“Look at these scenes, just look at these scenes” exclaimed the BBC commentator John Motson in excitement as the Republic of Ireland equalised in injury time against Germany at World Cup 2002. (Watch the clip here.) The climax of that group match was one of the most memorable moments of the tournament for me, and it took place in Kashima where I went last Sunday.
One day I’d like to have visited all the Japanese stadia used in 2002. Admittedly, the Sapporo Dome was the main one for me with Saitama Stadium 2002 and the Nissan Stadium in Yokohama not too far behind. The Kashima Soccer Stadium falls into the next category as one that is still just about possible to get to on a day trip.
Two weeks on from our trip to the Todoroki Athletics Stadium, Scottish Neil and I decided to go on a real away trip a few hours away to the east of Ibaraki-prefecture. I wanted to see my Kashiwa Reysol boys in action sooner rather than later, and with Leicester not playing till after midnight, I had a free day to do something more constructive with my time instead of just sitting around nervously all day waiting for our game to start.
On the back of some pretty brutal teaching schedules, a day of rest would have been nice but instead I was up early to go out for the day. After short stops at Sakura and Narita town, we continued on to our final destination on what proved to be a very, very long day.
Going by train to the stadium is not as easy as I thought it would be. We went past many rice fields to Katori station (below) as instructed by the train timetable app but was pretty shocked on stepping out there that the Kashima Line running to the stadium wasn’t scheduled until 58 minutes later! Instead we went one stop back to Sawara but had to still wait for the same train we would have had to wait for in Katori.
My ‘Top 10 Day Trips beyond Kanagawa, Saitama and Chiba‘ post in 2014 was originally drafted as a top five list about Ibaraki prefecture and did include the Kashima Soccer Stadium but I eventually opted out of that idea as I wanted to have actually visited the stadium before including it in any list. It was a most impressive sight and once we’d purchased tickets in the away end (2800 yen each) we took some pictures of it’s sleek architecture and the statue of Brazilian and former Antlers legend Zico outside.
As ever, finding a couple of unreserved seats was far from easy once inside the stadium but we eventually managed to get lucky and settled in amongst the 16,000 crowd for what was, as ever, a great atmosphere.
It was a pretty good game actually with a fair few opportunities at both ends as Reysol started the brighter though Antlers had the best chances as a couple of free headers were wasted. In first half injury time the home side had a good shout for a penalty turned down by the referee and just seconds later the ball was in the back of the net at the other end as a lovely bit of footwork from Junya Ito earned the player a fine goal.
Beforehand I can’t say I was expecting too much from this match despite Reysol having won their previous two games. However, when Taketomi finished off a great passing move to make it 2-0 on 63 minutes I sensed it was going to be Reysol’s day and I would finally witness a victory after seeing them lose or draw for so many years on the occasions I have been in attendance.
Getting home was long and arduous as we had to change trains half a dozen times. Having left the Tokyo Fox Global Operations Centre at 8am, I did not return until nearly 10:30 pm. It was a day out designed to take my mind off the Leicester versus Swansea game and it worked quite well but realisation hit me on the way home. Thankfully my nerves were put at ease very early on in that game and that result rounded off a wonderful day.
Click on the links below to read about other trips to J-League stadiums in recent times: