The J-League first caught my attention at it’s foundation in 1992 when former Leicester favourite Gary Lineker announced he’d be leaving Spurs to play in Japan. For over a decade the only Japanese team I’d heard of were Nagoya Grampus Eight (as they were known back then) until I arrived and saw a league table. Yokohama F. Marinos were top and all the way down at the foot of the table was a team called Kashiwa Reysol.
My job was in Kashiwa and it slowly dawned on me that it must be the local team. These were very different times and the only way I knew about any games taking place was if they were listed in the then-weekly Metropolis magazine; a publication I’d actually go on to contribute to. As I worked on both weekend days, options seemed rare but eventually there were some midweek games that I was aware of and things fell into place.
I had been in Japan for just under six months when my friend Peter and I attended our first J-League match thanks to some free tickets from one of the player’s wives who we occasionally taught. I can’t say I knew too much about Kashiwa Reysol beyond what a few students had told me. I’d heard they’d actually won their first two matches of the season so was fairly hopeful I was jumping on the bandwagon of a team on the up! What I wasn’t told was that they’d lost their next two matches!
Anyhow, I lost my J-League virginity on Wednesday 14th April 2004 which was a wet night. Peter and I were novices so didn’t have ponchos which every other fan seemed to have. I think we even sat under our umbrellas at the back of the stand at one point as 8000 or so people witnessed the arrival of league leaders Jubilo Iwata on match-day five.
It was a terrible start for Reysol as the visitors were 2-0 up inside the first quarter of an hour which amazingly was something that would be repeated when I went to see Reysol away at Jubilo in 2018!!
My favourite players from that season were Tomokazu Myojin, Tadatoshi Masuda and Keiji Tamada with the latter’s free kick helping to set up the reply as Dudu Cearense headed home. Our hopes were up but were eventually dashed in the second half when Jubilo made it 3-1 and that was how it finished.
This is usually the part of the story where the writer confesses to having fallen in love with the team and had a strong desire to continue supporting them but that would not be true. I enjoyed getting to a game but I think I saw it at the time as more of a novelty and just something to be ticked off a list of things I wanted to do in Japan.
There was to be another match though and a few months later (Saturday 19th June 2004 to be exact!) Peter and I teamed up again to see Reysol against the reigning champions Yokohama F. Marinos but this one was at a different stadium. I was still pretty unaware at the time about which (if any) stadium was the main one for my newly adopted team. A previous blog post gives details about that match and my return to see Kashiwanoha Park Stadium 16 years later.
Korean World Cup 2002 sensation Ahn Jeong-Hwan scored the second and decisive goal in Marinos’ 2-1 win. As with my first match, Dudu Cearense did get a goal back but it wasn’t enough and Reysol fell to yet another defeat.
A few months later I had taken a Sunday off work (17th October 2004) so, along with fellow teacher and Walsall fan Phil, went to Hitachi-dai as they were playing the aforementioned Nagoya Grampus who we both wanted to see simply because of the Lineker connection. There was to be no changing of teams though and I remained faithful to Reysol and after that there really was no looking back.
This was by far the most memorable match for me of that campaign. It was a sunny day and just under 9000 fans were there. When the away team took the lead I thought it was going to be business as usual but a great second half fightback saw Reysol on the verge of actually winning a match until the opposition’s Brazilian striker equalised in the 89th minute to make it 2-2.
There was another match on Tuesday 23rd November after that where Reysol were whooped 4-0 at home to Urawa Reds. My girlfriend of the time and I went to see it courtesy of some tickets purchased (at face value) from a guy outside the stadium. That thrashing at home fit in well with how the season had fared for my newly-adapted team. They were relegated with just five wins all season but my attachment to the club had been made and when I returned to Japan after a six month break I watched them play a couple of times in Tokyo.
Bonus: In the Tokyo Fox era, beginning in February 2006, there was a “home” match at the old National Stadium which I went to on Sunday 2nd September 2007.
Yokohama F. Marinos were the visitors again and 23,569 people witnessed a 1-0 Reysol victory.
It was the first time I’d seen my Reysol boys win. Click here for more details.
For the next few years I only watched one or two games and, after seeing Urawa and Grampus draw 0-0 in 2008, I’m sorry to say that I had had enough of Japanese football and barely took any interest in it for five years. Typically, Reysol went on to win J2 and J1 titles in consecutive seasons (2010 and 2011 respectively) during that time!!
For whatever reason I felt a desire to get back into J-League football again after going to see Arsenal in a friendly against Urawa Reds in 2013. Very few of my colleagues were even in to football, let alone J-League, but thanks to some Japanese friends who were passionate about the game I decided to give it another go, and my interest soared thanks to the likes of J-Soccer Magazine, the J-Talk Podcast and interacting online with a small collective of passionate fans from overseas on Twitter. Such media just wasn’t around when I first started going to games!
By the time World Cup 2014 in Brazil came around I was really into it again but it wasn’t until the next year that I really resumed going to any games starting off in Hiroshima when I took my wife on her birthday to see Sanfrecce in action. What could be more romantic! I made my long awaited return to the Hitachi Stadium after that and began ground-hopping whilst taking in four or five Reysol games each season.
The 2020 season was one I was perhaps looking forward to more than any other but after just one round of games, Covid-19 wiped out any football and, as I edit this post months after the bulk of it was originally written, I realise how true it is that you don’t realise how much you miss something until it’s gone.
Click here to read ‘Return To J1 Football Team’s Forgotten Secondary Stadium’
Click here to read ‘Day Trip To The Toyota Stadium!’
Click here to read ‘Back To The Hitachi Stadium After An Absence Of 11 Years!’