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Monday, 2 September 2013

Oita Trinita 2-3 S-Pulse


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?