The iconic Captain Tsubasa has appeared in various comic book magazines, cartoons and video games since its creation in 1981. It became one of the most memorable manga and anime worldwide, and really helped popularise football in Japan. Some of the footballers inspired by Tsubasa include Lionel Messi, Alessandro Del Piero, Fernando Torres, Zinedine Zidane, Hidetoshi Nakata, and Andrés Iniesta.
At the start of one of the stories, Tsubasa and his mum move to a fictional town in Shizuoka Prefecture called Nankatsu. Tsubasa ended up playing for a selection team called Nankatsu SC, consisting of the best players among the schools in the city. However, fiction turned into reality a decade ago when a team in Tokyo’s Katsushika Ward renamed themselves as Nankatsu SC after Yōichi Takahashi, the original author and illustrator of the comic series, became the new president of the sports club. It attracted the attention of many people.
Go down the Japanese football pyramid to the fifth tier and it’s the regional leagues with the Kanto Soccer League (KSL) being the one for clubs from Tokyo, Chiba, Gunma, Ibaraki, Kanagawa, Saitama, Tochigi and Yamanashi. I have to admit that I have never seen or read a single thing relating to Captain Tsubasa so only became aware of this story about 5-6 years ago and have been patiently awaiting for a chance to go and see the team in action.
My eagerness to see Nankatsu SC was in some ways down to a football animation but it wasn’t Captain Tsubasa!! My wife and I have been watching ‘Blue Lock‘ each and every week for the last three months or so. I enjoyed the first half of the season but my interest really did begin to dwindle in the latter part. However, for some reason it did reignite a bit of interest in Tsubasa so on a cloudy and windy afternoon I decided to take an 80 minute cycle ride (mostly) along the Arakawa River to Katsushika Ward in the east of Tokyo.
There was a brief stop off at Yotsugi; the station elaborately decorated both internally and externally with Captain Tsubasa images including an exit I didn’t even know existed last time!
On a scorching hot day in late June last year I cycled to this area of Katsushika to visit all the Captain Tsubasa statues in Tokyo’s football manga mecca.
A couple of weeks after that I actually returned to Yotsugi (a.k.a Captain Tsubasa station) but by train so I could see the interior and then take in a Nankatsu SC game. However, on my arrival at the station I realised the match was at a different stadium to the one I wanted to see so I actually turned back!
The steps to the two platforms look very cool featuring various characters from the series.
Tsubasa manga art dons the walls and the ceiling inside the station. Even the floor is designed to look like a football pitch.
Three kilmetres further down the road, located on the banks of the Naka River, is the not-so-snappily titled Katsushika Ward Okudo Sports Center Athletic Stadium which I have wanted to visit since last summer’s statue tour! With the cherry blossoms in bloom (albeit a little past their best) it did make for a more aesthetically pleasing location.
Last Sunday (April 2nd) was the opening day of the 2023 KSL season so I met up with my friend Yohei for the second Sunday in a row following on from the epic women’s table tennis title decider in Yoyogi.
The first thing I noticed was how easy it is to watch this team play for absolutely nothing from the riverbank side or through the fence. It should be noted that in previous seasons tickets were indeed free via internet application. Tickets were only 800 yen (if purchased in advance) for the grassy bank on two sides of the ground so it’s best to support the club properly by giving them the money to help achieve their dream of reaching the J-League.
Outside the main stand there were a couple of food trucks selling things like Nankatsu burgers, and more merchandise was available than you get at some higher level matches of football in Japan! With kick off getting ever closer we finally went inside and took our place on the grass in the corner.
On a nice sunny day, it must be a wonderful setting for watching some football next to the river but it was a bit too chilly on this particular occasion. We got quite lucky with our viewpoint as there was actually a fair amount of action there in both halves.
Yohei went off to the nearest convenience store at half time to get some snacks and it was only whilst he was gone that I even realised the match had been taking place on an artificial pitch! We were hoping that the former Fulham and Arsenal player Junichi Inamoto (now 44 years old!) would enter the fray in the second half but (as far as I know!) he remained on the bench. However, we did get to see Yasuyuki Konno who represented the Japan national team 93 times between 2005 and 2017.
It wasn’t the most exciting of games but there were actually a few chances at both ends with both goals living something of a charmed life at times as it looked like it was heading for a goalless draw.
The deadlock was finally broken in the 84th minute when the Nankatsu keeper spilled a shot into the path of the Ichihrara striker who pounced to give the Chiba-based team victory.
I have now seen the club with the Captain Tsubasa connection so I guess the next step should be to watch an episode or three of the original TV series!!
Final Score: Nankatsu SC 0-1 VONDS Ichihara FC
Bonus: A couple of weeks earlier I took a much shorter cycle ride to Ajinomoto Field Nishigaoka in Itabashi which is the nearest stadium to the Tokyo Fox Global Operations Centre. The big women’s match that day was the top-of-the-table clash between the two teams that had met at the end of January in the Empress’s Cup Final.
Click here to read ‘A Themed Tour Of Tokyo’s Football Manga Mecca’
Click here to read ‘My JSoccer Magazine Article On Japan Football Museum’
Click here to read ‘Fun & Excitement Are Never Too Far Away When Watching This Non-League Japanese Team!’
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