The J-League match day experience in the Covid_19 era just hasn’t been the same for me. Although fans were allowed back once football returned in July last year, there were a new set of measures and protocols such as temperature checks on the way in, readily available hand sanitizer, compulsory masks, socially distanced seating, no singing or chanting, no flags, no alcohol…and seemingly not too much fun!
Despite all that I can’t help but continue to look at upcoming games before usually coming to my senses and telling myself I have to be patient in my return to football stadia and wait for normal service to be resumed. This time though I had a rare Saturday off work and knew that I’d probably be in Izu at my in-laws’ house the day before. Time to put my plan into action then and combine it all with a mini trip to some other prefectures. On a whim I purchased a ticket to see my Kashiwa Reysol boys on the road at one of my favourite stadiums in Japan.
On the morning of the game last Saturday (October 16th) I arrived at Shimizu Station in Shizuoka Prefecture just after 11am and, having just missed the free shuttle bus, I walked to S-Pulse Dream Plaza; a shopping mall located on the harbour front with a big ferris wheel outside.
The Six Stadium is a cool looking restaurant I was mildly tempted to go inside. It had some set meals as well as as big screens for sport, football shirts on the walls and drinks served in S-Pulse glasses. However, I’d had a huge breakfast in Izu so wasn’t hungry or feeling like splashing some unnecessary cash!
There was a Shimizu soccer shop which had the clubs trophies on display. It not only included S-Pulse and Japan national team goods but also stuff from some of the heavyweights of Europe…..and Arsenal!
The mall includes many shops selling Shizuoka produce but all I picked up was a bottle of “soccer cider”. For those not in the know, the word サイダー (cider) has a completely different meaning in Japan! It tends to just mean soda and is definitely not the alcoholic drink made from apples (not common here at all) which is known as シードル (shīdoru).
When it’s sunny the Dream Plaza is probably a lovely area to hang out at but on a cool, cloudy and slightly wet day it wasn’t so delightful! The common views of the city and Mount Fuji from the top of the big wheel would definitely not have been visible on this dreary day.
A red British telephone box was located over the road for some reason, and just beyond that was S-Pulse Dream House with a mascot statue of Palchan in front of it.
This is basically a club shop selling all kinds of official orange coloured merchandise such as shirts, scarfs, towels, cuddly toys, key rings, magnets and face-masks for each individual player which I guess is a sign of the times we live in!
Half and half scarves have something of a bad reputation in England but they’re actually quite popular in Japan. I was tempted to get the one for this game before coming to my senses! If it’s a cup final or against a team from a different country then I can totally understand it but I don’t think it’s necessary in “the battle for 13th” which is basically what this game was!
My only previous visit to the 20,000 seat IAI Stadium Nihondaira was a glorious sunny day in 2017 but the best I could hope for this one was that it stayed dry. With a lot of time to spare and some light rain in the air I perhaps foolishly decided to take the 50 minute walk south to the stadium. It wasn’t a particularly nice walk either as it was an industrial area and typically it didn’t take too long for the rain to get heavier. I eventually had to whip out my mini umbrella but it sadly wasn’t enough to keep my lower half too dry.
Once within the vicinity of the stadium the rain did pretty much stop which I was thankful for when I saw the stands and remembered that they were open to the elements! For some reason I thought I just needed to get to the stadium and would then be under cover!! Proof that I really am out of practice regarding J-League football!
My ticket included a bright orange S-Pulse hoodie in the price. I had just assumed it would be given to me as I entered the stadium but by chance I saw them being given out (on presentation of a valid ticket/QR code) on the hill full of food vendors and souvenir stalls behind the stadium.
If you’re wondering why a Reysol fan was given an S-Pulse top then that is because (as the title of this post suggests) I was sat in the home end and I did take off my 2005 yellow shirt before collecting it. I had tried to buy a ticket online in the away end but couldn’t see any availability. Unaware of the latest Covid_19 measures I just assumed it would be home supporters only so bought a ticket to be in with the home faithful. Imagine my surprise when I did see a few yellow shirt wearing Reysol fans en-route to the stadium!
The last time I watched Reysol was up in Yamagata in 2019 and that was my wettest ever football experience. One that I do not want to repeat! Reysol played in white then as they did at this match but it never seems right to me. For me, it’s similar to when Brazil (or even Norwich!) don’t play in yellow!
Temperature checks are just so common these days that we don’t even think about it. Mine was taken, my QR code ticket was scanned and then I was in to a football stadium for the first time since watching a Tokyo Verdy home match in July last year.
The line-ups were announced pre-match with the away team read first in a customary speedy flat monotone voice followed by a far more flamboyant style for the home side. This was when I saw the infamous club slogan “penetrate” flash up on the big screen. I was also surprised to see that Ronaldo plays for S-Pulse! This one is a defensive midfielder though!
This was not actually the first time I’ve watched Reysol away whilst sitting with the opposition fans as I have done it at Urawa Reds and Yokohama F. Marinos in 2015 and 2016 respectively. We lost both of those (the first one was a devastating late winner) and failed to score on each occasion so I had never experienced muting my celebrations. Would this match be any different?
There’s still no singing, chanting or flag waving but the constant rhythmic clapping along with a drum beat and some other instruments did add some kind of atmosphere.
Full-back Hiromu Mitsumaru finished off a nice move to put Reysol in the lead on 53 minutes but I couldn’t celebrate at all. Luckily the mask could hide my big smile! S-Pulse missed a couple of sitters before and after that goal, and Kosovan substitute Benjamin Kololli had a goal ruled out for offside by VAR. When that happened I began to believe that a Reysol win was on the cards. Such belief and hope is always a dangerous thing in football but in the end a fairly even game was won by the visitors who held out against the late pressure to just about ensure survival for the season.
7,979 were in attendance and I must’ve been one of the first out of the gates. I left as the final few seconds of injury time were played out as I had to make sure I got the first bus and was back at Shimizu Station by 5:30 pm to continue west to Hamamatsu and up through Nagoya to Ogaki in Gifu Prefecture for the night.
Final Score: Shimizu S-Pulse 0-1 Kashiwa Reysol
Click here to read `What Watching Football In Japan Is Like Now`
Click here to read `TF Top 10…… J1 League Stadiums You Should Visit This Season`
Click here to read `Watching J-League Football On A Very Rainy Night Up In Yamagata`
Click here to read `TF Flashback – My J-League Beginnings (2004)`