“There is no doubt that football (soccer) is an international sport that is appreciated by all walks of life from all over the world. Despite cultural and linguistic differences, football brings communities together by connecting people with a sport that brings them joy. It breaks down the barriers that separate us from each other and promotes peace – even in the most unlikely places.”
– Katelyn Krulek
Soccer, otherwise known in many countries as soccer, encourages a kind of melting pot on the field. Just like the military, sports bring people from all walks of life, cultures and backgrounds together for a common goal. Combining soccer with the military, especially when stationed in a foreign country, can be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Someone who takes this to heart is Chief Engineer Mate Sallyvidia “Izzy” Isiaho, coach of the Yokosuka Youngsters onboard Commander, Fleet Activities Yokosuka (CFAY).
The Yokosuka Youngsters Football Club is an unofficial team of players representing inclusion with a range of ages, nationalities, military status, cultures and experiences. They hope to one day become the official football club of CFAY.
“Our team is diverse,” said Isiaho, “we come from all over and also from different commands, not just CFAY. The special thing about this team is how diverse we really are.”
The team consists of members from around the world including Togo, Kenya, Ghana, Japan, Mexico, Colombia, Trinidad, Haiti, Burundi, Barbados, Benin and Senegal. In fact, most of the youth are naturalized citizens and serve in the United States Navy.
Isiaho himself is a naturalized citizen originally from Kenya.
“I’m from Kenya,” Isiaho said. “I left my home and my pregnant wife in 2005, during the civil war, to come to America with the help of my sister. I decided to join the military to see if I could improve my life and, you know, help my family. I was working three jobs at the time. When I talked to the recruiter, they told me they were going to give me American citizenship, and that would allow me to bring my family across the country.”
Since 2007, Isiaho has had a successful career in the Navy, but he has never forgotten where he came from or his favorite past time in Kenya, football.
“So growing up, soccer was my main escape sport,” Isiaho said. “We could just play in the street, and that’s all we did. In my village we had to take the cows to the field in Kenya and we played football there until it was time to go home.”
Many in the team have similar stories, including a passion for football. Team sponsor Sam Armahni, a judge and retired NCIS agent, echoes Isiah’s sentiment.
“Not everybody grew up playing softball and soccer and all that,” Armahni said. “The Navy is more diverse now. Three out of every five Sailors come from another country, and one out of five Sailors plays football. It is much more universal and is played all over the world. So, I think that all sports should be given equal attention.”
Isiaho founded soccer clubs in his previous assignments, and after arriving aboard Fleet Activities Commander Yokosuka, he decided to continue his efforts. Initially, joining together as a small group of soccer enthusiasts playing download games eventually grew into a structured team.
“Our team was created just by getting together every weekend when people had nothing to do,” Isiaho said. “We would go to the field and fight. From then on our numbers started to grow and soon I had up to fifteen players who seriously wanted to play. That’s when I decided to retire and train.”
As the team developed, it transitioned from intramural games to playing against Nile C. Kinnick High School and teams from ships coming into port. The team later branched out and played against teams from other facilities with the help of Morale, Welfare and Recreation Coordinator, Jermaine Weekes.
“Izzy had something going on before I came,” Weekes said. “The team tried to play some plays. They played fire station and high school. So I recommended that they could do something effective by reaching out to other bases.”
Weekes also helped by scheduling organized training sessions, including aspects of his physical training and fitness experience. Each game strengthened and motivated the club mentally and physically, which developed into an impressive winning streak and reputation among opponents.
“After the teams played us,” Isiaho said, “word spread that the US Navy had a good team down in Yokosuka. So now we played another first division team, teams from other bases and teams from Yokohama. Everyone showed up thinking that we don’t know how to play football and that they will beat us. And then we win. Some of the best teams come here and lose to us.”
While creating a football club on his assignment was no longer a new concept for Isiah, starting a team in CFAY was unique as it was his first in a foreign country. Naturally, Isiaho decided to reach out to some of his Japanese contacts to start playing with local teams outside the base.
“We live here, they are our hosts, but we don’t have any activities with them. It’s so weird,” Isiaho said. “How do we live in their country, do things in their country, and live as foreigners? So, for us as soccer players, we believe that the ball, the round ball, brings everything together. It doesn’t matter where you are from, the ball will bring people together.”
A distinct opportunity to bring people together arose when the Youngsters joined the prestigious National Defense Academy of Japan (NDA). According to the NDA’s mission statement, the academy is an institution that develops generations of Japanese cadets “intellectually, physically and mentally” to become leaders in the Japan Self-Defense Forces (JSDF). As in all military academies, the competition is strong, especially in athletics, or football for NDA.
This rare confrontation came to the fore after a completely coincidental encounter with former NDA member Commander Kazuhiro “Gucci” Eguchi. Eguchi is chief of development and education at the Anti-Submarine Warfare Center of the Oceanographic Command’s Anti-Submarine Warfare Support, a component of the JMSDF attached to the CFAY.
One day, Eguchi, who was on his way to work out at Purdy Gym, happened to park next to Isiah.
“I parked next to Izzy and was getting ready to practice and shoot the ball,” Eguchi said. “We started talking about football and I asked if I could join their team and he told me to come play with them.”
Eguchi was a soccer player from the age of six and a former player on the NDA soccer team. So, he floated the idea that a series of matches between Yokosuka and the NDA would strengthen relations on both sides.
“The cadets will go to train at the academy and eventually graduate,” Eguchi said. “Maybe in five or 10 years they will meet again for a training or an exercise, and then the US Navy and the JMSDF will be able to build a good relationship.”
The two teams agreed on two sets of games, the first played in Yokosuka and the second on the academy campus. It was the first time in history that the US Navy played football on a Japanese campus. Both teams competed fiercely, but ended up as friends and fellow athletes.
As a result of the event, the NDA hopes to have more football events to continue its relationship with the US military, including inviting members from other branches.
“Playing NDA builds friendships as we get to know each other,” Isiaho said. “That is the most important thing. These kids are from college; they are not even employed yet. It brings a good mentality for the future when they become active.”
The Yokosuka Youngsters define multiculturalism – a core value for both our military and the United States as a whole. The team uses football as a medium to promote values and relationships that transcend cultural differences, geopolitical borders and language barriers. Isiaho hopes the team will continue to support the vision even after he leaves.
“As long as CFAY is here,” Isiaho said, “I would like Yokosuka Youngsters FC to stay as well.”
|Date of publication:||01.09.2023 18:50|
|Place:||YOKOSUKA, KANAGAWA, JP|
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