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» One Touch Football - Archive » Football » Japan, Mr Pitch & the 100-Year Plan

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Author Topic: Japan, Mr Pitch & the 100-Year Plan
Furtho
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According to the stereotype, no-one could ever accuse the Japanese of thinking short-term. Even so, eyebrows were nevertheless raised some time ago when the J-League - organisers of club football in the country - announced details of a programme of development with no less grandiose an aim than to take the sport to the end of this century and beyond. While the scheme at its broadest paints a picture of grassroots improvement to infrastructure, increasing the size of the J-League itself and introducing stable pro clubs to cities and prefectures spread as widely as possible across the archipelago, some commentators are arguing that the unstated intention of the so-called Hundred-Year Plan is more profound: quite simply, for football to replace baseball as the most popular sport in Japan.

But of course, no-one within the J-League is seriously making statements about exactly what the organisation will be doing in 2090, especially when now there are only thirty professional clubs somewhat erratically spread around the country. But, while the details of what might happen later can be filled in to the Plan as time passes, there are in place very definite intentions for the next ten or fifteen years: a move from the current two divisions to three, containing in the region of fifty teams. As an initial part of this more immediate development, the end of the 2004 J1 season witnessed the last ever staging of the Suntory Championship Series to decide the overall title winner, and the corresponding abandonment of the two-stage league season format for the top division. In 2005, therefore, J1 will operate as a ‘standard’ league, newly-expanded from sixteen to eighteen teams.

Similarly, over the next few years, the number of clubs in J2 will be increased from twelve in the forthcoming 2005 season to sixteen or eighteen, drawing upon the sixteen teams in the third tier, the semi-pro / amateur Japan Football League (JFL). At the end of 2004, two clubs – Tokushima Vortis and Thespa Kusatsu – made the transition from JFL to J2 and it is considered unlikely to be too much of a problem for others to meet the criteria for J2 entry in the near future. The next step of the expansion to fifty teams will then be to incorporate the JFL into the J-League as J3, perhaps on the basis of a regional split, and some officials are talking of this taking place as soon as 2010.

It certainly seems probable, then, that a couple more clubs will in a year’s time be in the position that Tokushima Vortis and Thespa Kusatsu are in now: looking forward to their first J-League campaign having achieved promotion from the JFL. There a very good number of teams who have publicly stated their intention to develop and work towards membership of the professional game as viable pro clubs and these are currently to be found not only in the JFL, but also in the nine regional leagues that lie directly below it in the Japanese pyramid system. Indeed, some, such as Fukushima Junkers, have only just been accepted into a prefectural league for 2005.

For reasons of location or demographics, it is in all honesty hard to see some of these outfits progressing much beyond their current level. Despite being winners of the Kansai regional league for 2004, AS Laranja Kyoto would certainly seem to be up against it as the second team in their home city, especially considering that J2 side Kyoto Purple Sanga are so notoriously – and frustratingly – poorly-supported. Further south, New Wave Kitakyushu at first glance have everything going for them: a magnificent name, obviously, but also organisational and financial clout and even a fabulous mascot in the form of Wavy the bird.

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But if New Wave were to make it into J2, they would find themselves in competition for support with no fewer than three other established J-League teams in the north of Kyushu island (Avispa Fukuoka, Oita Trinita and Sagan Tosu), and for this reason alone their chances of building the required fan base look slim.

But Kyushu is something of a footballing hotspot in Japan and the dramatically-located (see photo) Volca Kagoshima, in aiming for JFL entry from their regional league over the next year or two, would seem to be in a good position to exploit the enthusiasm for the game locally.


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Elsewhere in the regions are JFL side Ehime FC, based in Matsuyama on the smallest of Japan’s four main islands, Shikoku. Although originally founded some 35 years ago, the club re-structured itself in 1995 with support at prefectural government level (a vital ingredient for success in Japan – the current mayor of neighbouring Tokushima was elected on a ticket of bringing J-League football to the area with the Vortis club). They have become since then more and more popular locally and, although lacking in the kind of corporate sponsorship that would make them sure fire certs for promotion to J2, are strong contenders due their fanbase and increasingly effective infrastructure. Another plus point is undoubtedly the English name of their home stadium, the Ehime Comprehensive Movement Park.

