There are four J-League teams based in Shizuoka prefecture and they were all playing at home on the last weekend in April. J3 side Fujieda MYFC were the only team to play on the Saturday so that was a given. The other three sides all had Sunday fixtures so I had to decide between seeing J3 team Azul Claro Numazu, Jubilo Iwata (where former Celtic hero Shunsuke Nakamura now plays) or Shimizu S-Pulse. Ultimately I chose the latter as I wanted to go to a top flight game and Shimizu was slightly the closer to our base in Ito.
Look closely and Mount Fuji can just about be made out through the circular architectural piece (below) situated just outside Shimizu station from where I took the bus six kilometres to the IAI Stadium Nihondaira.
It was a sweltering day and the kid below came up to me and spoke in English about Leicester City as I was again wearing my shirt as I can get away with wearing it at S-Pulse games due to Shinji Okazaki (whose name is on the back) starting his career with them. He said he loved Leicester City and particularly Vardy, Mahrez, Drinkwater and Schmeichel. Good lad!
In the meantime, I bought a ticket (3000 yen) for the home end behind the goal and then walked round the stadium a bit to see exactly where Mount Fuji was. En-route to Shimizu it had been clearly visible from the train window and it was still pretty impressive.
There is something of a football community in Japan for foreigners interested in the local game which I have made a slight dent in with my “contributions” to J-Soccer Magazine and the J-Talk podcast. Barry Valder has long been a far more prominent correspondent for both media outlets (he’s written a book about watching football in Japan too) and someone I have tweeted occasionally so I thought I’d drop him a line the night before regarding any advice on getting to the stadium and after an exchange of tweets we agreed to meet which I really wasn’t expecting. He very kindly took me under his wing and introduced me to his group of friends in the concourse pre-match.
Too many half decent grounds in Japan are so often ruined by a running track circling them so it was really nice to be present at a more traditional four-stand rectangular ground similar to the ones at Kashiwa and Omiya, for example. Now I’ve complained about the unreserved seating system in Japan many times but for once it worked in my favour as Barry and his friend had an empty seat next to them so we watched the match together from a great vantage point behind the goal.
The atmosphere was great too and I was right among it as the drummers (a staple of Japanese football grounds) were very close by.
Vegalta’s Brazilian striker Chrislan opened the scoring from the penalty spot (below) following a rather dubious foul. He soon added a second from close range following a defensive lapse in concentration from S-Pulse. They didn’t learn from that error which allowed the away team to get another one which I felt painted a rather false picture of what had been a much closer game.
15,228 were in attendance but sadly my presence amidst the S-Pulse faithful didn’t result in the positive outcome like it did back in July of last year when I witnessed a thrilling late come back for S-Pulse to win 4-3 at JEF United. It’ll be tough to top that match for on the field excitement but this match will very much be remembered for a great stadium as well as the warm and friendly welcome from my host.
Final Score: Shimizu S-Pulse 0-3 Vegalta Sendai
With two football matches during my first two days of the Golden Week holiday I had hardly spent any time with my wife and her parents which I felt a little bad about but there were still seven more days for us all to do stuff together. As it was, I think my wife had barely even noticed my absence as she was far too occupied with her number one love!
Follow Barry on Twitter: @spulseukultras
Click here to read ‘Free All-You-Can-Drink Japanese Sake At A Football Match? Surely Not!’