Featured Post

Season 2016 Highlights

BARRY WRITES...  I really should have thought of doing this as soon as highlights became available officially on YouTube a while back. Be...

Sunday, 29 May 2016

S-Pulse 8 (Eight) - 0 Gunma


S-Pulse, you never fail to surprise me.

Given our recent turgid form, who saw this coming? Nobody, that's who.

Ladies and gentlemen, you just witnessed S-Pulse history: our largest ever win. That's also the J. League records equalled for most goals scored without reply, and the biggest margin of victory. As for J2, that's the biggest victory of all time.

What a game. As I mentioned at half time, it was a one-sided onslaught. Men versus boys. Only one team had turned up. The most pleasing aspect though was how at 4-0 with 45 minutes still to play, we didn't let up. We didn't rush, we weren't frantic, but nor did we take our foot off the pedal. People often joke about their team "could have had ten", but we genuinely could have.

Omae and Tese in particular ran riot, simply impossible for Gunma to deal with, but nobody had a bad game. Murata scored a fantastic chipped goal, the afternoon's 7th, which turned the match from a thrashing to a rout. It set the stadium well and truly into party mode, each of us in orange hoping the game would never end.

With Kakuda back, Tese on fire, Omae full of confidence and banging them in, we finally showed what we're capable of. When three of our young guns entered the fray, starting with Ishige just past the hour, each brought something to the table. Kaneko, the last on with 10 minutes to play, even got on the score sheet, netting the 8th.

Sure, Gunma were pretty terrible, but we took full advantage, and did what no other J. League team has done in 13 years - score 8 and concede none. This will hopefully prove to be our waking up from a not-especially-great first third of the season. Of course, it is ultimately only three points, so onwards and upwards starting with Mito away next week. Bring it on!

Decent away following
 Gunma manager (white shirt) had some explaining to do after the game
There were no shortage of tears from Gunma players and fans 
 Kobayashi and co, thank you
 Kachiloko time!
Tese - Our best number 9 in years 
You don't see that everyday 
Celebratory yakiniku. 8 beers in 90 minutes? Stage Clear!

Wednesday, 9 March 2016

Season 2016 Highlights


I really should have thought of doing this as soon as highlights became available officially on YouTube a while back. Better late than never. I'll update this after each game.

1) S-Pulse 0-0 Ehime FC
February 28th 2016

2) V-Varen Nagasaki 0-3 S-Pulse
March 6th 2016

3) S-Pulse 0-0 Matsumoto Yamaga
March 13th 2016

4) S-Pulse 0-2 Sapporo
March 20th 2016

5) Yamagata 0-1 S-Pulse
March 26th 2016

6) Kumamoto 0-2 S-Pulse
April 3rd 2016

7) S-Pulse 0-2 Cerezo Osaka
April 9th 2016

8) S-Pulse 2-2 Kamatamare Sanuki
April 17th 2016

9) Giravanz Kitakyushu 1-2 S-Pulse
April 23rd 2016

10) S-Pulse 4-1 Zweigen Kanazawa
April 29th 2016

11) Kyoto 2-1 S-Pulse
May 3rd 2016

12) FC Gifu 1-1 S-Pulse
May 8th 2016

13) S-Pulse 0-1 Tokushima
May 15th 2016

14) Tokyo Verdy 2-1 S-Pulse
May 22nd 2016

15) S-Pulse 8-0 Gunma
May 28th 2016

16) Mito HollyHock 0-0 S-Pulse
June 4th 2016

17) FC Machida Zelvia 1-2 S-Pulse
June 8th 2016

18) S-Pulse 3-0 Yokohama FC
June 12th 2016

19) S-Pulse 1-1 JEF United Chiba
June 19th 2016

20) Renofa Yamaguchi 0-4 S-Pulse
June 26th 2016

21) Fagiano Okayama 2-2 S-Pulse
July 3rd 2016

22) S-Pulse 4-0 Roasso Kumamoto
July 10th 2016

23) Ehime FC 2-2 S-Pulse
July 16th 2016

24) S-Pulse 0-1 Tokyo Verdy
July 20th 2016

25) JEF United 3-4 S-Pulse
July 24th 2016

26) S-Pulse 2-0 FC Gifu
July 31st 2016

27) Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo 3-2 S-Pulse
August 7th 2016