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But these are all reasonably long-established clubs making a bid for promotion through the ranks. In contrast is Grulla Morioka (the name is Spanish for 'crane' - a local symbol - and in Japanese is pronounced something like 'gloojah'), formed only at the beginning of 2004 with the express intention of achieving elevation to the J-League by 2008. Taking their cue from other clubs in the northern parts of Honshu such as Albirex Niigata, Vegalta Sendai and Montedio Yamagata - who have all achieved enormous popularity in their home towns, despite patchy results on the pitch - and noting the consistent underachievement of Morioka Zebra, those involved in the setting up of Grulla received a major boost when local lad Shinichi Muto agreed to quit J1 side JEF United and head back up north to coach and captain the new team.

With a squad made up of players from the defunct Villanova Morioka and a handful of ex-pro's reassured by the presence of Muto, Grulla played their first match on 09 May 04 – and can be seen here being introduced to the local press beforehand.

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They ended up racing to the title of the local sub-division of the Tohoku regional league, failing to win only one match and handing out a 14-0 pasting on the way. Having thus won promotion to the top level of regional football for 2005, Muto et al already find themselves just a step away from the JFL, two steps from achieving their ambition of reaching the J-League.

Oh, and Mr Pitch? Well, Japan being Japan, the Hundred-Year Plan has to have a mascot, and a man dressed up to look like a section of grassy turf seems ideal.

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And so Mr Pitch is there to cheer on from the sidelines, befriending the nation’s children and visiting football stadia across the land to spread the word: the J-League is coming to a town near you. Eventually.

Posts: 2913 | From: The Slow Lane | Registered: Apr 2004  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
JtS
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Cool. Maybe I should get learn Japanese and get over there.

Arigato Gozaimas

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bryanattoni
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baka yaro

kuso

Posts: 8126 | From: la palude di amstel | Registered: May 2002  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Inca
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Mr. Pitch is great. You gotta write something on spec and send it in to WSC, furtho.
Posts: 16877 | From: Gobias Industries | Registered: Jul 2003  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Tee-Rex
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Why is Mr Pitch leaving a pile of steaming turds in his wake?

Great report, as ever, Furtho. In 100 years' time I reckon the Liver-Man Metropolis (capital of Eurozone 54) will be full of kids wearing Thespa Kusatsu replica shirts.

Posts: 3795 | From: tomorrow, your time | Registered: Apr 2003  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Furtho
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Can I suggest New Wave Kitakyushu or perhaps JFL side Sagawa Printing as even more fashionable options in the replica shirt dept., Tee Rex?

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[ 14.01.2005, 10:35: Message edited by: furtho ]

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Eggchaser
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I prefer Japanese rugby...
Posts: 6505 | From: the passenger seat of Mr Toad's car, driving-by this thread | Registered: May 2004  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
boris
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I request, nay demand, that WSC publishes furtho's first post on this thread as an article in its next issue, complete with pics. Brilliant stuff, as ever, furtho.
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The Batebe of Toro Foundation
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Yep, excellent and fascinating stuff.
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Furtho
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Thanks very much for the positive comments, everyone. For those who are interested in this sort of nonsense: I'm in the process of putting together a 'book' (i.e. word-processed document) on the 2004 season in the JFL and nine regional leagues mentioned in the above piece.

It will include mainly results and tables, plus photos and some text to provide a bit of context and commentary. The intention is to make it available as a freely downloadable pdf - there are still some play-offs in the regional leagues that have yet to take place, but I'll post something on OTF when it's ready.

Posts: 2913 | From: The Slow Lane | Registered: Apr 2004  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
   

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