Issey Nakajima-Farran has more than a few stories to tell. Such things tend to happen when one spends a career chasing a soccer ball around the globe. From the time he was three, the 34-year-old winger for Pacific FC has moved to Japan, the United Kingdom, Singapore, Denmark, Australia, Cyprus, Spain, and Malaysia. To hear Nakajima-Farran tell it, he’s ready to make Vancouver Island a longer stay.
“I really want to make this my last stop,” the Calgary-born Japanese-Canadian says. “I fell in love with this island — I’ve been telling everyone that asks me.”
Born to a Japanese mother and English-Zimbabwean father, Nakajima-Farran moved with his family to Tokyo at the age of three, where he fell in love with soccer watching Verdy Kawasaki and his favourite player, Kazuyoshi “Kazu” Miura.
“I really want to make this my last stop. I fell in love with this island — I’ve been telling everyone that asks me.” – Issey Nakajima-Farran
“Back then, it was the biggest club in J.League. All the national players were playing at that team,” says Nakajima-Farran.
The first Japanese player to earn the Asian Footballer of the Year award, Kazu became the sport’s biggest star in Japan, winning four consecutive league titles.
“He’s still playing, which is incredible,” says Nakajima-Farran. “The guy’s like fifty-something in J.League. He only plays like fifteen minutes, but he does a couple stepovers, and basically all of Japan just loves it.”
At ten, Nakajima-Farran and his family moved to England. His parents sold the move as an opportunity to develop as a soccer player, and the Calgary native joined Crystal Palace’s youth team.
“The training at Crystal Palace took us an hour and twenty minutes, hour and a half, just to get to training, and [my dad] would be the one driving me three, four times a week,” says Nakajima-Farran.
At 16, he was faced with a choice: stay on at Crystal Palace and drop out of school to train in hopes of making the pro team, or return to Japan to play and further his studies. He left for Tokyo, where the reception from his new coach was frosty.
“He always said to me, ‘Foreigner, go home.’ … It always got to me, because it was such a racist comment, and they never saw me as a true Japanese,” says Nakajima-Farran. “It gave me all the motivation I needed to play now … because it was all about me proving him wrong. It’s always been because of that.”
“He always said to me, ‘Foreigner, go home.’ … It gave me all the motivation I needed to play now … because it was all about me proving him wrong.” – Issey Nakajima-Farran
In 2004, he debuted for Albirex Niigata’s Singaporean club and scored 26 goals in 45 appearances. The next year, he earned a spot on Singapore’s Under-23 national team, where he scored twice against Japan. The performances were good enough to land Nakajima-Farran in Denmark for his next stint, where he helped Vejle BK to a championship and promotion to the Superliga.
At 22, Nakajima-Farran made his debut for Team Canada against Hungary.
“[My parents] took my bedsheets, spray-painted a Canadian flag, and I think they were the only Canadian fans in Hungary,” he laughs.
Since then, the Calgary native has earned 40 caps for Canada, playing against the likes of Brazil, Colombia, and Mexico. (“I remember James [Rodriguez] was standing in front of me, so I tugged his shirt, and he gave me a look,” Nakajima-Farran laughs.) Along the way, Nakajima-Farran played alongside current Pacific FC teammate Marcel de Jong, as well as co-owners Josh Simpson and Rob Friend.
After Denmark, Nakajima-Farran left for Australia, where he helped Brisbane Roar FC to a record-setting 36-game unbeaten streak and the A-League Championship. He also survived a close call or two with a kangaroo.
“[My parents] took my bedsheets, spray-painted a Canadian flag, and I think they were the only Canadian fans in Hungary.” – Issey Nakajima-Farran
“I didn’t realize how dangerous they were, so I stopped and got out of the car — literally two metres away, trying to take a photo,” says Nakajima-Farran. “This kangaroo was bigger than me … [My teammates] were like, ‘You’re an idiot. These things will slice you open.’”
Later, he played in Cyprus, before brief runs with Toronto FC and Montreal Impact. It was Friend, says Nakajima-Farran, who approached him about the idea of joining Pacific FC after his latest stint in Malaysia.
“Rob reached out to me last year … and I thought it was a great concept of having our own league,” he says. “That’s what we’ve always wanted as Canadian players.”
At 34, Nakajima-Farran is the oldest player on a Canadian Premier League roster, but he’s excited for the season ahead — and for the game he’s still got left in him.
“Any five-percent tip that I can give [younger players], if I can help them just a sliver to be a better player, it’s nice to be appreciated in that tiny way,” he says. “I still feel too good to quit. I love the game too much to say goodbye to it … I want to keep that going for a few more years.”