Continuing on with our 20th Year Anniversary interviews of people who have made the Tokyo Gaijin RFC what it is today we come to Jeff “Joffa” Harris.
Joffa, of Newcastle, Australia, is the longest serving player in the history of the club with over 15 years of service. He is also the oldest current player at 43. He has held the position of Captain in the past and has been manager for the past 8 years.
TG: Joffa, how did you get your nickname?
Joffa: I’m not entirely sure. I believe that Garna Dowling and perhaps Kaz Naito came up with it in the early days. Still don’t know why. Before that it was the ‘Black Swamp’. I think that was something to do with me on the drink. I was told I resembled the creature from the Black Swamp.
TG: When did you join the TGRFC?
Joffa: I joined in late August, 1994.
TG: Why did you join the TGRFC?
Joffa: About two weeks after I arrived in Japan I met Garna Dowling at a Nova orientation/training. He had worked with one of my younger brothers who was in Japan for 6 months about a year before I arrived. He was an influential member of the club at the time and told me to come along.
TG: How long have you played rugby?
Joffa: I started to play rugby when I was 14. Before that it was soccer and a little bit of rugby league. I didn’t play rugby every year. I had a couple more years of soccer in my late teens. I have four brothers and we were always playing sport together down at the park and it ussually involved touch footy or soccer.
TG: What or who influenced you to play Rugby?
Joffa: I guess it was just a couple of mates. We just decided to go down and have a training run with a local team. We didn’t know that much about rugby. Newcastle is a League town. My dad hated rugby. He was a league man. He probably only saw 2 or 3 of my games in his life. My mum on the other hand often would come down to watch her sons play. My older brother is deaf so that worked against him but three younger brothers all followed me into rugby. At one stage 4 of us played Second Grade (from 4 grades) together and two of us played quite a bit of First Grade in Newcastle. My two sisters would often come along with my mum.
TG: What positions can you play?
Joffa: These days I usually play No.8. I also play flanker. I can also play lock and have filled in at centre when the team has needed it. When I joined the team I said I played flanker and then spent the next 5 years or so at lock. These days I pull rank and avoid lock when I can.
TG:What are your most memorable times with the Gaijin?
Joffa: That’s a hard one but I would have to say the Tours. I have been to the Hong Kong 10’s with the team five times. We were pretty successful too. I think we won the Bowl twice and the Plate Division once. We played against some classy teams and it was always party central. I always enjoyed the ‘junk’ (Chinese boat) tours across to Lama Island. We would have to dress up in some theme, such as fluorescent spandex or S & M, and we would hire our own private junk and drink copious amounts of beer and enjoy a 10 course meal on the island. I also went on the Beijing 10’s tour twice. That was much of the same. Eating dog, supon Turtle and snake and climbing the Great Wall of China stands out in my mind. More recently the team has been attending the Manila 10’s and I have been on that one 6 times. That is also a great time.
TG: Who is your funniest/craziest team mate?
Joffa: That’s a tough one as there have been so many over the years. Romeo ‘Heats’ Devlin was quite a charachter. He enjoyed being naked in public and had some crazy schemes. Mark Hatton who was here for the Nagano Winter Olympics, maybe in 1998, as a reserve bobsledder for the English team was quite a character. I remember one year in Beijing climbing up to the Great Wall of China. We were all pretty hammered and Mark had downed some Turtle Juice, a supposed aphrodisiac. He adopted a toothless postcard seller as his wife for the day. She followed us all the way to the top but I don’t think she understood a word he said.
TG: Why have you played rugby so long?
Joffa: I have thoroughly enjoyed it. I like all sports, though I like soccer less and less these days with all the acting they do. Rugby seems to attract a certain type of individual and on the whole they are all good blokes. The people I have met playing rugby in Japan have made my stay in Japan more memorable than anything else. On Sundays (game days & training days) it’s like going around the world. We have blokes from all over the world. I enjoy their company. They are like family.