28) S-Pulse 2-0 V-Varen Nagasaki
August 11th 2016

29) S-Pulse 2-2 Renofa Yamaguchi FC
August 14th 2016

30) Yokohama FC 0-2 S-Pulse
August 21sth 2016

31) S-Pulse 3-1 Montedio Yamagata
September 11th 2016

32) S-Pulse 2-1 Mito HollyHock
September 18th 2016

33) Matsumoto Yamaga 1-0 S-Pulse
September 25th 2016

34) Cerezo Osaka 1-2 S-Pulse
October 2nd 2016

35) S-Pulse 2-0 FC Machida Zelvia
October 8th 2016

36) Zweigen Kanazawaa 0-3 S-Pulse
October 16th 2016

37) S-Pulse 2-0 Giravanz Kitakyushu
October 23rd 2016

38) Thespakusatsu Gunma 0-4 S-Pulse
October 29th 2016

39) S-Pulse 4-1 Kyoto Sanga
November 3rd 2016

40) Kamatamare Sanuki 1-2 S-Pulse
November 6th 2016

41) S-Pulse 2-1 Fagiano Okayama
November 12th 2016

Tuesday, 1 March 2016

Hi J2, Nice to Meet You! (S-Pulse 0-0 Ehime)


4 subscribers? Hell yeah, I'm a YouTuber now.

With thanks for all the feedback. Very much appreciated. This little project was decided upon almost as I walking to the shuttle bus, so for something so off the cuff, I think it turned out OK.

Following encouraging comments, a follow up for the Matsumoto home game on March 13th in now in pre-production (ie: I'm thinking about buying a selfie stick). These won't happen every week, or even every home game, but they might be a fun way to document the year instead of just writing about it.

If you actually want to see the game instead of me waffling on half cut, here you go:

Saturday, 20 February 2016

Up on Year Number 9


While trying to think up a '9' related header for this post, the only thing that kept repeating in my mind was Bryan Adam's late 90s soft rock classic. As a result, this post is best enjoyed as it was composed: the Groover from Vancouver providing the background beats.

So anyway, why 9? Because, believe it or not, 2016 marks the ninth year we've been doing this. 

Stop us if we're boring you
Posts slowed down since Twitter took over a few years back, and became a crawl over the last 12 months. Who can blame us? Watching S-Pulse under Oenoki's reign was a thoroughly miserable experience. But we've been doing this too long to let a little relegation stop us, so on we soldier into 2016, full of a lovable, boyish sense of hope. (Now playing: Best of Me)
A year watching Oenoki's S-Pulse, summed up in one face

A lot's happened since 2008, not least Twitter's arrival. Employing the little blue bird means much less needs to posted on here, with much more getting much further, much more easily than a blog can accomplish. More relevant to the actual content of this site is the agreement I struck with S-Pulse. Match reports going up on the official home page made it pretty redundant having them here as well. Even if it meant I could rant and rave a bit more, I get that done on Twitter anyway, so there's little point in having a second report here. (Now playing: 18 Till I Die)

If last season was an unintentional practice run (and there was little in the way of hoards clamouring for a return to weekly match reports), then this year it's official; we're not bothering with team listings, substitutions, and match summaries. We'll be more active than last year, but will focus more on the adventure than the details.

We're in J2 then, but with a whole load of new teams to visit or, if the Sunday kick offs prove prohibitive, at least welcome to Nihondaira. One way or the other, it's going to be journey. You can bemoan the lack of in-match spontaneity in Japanese football fan culture, but it provides no shortage of colour and entertainment, with each club unique. I can't wait to see how Renofa or Machida roll. (Now playing: All I Want is You

In the J. League the term derby has been entirely reimagined to serve a purely publicity related function. Two teams wear the same colour? It's a derby. Two teams start with the same letter? It's a derby. I shit you not. I've been here so long I have to remind myself how ridiculous it is, but then it's all part of what makes the J. League such a fun ride. Two of the nation's top producers of oranges go head to head? Opening week at Nihondaira,  I present you "The Mikan Derby" Why the hell not? I'm amazed it wasn't picked up on by the marketing bods, to be honest. (Now playing: There Will Never be Another Tonight)
Ehime - what you got?
Bring it on, then. One week tomorrow I'll be back up the IAI, staring out at a snow-capped Mt Fuji, but no doubt finding something or other to moan about. Regardless, I'll hopefully be witnessing the seeds being sown of a long overdue enjoyable season. You never know, when the curtain comes down in November, maybe it will even have been a successful one.

Now playing: Can't Stop This Thing We Started - ain't that the truth. Happy New Year and Forza S-Pulse, mother fuckers!!

Thursday, 7 January 2016

The Ten Best Performing Teams in J. League History


A recent Brazilian publication reminded me to update our annual J. League club ranking. Their list, while using a different points system, ultimately came out eerily close to our own. I've reproduced it below.

First, a few quick points. I'm now calling the list the best performing teams. Reason being, my ranking isn't just about trophies. If you finish the league 2nd then you were one of the best teams in the land, even if you didn't win the title. And how else could I rig it so S-Pulse can poke their noses in? Second, for this year's 1st and 2nd place league points I simply used 2015's combined stage league table. Gamba get nothing for coming third or beating Urawa in the play off semi final.

Thirdly, deciding the league 1st and 2nd place points in this way creates an inconsistency. For 1993 to 2004 (1996 excluded) I used the teams from the championship play off game. Time permitting, I'd like to go back and amend those years to award the two best teams from the year-long table. I suspect the list wouldn't change a huge amount, save perhaps for Kashiwa's winning of the combined 2000 table and the points that would bring. The league format at the time prevented them from even joining the play off.

Still awake at the back? Good, because we're ready to go. Points are awarded as last year:

League title: 3 Points
League runners up: 1 Point
Cup win: 2 Points
Cup runners up: .5 Points
Relegation: -1 Point
Time spent in lower division: -.5 per year
So here you go, the ten best performing teams in J. League history:

1) Kashima Antlers 43.5
2) Gamba Osaka 21.5
3) Yokohama F. Marinos 20 
-) Jubilo Iwata 20
5) Urawa Red Diamonds 16.5
6) Tokyo Verdy 11
7) Sanfrecce Hiroshima 10.5
Nagoya Grampus 10
9) S-PULSE 9.5
10) Kashiwa Reysol 7

The most notable change this year being Gamba's rise to second. Another cup win moved them above Marinos and Iwata, but while their rise up the list comes off the back of recent trophies, it's worth remembering that since 2002 they have also finished J1 in 3rd place seven times. Impressive.

Hiroshima continue their relentless surge upwards with a third league title in four years, while Antlers maintain a seemingly insurmountable lead at the top following yet another cup triumph. Verdy drop another half point ahead of 2016 in J2, and S-Pulse also take a hit following relegation and the upcoming season in a lower league.

Make of it what you will. It isn't perfect, and if you want a professional opinion then here's what the Brazilian media arrived at:

1) Kashima
2) G. Osaka
3) Iwata
4) Yokohama F. Marinos
5) Verdy
6) Urawa
7) Sanfrecce
8) Reysol
9) Nagoya
10) Yokohama Flügels

Pretty close, all told. I don't know what criteria was used, but they still have Verdy on considerably more points than Urawa, so perhaps they didn't penalise years spent playing at a lower level in the same way I did.

There you go then, mates! Same time next year. :)

Saturday, 17 October 2015



With the predictability of night following day, S-Pulse have been relegated. The inevitable result of 12 months of turgid, directionless football, and management decisions which amounted to wanton self destruction.

S-Pulse’s Darkest Hour

J2-Pulse. Or maybe S-Pul2e. Hmmm. Neither really roll off the tongue like J2bilo continues to, but when Iwata fans are concocting payback jibes for their Shizuokan brothers, they won’t be too bothered with the details.

Ups and Downs

That crazy October Yamaha afternoon in 2013. Those 90 minutes, and the hours either side, instantly ranked as my best S-Pulse experience. So they remain. From the cacophony of home-end disapproval greeting each relegation related banner to the impossibly furious pace of the game. Most memorable was the utter bedlam which greeted Genki’s penalty.

Undeniably a high point, but the season that followed never really got off the ground. Truth be told, there were some terrible displays. Away at Gamba Osaka at the end of a seven match winless streak to name but one. 20+ shots to 0 before half time. Ouch. Even so, we won our next game and were still only lower midtable. The sacking of Ghotbi then (not his resignation, as the official website bizarrely claims) came as an oddly timed shock. Almost as surprising was the promotion of youth team coach Katsumi Oenoki to full team boss.

I said it at the time, and repeated it ad nauseum, that it was a bad idea. It was, of course. It was a mind bogglingly bad idea. And those misgivings were proved immediately with bad result following bad result. After a narrow victory over the über-crap Tokushima, it took two months to find another win. Even that only came against crisis-wracked Cerezo Osaka. Long story short, we were terrible. We dropped down the table like a brick, conceding countless goals.

The Emperor’s Cup Fiasco

For me, the most revealing episode came when Oenoki forfeited the Emperor’s Cup semi final. He sent out a team of teenagers and reserves to face a near full strength Gamba Osaka. Men against boys, the result was predictable. Five goals conceded and the final chance of a morale boost in a gloomy season was chucked away. For what? A fully rested team that lost 3-1 on Saturday anyway. That our squad can’t manage a midweek game without jeopardising weekend fitness is monumentally depressing if true. What is true however is that from the start of Oenoki’s reign injuries began racking up alarmingly. Did the spate of crocked players stem from the sudden change of management culture and/or inadequate physical training?

