Saturday, 21 February 2015

2015 J. League. Meh


Evening, football fans! It's been a while. There's not been much doing this closed season, so I've enjoyed a well earned respite from what, over Oenoki's inaugural five months, was honestly a bit of a chore. We were not fun to watch, and while putting up with mediocrity is something all football fans have to live with more often than not, it doesn't mean you have to like it.

Well, the wait is nearly over. All those who rallied round our beleaguered manager at the end of the year, applauded him as he stuttered his way through his end of season speech, watched five months of rubbish but were still more than happy to see his reign extended, well they'll finally get to disprove all my misgivings.

I'll be dining on humble pie as Oenoki's machine, well oiled and honed to perfection over the pre-season Kagoshima camp, roars out of the traps in J1 Part One and casts to the shadows the memory of last year's non-existent defence, unimaginative midfield, and two isolated, frustrated strikers. It'll all come right in the year of the sheep/goat.

Of course, I'm talking bollocks. I see no other outcome of persisting with the youth team coach than another long, hard year of bad football. Praying I'm proved wrong of course, but what cause have I got to believe otherwise? Blind faith is about all there is. Pre-season has been poor, and while we've signed two forwards who should perform decently in J1, last year that wasn't where our biggest failings lay.

Jong-a-Pin is still out, it's been six months now, and there's no word on when he'll be back. We retained Jakovic, but our defence has a long way to go tighten up on 2014. Will it? Again, it all comes down to the boss. We saw 60 goals conceded last term, with only Tokushima letting in more. You can't read too much into friendlies, but in the one game against J1 opposition we conceded five. Wonderful.

So there you go. You can read a more in-depth, analytical and devil's advocate-ish preview on the brilliant Japan Footy. It all kicks off in a fortnight, and am I excited? Not. Even. Slightly. Two stages and an end of season championship play off (entry into which I'm still not clear on the criteria) leave me colder than a polar bear's nutsack.

Leagues are meant to measure performance over a season. Usually teams play each other once home, once away, the best performer finishing top. Simple. It's the fairest method. You can argue no league system is perfect, but there's a reason the home/away format is the world's most common. Sacrifice that fairness to chase ratings with a system almost certain to produce a champion not the year's best performer, and what have you got? Something I can't even begin to get emotionally invested in. There's absolutely no value in it for me.

As a result, other things spring above the stadium in the weekend priority list. So, as is my fate as a football nerd, I'll still follow J. League 2015, but no longer going to many games means match reports on here will cease. Maybe once in a while. Big away day adventures, Oenoki's sacking, that kind of thing. Instead, Twitter will be the place to keep abreast of all my whinging and whining.

So, enjoy the new season! I would say may the best team win, but as that's very unlikely in this snazzy new J. League, I'll just say don't drink too much, be good, and most importantly, why the hell am I posting this at 9:30pm on a Saturday night? #footballnerd Damn. See you later, I'm going out.

Sunday, 4 January 2015

The J. League's Most Successful Team - 2015


With the last game of 2014 played, it's time to update my J. League all time league table.
Points are awarded as always, as follows. Continental cups are counted, but show-piece super cups not.

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 we go. The ten most successful teams in J. League history:

1) Kashima Antlers 41.5
Yokohama F. Marinos 20 
-) Jubilo Iwata 20
4) Gamba Osaka 19
Urawa Red Diamonds 15

6) Tokyo Verdy 11.5
7) S-PULSE 11
8) Nagoya Grampus 10
Sanfrecce Hiroshima 7.5 
10) Kashiwa Reysol 7

The biggest change from last year is Gamba Osaka's fully deserved jump into 4th place, but Marinos also make a step into joint second by dint of Iwata's forthcoming second season J2.

So there you are. Make of it what you will, but I think it's a pretty decent reflection of the last 23 years.

Sunday, 7 December 2014

S-Pulse 0-0 Kofu


S-Pulse 0-0 Kofu

Att 19842
Saturday December 6th, 3:30pm
IAI Stadium Nihondaira, Shizuoka

Line Up

GK Kushibiki

DF Kawai (60)
DF Jakovic
DF Hiraoka
DF Yoshida

MF Honda
MF Takeuchi
MF Omae
MF Ishige

FW Novakovic
FW Takagi T

Subs Used

Nagasawa on for Ishige (57)
Musaka on for Takeuchi (78)
Miura G on for Takagi T (92)


Job done. I can't really complain about the manner it was achieved, because if it was to be either 90 minutes of sexy, silky passing football and losing, or aimless, long ball hoofery and drawing, then there was no choice. As it transpired, after a bright opening minute or two we kicked off our attacking shoes, pulled up a chair, brewed a nice cup of tea, and settled back for the afternoon.

