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Tuesday, 17 December 2013

2013's Top 5 Most Memorable Games

Barry BARRY WRITES... 

With the 2013 season now passing into memory, the ten weeks until 2014 kicks off stretch out ahead of us barren and desolate. That being the case, we'll tick off the days by looking back, looking forward and keeping an eye on incomings and outgoings. In that respect, already covered on Twitter is the impending arrival from Utrecht of Toshiyuki Takagi's younger brother Yoshiaki. Should be an interesting development having two brothers in the squad. Going the other way, former youth team member Makoto Shibahara, who has been loaned out to FC Gifu this season, has been released. Follow us on Twitter for all the news as it happens.

But for now it's time for my pick of the season past! My top five most memorable games from 2013. It's no surprise that they all come from the latter end of the season. That's testament to the impact of our signings and the way the club dealt with the rocky start to the year. So, in reverse order, here we go!

5) S-Pulse 2-1 Nagoya Grampus
Game 25
September 14th 2013
Report

Our games with Nagoya have in recent years taken on the feel of a derby. What with Iwata now getting relegated this match up has the distinction of being the closest we'll have to a derby day, at least for 2014. Games with Kofu have never been anything special, and with Nagoya lacking their own local rivals, the Tokaido Showdown is set to fill in the gaps. This game was no exception, with the usual mix of needle and rough and tumble setting it off perfectly.

The result was the right one, but above and beyond the three points, it signalled the gelling of our summer time acquisitions. Honda, Omae and Radončić all starred as we came from behind to snatch victory in stoppage time. The late, late winner was the product of Radončić and Omae working together, something we watched with glee having suffered the disappointment of losing our much vaunted striker Bare earlier in the summer. Happy days in the late summer sun.

4) Oita Trinita 2-3 S-Pulse

Game 24
August 31st 2013
Report

This comes in at number four as much for the away day as for the game itself. The time spent down on Kyushu was full of excitement and adventure, and the match report reflected that. A special travelogue feature was the result of that long weekend.

Genki once again netted with a goal of some class, and Takagi and Muramatsu also got on the scoresheet. At 3-0 we threatened to take the soon-to-be-relegated Oita to pieces, but in the event it was the home team who rallied. Two goals in the last ten minutes gave us all a nervy end to endure, but we held out for the three points. Job done it was back into town for more local delicacies and, the following day, monkeys.  



3) S-Pulse 6-4 Sagan Tosu
Game 29
Saturday October 19th 2013
Report

There's memorable games and then there's straight up unforgettable ones. Who could have thought at 3pm that afternoon they were in for twenty-four shots, ten goals, and a red card? And that's just the bare bones of what went down. Not only did we draw level after going behind twice in the first twenty minutes, having taken a 4-2 lead we got pegged back to 4-4, suffering a sending off minutes later. Any spectator would have put money on the visitors to capitalise on their momentum and man advantage, but instead Hiraoka grabbed a rare goal and Sho Ito completed his hattrick.

It was 6-4 when the whistle finally went, and we all sat down dazed but happy. Some people who don't get football cite 0-0 draws and uneventful matches as a reason not to watch. Well, yeah, they happen. We've all sit through more than our share of turgid games wondering if we remembered to feed the cat or turn off the oven. Those matches are essential in paying your dues as a fan. Without them, you couldn't appreciate an incredible goal-fest, come-from-behind, man-down victory like this one. With thanks to Sagan Tosu for playing their part in one of my all time top ten Shimizu games.



2) S-Pulse 4-3 Kashima Antlers
Game 23
Wednesday August 28th 2013
Report

I'd arrived back from England the morning before and spent most the day struggling desperately not to pass out at my desk. At 5pm I'd even considered succumbing to jet lag, giving the game a swerve and heading home to crash on my futon. Near misses don't come much nearer. I dragged myself up to Nihondaira and to say I'm glad I did would be the understatement of the season.

Kashima are the old enemy. Both clubs founding J. League members and both ever present in J1 we've played them as much as anyone else. There's been some tasty meetings between us over the years, among the more recent being cup finals in 2011 and 2012. They came off better (ie, they went home with the cup) both times, so I take no small pleasure in us taking any kind of revenge. This game didn't look like being one of those opportunities for pay back, being 1-0 down in ten seconds, 2-0 five minutes later. A friend arrived at his seat shortly after Kashima had extended their early lead and I insisted he turn around and go home. Save yourself!

The 80 odd minutes that followed proved what most people already know: never listen to a word I say. A rip-roaring game which I recall in full detail on my report, but looking back it was an instrumental game in the revival of Takagi. Of course, old partner Genki's return had no small part to play, but the new team was showing its mental strength and character. What a game, and all under Nihondaira's floodlights. Into my top five all time Shimizu games, but what was to come in late October would have me thinking about my top one Shimizu experience...



1) Jubilo Iwata 0-1 S-Pulse
Game 30
October 27th 2013
Report

A Halloween nightmare for Jubilo as we, their bitter rivals, rolled into Iwata in full carnival mode with the express intention of relegating them. This is the type of scenario which comes around once or twice, if you're lucky, in a lifetime: the opportunity to put the final nail in your local enemy's coffin. The day's early results had gone such that a confirmed demotion was not possible, but a win for Shimizu would leave Iwata hoping for a miracle. It didn't come and they became a J2 team the following match day.

The tension surrounding the fixture had been building for weeks. All the weight attached to the game was magnified by the fact the game was not at Ecopa but at the newly renovated Yamaha Stadium, making it the first league game between us there in a decade. The new home end makes the stadium much more balanced, and should they have the opportunity to lose the gym behind the away and, they could further rebuild to make a ground to rival, dare I say it, Nihondaira in atmosphere.

That's in the future. The warm October afternoon we packed into the cramped stand behind the goal would be one of those rare occasions that lived up to the hype. A game I could easily watch again in it's entirety if only it was made available somewhere, it was the most tense, edgy, frantic, and ultimately enjoyable 90 minutes I've spent watching the boys in Orange. The 5-1 demolition of Iwata back in 2009 was it's own brand of epic fun, but for the backstory and meaning that went with this game, it comes out number one.

The much discussed banners rejoicing in Iwata's relegation were an essential part of what gave this day it's spice and sense of occasion. The biggest accolade though of course goes to the team which rose to the fight magnificently. Iwata simply did not want to lose. They fought for their supporters, for their pride and for their lives. That our boys came out on top was an amazing achievement. Iwata, though our rivals and foes, I pay them them the highest compliment for their part in this unforgettable game.

 

Number one of the season, number one of my S-Pulse life. The only way it could be topped would be by winning the title. And with that thought, roll on 2014!!!

Friday, 13 December 2013

S-Pulse 1-2 Kashiwa

Barry BARRY WRITES... 

S-Pulse 1-2 Kashiwa Reysol
Takagi 10 ------------------ Ota 34
--------------------------------- Tanaka 83

Att 14185

December 7th 2013, 3.30pm
Nihondaira Stadium
Shizuoka city, Shizuoka prefecture

Line Up

GK Kushibiki

DF Ishige
DF Muramatsu
DF Jong-a-Pin
DF Kawai

MF Honda
MF Takeuchi
MF Takagi

FW Radoncic (18, 72)
FW Ito (31)
FW Omae

Subs used

Miura on for Takeuchi (61)
Murata on for Takagi (84)

Report

And that brings the curtain down on the 2013 season. Apologies for not getting round to updating sooner. Life getting in the way as usual! The countdown to 2014 starts here. Can't wait. :)

Videos

Highlights.


Saturday, 30 November 2013

Vegalta Sendai 1-2 S-Pulse

Barry BARRY WRITES... 

Vegalta Sendai 1-2 S-Pulse
Wilson 54 --------------------------------------- Ito 15
------------------------------------------------------ Radončić 34

Att 17394

November 30th, 5pm
Yurtec Stadium
Sendai city, Miyagi prefecture

Line Up

GK Kushibiki (95)

DF Yoshida
DF Sugiyama (75)
DF Jong-a-Pin

MF Ishige
MF Honda
MF Muramatsu
MF Takagi

FW Omae (93)
FW Ito
FW Radončić

Subs Used

Kawai on for Takagi (61)
Murata on for Ishige (81)
Takaki on for Yoshida (87)

Report

A hard fought and bruising affair (just ask Yoshida) with Sendai this evening. The game started at 100 mph, very open and both teams created clear chances. We took the initiative and were 2-0 up at the break. Sho stroked home a lovely strike on the 15 minute mark, and Radončić broke his mini-drought slamming home with no mess from the edge of the area. The second half saw Sendai a lot more in control, but we held firm and came home with all three points. This was our eighth win from the last eleven. Two defeats were against the current 1st and 2nd place, so pretty good form, all told.

At the top of the table we're set for a thrilling climax. Two teams are in with a shout of the title; Yokohama F. Marinos and Hiroshima. If Marinos win at rivals Kawasaki, they're champions. Apart from wanting to shaft their neighbours, Kawasaki will be going for an ACL spot, so you can expect fireworks. If Yokohama fail to win, Hiroshima can, with three points, pip them to the title. The defending champions are away to Kashima. Barring a 10 goal winning margin, the best Kashima can hope for is a 2nd placed finish, but will still be eager to secure their ACL berth. Again, expect fireworks.

It's in Yokohama's hands, but after today's capitulation in front of a record 62632 fans they'll need to rouse themselves for their biggest Kanagawa derby, indeed their biggest game full stop, in years. Hiroshima need to win and hope. This time next year it'll be us up there. Believe!

Videos

Highlights swiped by somebody off the TV.


Saturday, 23 November 2013

S-Pulse 1-0 Omiya Ardija

Barry BARRY WRITES... 

S-Pulse 1-0 Omiya Ardija
Jong-a-Pin 7

Att 13151
Saturday November 23rd, 2pm
Nihondaira Stadium, Shizuoka city

Line Up

GK Kushibiki

DF Yoshida (51)
DF Hiraoka
DF Jong-a-Pin
DF Ishige

MF Sugiyama
MF Honda (16)
MF Muramatsu

FW Radončić
FW Omae
FW Takagi

Subs Used

Kawai on for Yoshida (61)
Murata on for Takagi (67)
Ito on for Radončić (83)

Report

I was absent today. What with the bannings of some of our most passionate and important fans, and the three game prohibition of team banners, the recent Emperor's Cup game felt like trying to get behind the team with one hand tied behind your back. If the supporter bannings were an over reaction in the first place (which they were), then the logic of restricting fans (those who had nothing to do with the mischief at Iwata) from giving their full backing to the team is lost on me.

Was it a public display of head hanging by the club? To impose sanctions on itself as apology to Iwata / the J. League? Was it meant simply as a punishment on the fans in general for allowing some of their number to misbehave? Was it a stern, parental warning to never again hurt the feelings of opposition fans? Who knows, and to be honest I've been so disillusioned I went to the zoo today instead. But I digress.

In my absence, the boys did the business against Ardija. Omiya, who were top of the table for most of the season's first half have since lost 16 of their last 17. Absolutely amazing. If a team was to offer themselves as a self sacrifice to underline the ludicrousness of the proposed 2 stage system, Omiya have done it. Yes, they've lost nearly every game in the second half of the season, but they did OK in the first half, so let's put them in the play offs FOR THE TITLE. Insane? Well get used to it. That's what we've got from 2015. But I digress. Again.

I can't comment much on today's game, but I was as surprised and as happy as anyone to see Calla get on the score sheet. Jong-a-Pin poked it home from point blank range to claim his first goal in Japan, and what was ultimately the winning goal. The highlights below will tell you more than I can, so I'll keep it short. We remain mid table, but today's result was actually our seventh win in our last ten games, which is not bad form at all. Especially when you consider two of those defeats were away to Hiroshima and F. Marinos. Well, anyway, there's two more games left this year. Where did the months go? Here's to two more wins and to close out the season on a high.

S-Pulse!

Videos

Highlights taken off the TV.

Friday, 22 November 2013

S-Pulse 0-1 Vegalta Sendai (Emp Cup 3rd Rnd)

Barry BARRY WRITES... 

S-Pulse 0-1 Vegalta Sendai
---------------------------------- Yong Gi 82

Att 5019
22nd November, 1pm
Nihondaira Stadium, Shizuoka city

Line Up

GK Kushibiki

DF Yoshida
DF Hiraoka
DF Jong-a-Pin
DF Sugiyama

MF Ishige
MF Honda
MF Takeuchi
MF Kawai (54)
FW Ito
FW Radoncic


Subs Used

Murata on for Kawai (62)
Takagi on for Takeuchi (83)
Hattanda on for Honda (90)

Report

Sorry, a week late with this. This game looked like extra time but Sendai snuck it in the 82nd minute and ended our cup dreams for this year.

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

JUBILO ARE RELEGATED! FUCK, YEAH!!

Barry BARRY WRITES... 

With Iwata's defeat away to Tosu on Sunday their relegation to J2 was finally confirmed.



This clip just about sums it up. But why? I'm not from Shizuoka, I've only been an S-Pulse fan for 9 years, with all of Jubilo's title winning seasons coming before I ever set foot in a J. League stadium. Why should I give a hoot about Iwata going down? Well, that's just how football works, isn't it? As a Brighton fan in the mid 90s I was well versed on the rivalry with Crystal Palace long before I ever saw the Albion take them on. We had to drag ourselves out of the 4th tier, then onwards beyond the 3rd, before finally we had a shot at them. We lost 5-0. Selhurst Park's announcer congratulated the home fans before the game was even over. Now I truly had reason to hate the bastards.

