At 90 years old, Hiroshi Kagawa was the oldest member of the press corps at the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™, and the Japanese journalist was covering his tenth global finals. His first was in 1974, in West Germany, and he was at the Final at the old Olympiastadion in Munich, a game that inspired him to embark on a globetrotting career covering the beautiful game.
“This game was the genesis of modern football,” Kagawa told FIFA.com at Brazil 2014.
His remarkable journalistic career spans more than six decades. The first story of that career was published in 1951, about Swedish side Helsingborg’s visit to Kyoto. During the years since, he has seen his country evolve into a football powerhouse, even hosting World Cup finals. It was not easy convincing his countrymen that football was worthwhile though. “Football was very low, behind baseball and even behind rugby,” Kagawa said of post-war Japan.
Thanks to his dispatches and his passion, his desire to illuminate and transmit the virtues of the world’s game, Japanese football has blossomed. He saw his team qualify for its first World Cup in 1998. “The pride I felt was bigger than you can imagine,” he recalled.
For his unstinting dedication to bringing football to a wider audience, his remarkable passion for the game and his commitment to his profession, Kagawa follows sporting luminaries Pele, Sir Alex Ferguson and Jacques Rogge in receiving the FIFA Presidential Award.
There was a standout moment at the 2014 FIFA Ballon d’or awards when Journalist Hiroshi Kagawa, was presented with the FIFA Presidential Award by President Blatter that befittingly coincided with the 90th anniversary celebrations of the AIPS. It was the first time in the history of the awards that a journalist’s contribution has been recognised.
The Japanese from Kobe was honoured for his tireless work for football in Japan, which has continued to grow in popularity in his homeland thanks to his articles and incredible passion for the game. He was the oldest media representative on duty at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, his tenth World Cup.
Here his is story as shared with FIFA.COM in Brazil last year. I had travelled so far,” remembered Hiroshi Kagawa, a tiny and wrinkled old man whose eyes burn when he talks about football.
“It was the Olympiastadion in Munich, the 1974 World Cup final. It’s so vivid in my mind. Johan Cruyff in orange and Franz Beckenbauer in white. I felt so grateful.” The 1974 tournament was Kagawa’s first. He went on to cover nine more in a row, travelling the world from his home in Kobe, Japan. He missed out on South Africa in 2010 due to poor health, but is now back for his tenth. In the buzz and hum of the media workroom at the Arena Pernambuco, Kagawa is still and calm. Younger reporters hustle, chasing deadlines and screaming into their mobile phones.
His interview takes over an hour because members of the Japanese media, out of respect for their old master, constantly interrupt. They bring him water and bow, smiling at him as they would their own grandfather. They help him up the many flights of steps to the stadium’s media tribune, where, surrounded by the charging phones and winking devices of the information age, Kagawa sits with a notepad and a pencil, frozen in time, watching Japan play. Born in Kobe in 1924, Kagawa was fascinated by the famous port’s visitors.
“There is an international feeling in Kobe,” said Kagawa, recalling a time before television, long before the internet, when foreign notions arrived only via the waves. “I met people from different places, all over the globe, and it helped me think of the world as a bigger place.”
An enthusiastic footballer in his youth, he was called for military service in 1944 in the closing years of the Second World War. A kind and creative man, with an eye for the connections between people, Kagawa was thrust into the cockpit of a plane laden with explosives. He trained and flew missions as a Kamikaze pilot. “I was a very lucky man to escape with my life,” he said. After the agony of atomic bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Kagawa turned his attention back to football, to the connections and healing it could bring to his devastated country.
“Football was something positive in the world and it was something I could do to help Japan,” Kagawa said. “I wanted Japan to join the world’s top teams and be a part of the larger world of football,” he said. But there were obstacles. Post-war Japan was dominated by an obsession with baseball, an import from America. “Football was very low, behind baseball and even behind rugby,” said Kagawa.
He began to travel, in Asia and beyond, chasing stories. He saw the passion football generated. When he arrived in West Germany in 1974 it was the culmination of one journey, and the beginning of another. He sat at a desk at the Olympiastadion in Munch, witnessing a turning point in football history. “This game was the genesis of modern football.” Kagawa said. The first piece he sent back to Japan in a now-famous magazine series called A World Cup Journey reads: “Berti Vogts is a good man.” It’s the opening line only a rascal could write, about the German defender who man-marked the world’s best player at the time, Johan Cruyff, on to the fringes of the famous Final. Kagawa has since seen the game grow like wildfire in his native land.
Thanks to his dispatches and his passion, his desire to illuminate and transmit the virtues of the game, Japan’s football has blossomed. He saw his team qualify for its first World Cup in 1998. “The pride I felt was bigger than you can imagine.” The old reporter, now freelance, has seen his country become the pride of Asia and produce world superstars like Hidetoshi Nakata, as well as flawed geniuses like Kazu Miura. Japanese players now feature at the biggest and best clubs in Europe and his country even hosted a world finals. He has seen his Japan become part of the fabric of the football world, an elegant panel woven into a vibrant global tapestry. —- FIFA