Wasting time and occasionally booting the ball forward was the major theme of proceedings. Not being able to hold on to possession was an unwelcome addition to the final 15 minutes. Knowing one Kofu goal would have relegated us, it was a painful game to endure, especially because the only team who looked like scoring wasn't us.
  Few sights (or sounds) in J1 match a sold out Kop
Away end half an hour before kick off
We held on, Kushibiki made a couple of crucial saves, and S-Pulse survived demotion by one point. A massive relief of course, but tinged by the fact a new manager wasn't announced immediately after the game. With the current regime in place can anyone honestly see us doing anything next season but struggling again? I can't. Oenoki didn't just have a few games to settle in. He had half a season. And we were shite. From beginning to end. A few exceptional performances kept our heads above water, but without Ogawa's late goal last week for Nagoya against Omiya we'd be down.

Well, who knows? Maybe I'll be proved wrong next year. Hell, we could end stage one bottom, stage two second, and then win the league! What's not to like?! Oh yeah, that from 2015 J1 is impossible to take seriously. Convoluted and unfair, it's becoming a parody of a football league. There's maybe a few mischievous away days to be had, but the football? Well, I guess it takes the stress out of it when you know, regardless of points earned over the year, the table is going to be manipulated and warped for the sole purpose of selling a few more tickets and sponsorship rights. Meh, it's been fun while it lasted.

So the curtain has come down on the 2014 J. League season. It's been a gas, and when I moan and whinge, it's only because I care. :) See you next season, Happy Christmas and have a great new year!


Bored? Here's the whole match (minus the first 5 minutes).

The moment we stayed up.

Friday, 5 December 2014

You Don't Know What You've Got Til It's (Almost) Gone


Shimizu are one of only a handful of J1 teams to have never been relegated. We're also one of only three of the Original 10 yet to win the championship. Technically one of two, as the F of Yokohama Flügels won J1 in both 2003 & 2004. Sure we won the league in 1999, with more points over the year than anyone else, but you know how things used to be. Two stages and all that. Iwata beat us on penalties to nullify a 16 point discrepancy in class, and they were given the trophy. Heh, ho. The dark days of multistage nonsense. Let's hope we don't see a return to that meaningless circus anytime soon... *sigh*

Anyway, I'm getting side tracked. What I mean to say it is that since 1992 we're been pretty average. That said, two domestic and one continental cup isn't to be sniffed at, and in the early years we were generally nearer the top than bottom. But speaking in terms of the big hitters over the last 22 years, S-Pulse have been also-rans more often than not.

Culturally we hold greater stock than our trophy cabinet might suggest. This a combination of the benefits of J. League founding membership, a string of unforgettable globe-covered shirts, and a strong samba supporter identity. A successfully marketed brand has little benefit on the pitch though. Just look to FC Nippon (aka Verdy Kawasaki, aka Tokyo Verdy 1969, aka 3rd worst team in J2). In a rapidly expanding pyramid nobody can afford to stand still, as former top J1 mainstays JEF United and Jubilo Iwata will join Verdy in testifying. Lose your foothold and there are plenty ready to step in.

And it's there we now stand: on the edge. If we go over and surrender our top flight berth there's no guarantee of regaining it. Before you know it you've joined that list of "Oh yeah, didn't they used to be in J1?" teams. A spectacularly misjudged mid-season firing, followed by an equally mystifying appointment, sent an otherwise mid-table season into free fall. Now isn't the time to delve into the whys and hows that led us here. I've already done that to death. Though our fans are already painfully aware, and you can well argue it goes without saying, the importance of tomorrow cannot be overstated.

It's taken an all-or-nothing final game to give us our first sell out of the season. A mediocre S-Pulse has brought in a 14000 average, the 5th lowest in J1. With that in mind, how many would you expect to turn out for a Wednesday night against Nagasaki? It's no exaggeration to say Nihondaira's location and access work against everything the club tries to attract fans, but that's another argument for another day. The bottom line is J2 football would see thousands finding other things to do.