Not long after that I moved to Japan and adopted Shimizu as my J. Team. Deciding Jubilo Iwata were deadly rivals may have initially been tongue-in-cheek, but I would soon have genuine grounds. This was 2003, and S-Pulse were finishing lower-midtable just as the Yamaha-backed Jubilo added an Emperor's Cup to 2002's J1 title. Not only had fate bestowed on me a distinctly average team, it placed Jubilo just down the road, winning silverware left, right and centre. Within days of purchasing a bright orange JAL-sponsored shirt, I was helpfully informed by a local that it was Jubilo who were Shizuoka's premier club. It did somewhat wrangle, and I cursed my luck it wasn't Shimizu I could expect to see dancing with trophies, but being new to the J. League, I let it go. It was time to concentrate on my new-found team, and after a year cutting my teeth at Nihondaira Stadium I was set for my first derby day. Away, no less. Having no history with the fixture, though greatly fired up, I felt like an observer. Sitting not within the main throng of S-Pulse fans but in the side stand, I got a perfect view when the home end unveiled their opening shot across Shimizu's bow.

OK. I see how it is
Until that point an overriding impression of J. League culture had been the lack of banter, mocking, and honest to goodness shit stirring. Japanese fans were far too polite a breed to engage in trash talking and abuse. Granted that was the one thing I missed the most from England, but I was settling into the family oriented atmosphere comfortably, and was ready for a good natured derby with lashings of mutual respect. So when those three huge flags were lowered I was genuinely taken aback. It was a clever display for sure, and great to finally see some real rivalry, but at the same time I was affronted. Iwata were clearly the dominant force in the area. They knew it. Shimizu knew it. Japan knew it. S-Pulse, even at their peak years earlier, hadn't come close to Iwata's accomplishments. Much less now, as they struggled at the wrong end of the table. There was no question in the matter, and I was comfortable with that.

Given my experience so far, I thought the fact would pass unmentioned. I thought wrong. Iwata were not that classy. No, they wanted to remind us exactly where our place was. They wanted to rub our faces in it. They were saying, We've Got it ALL, You've Got NOTHING, We OWN You and Don't You Dare Forget It. Bitches. I'd read about the vast banner unveiled at Nihondaira in '99 proclaiming the title Iwata won at Shimizu's expense. Brutally tactless perhaps, but the league was still only six years old. It was no doubt meant merely to congratulate their own team, not to smirk at the sobbing home fans. That one I could forgive. This, and another banner revelling in Shimizu's potential relegation, were different.

I was shaken from a slumber of complacency brought on by too much nice family football fun. So this is how you want to play it, Jubilo? You want to kick us while we're down? To twist the knife? In hindsight this first impression couldn't have been better. Iwata could barely have done more to sow the seeds of distaste. The angry roar of disapproval rising from the away end mirrored my own reaction, but for those behind the south goal the insult was felt far more keenly. The visitor section was populated with many who had witnessed first hand Iwata's snatching of the '99 championship from Shimizu's grasp. Add to that watching your neighbours claim two more league titles, two domestic cups and the Asian version of the Champion's League, and S-Pulse fans had endured more than most. Now that inferiority was being openly mocked.

Iwata remain to this day arguably second only behind Kashima as the J. League's most successful team, and in '03 their record breaking accomplishments were still fresh in the memory. What I saw at Ecopa that day felt like self satisfied giants sneering at the minnows from atop their throne. As an underdog-trumpeting Englishman my revulsion of Iwata was cemented there and then. Mercifully, over the coming seasons their power waned. A 5-1 demolition of Iwata in 2009 was a night no S-Pulse fan will ever forget. It drew an emphatic line under their previously unquestionable control of Shizuoka. Self confident sky blue supporter displays grew fewer and further between, until ceasing altogether. 2011 saw an unwelcome replacement when a small group of Iwata fans personally insulted Shimizu's new manager. Understandable, if not excusable, crowd disturbances ensued. The rivalry still had teeth, but it wasn't until 2013, when Jubilo were struggling to stay in J1, that Shimizu supporters could finally have their payback.


The derby which took place at the Yamaha Stadium in October, in which S-Pulse all but sealed Iwata’s relegation, will be remembered as one of the most frenetic and fiercely contested games of the season. The banners and flags prepared by Shimizu fans to throw salt by the handful into Iwata's gaping wounds are destined to leave a lasting legacy. Messages ranged from light hearted jibes such as J2bilo, or Let’s Meet Again Someday, to the less subtle Survival? You must be joking! The most direct included a torn and burnt Iwata flag scrawled with J2. In light of the tie's history, there was never going to any other reaction from the away end. Years of being second best is one thing. Having that fact shoved down your throat breeds a deep, brooding anger which aches for an outlet. Nobody should have been surprised at this cathartic, deafening orange roar. It had been a decade in the making. 
It was payback, many years coming

Such a joyous display shocked many Iwata fans, although presumably not those who verbally abused the Shimizu team and staff upon arrival. However, large numbers of the home crowd had been following their team only since after the glory days had faded. For those, the vitriol directed at their club was shocking, but it was merely a long awaited revenge, impeccably executed. Mortified at the outpouring of carivalesque delight at their host's hardships, Shimizu's top brass apologised to their Iwata counterparts by dishing out bans to large number of their own supporters. Draconian controls on banners and flags at all future games followed. This mirrored the over reaction of Iwata's management to that one lone slanderous banner in 2011. With both clubs now controlling how fans express themselves, and wielding bans for any who step out of line, the Shizuoka Derby is unlikely to ever match the fiery atmospheres of recent years. More probable is the tie's carefully controlled evolution into a family fun day, where displays of passion likely to cause hurt feelings will no longer be a concern. For a rivalry which had established itself as one of Asia's finest, this is a tragedy. 

What will become of this fantastic fixture remains to be seen, but for now we can celebrate the last twenty years of Jubilo Iwata versus Shimizu S-Pulse. In two short decades the tie grew from nothing to containing all the requisite ingredients of an enthralling derby. The current chapter came to a close with Iwata's relegation, but with it Shimizu fans finally claimed their retribution. By this point I had long since ditched my role of spectator looking in, very much being a part of the cavorting orange masses rejoicing in Iwata's downfall. When their fate was sealed the following fixture, I remembered that day Jubilo made an enemy of me, and  smiled. It can take years, but you really do reap what you sow. Until Iwata return to the top flight and beat us once more, that smile won't fade. Will I miss the derby? No. Each season Iwata spend in J2 is simply more ammunition for Shimizu. Inevitably they'll be back one day. Inevitably they'll someday be the better team again and, offensively patronising supporter controls notwithstanding, they'll delight in rubbing our noses in it. That's football, and I wouldn't have it any other way. Until then, there's only one team in Shizuoka, and it certainly ain't Jubilo Iwata.

