Football is a game spanning the globe and is played at all levels with the likes of the Premier League, La Liga, Serie A and erm, the J-League taking all the glory! Even though I am a fan of the current English champions I won’t lose my interest in following the beautiful game at many different levels and nowhere is that better exemplified than by this latest trip to see a JFL (Japan Football League) game.
Grass roots football is where it’s at and that’s what I’m all about! Yokogawa Musashino are the only Tokyo-based team in the JFL and, having read an article about them in J-Soccer magazine a year ago, Scottish Neil and I both expressed an interest in going to see them play in the fourth tier.
Whilst I’m no stranger to lower league football having been to see games at Hull (they may be in the top flight now but were once in the bottom league) and Chesterfield at that level in the past, it has admittedly been a long, long time. This is a different country too and this match versus Nara Club couldn’t have been any more contrasting to my previous match in Bangkok amidst 45,000 others!
After taking the train to Mitaka station on the Chuo line in Western Tokyo, a bus ride followed which dropped us off pretty much across the road from the Musashino Municipal Athletics Stadium where they play their home games. If it wasn’t for a few blue Musashino flags flapping about in the wind I’d have been none the wiser that this was a football ground as all I could see was a grey Leisure Centre building but you have to enter the stadium through this place.
The word stadium could be a little bit deceiving actually as three sides of the ground are just grassy banks and trees which is good for many of the kids taken along who spend the match playing in the grass. It was only 1000 yen entry and the ticket pretty much allows you to freely roam the ground. This would be quite the place to watch a match amidst the cherry blossoms or Autumn foliage. It is also the only game I’ve been to where the gardener (groundsman??) was doing the weeding throughout the 90 minutes!
Yokogawa Musashino are a proud amateur club that was actually founded way back in 1939 as the club side of Yokogawa Electric Corporation. There’s not much to show for nearly eight decades of history beyond producing the former Japan national striker Tadanari Lee who went on to play briefly for Southampton amidst spells with Kashiwa Reysol, Sanfrecce Hiroshima and Urawa Reds.
The match kicked off at 1pm and was a quite open end-to-end game. The home side took the lead quite early on but were pegged back fairly quickly by the away team who then added a second shortly after that. A thunderbolt levelled things up but Nara Club fought back again and led 3-2 going into the break. Their fourth was an absolute ripper and I can’t even remember the fifth!
It was 2-2 at half time and Neil disappeared for a bit before returning with a spectacular slab of thick bacon on a stick (above). Even after all these years of being in Japan and going to games I still get surprised by what food is sold at the grounds. It’s all a far cry from the meat pies, hotdogs and hamburgers back home!
Once the fourth Nara goal had gone in we got up and headed around the ground going past the Musashino Ultras to the far left of the home support.
I was quite shocked by the water part of the steeplechase course (below) whereby the athletes land on ground much lower than where they started before the hurdle! To think this is repeated for many, many laps over a long distance!
Nara Club are one of the more colourful teams in Japanese football and I’m not just referring to their awful shirts! Earlier in the match Neil said he wanted to get round to their fans section at some point and so we finished the game sat among the hardcore Nara fans which is kind of funny as it makes us seem like the very worst of glory hunters who change teams once the outcome isn’t in doubt!
Final Score: Yokogawa Musashino 2-5 Club Nara
What followed at the final whistle was a little bizarre as never have I seen a team get in line and do some kind of dance and chant all complete with moving feet. It was far from being ‘Riverdance‘
As we began to file out after that we could see the latest JFL table updated on the whiteboard as well as a man in a deer mask.
Click on the links below to read about other trips to J-League stadiums in recent times: