Like many people in this country, I have only really followed the fortunes of Nadeshiko Japan (the women’s national football team) team since they triumphed over the USA on penalties in the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup Final. Winning the biggest prize of all came at an important time for a country which had a few months earlier suffered greatly due to the earthquake and tsunami which ripped through parts of Iwate and Miyagi Prefectures. It gave the country a much needed lift and really helped put women’s football on the radar of much of the nation.
Since then, Nadeshiko Japan have twice won the Asian Cup and they also reclaimed the Asian Games title in 2018 having won it eight years previously. All of this was certainly not the first time for me to consume women’s football though. Back in the late 1980’s, Channel 4 in the UK provided regular coverage of it and I lapped it up each week as they were times when sport on TV was nowhere near as regular as it started to become a few years later.
The BBC have been heavily promoting the women’s game for a few years now and the MOTD Facebook group had many posts about it during this years World Cup which were commonly met with “No one cares” GIF’s or requests for a separate page for the men’s and women’s games. They did subside a bit as the tournament progressed and people got into it more and more but the keyboard warriors were never too far away in shooting down the more positive opinions with their misogynistic comments.
The women’s game really has a battle on it’s hands at times to get attention whilst the men’s game dominates TV, radio, newspapers and the internet. It has admittedly taken me a lot longer than expected to finally get round to taking in a women’s match. It was a new experience and one that I was excited about.
The majority of the national team is comprised of Nippon TV Beleza (the women’s team of Tokyo Verdy) players which is not too much of a surprise given that they’ve won the last four league titles having taken over from Urawa Reds Ladies at the summit. These two hold the top two positions in a league consisting of ten teams but this match was actually a Nadeshiko League Cup semi final.
In the day leading up to this particular weekend I had been planning to see a fifth tier match at Komazawa but when I saw there was a women’s match on I quickly switched allegiance as I was keen to see how passionate the fans were. There was no mistaking who this guy (below) was rooting for!
The game was taking place just a short distance from Tobitakyu Station on the Keio Line. Not at Ajinomoto Stadium though. I passed that as I headed to the AGF Field (Tokyo Stadium Nishi Athletic Stadium) which is just a stones throw away.
Outside the ground there were a few food stands as well as a stall selling Beleza merchandise (shirts, scarves, t-shirts, caps etc) which I saw whilst waiting to meet up with @FCTokyoGirl who I knew of thanks to the medium of Twitter. She was there in a working capacity (compiling statistics). We picked up tickets on the gate for ¥1,200 and made our way to the far side to sit on the grass banks just to the side of the Beleza faithful who were making a bit of noise already whilst waving some of those giant flags.
Looking at all the pictures below you could easily think that this is a modern stadium due to the positioning of that interesting architectural structure in the background. Known as Musashino Forest Sport Plaza, it hosted a badminton tournament on the Sunday when I visited but it is actually separate from the football ground. It has to be said that it does add to the ambience of the place though.
Kick off was at 4:30 pm and it turned out to be an eventful game. Nippon TV Beleza began the day as favourites but soon found themselves two goals down within 28 minutes. The woodwork was hit a few times but they managed to pull a goal back in first half injury time.
The second half was a different affair and Beleza soon equalised on 49 minutes. Shortly after that the Reds goalkeeper Matsumoto was sent off for handling outside the box and with the one-woman advantage it was always more of a question of when rather than if regarding a third. Inevitably that winner came for Beleza via Minami Tanaka on 67 minutes which proved to be decisive and took them to the final against Inac Kobe Leonessa the following Saturday.
The best credit I can give this game is that I actually forgot I was watching a women’s match and only when I saw one of the few pony-tailed players did I remember. It was an entertaining game and presumably not too different to a regular Nadeshiko League game.
Perhaps surprisingly, there were no TV cameras present and for a semi-final it was a match far more deserving of a bigger crowd. The women’s game has made a lot of progress over the last decade or so and is taken more serious than ever before by many but, away from the international matches, it still has a way to go to reach the heights and popularity of the mens game. It’ll be interesting to watch it’s development.
Final Score: Nippon TV Beleza 3-2 Urawa Reds Ladies
(Nippon TV Beleza went on to win the Nadeshiko League Cup on Saturday 3rd August. They beat Inac Kobe 3-1 in extra time.)
Click here to read ‘My JSoccer Magazine Article On Japan Football Museum’
Click here to read ‘Football Match Held Up By An Earthquake!’