Monday, 11 November 2013

Kawasaki 2-0 Shimizu S-Pulse

Barry BARRY WRITES... 

Kawasaki 2-0 Shimizu S-Pulse
Okubo 64, 88

Att 14986

Todoroki Stadium, 7pm
Kawasaki city, Kanazawa prefecture 

Line Up

GK Kushibiki

DF Yoshida
DF Hiraoka
DF Sugiyama
DF Ishige

MF Muramatsu
MF Honda (54)
MF Kawai (68)

FW Omae
FW Ito
FW Radončić

Subs Used

Murata on for Omae (40)
Takeuchi on for Honda (84)

Report

To come.

Videos

Highlights.

Sunday, 27 October 2013

Jubilo Iwata 0-1 S-Pulse

Barry BARRY WRITES... 

Jubilo Iwata 0-1 S-Pulse
---------------------------------------------- Omae 80

Att 12467
Yamaha Stadium, 4pm
Iwata city, Shizuoka prefecture

Line Up

GK Kushibiki

DF Hiraoka
DF Sugiyama
DF Muramatsu

MF Ishige
MF Honda
MF Yoshida
MF Omae

FW Radoncic
FW Ito
FW Takagi

Subs Used

Murata on for Takagi (18)
Okane on for Radoncic (89)
Takeuchi on for Murata (92)

Report

"One free man defending his home is more powerful than ten hired soldiers."

What a game. What a derby. What a truly intense 90 minutes.

I've experienced few games as ferocious, hard fought and just genuinely competitive as today's Shizuoka Derby. It was everything we'd anticipated, with just the right level of needle between teams, and the perfect level of (for the most part) well behaved hostility between fans. Few Shizuoka Derby's have meant as much, with a loss for Iwata ensuring they would be left with an all but impossible task to stay in J1. Given they have won just three games all season, after the first 15 minutes you'd have been forgiven for mistaking them for a different team. This is one game Iwata did not want to lose, and they played with desire almost visibly oozing from their pores.

We were perhaps taken initially aback by the speed and will with which they took the game to us, but after steadying the ship, and regrouping after Takagi's unfortunate early exit to injury, we matched them. That was no mean feat, and well worthy of credit. I hope to watch the entire game again at some point as it was so breathless I struggle to recall with too much clarity the exact flow of events, but one thing I can say with conviction is that when our goal finally came, it was well deserved. Both teams would have scored two or three but for some frantic, at times heart stopping, defending and goalkeeping. Perhaps a penalty was going to be the only way the net would be found.

Got to give some credit to the referee Koichiro Takushima who had arguably the hardest task of anyone on the pitch. A packed stadium screaming at everything he did, and 22 players going at each other full pelt. He did a good job of keeping a lid on things when they threatened to boil over. I've seen others lose control and start throwing cards around, but the man with the whistle played well.

The stadium was a cauldron and when the goal finally arrived it set up a climax even more frantic than the preceding 80 minutes. My nerves, which were running riot already, were pushed over the limit. The away stand was cramped, overcrowded, with an incline steeper than most. It added to the sense of being behind enemy lines, and the feeling of all being in it together was palpable. The closing stages passed in a blur of flags, sweat, samba, swears, and cheers. When it was at last all over, the party could start. Extended kachiloco, Jubilo's own victory song sang at them, Kingdom Shimizu belted out once more and a wall of J2 related banners to rub in the reality that Iwata are all but down.

As for the banners, security had been trying (unsuccessfully) to confiscate them all game, and there has been a lot of reaction on social media against such flags as those shown below. Personally, I didn't see anything in bad taste to warrant such zealous policing (not by actual police, you understand. There weren't any there). Giving each other grief is the name of the game on derby day, and by the reaction of some you would think personal attacks on players or fans had been made. Neither was the case. I've only seen that once in 10 years following S-Pulse (by Iwata fans, funnily enough).

But, enough about that. It's a lot of hoo ha over nothing. It added a bit of spice to the night certainly, but ultimately it's no more than a bit of banter. If there's any Iwata fans genuinely upset, saddened or have had their faith in S-Pulse fans shaken by a few J2 jibes, I'd be happy to buy them a beer and encourage, no demand, they do the same when the tables are inevitably turned some point in the future.

Well, this week's report is a bit of a mess, but for me that's how the day was. A jumble of nerves, flags, singing, swears, sweat, laughter and tears. I can't accurately convey just what it was like to spend 90 minutes within that heaving mass of orange behind the goal, the eruption when we scored, the celebrations when we won, all shot through with the sense of a historical occasion playing out in front of us. It's perhaps my most memorable derby day, even more so than the 5-1 at Nihondaira in 2009, and that is saying a lot.

Thank you Afshin Ghotbi and thank you S-Pulse for giving us a memory to last a lifetime.

Kingdom Shimizu!

 No love lost whatsoever
 This seemed to upset a few people. When did people get so damn sensitive? (Flipped in Photoshop)
 That lot
 Banter
Yamaha much improved by the opening of the new home end
The away end was cramped, oversold and dangerously overcrowded
 Taken off Twitter. Awesome display by the travelling support
Again from Twitter. J2bilo. Cheeky. :)

Videos

Highlights.



Longer, but a bit shaky, highlights can be found here. Personal video of Genki's penalty. Alternative here.



Kachiloco! Damn, this was a good one. :)



Singing their song and name to wind them up, followed by waving them goodbye.



Our heroes get a wonderful send off after the game.



:)

Saturday, 19 October 2013

S-Pulse 6-4 Sagan Tosu

Barry BARRY WRITES... 

S-Pulse 6-4 Sagan Tosu
Ito 6, 22, 88 --------------- Kim Min-Woo 2, 53
Sugiyama 33 ------------- Toyoda 15
Omae 42 ------------------- Hayasaka 45+4
Hiraoka 79

Att 11846
Nihondaira Stadium, KO 3pm
Shizuoka city, Shizuoka prefecture

Line Up

GK Kushibiki

DF Hiraoka
DF Jong-a-Pin (23)
DF Sugiyama

MF Muramatsu
MF Ishige
MF Kawai (56, 66)

FW Ito
FW Omae
FW Murata
FW Takagi

Subs used

Takeuchi on for Murata (64)
Yoshida on for Takagi (84)
Okane on for Sho (89)

Report

S-Pulse, you never fail to surprise me.

Not a scoreline you see everyday

If there such a thing as perfect game, this might not have been too far off. From the supporter's point of view at least, this has nearly everything you need to make it a Saturday afternoon not to forget. Drama, cards, action and goals. Boy, were there goals. After half an hour we were 3-2 up having been behind twice, and that was only half the story. By the time we sat down at 5:50pm, dazed but happy, the net had been found five more times. Let us recap in Tweet form.