What of the team? I'd postulate demotion would see (including but not restricted to) Jakovic, Honda, Omae, Takagi T, Novakovic and Jong-a-Pin out the door faster than you say "You can't win anything with (the) kids (team manager)". None of them should settle for J2 football, and whether they have national team ambitions or not, they'd be wasted in the second tier. Before I pipe up with the apparently logical extension that our team is therefore Too good go down, I'll instead wheel out the equally hackneyed but infinitely more accurate The table doesn't lie. Should we drop, we'd begin J2 with an even younger squad than we have now, and fewer experienced heads to lead the way back.

Unlike other high profile relegations, we're not a club faltering under the weight of ageing "stars" stunting the development of the new generation. Anything but. We've just been hopelessly (mis)managed since the summer, with a defensive constitution that makes a sieve look watertight. The second half of this season has been a disaster, but a combination of Cerezo imploding in a pink cloud of incompetence, and Omiya having an even worse time than us (so far), has let us off the hook. Another year and we'd already be down.

Here we are. One point from safety. One defeat from J2. It's entirely down to us. Being this close gives you a genuine appreciation of visiting the Kashimas, Marinos' and Urawas of this world each week. What fan is willing to trade that for (admittedly quite appealing) trips to Kanazawa, Fukuoka and Ehime? Nobody. And who wants to be welcoming handfuls of visiting supporters every other week rather than thousands? Again, nobody.

So while it's screamingly obvious that survival means everything for the immediate future of this club, whatever happens tomorrow there has to be major changes before 2015. Let's have them happen knowing we will be kicking off in March where Shizuoka City needs us to be: in J1.

Sunday, 30 November 2014

It's a Funny Old Game


As the great Jimmy Greaves was fond of pointing out, it's a funny old game. It suuuuure is.

Much like S-Pulse next week, Jubilo only needed a draw today. Whereas a point will see us secure a J1 berth for another year, theirs would see them through to the J2 play off final. At 1-1 halfway through 4 minutes of additional time, Montedio win a corner. Without a winner they're out the play offs. They send up keeper Norihiro Yamagishi, and this happens:

And in slow motion from within the travelling fans, who had covered 380 miles to be there:

Or in real time. Bloody hell. :D Try telling me you didn't just get goosebumps.

What a difference a second makes

Thanks to their blue and white stripes matching Brighton's, I've always felt a slight affinity with Yamagata. I even went along to their J1 debut in 2009, and enjoyed a beer with a couple of their fans in Shimizu the following season. So Yamagata are definitely in soft spot territory. The fact the above drama played out against Iwata makes it all priceless. Brought back memories of this time last year.

Another season in J2 for Jubilo then. Megalolz. This is all well and good, but we're only 90 minutes from joining them. One point is what's needed to make sure we don't suffer the same ignominy of demotion. We've never lost at home to Kofu in the league but regardless, I don't expect next Saturday to be anything other than excruciating. 

It's up to Oenoki to marshal his men to safety, and ensure Iwata's inevitable revenge for last season is delayed at least another year. Sobbing into your scarf at full time comes to us all eventually, and is part of what makes this beautiful game the greatest in the world. We have it in our power to make sure it doesn't come to us just yet.

Saturday, 29 November 2014

Kashiwa 3-1 S-Pulse


Kashiwa 3-1 S-Pulse
Leandro 10 ------------------ Nagasawa 82
Dudu 38, 62

Att 13470
Saturday November 29th, 2pm
Hitachi Kashiwa Soccer Stadium, Kashiwa

Line Up

GK Kushibiki

DF Kawai
DF Miura G
DF Hiraoka
DF Yoshida (15)

MF Honda
MF Musaka (32)
MF Omae
MF Takeuchi

FW Takagi T
FW Novakovic

Subs Used

Ishige on for Takeuchi (43)
Murata on for Yoshida (63)
Nagasawa on for Omae (72)


Today's hero -  Yoshizumi Ogawa

So predictably we got turned over by Kashiwa, conceding our 40th, 41st and 42nd goals since the managerial change in the process. Wonderful. Check the highlights below for some more flat-footed defending, yellow shirts sweeping though with ease. It's been such a recurring feature of the last few months, I'm actually pretty used to it now. On the plus side, Nagasawa scored his first goal since his return on Wednesday. Huge news ahead of the final weekend, but more of that in a bit.

