Taking the long road to a professional career

Picture – official cmfc

cmfcenglish spent a very pleasant ninety minutes with our Japanese forward, Yuta Hirayama, before last Friday’s match at Suphanburi.

If my grandmother had spent over an hour with Yuta she would have exclaimed with some enthusiam – “he is such a nice young man.”

And that is meant in the nicest possible way – he is just that.

Born in Japan in 1997 Yuta knew when he was six that he wanted to play football – and that the road would be a long one. His youth football was played for SS Cantera, and Musashi Ogose HS.

At secondary school Yuta would cycle a 20km round trip to train almost every day.

With the constant support of a sporting family Yuta persisted.

His is a family of many talents – his mother teaches dance while his sister is an actor. A family of performers.

His father, Yuji Hirayama, is something of a legend in Japan. He started climbing in his teens and moved to France to pursue the sport competitively in Europe. UK Climbing describes Yuki as “a Japanese rock climber who has excelled in most forms of the sport since the mid-1980s. He has won World Cups, climbed up to 9a+, set speed records on El Capitan, onsighted F8c, bouldered 8B+ and opened hard multi-pitch climbs. There aren’t enough superlatives to describe this legend.” He also owns a climbing gym in Saitama to teach the next generation.

In Japan Yuki is one of the pioneers of Sawanobori, the art and challenge of climbing waterfalls – this video explains the challenge. Sawanobori – Climbing Waterfalls in Japan

Climbing competitions took Yuki around the world. An international perspective that was reflected in Yuta attending Tokyo International University where although he did represent the University football team he was unable to find a J League side.

But when one door is not open try another. A new path to climb.

Working with a Japanese/Australian agent Yuta joined Western Pride FC in the suburbs of the Queensland state capital. Playing in the Queensland Premier League.

Yuta was just 23. Western Pride were a semi-professional team paying a match fee but not a living salary. Yuta needed work. 50 hours a week were spent running deliveries of Japanese foods to restaurants and stores. Then there was training and then match days.

4.30am starts every morning were both a work and a training requirement. If you want something enough you have to work for it.

Crowds of maybe 50 people came to the ground. It was not glamorous. Some of Yuta’s Western Pride goals are in this link – https://fb.watch/jeYwTofacm/

Yuta’s goals earned him the Golden Boot for the QPL 2020 season. And also earned him the attention of more senior clubs. Staying in Brisbane was an attractive option and Yuta would spend the next two seasons with Brisbane City where Matt Smith was the player/coach. At that time Brisbane City were also in the QPL after relegation in 2020.

The club would bounce back to the NPL Queensland after promotion in 2021.

Golden Boot for Western Pride FC

As a quick aside the NPL Queensland is one of the eight state leagues that sit below the AFL.

Underneath the NPL Queensland is the Queensland Premier League which alongside other state leagues make up the third tier of Australian football.


The step up to the NPL Queensland was straightforward. Yuta was having fun on the pitch – 14 goals in 21 league games in the 2022 season is a good return by any striker in any league.  Add to that three goals in 2 Australia Cup games.

2022 also saw Brisbane City mark their 75th anniversary season with a first-ever Australia Cup Round of 32 appearance and a 3-1 win over Cockburn City from Western Australia. Brisbane City’s opener came through Yuta Hirayama’s left-footed strike which flew in from a tight angle.

Follow this link for highlights of the cup win.

The connection to Thailand was through Matt Smith (now head coach at BGPU) and Matt’s agent, 360 Sport Management, who became Yuta’s new agent.

Matt Smith left Brisbane for Bangkok Glass Pathum United in late October 2022. It was no surprise that he saw Yuta as a player that could make an impact in the Thai League.

At the end of the 2022 season in Australia there was a Hirayama family gathering in Tokyo; the first time that family had been together for almost four years due mainly to the Covid blight.

Yuta went back to Brisbane; he was offered, and signed, a new contract with BGPU and moved to Thailand at the end of December 2022 knowing that the contract would see him playing for the second half of the Thai season at second tier Chiang Mai United.

That really was not a concern. It was Yuta’s first full time professional contract. No more 4.30am starts and delivery runs. Chiang Mai also had a Japanese coach (Jun Fukuda) and a collection of international players from Singapore, Serbia and Korea.

It has been an easy city and football club to settle into.

But almost immediately he suffered an injury. The first game of the second half of the season. On as a second half substitute at Nakhon Pathom Yuta tangled with the back leg of the Nakhon Pathom captain, Anukorn, when they were both running into the penalty area. Anukorn sensibly told him to stay down and wait for the medics to assess the injury.

It was not good news. A torn hamstring that would keep him out of the squad for 7 weeks; even now after three short run outs as a substitute it is clear he is not yet at full match fitness and sharpness. Such an unfortunate injury – but Yuta is philosophical about it and is determined to come back stronger.

Instead of 17 games Yuta now has just seven games in which to make enough of an impression to get a new contract for 2023/2024.

And there is the issue – he likes Thailand and Chiang Mai. He is unclear what sort of opportunity he might be given by the new owner. All he can do is try to make an impression but he needs the playing time to do that.

Spare time is spent showing Veljko how to lift weights in the gym, (yes, I made that bit up!) having lunch with the CMFC Koreans or studying. Music is not J Pop. He loved Australia but prefers Thailand.

“George” was a school and university nickname. Please call him Yuta.

He likes our fans and the noise – after playing in front of 50 in Brisbane the CMFC crowds must be very welcome.

If he was not a footballer his thought out responses suggest he has a future as a diplomat.

His network of Japanese players includes Yuto Ono at Chiang Mai United. It would be fun to see them both start on Wednesday. He is also good friends with Ryo Matsumura who scored some of the best goals seen in Chiang Mai in recent years. Ryo is on loan from BGPU to Persis Solo from Surakarta in Indonesia.

So what next? Yuta is young, works genuinely hard, and knows how to score. F it was my call I would give him a run of games until the end of the season. But that is the coach’s decision.

Whatever happens his story is one of pursuing a dream and of being supported and encouraged along the way. There is a lesson for many of us in that.