If so you couldn’t really blame the players. It would be nice to think of footballers as striving to go above and beyond, to be the best they can be for the good of their club etc etc, but those players are few and far between. Most are no more or less lazy than anyone else, and if their boss says they’re done, off home they’ll go to play FIFA 2015 in their pants. Not until we appointed a new physical fitness coach did we somewhat curtail our incessant injuries. Inept tactics and poor leadership are a major problem, but insufficient training and discipline are worse.

So our first team was rested, while Gamba sent out a strong XI, despite having their own prior mission at hand; attempting to win the league. This they did, along with the Nabisco and Emperor’s Cup. Gamba players could successfully manage three crucial games in 8 days, but we couldn’t. My take away from 2014’s Emperor’s Cup debacle was I was left wondering if our woes came not just via an inadequate manager, but also the result of a squad not being worked, and subsequently not working, hard enough.

Staying Up

In the league, we stayed up on the last day. Barely. But for a late goal elsewhere the previous week, that painful performance to eke out a draw against Kofu wouldn’t have been enough. But it was, and we survived. And after months of rubbish, the manager was not sacked. During the end of season ceremony Oenoki joked about how tough it had been and thousands in the stands laughed along heartily. I cringed. People seemed to think he’d get better. So did the powers that be. The man himself believed he had what it took. I thought he’d step down. Everyone was wrong.

No doubt I lost Twitter followers on account of my repetitive whinging, but 2015 continued as 2014 had ended; very badly. A squad which included more than enough experience and talent dithered about without purpose, lurching from bad result to bad result, heading nowhere but down.

Jobs for the boys

Week after week I wondered when Oenoki would be given the boot. We lost 5 in a row, part of a 9 game winless streak. He was fine. We surrendered a 3-0 home lead in the last five minutes. He was fine. We got hammered 5-0, again at home. He was fine. Oenoki was never sacked, and he never would have been. He would have been allowed to continue indefinitely. Despite the club so obviously heading for J2, the board was not willing to admit their misjudgement by firing the S-Pulse old boy. Why? To save their own face and protect an ex-player from that ignominy? Probably. A ham fisted attempt to hide an obvious mistake, while looking after one of their own. All at the expense of the club’s well-being.

Oenoki finally quit after an away win at Yokohama, but why then? Had he been waiting to finally win a game to make his big announcement? To go out on a high? If so, it was a childish and damaging gesture. If he knew he wasn’t good enough, and loved the club as much as he said (“Nobody could love this club more than me”) he should have walked away months earlier. By this point the season was nearly two thirds over, the damage was done, and we were in terminal decline.

Oenoki’s replacement Tasaka had been brought in as assistant manager earlier in the year after parting company with Oita Trinita. Oita for their part were looking like dropping to J3. Another inspired appointment, then. But of course Tasaka had worked previously at S-Pulse, not as manager, but as a coach under Kenta Hasegawa. Much like Oenoki, nothing as bothersome as a proven track record was required. He was drafted in purely on past association.

Too little, too late

If Oenoki walking and Tasaka’s appointment was too little, then too late was the throwing around of money to attract Tese and Kakuda. Who ever thought you could undo months of deterioration with a couple of desperate signings? Our board, apparently. Well, at the time of writing, Tasaka is nine without a win. He kept tweaking the back line, but we continued to leak goals. In his defence, he did opt for a more experienced remainder of the XI, regularly sending out Edamura, Honda and Duke in midfield. These were backing up forwards Omae, Tese and Utaka, players very much capable of producing to a high level. 

That a decent side only seemed to get worse was all the more disheartening. If we end the season with a new club record of games without a victory nobody will be surprised. We’re heading for the drop with a whimper. When FC Tokyo, Gamba Osaka and Cerezo got relegated, it went down to the wire. With three games remaining we’re already down. Bottom of the table with J1’s worst defence and worst goal difference. Way to go.

Lesson Learnt?

If this all makes for depressing reading, then it should, because it was all avoidable. The youth team boss shouldn’t ever have been entrusted with the full team. Simple as that. Worse though is how obviously badly it went in 2014, and yet Oenoki was permitted to continue. To a point I find it hard to be too angry with the man. He was out of his depth, but should never have been in that position in the first place.

With full backing he was thrown in the deep end. He sunk from day one, yet either through naivety or simple refusal to accept responsibility for their cock up, the board continued to support him. You can see why he’d feel obliged to press on trying to repay that trust. He should have quit earlier sure, but maybe he was simply manipulated into sacrificing himself and saving someone else that unpleasant task.

