Leading up to what, for many reasons, should be an enthralling 2013 season, I’ll be creating some visual representations of data containing a number of interesting insights into the J.League and the wider of issues surrounding the growth of football in Japan. This post, which relates to the prefectures of birth of J.League Division 1 and 2 squad members at the end of the 2012 season, uses two methods to look at the same data. Initially each prefecture was accorded a simple total of squad members born inside their respective boundaries, and later, in an attempt to assess which prefectures could be regarded as the “football hotbeds” of Japan, I calculated that same number of players in the context of the relevant prefectural population.
The 2012 J.League awards ceremony was held on 3 December, Hisato Sato, a number of his teammates and manager Hajime Moriyasu rightly honoured as one of the most impressive, inventive and attractive sides of recent years claimed the league title. The inclusion of a number of players in the 2012 J.League Best XI caused some surprise, however, not the least of which was Vegalta Sendai’s Wilson being named ahead of either Leandro or teammate Shingo Akamine. Nonetheless, with 2012 also being the 20th anniversary of the instigation of Japan’s professional football league, it is time to reflect upon the selection of those players who were considered the best in their positions for each of those twenty years, and devise an “All-Time Best XI” comprising exclusively Japanese players and a further wholly foreign team. Owing to the likelihood of a number of positions featuring players to have been included an equal number of times, certain tie-breaking criteria were determined as follows:
Number of Times in Best XI; If equal
Number of Times named MVP; If still equal
Number of Title Wins; If still equal
Player’s Regular Position
(Kashima Antlers set a 2012 J.League season record with a 7-0 victory over Consadole Sapporo on Matchday Twelve. Consadole would concede seven times for a second time on 25 August, thrashed 7-2 by fellow relegated club Gamba Osaka)
34 games. Just four wins. Only 25 goals scored, and 88 conceded. Fourteen points. This is the record of Consadole Sapporo, relegated to J.League Division Two on Matchday 27. Their average of 0.41 points per game, saw them finish the 2012 campaign with an historic low points total. Tthe question posed here is whether are they are now officially the worst side to have ever appeared in the top flight of Japanese professional football.
(Rodrigo receives a pass from compatriot Will, and he slots past Vissel Kobe goalkeeper Fumiya Iwamaru to score his second of the match and Oita Trinita’s eighth. The 8-0 win for the Azzurro remains the biggest win without conceding a goal and the joint highest aggregate victory in J.League history)
26 July 2003
Matchday Fourteen of the 2003 season’s first stage saw Oita Trinita travel to the Kobe Wing Stadium to face Vissel. Trinita, managed by Shinji Kobayashi, languished in fifteenth position in a league of only sixteen clubs, and had won only three of their matches, scoring just twelve times in thirteen games. Vissel, who had been steadily improving upon their league finishes since their promotion to the J.League in 1997, were five points clear in tenth, but were a club under increasing financial pressure, an issue that would result in their sale to Rakuten’s parent group just six months later, and Hiroshi Mikitani’s caustic decision to change their home strip to crimson from their traditional black and white stripes.
(Tatsuya Tanaka opens the scoring in the 30th minute for Urawa Red Diamonds as they visit an unbeaten Kawasaki Frontale on Matchday Fourteen of the 2006 J.League season. A second goal without reply would seal the win, Yuichiro Nagai netting with fourteen minutes to play.)
22 July 2006
League leaders Kawasaki Frontale welcomed an Urawa Red Diamonds side lying four points behind in third place to the Todoroki Athletic Stadium on Matchday Fourteen of the 2006 season. Takashi Sekizuka’s men were unbeaten at their home ground, but had been particularly impressive on their travels, winning six of their seven matches outside Kanagawa Prefecture, a 1-0 loss to Ventforet Kofu the only blemish on their record.
From 1965 to 1992 top-level football in Japan was played in the Japan Soccer League (JSL), the precursor to the J.League, but in a format largely distinct to the full-time professional structure the domestic game enjoys, and that to which contemporary observers are accustomed. Beyond the absence of professionalism, teams were owned by corporations under whose name they played and facilities they often used. Hitachi Ltd, Nissan Motors, and Sumitomo Metals became the more familiar Kashiwa Reysol, Yokohama F-Marinos and Kashima Antlers in today’s configuration, though their former patronage and historical imprint is still recognisable in the name of their stadia or sponsor. In the case of Kashima, who spent significantly both on foreign players and in the construction of their clubhouse and training facilities, this patronage continued into the professional game as Sumitomo Metals rather wryly side-stepped one of the J.League’s founding ideals regarding a prohibition on sponsorship, in declaring a payment of ¥2 billion for a discrete company logo on a player’s jersey as advertising expenses.
Any discussion of spectator attendance and community participation in the J.League is made all the more instructive by reference to Kashima Antler’s formative years, and in particular how a district of then just 45,000 people could satisfy the J.League’s entry criteria, which included a stadium of a minimum 15,000 capacity. Full attendance at league matches was, in essence, not seen viable for any cities of less than 100,000 residents, and Kashima’s population did not even meet the Japanese government’s formal benchmark to be designated as a town at that time, making any application to become an inaugural J.League member highly unlikely to succeed.