TG: How do you prepare for games?
Joffa: Nothing special these days. In the early days in Japan it would be a night out the night before but I can’t do that any more. These days I’m usually one of the last to be ready….you can’t warm up too much at my age or all the energy will be gone. I usually take my 5 year old daughter along to rugby so making sure that she is fine before games is a usual pre-match ritual. She loves coming and the girls (girlfriends and wives, namely Hitomi, Lucie & Hiroko) are great with her.
TG: What event do you look forward to every year?
Joffa: I guess it would be the Tokyo Cup. Despite all the crap that you have to go through I would love to win First Division before I finish, something that we have never accomplished. It’s a tough division though. I also look forward to the Manila Tour and the Christmas Party.
TG: What is the best place to drink after games? Izakaya? Bar? Ground? Park?
Joffa: I like any of them but these days we usually drink cheap beers at the ground or a nearby train station and that suits me fine. We can stay as long as we want and can get up and walk around whereas at an izakaya you are usually planted in the one spot.
TG: Who are the most important for the team – backs or forwards?
Joffa: Well what’s that old saying…the backs are the piano players and the forwards are the piano lifters. At the moment we have stronger forwards and they do a lot of our point scoring. When I joined the team it was the other way around. We had some classy Australian and New Zealand backs and ordinary forwards.
TG: Which team do you love to beat?
Joffa: It would have to be YCAC (Yokohama Country and Athletics Club). They are such a bunch of sore losers and complete elitists and I could add a few more words that wouldn’t be fit for print. In the past they have done everything they can to be us….getting Company players into their team when they play us, home referees etc. They also took a past captain of ours by offering him a job and telling him he had to play with them. He then became their captain. We haven’t been down there for a while and haven’t beaten them for quite some time but the last two times we were robbed with some poor calls from their referee. These days I would love to beat ‘Supermen’ or ‘Tama Club’ in the Tokyo Cup.
TG: What is the secret to your longevity?
Joffa: I’m not sure! I like to think I’m as strong as I have ever been but the speed and mobility have dropped off a lot over the last year. I have to train harder than I ever have to keep up with the youngsters and I’ve always been a fairly poor trainer.
TG: What would be your best team over the past 17 years you have played for the Gaijin?
Joffa: That’s a tough one as there have been so many good players. Here we go.
Joffa’s Dream Team:
1. Fujimoto (Japan)
2. Yukio Suyama (Japan)
3. Tsukasa Takasugi (Japan)
4. Murray Clarke (NZ)
5. Eugene Bouthout (Canada)
6. Joe Nawaqavanua (Fiji)
7. Apisai Bati (Fiji)
8. Kevin Rebay (France)
9. Matt Carruthers (Australia)
10. Brendon Doherty (Australia)
11. Jamie Myers (Australia)
12. Matt Downer (NZ)
13. Damien Wallis (Australia)
14. Dean Patterson (NZ)
15. Garna Dowling (Australia)
16. Garrett Washington (USA)
17. Kiel O’Connell (USA)
18. Rob Reinebach (USA)
19. Steve Mains (NZ)
20. Ian Roy (England)
21. Mickey walker (England)
22. Koroi Baba (Fiji)
Joffa: Whew! That was tough. No place for some excellent players. Hard to leave out Takayuki Kitajima (Japan), Kaz Naito (Australia), Paulo de Berriozabal (Basque), Shinichiro Nakayama (Japan), Joe Fisher (NZ) and Alistair Nimmo (England) amongst others. Also, because of the one year with the Gaijin stipulation, I have to leave out two very good locks in Corey Cook (USA) and Nik Pavesic (Croatia) who were only with the team for 6 months. You’ll also notice that I have no reserve half back. They rarely get injured and Ian Roy could fill in there in my team if need be. I’ve got to stop thinking about this as the more I think about it the more players I think about that could easily slide into the team.