0m Here we go! A grey and drizzling Nihondaira, but the stands are burning bright orange. Come on S-Pulse! Kick off! 

2m Goal for Sagan! Bollocks!

4m Third time this year we've conceded in the first 2 minutes.

5m We won the other two times, by the way. #webelieve

6m 1-1! Sho Ito with a bullet from the edge of the area. #f*ckme!

15m 2-1 to Sagan.

22m 2-2!! Ito Sho from a corner! #expletive

23m Jong a Pin gets a Jellow. Out for the derby. #doubleexpletive

33m 3-2! Our third, poked in from a corner by Sugiyama!

42m 4-2! Omae Genki slams it home from a Murata cross after a counter attack.


45+4m 4-3. On the stroke of half time Sagan Tosu pull one back.

HT Can I catch my breath? 4-3 at half time in a fantastic game of football.

46m 2nd half underway. 7 more goals?

53m 4-4.

61m 5-4 to Tosu... but no! It came back off the inside of the post!

66m Kawai sent off. 20m to go. 4-4. Down to 10 men.

79m 5-4!! Hiraoka nods in from point blank range after a throw wasn't dealt with.

88m 6-4! 10 men! We've only got 10 men! Ito Sho Hattrick!

FT Shimizu S-Pulse 6-4 Sagan Tosu. I need a cup of tea and a sit down. 

As far as memorable matches go, it was right up there with the Kashima game two months ago.We had a couple of enforced changes what with Honda and Radončić out through suspension, but it allowed us to experiment a little and make use of our depth. In particular Kawai and Ito made appearances, not to mention Murata also got a start. With Takagi, Murata and Omae all on the pitch we were as attacking as we've been at any point this season. Sho Ito was the icing on that cake, and he rewarded the boss's faith with a hattrick of some quality.

The first half was a goal rush, but after the break both teams came out determined to settle things down. We especially worked hard to contain Toyoda, and that was a big factor in ensuring the visitors didn't repeat their three goal haul. They only added one, while we went one better, both times with only ten men. Certainly Tosu were pushing for the winner, but we hit them with a couple of sucker punches. Firstly from Hiraoka darting in to nod home a Jong a Pin throw, and secondly with two minutes to go, Ito broke free to put the game beyond doubt.

Negatives are of course four goals conceded at home, but more immediate is the loss Jong a Pin for next Sunday's derby. The Dutchman's absence will necessitate some shuffling of the back line to cover, so we may see a return of Lee Ki-Je or Yoshida to the starting line up. Utility man Kawai will also be out after his two yellows yesterday, so Iwata will be looking toward that news with hope. And they will be needing all the hope they can get, because after they lost again yesterday, on Sunday we can relegate them. Yes, you read that right.

WE CAN RELEGATE JUBILO IWATA

With five games remaining, Iwata sit 10 points off Kofu in the safety zone. Kofu host FC Tokyo at 1pm, and if they win that game, Iwata will be 13 points adrift with only 15 still to play for. Meaning, if we beat them, THEY ARE DOWN.



Regardless of what happens in Yamanashi, a win for us will leave Jubilo in grave danger. They'll probably go down one way or the other, but if it works out that we're the team to do confirm it, it'll be a day unlike any other in the history of the Shizuoka Derby. As it stands it's going to be a derby day unlike any other so far played, and more than enough pay back for our little hiccup in March.

Well, that's a week away, so until then, try to focus on work, family, girlfriends and whatever else you do to fill the gaps between football matches. I know it's dull, but what can you do, eh? Roll on The Derby!!

Videos

All out goals in slow motion (no sound).



Highlights taken off a TV.


Monday, 14 October 2013

S-Pulse 3-2 Zweigen Kanazawa (Emp Cup 3rd Rnd)

Barry BARRY WRITES... 

S-Pulse 3-2 Zweigen Kanazawa
Omae 45+1 --------------- Awatari 20
Takagi 90, 95 ------------- Sato 91 

Att. 4609
Nihondaira Stadium, KO 3pm
Shizuoka city, Shizuoka prefecture

Line Up

GK Kushibiki

DF Jong-a-Pin
DF Hiraoka
DF Ishige
DF Kawai

MF Hattanda
MF Sugiyama (77)
MF Muramatsu
MF Takeuchi

FW Radončić
FW Omae

Subs used

Honda on for Muramatsu (61)
Takagi on for Hattanda (61)

Report

A classic cup tie. Classic in the sense that the underdogs came our roaring (if dogs roared) and the J1 hosts were put in their place as a result. Not even 5000 in Nihondaira against JFL opposition, you can see how we may have had trouble getting ourselves up for this one. Kanazawa on the contrary were all set for a rare game in a top flight stadium and more than motivated. Their early pressure soon paid off with a tidy strike from a corner, and only then did we seem to wake up.

Chances were coming, and when on the back foot Kanazawa were making all kinds of errors, but it was all just a bit too sloppy. The first half stoppage time equaliser was certainly warranted, coming moments after Genki had hit the post. 1-1 was fair at the break, but for all our possession in the second 45, at no point did Kanazawa look out of it. The introduction of Honda and Takagi had a big impact, and that's one of the major differences in J1 and JFL. The big guns will have quality waiting to come on from the bench.

Honda made an impact straight away making a double challenge to prevent a very real goal scoring opportunity for Kanazawa. Up the other end Takagi was doing what he does best, running at defenders, unsettling the opposition and crafting chances. It was in the last minute that he made enough space to rattle off a shot from the edge of the box, and at 2-1 with just stoppage time left to play, the game was won.

Except it wasn't. Not by a long way. Straight up the other end, and the unthinkable happened, an equaliser in the 91st minute for the visitors. The giant flags were out, blocking mine and other's views, so I'm yet to see it properly. Needless to say we weren't happy, but what can you do, but keep cheering the boys on. That we did for the next four minutes, certain that we were headed for extra time. Cue Takagi once more. With the very last action, and the very last kick, he swept it home from the right hand side of the area into the far side netting. Few can place it home from that angle better than him.

Not classic S-Pulse by any means, but a classic cup tie. We were making full use of our squad, rotating to rest legs, and giving Ishige more experience outside his usual position. Glad we avoided extra time, and the game gave those who went something to remember. So with that we're into the hat for the 4th round. To be drawn on Sunday, I believe.

Pictures

 Kanazawa only have yellow or red kits, both deemed to clash with our orange
 Travelling support
Hideki Ishige
Full time
Videos

Taken from the TV with a camera, and don't show anything of the build ups to the goals, but better than nothing. Looks like a lot of fun behind the away goal when they equalised.


Saturday, 5 October 2013

Sanfrecce Hiroshima 3-1 Shimizu S-Pulse

Barry BARRY WRITES... 

Hiroshima 3-1 Shimizu S-Pulse
Shiotani 76 ------------/---------- Omae 71
Notsuda 79, 88

Att. 15512
Hiroshima Big Arch, KO 4pm
Hiroshima city, Hiroshima prefecture

Line Up

GK Kushibiki

DF Hiroka
DF Jong-a-Pin
DF Sugiyama

MF Muramatsu
MF Honda (22)
MF Ishige
MF Kawai

FW Omae (33)
FW Takagi
FW Radončić (20)

Subs Used

Murata on for Honda (56)
Takeuchi on for Takagi (90)
Ito on for Hiraoka (90)

Report

And that is why Hiroshima won the league and look like defending their crown. The first half was very even and we largely matched the champions, but after the break, or more correctly, after we took the lead, the home team had us making mistakes and eventually their pressure paid off. Their first two goals were belters, but we should have done better to prevent them. Their third hit us as we pushed for an equaliser. Really disappointing after the first three quarters, but I can't have too many complaints about this result.

Positives to take is that, yeah, me matched the defending champions away from home for most the game. Radon went close several times, and generally we created chances. If I'm not mistaken Radončić and Honda both picked up 4th yellows in this game, so while they'll miss Sagan in a fortnight they'll be back for the derby.Tosu at home should be three points, and then the small business of the away derby. Long since sold out, it might, just might, be the game that relegates Iwata. That would be AMAZING.

Videos

Extended highlights.



Saturday, 28 September 2013

S-Pulse 2-1 Ventforet Kofu

Barry BARRY WRITES... 

S-Pulse 2-1 Ventforet Kofu
Omae 14, 57 ------------- Patrick 1

Att 15088
Nihondaira Stadium, KO 3pm
Shizuoka city, Shizuoka Prefecture

Line Up

GK Kushibiki

DF Muramatsu (18)
DF Hiraoka
DF Jong-a-Pin

MF Kawai
MF Ishige
MF Sugiyama (22)
MF Honda (38)

FW Radončić
FW Omae
FW Takagi

Subs Used

Murata on for Takagi (69)
Yoshida on for Kawai (69)
Takeuchi on for (94)

Report

I'll get my moan out the way first. I was a bit under the weather this week, so watched this one from home on TV Shizuoka. Never again. Coverage starting 1 minute before kick off and ending 1 minute after the whistle you can let slide, but replays of nothing but the goals, advert breaks during the action twice per half, and the commentator screaming when the ball went anywhere vaguely near the goal (regardless of any real danger). It drove me mad.

The icing on the cake was when Kofu put the ball in the net after the whistle had gone for a foul. That small detail didn't stop the commentator reeling off the new scoreline and goal scorer at the top of his voice. Only when the co-commentator whispered to him did he stop. Even in you'd missed the whistle, that none of the Kofu players were celebrating must have been a clue? No, TV Shizuoka shouldn't be let anywhere near football coverage until they learn how to do it properly.

Make no mistake, this was a big result. Kofu, while in 15th, have only lost one from their last nine, pulling away, in terms of points at least, from the bottom three. In Patrick I can see one very big reason why they've been on such a good run. The man is immense. Not only in stature, but impact. It was his header in the 30th second which put the visitors in front, and that set out his stall. He was causing all kinds of problems, and when a pass back was a fraction too slow he was there to pounce. Kushibiki got there just in time, and while the deflection off the forward could have gone anywhere, we got the rub of the green on that occasion.

We got another bit of luck to draw level when Kofu's Sasaki made a total mess of a simple header to lay it off to Omae. Still with Sasaki and the keeper to deal with, Genki placed it home to get us back on terms. It was Genki again, who since regaining full fitness has been a revelation since his return. Coupled with Radončić, they've forged a wonderful understanding. Desperately unlucky not to have snatched an equaliser at the death last week, Radon was central to our winner. Just off the top of the penalty area he held it up, laid it off to Muramatsu who played it through to Genki. Omae did the rest.

Kofu will likely stay up as they were no push overs, but we saw out the game and move up to 11th. With four wins from our last five (and last week's defeat a bit harsh, perhaps) we are the form team We go to Hiroshima next week who are playing for the title, so it will be a massive test. A win would put us anywhere up to 8th, on the fringes of the prize money and a couple more wins away from an ACL spot! Over optimistic? Maybe, but I can't help it.

S-Pulse!

Videos

Highlights.

Sunday, 22 September 2013

Yokohama F. Marinos 1-0 Shimizu S-Pulse

Barry BARRY WRITES... 

Yokohama F. Marinos 1-0 Shimizu S-Pulse
Nakamura 4

Att 13416
KO 7pm, Mitsuzawa Nippatsu Stadium
Yokohama City, Kanagawa Prefecture

Line Up

GK Kushibiki

DF Sugiyama
DF Muramatsu
DF Jong-a-Pin (64)

MF Kawai
MF Ishige
MF Honda
MF Takeuchi

FW Omae
FW Takagi
FW Radoncic (24)

Substitutes used

Murata on for Takeuchi (63)
Yoshida on for Takagi (78)
Ito on for Kawai (88)

Report

In due course!

Videos

Thanks, William!


Saturday, 14 September 2013

S-Pulse 2-1 Nagoya

Barry BARRY WRITES... 

S-Pulse 2-1 Nagoya Grampus
Radoncic 59 -------------- Masukawa 52
Omae 93

Att 13189

Kick off 3pm, Nihondaira Stadium
Shizuoka City, Shizuoka Prefecture

Line Up

GK Kushibiki

DF Hiraoka
DF Jong-a-Pin
DF Sugiyama
DF Mutamatsu

MF Ishige
MF Kawai
MF Honda
MF Takagi (24)

FW Radoncic (23)
FW Omae

Subs used

Murata on for Takagi (68)
Lee Ki-Ji on for Honda (74)
Takeuchi on for Hiraoka (79)

Report




God damn, right. It's a beautiful day.

First thoughts have to go to Hiraoka who went off late on with a dislocated sholder. Yasuhiro has been fantastic this season, so here's hoping they can pop it back in without too much pain, and we see him back soon.

Another late, late winner. Brilliant scenes behind the home goal when Genki popped up to nod it home like Okazaki at his best. All credit to Radoncic whose control and quick thinking in the centre of the field set up Genki to lay it off to Murata.

Full report to come tomorrow.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Wednesday

With apologies. What with life getting in the way, and then the announcement that the J. League was to give up being a competition worth watching, I never got around to writing about this fantastic victory.  Nagoya always give us a fiery, derby-like game, and Saturday was no exception. Great result from our boys.

Read all about it on the boss's website, here.

Videos

Highlights.

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

New 2 Stage and Post Season Championship System for the J. League?

Barry BARRY WRITES... 

New 2 Stage and Post Season Championship System for the J. League? That title rolls off the tongue with all the fluidity and grace of the recently announced plans for J1 2015.

A few months ago news was leaked that the league was hoping to return to a two stage system from next year. This was immediately and comprehensively denounced by the large majority of J. League supporters. Want an idea of the extent of feeling? Here's what Urawa fans threw together in protest. Most pointed is the fact there are countless individual banners, not merely a collective effort.

Borrowed from this blog
This was a scene repeated all over the country. The people had spoken. Japanese fans simply do not want stages and their associated weakness at deciding the year's best team. The suits slunk off defeated, but not without a parting swipe that they'd still be changing things eventually.

I went into full details of the gaping holes in the old double stage system back in April, but if you think those were grounds for objection, just you wait until you see what lunacy the J. League has dreamt up for 2015.

Use the Term System Loosely

OK, brace yourself. This is not a joke. This really is how J1 is going to be contested in two years time. 

There will be two stages of 17 games. Home and away games will be distributed over those stages. Never mind that the potential fixture inequalities create a mess straight off the bat. Just ignore that.

When both stages have been completed the year will enter the post season tournament phase.

The winner of Stage 1 will play the runners up of Stage 2. One leg? Two? Nobody knows yet.
The winner of Stage 2 will play the runners up of Stage 1. Clear? OK.

The winner of these games then play each other. One leg? Two? Again, who the hell knows. 
And the winner of this is the champion? God no. Of course not.

The winner of the above game will play the team with the greatest number of points won over the two stages
The winner of that will be the champions. 

Seriously. I must state again that I am not joking. This is actually what has been reported today. Confusing? Unfair? Needlessly convoluted? Never mind all that, think of the sponsorship money to be had in all those extra games (anything up to eight). That really is what it comes down to. It's not in the interests of clubs or players, and certainly not supporters.

Where to Start?

Scenario 1)
One team wins both stages. The same team finishes second both stages. 
Who plays who in the play offs? We'll be short by three competitors. 
Two teams denied 1st or 2nd place finishes, and the team with the highest number of total  points will be the 1st placed team. 
So where do we go to make up the numbers? 3rd place? 4th place? 
Where are the double stage winners (inevitably the highest point earners) dropped into the post season tournament?
Ultimately you could see the grand final between the highest total points winners and a team who finished 3rd or 4th in one stage. They may have finished bottom in the other stage, but never mind that, now they're playing for the championship.

Let Your Voice be Heard

It's an insult to the integrity of Japanese football. It's spitting in the face of fans who have made it abundantly clear this is the opposite of what they want. It's gimmicky, it's cynical and it's cheap. It's vast wads of sponsorship cash and it's jobs for the suits. 

J. League fans have perhaps come of age since the J1 abandoned two stages in 2005. They know what they want, and they're deadly serious. A fair league with no tacky add-ons. I agree 100%, and if I'm honest, I don't think I'd spend money watching football reduced to a circus.

TV companies are ordered not to broadcast banners like those above, but supporters won't be silenced. This game belongs to supporters first and foremost. If you're in Japan and feel the same way as most, make a banner to take to your next home game. If you're not J. Side, Tweet like mad using the hashtag below. It means, literally, Opposition to 2 Stage System.

The league has displayed contempt for fans thus far, and appear intent on pushing their plans through regardless of the opposition, so don't make it easy for them.

Sunday, 8 September 2013

S-Pulse 2-0 Fujieda MYFC (Emp Cup 2nd Round)

Barry BARRY WRITES...

S-Pulse 2-0 Fujieda MYFC
Omae 72
Radončić 74

Att 5215
Nihondaira Stadium, KO 3pm
Shizuoka city, Shizuoka prefecture

Line Up

GK Takahara

DF Hiraoka
DF Jong-a-Pin
DF Muramatsu

MF Ishige
MF Kawaii
MF Honda
MF Sugiyama

FW Takagi
FW Omae
FW Radončić

Subs Used

Murata on for Sugiyama (58)
Takeuchi on for Radončić (78)
Hattanda on for Takagi (92)

Report

S-Pulse strolled past Shizuoka newcomers Fujieda MYFC yesterday with goals from Genki and Radončić. Giant killings happen of course, but they shouldn't. Yesterday one didn't. Our 3rd round opponents shouldn't pose too much of an obstacle, either. We'll play the winner of Yokohama FC (15th in J2) and Zweigen Kanazawa (4th in JFL) going on to meet Frontale (so long as they beat their own lower division opponents) in the 4th round.

Anyway, getting ahead of ourselves a little here. For now, our 3rd round game is home at Nihondaira on a date the JFL are yet to announce.

Videos

Both goals from a personal uploader.

Monday, 2 September 2013

Oita Trinita 2-3 S-Pulse

Barry BARRY WRITES...

Oita Trinita 2-3 S-Pulse 
Morishima 82, 94 ----------------- Muramatsu 43
------------------------------------------- Omae 44
------------------------------------------- Takagi 63

Att 9108
Oita Bank Stadium, 7pm
Oita City, Oita Prefecture

Line Up

GK Kushibiki

DF Hiraoka
DF Jong-a-Pin
DF Muramatsu

MF Ishige
MF Kawai
MF Sugiyama (36)
MF Honda

FW Takagi
FW Omae
FW Radončić

Subs Used

Takeuchi on for Honda (70)
Murata on for Takagi (81)
Ito on for Radončić (91)

Special Report: UKU Summer Expedition 2013


Friday – Welcome to Hell(s)

Having balanced up all possible methods of clearing the 500 miles between Shizuoka and Oita it was the bullet train which came out tops. Unlike for Sapporo and Fukuoka, Shizuoka Airport doesn’t offer an Oita route, meaning sadly no away game flight this year. What’s probably a novelty for most Honshu teams, must, for fans of your Trinitas or Consadoles, be something of a drag. Based where we are, S-Pulse are within day-return reach of anywhere up to Sendai out east, or Kobe out west. Avispa fans no doubt accumulate a burgeoning collection of air miles over a season, but day trips must be frustratingly infrequent. 

A bridge too far in 24 hours, Oita had been pencilled in as the year’s big away trip from the day the fixtures were announced. Like Sapporo this time last year, if you’re going all that way, you have to make a trip of it. What else is there in the area aside from a football stadium and a game to watch? Well, 15 minutes up the road is Beppu, the hot spring capital of the country. That’ll do.

On the train at 6.30am, the shinkansen made short work of the 400 miles to Kokura, and after a change to the wonderfully named Sonic I was in Beppu before midday. Boasting wooden flooring and lush faux leather reclining seats, the Sonic not only has a cool moniker, it’s a cut above your average locomotive. Beppu means hot springs, but the volcanic activity doesn’t stop there. After a fried chicken (not KFC) and beer lunch, the assembled UKU members joined a tour of Beppu’s 8 “Hell”s. These are a collection of various seismic phenomena, including geysers, bubbling mud pools and bright red water hovering just under boiling point. 
 The Sonic. Classy
Two of Beppu's 8 Hells
Beppu is a resort town, so despite its small size has a high number of places to drink, some family friendly, others decidedly sketchy (“Show Pub Universal Babes”). I was voted down on Universal Babes, so instead we found a purveyor of some regional delicacies, ordered a stack of Asahis, and got ourselves in the mood with a Sky Perfect On Demand replay of Wednesday’s 4-3 excitement. Spirits were high, the beer was flowing, but determined not to fall into the old trap of peaking too soon, we called it a night early, preserving energy for the main event.

Saturday – Sandbaths, Sake and Soccer

Thankful for the evening kick off, we took Saturday as a chance to savour more of Beppu's famed spa attractions. Have you ever had a bath? Probably. Have you ever had one in sand? Piping hot and heated by water bubbling up from deep underground? Well, I hadn’t, but I’m glad I did. You lay flat on you back, staring up at the wooden beams as a member of staff buries you up to your neck. It’s heavy.  It’s hot. And you sweat. A lot. Ten minutes you spend encased, quite enough for this camper. I would definitely do it again, but evidently this isn’t something you can find in very many places. That means if you’re in the area and aren't claustrophobic, don’t miss out! 
 Where I was buried alive. Takegawara onsen

After ticking Beppu Tower off the to-do list, it was a fifteen minute train ride to Oita for the main event: Oita Trinita vs S-Pulse. Not a highlight of the day’s J1 program for anyone except us and the home team, but without your bread and butter you’re just left with desert, and you’d soon get sick of Death by Chocolate every meal. Trinita, bottom of J1 with just one win all season, play at the Oita Bank Dome 30 minutes of out of town. The bus ride had me realise how first time away fans to Shimizu must feel. Having alighted at Shizuoka and jumped on the shuttle bus, the arduous 45 minute ride up to Nihondaira must have them wondering if they’re ever going to see a game of football. 

Oita Dome may be in the middle of nowhere, but it’s a beauty. Opened in 2001, it has a retractable roof which slides over a supporting structure. Even when the roof is open it looks like a dome, and while it does have a running track, the far goal doesn’t feel as distant as at the Nissan or Ajinomoto. Cut into the ground, you enter at the top of the first tier, with the pitch below you. 

Spacious, modern and comfortable, this probably ranks at the top of my list for J. Stadia with athletics tracks. Only the access and lack of home fans counted against it. When things were going well, Oita regularly attracted over 20000. Only 9000 were there on Saturday, and 6% of those were in orange.  When the good times return, I hope so will the fans. 
 A beautiful stadium
 This ground would rock if ever full up
The Game

The match itself was in the first half something of a scrappy affair. We were unable to find our rhythm, and Oita, while most likely down, are not yet out. Former S-Pulse assistant manager Tasaka has them fighting for everything, and while it saw them sneak up from J2 last season via the play offs, they’ve repeatedly come unstuck against better opposition. Their undoing on Saturday was in two late 1st half minutes. Firstly Muramatsu started and finished a lightening counter move, and seconds later Genki Omae scored a classy goal to mark his first since returning to Shimizu.

Takagi continued his fine form and added to his midweek hat trick, and at that point it seemed we were going to run riot. We went close, almost extended out lead more than once, but Oita were the ones to net next, with 8 minutes to go. Another was added in the 94th minute which had the nerves jangling, especially when the last action of the game was an Oita free kick on the edge of the box. It came to nought, and we all heaved a huge sigh of relief. We should have had the game put to bed long before nerves came into play, but we held on for a second win in four days, not forgetting we've found the net seven times since Wednesday.
 Job done!

The wind in our sails, and bellies full of Dango Jiru, we headed back to the town centre, to drink and eat until they kicked us out. Which was 12am. Tokyo Oita most certainly ain’t. Honourable mention once more to Sky Perfect On Demand whose replay of the match provided the background to our revelry.

Sunday – Monkey Business

What else is there to do in the area then apart from hot springs, sand baths and football? Well, there’s monkeys. Hundreds of them running wild. On Sunday a short jaunt along the coast took me to Takasaki Mountain and national park, long famed for its simian inhabitants. These little primates are common all over Japan’s countless mountains, but here they are fed regularly to keep them from bothering the local farmers. As such they stay in the area and visitors are provided a rare chance to walk freely amongst hundreds of wild monkeys.
Don't be fooled by the fence. They were running around everywhere

An aquarium next door, Oita Umitamago (literally Sea Egg), provided the end to the day. It’s right over the road and from that vantage point you got an idea of just how mountainous this little corner of the country is. Clouds covered the mountain ranges surrounding the bay and provide a spectacular backdrop to what is a pretty cool aquarium. That all done, a quiet one in front of the TV with Liverpool vs Manchester United was decided for me. Plans to watch in a local bar were scuppered upon discovering both sports bars I'd found in Oita city centre were closed on Sundays. Again, Tokyo it most certainly isn’t. 

Monday – Can I leave Yet?

Monday began with me wondering why on Earth I was still in Oita. Scouring tourist guides for any more must-see spots drew a blank, so I killed time visiting Funai Castle (stay outside, for goodness sake), and dropping by Trinita’s long-forgotten original home, the now-called Oita River Stadium. My stadium geekery perhaps wouldn’t normally extend to stadia not used for pro football in a decade, but I guess that’s a reflection on the number of other attractions in the area. 
 Funai Castle. I went inside, so you don't have to

You hear of travellers visiting places only to fall in love and never leave. I doubt this has ever happened in Oita. On my way home, I was talking to a friend from Fukuoka: “Oita has nothing interesting” she says. Now you tell me. Well, it does have some cool stuff, and I saw it. But you need two days, maximum. If it wasn’t for the football, I’d have done it in less than two. But to be fair, if it wasn’t for the football I’d never have gone there in the first place.

That it hardly stopped raining once in three days didn’t help, but Oita definitely loses out to big brother Fukuoka in terms of points of interest / things to do / night life / reasons to visit. So it was with a sense of mild relief that the time to came to board my train home. With the obligatory bagfuls of souvenirs in tow, I stumbled off the bullet train back in Shizuoka a couple of hours ago. 


Another away ground checked off, three points in the bag, and a cracking weekend away with friends. I hope also I'm now a little wiser about planning away trips. Research tourist attractions before booking three nights in a hotel. Next away day? Yokohama. Now I know there’s some cool stuff up there. :)
That's now 21 grounds for the flag. Retirement coming soon?
Videos

Highlights.