First, who we need to give thanks to is Nagoya's Yoshizumi Ogawa. The Nagoya midfielder placed home a 92nd minute winner against Omiya Ardija to send the thousands of Shimizu fans watching on TV wild. Why? Because that one goal means next week is now 100% in our hands. A draw will keep us up. The only scenario that sees us go down is if we lose, and Omiya win. Now of course, given how poor we've been, and the fact Omiya are home to the uber shite Cerezo Osaka, this is totally possible. But being home to Kofu, a team already safe in the knowledge that they won their J1 survival a fortnight ago, is on paper the least threatening game we've had since we played Cerezo in October.

We'll have Nagasawa back - maybe to even start. Jakovic will be available after suspension, and with no new major upsets to our squad, we should be as strong as is possible. Last week, and especially this, we were massively let off the hook. Another season and Omiya would have won one or both of those two and we'd be down already.

So yeah, ball in our court, fate in our hands blah blah blah, but one thing everyone knows about football is if something is mathematically possible, then it does happen. So we have to go out and dispose of Kofu. We need an early goal to settle nerves, and play our own game. If we concede first then things will go to shit. Omiya will not fail to beat Cerezo. That must be taken as a given, so we simply MUST NOT LOSE.

If we manage to screw it up from here, then who can possible have any complaints? So come on, S-Pulse. Get out there. Get the job done. End this season, start again with a new manager next year.


The goals.

Friday, 28 November 2014

G. Osaka 5 (FIVE) - 2 S-Pulse (Emp Cup 1/2 Final)


G. Osaka 5-2 S-Pulse
Usami 9, 72 ------------------- Kagami 20
Patrick 14, 37 ---------------- Takagi Y 24
Lins 85

Att 6708
Wednesday November 26th, 7pm
Ajinomoto Stadium, Tokyo

Line Up

GK Kushibiki

DF Takaki
DF Jakovic
DF Miura G
DF Lee KiJe

MF Ishige
MF Mizutani
MF Murata
MF Takagi Y

FW Kaneko
FW Kagami

Subs Used

Omae on for Kaneko (72)
Nagasawa on for Kagami (76)
Hiroi on for Miura (86)


Having seen that line up, no S-Pulse fan in their right mind had any illusions about the way this tie was going to go. It was was a B Team. A reserve side. To spell it out:

Of our starting XI, two had started against Nagoya.
Perhaps only Kushibiki will be starting Saturday against Kashiwa.

Of G. Osaka's starting XI, eight started away at Urawa.

Yes, of course J1 survival is the priority. But Osaka are trying to win the league, and only felt the need to rest three players, all of which were on the bench.

We were sent out into this cup semi final with practically no chance of winning. Survival may well be the priority, but for all its faults, the Emperor's cup is THE cup tournament in Japan, and comes with an ACL spot and a shit-ton of cash for the winner.

Osaka absolutely have to win this weekend if they hope to overturn Urawa's lead at the top of J1. Yet they managed to balance their league ambitions with the rigours of a cup semi final. Us on the other hand felt the need to rest all but the keeper (Jakovic is suspended for Kashiwa). Even our bench was sparse. Are we so unfit that only the keeper could manage this game ahead of Saturday? No, so in how much of a panic do you have to be to as good as (needlessly) forfeit a game?

Given this back story, it was one of most farcical 90 minutes I've watched. As a fan it was like having the piss taken. I felt for the youngsters (average age: 22) sent out to do a job. Kagami and Kaneko did great, as did Takagi Y for his goal. But giving them and others the responsibility to drag the team through to the final is horrendous. What was the team speech before the game? "Right, you lot are only playing because we don't want to get relegated. Good luck against a near full strength XI of the country's hottest team. If you get us through to the final, don't expect to play."

No, they all knew the situation, and so did we. But what can you do but support? Yes, but within reason. This was a waste of an otherwise decent cup run, and a blow to what momentum we may have recently built up. An utterly depressing night to be an S-Pulse fan.

So yeah, away at Kashiwa then. If things are still in our hands this time next week I'll be pleasantly surprised. The goal is survival. Get that done by whatever means necessary, then rip out the black hole that's pulling us towards oblivion, and rebuild. The nucleus of a decent team is there - it always has been - and the fans are faultless. It should never have come to this.


Fuck off.