Tasaka was another questionable selection, but if you’d brought Alex Ferguson out of retirement it wouldn’t have made a difference. A team that had been floundering for a year was never going to be fixed in time to avoid the drop. The rot was too deep. Tasaka was a cheap and easy appointment, and I struggle to believe the board genuinely thought he could turn things around. Their inaction in removing Oenoki had left it too late and, amongst other things, the club’s morale was irreparably damaged.

It must have been apparent that we were done for. Effort spent trying to find a high quality manager so late in season would have been worthless. It wouldn’t have made a difference, and you’re better off doing the job properly by taking your time at the end of the season. Am I giving the suits too much credit? It could be that they’re a just bunch of incompetents who genuinely thought Oenoki were Tasaka were fine choices to lead S-Pulse to glory. 

See You Next Year

We have an OK team with some decent players. Relegation will see several leave of course, and I’d imagine Utaka and Duke will be among them. Jong-a-Pin? He’s one of the best paid but has been out for most of the last 18 months. We may as well plan as if he won’t be around. On the plus side, Tese and Kakuda are under contract and must be retained. When Genki is playing with confidence he’s a quality playmaker and will be one of the best in the division. Hiraoka and Jakovic are solid defenders. Honda and Edamura used to be part of a strong S-Pulse side, and there’s no reason they can’t be again. Our squad is certainly sufficient. We should aim for an immediate return to top flight football.

What we need is an experienced, strict, and respected manager. A boss, not a mate. 100% most definitely not some old boy there for that reason alone. By no means do we have to look overseas, but European coaches have performed well in Japan. The appointment of Oenoki, and the refusal to sack him, caused a year of decay and decline. It brought us to the lowest point in our history. Cut corners with the manager and relegation is what you get. It’s been a hard lesson, but one I hope, learnt.

If the board want the club to return to J1 then they need to remove Tasaka and do their damnedest to attract an experienced coach with a track record. If we’re serious about bouncing back, there’s no room for taking chances. If we can desperately splash cash around for Tese and Kakuda we can cut some dead wood and employ a decent coach. To persist with Tasaka, whose only managerial achievement was winning the lottery of the J2 play offs with Oita after finishing 6th, would be a huge gamble. The fans have supported in numbers despite the slop continually served up on the pitch, and the last thing they deserve is yet more half-arsed, semi-competent leadership of their club.

Bring it On

I'm optimistic. 2016 in J2 is going to a right laugh. The prospect of winning more than four games all year alone has whetted my appetite. Bring on the fun, the goals and the away day adventures. Here’s hoping Iwata blow their promotion efforts again and we get to reignite the derby. After the way it went down in 2013, the next Shizuoka Derby, when and wherever it is, is going to be a day to remember.

Having spoken to FC Tokyo, Omiya and Gamba fans, the spell they had in J2 gave them memories they’ll never forget. It’s our turn now, and while it’s criminal the way our club has been reduced to this, we’ve no right to be in J1. We’ve got exactly what we deserve, but now it’s decided, I say bring it on.

Saturday, 1 August 2015

Oenoki Out - Tasaka In


Resigned? Sacked? Mutual consent? The official line is he stepped down, and there's no reason to dredge through this episode any further.

Shizuoka Newspaper. Official announcement to come

The writing had been on the wall ever since Tasaka was brought in as "head coach". That Oenoki chose now to call it a day, right after an away win in Yokohama, suggests to me two things. One, as rumoured, the club were never going to actively fire him. Two, he must have been feeling enormous pressure, disappointment and injured pride, but was determined to end things on his terms, ideally on a high.

Yes, I'm happy, but a man losing his job is never cause for celebration. Yes, I've whinged and moaned for months (as is every football fan's perogitive), but one thing I know is Katsumi bleeds orange. He loves the club and couldn't have worked harder to make things work. Whether he was the right man for the job in first place, well my feelings on that have been repeated ad nauseam. This chapter is over, and for it's worth, I hope Oenoki will find a position within the club once again, ideally at youth level. His record as a developer of young talent is good, and worthy of another contract.

Tasaka doesn't bring a particularly impressive management record, but he does have a management record. A history of building teams around a tight defence is of most pressing interest. As things were I couldn't see us escaping the drop zone. With Tasaka, who knows? But something had to be done. What will now be will be.

Saying thank you to Oenoki after all my moaning these last 12 months might seem a bit rich, but football is a game. It's not personal. It never should be. He did his best. Not being being able to deliver for the club he loves must have torn him apart, but ultimately he was man enough to hold his up hands and hand over the reigns. So, thank you Oenoki. Long may you continue to be part of the club you love.

Katsumi Oenoki