The J-League kicked off back at the end of February and I’ve been raring to get stuck into some more live match action following my renewed interest in the local game over the last couple of years. My plan (time and wife permitting!!) is to see about 10 games this season including several new grounds and a few Kashiwa Reysol matches as they’re my team over here.
This one fell into the former category although it wasn’t actually my first attempt to go to the Todoroki Athletics Stadium which is where J1 team Kawasaki Frontale play. Usually I only go to Kawasaki for the annual Kanamara Matsuri (a.k.a. the Penis Festival!) but back in October last year I turned up on the day of their home game against Gamba Osaka and was surprised to discover that there were no tickets available for purchase. I left empty handed that afternoon and would you believe it but it was a goal-fest finishing 5-3. Unbelievable!
I vowed to return though and so, along with Scottish Neil, we took our chances (neither of us could be bothered to book tickets in advance) and arrived extra early last Sunday (10th April) to purchase tickets for the visit of Sagan Tosu. I didn’t even know where the city of Tosu was until the day before when I looked at a map! No drama this time as we got tickets with ease (¥2600 each) and then had over two hours to kill before kick off!
The J-matchday experience is certainly different to back home and nowhere is that more apparent than with the choice of food vendors. It’s all a far cry from the pie and bovril traditions of football in England. The Japanese are absolutely obsessed with food and that extends to the soccer stadiums where all manner of food items are on sale at the yataimura (food village) such as the fairly unique long mochi-potato fries which I will try one day.
Inside the stadium, there is even a torii gate and small shrine (below) with the former naturally being in the club’s sky blue colour rather than the traditional orange/red ones.
One reason for getting to these games early is due to the annoying habit and custom of fans arriving early and putting something down on seats (below) to reserve them. You could honestly put your wallet down to reserve your seat given the safety of the country!
Todoroki Athletics Stadium has, as the name suggests, a running track around the outside of the pitch which is a bit too common for my liking in Japan. The likes of Kashiwa and Omiya do have the more traditional rectangular style stadiums where you’re close to the action but all too often you can be watching from great distance and it really is tough to know what exactly is happening down the other end. At the back of the home end is actually a lake (below) fringed with cherry blossoms slightly past their full-bloom best, and fisherman doing an activity in anything but the usual peaceful fishing conditions.
Goals have been raining in at Frontale matches this season with some high scoring games which inevitably meant that this one would ultimately be disappointing. The match started quite brightly with the away team going close early doors which Fronatle responded to before the game fizzled out.
Just as it looked to be heading for a goalless draw, Yoshito Ōkubo popped up on 94 minutes to head home the winner that would break the hearts of the away team and their fans who in all honesty deserved to get a point from the game. In fact their statistics were better than the home sides but the one stat that got the attention was that it was Ōkubo’s 159th goal in the J-League propelling him to the top of the all-time goalscoring charts and sending Frontale to first spot in the league.
Click on the links below to read about other trips to J-League stadiums in recent times: