wreaked by the tsunami in Onagawa, our players and main sponsors were fortunate enough to escape unscathed, but many lives have been lost. As we shivered in the cold and fear cut off from lifelines, the offer of support from [Onagawa Supporters] was like a ray of light and encouragement to us to rebuild the community through Cobaltore Onagawa.

Japanese people have a certain kind of strength and vanity that prevents them from relying on help from others. However, I wish to express wholehearted gratitude for the efforts of all the people who have gathered around this cause.

Cobaltore Onagawa will not play any games this season, but more than half of the players remain active in the community as they prepare to resume playing next year. Currently, based around a training facility in Ishinomaki City that is a subsidiary organization of the club, we are continuing to offer school guidance and provide supplies in our efforts to support club members and children in the community.”

Koichi Ohmi (General Manager, Cobaltore Onagawa)

Directions to Birtley Sports Ground can be found here. Limited free parking is available at the ground itself, though buses run regularly from Newcastle’s Eldon Square Station, Gateshead Metro Interchange, Sunderland, Chester-le-Street and Durham City centre.

On July 9th you can watch three games of football for £3 and help both north-east England and north-east Japan.


Even if you can’t be there on 9th July, you can still take part! It doesn’t matter where in the world you live – everyone can join in and make a contribution to support international grassroots football. Organisers Northern League Day and Onagawa Supporters have joined together to set up a pledge: you can sponsor us based on whether or not we reach our target attendance at Birtley on 9th July! Take a look at the FAQs below for more information:

Q. So what exactly is the target?

A. Cobaltore Onagawa’s record home crowd is 470 – the photos accompanying this post were taken at the game, in fact – and we’re aiming to break that record. We want to attract 471 or more people to the Grassroots International event on 9th July.

Q. How do I make a pledge?

A. It’s easy. All you have to do is go to our page at
, confirm your email address and sign the pledge. Alternatively, if you’d like to donate now you can do so at Onagawa Suporters.

Q. What will happen after that?

A. The attendance at Grassroots International on 9th July will be counted through the gate by staff of Birtley Town FC. If we achieve our target of a crowd of 471 or more, we’ll then email you a reminder of your pledge and information on how to make a payment.

Q. How much money can I pledge?

A. It’s up to you, of course. As much or as little as you can afford – it all goes to the same cause and we offer you our thanks in advance.

Q. What will the money be used for?

A. All money pledged will go to Onagawa Supporters to help fund Cobaltore Onagawa, as the club and it community try to recover from the tsunami. For example, the money raised by Onagawa Supporters up to now has been spent on absolute basics like kit for the Cobaltore youth team players.

But the club lost all their equipment in the tsunami and they have no income, which is why it’s so important that the grassroots football community support them. Whatever you give will make a difference. Thank you very much!

As part of their clubhouse opening, Birtley Town will also be displaying scarves of as many different club sides as they can. It doesn’t matter if your team is British, European, Asian, non-league or Champions League – if you have a scarf you’re willing to donate, please get in touch at northernleagueday[at]

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10 Responses to Grassroots International: Northern Leagues United

  1. Andrew says:

    No mention of the host of award nominated podcast “gib football show” how will his five listeners know he’s playing!!!!

  2. Ha! We both know they’re only listening for @HuddoHudson’s ‘This is the BBC’ voice.
    Will be putting up some squad profiles in the next week or so. You’ll be top of the list.

  3. Roker Report says:

    Our award nominated blog and podcast also seems to have missed the train too! 😉

  4. But only because your Gyan dance will grab all the attention on the day itself 😉

  5. Lizzy says:

    shhhhhhhh no one tell Richard Keys there’s a girl playing too.

  6. We’ll let you run the line in the second half if you like. That’d really get to him.
    You’d have to promise to flag all of Paul Chow’s goals offside though. It’s that or six of us man-mark him.

  7. Andy Hudson says:

    I promise not to shout “smash it” whenever anyone has the ball near Lizzy 😉

  8. stuartnoel says:

    I am only playing because we are going to Glitterball afterwards

  9. Pingback: Double dipping for charity | The Ball is Round

  10. Pingback: Double dipping for charity « The Ball is Square

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