2009-08-09 [Chugoku League 1] FC Ube Yahhh-man 1-8 Sawaga Kyubin Chugoku SC
Posted by stefanole on 2009/08/15
And now for something slightly different
Sunday saw Yahhh-man and Sagawa clash in Hiroshima in round 14 of the Chugoku League’s 2009 season. They played at the CocaCola West Stadium Hiroshima, despite Yahhh-man’s home being in Yamaguchi prefecture.
What should have been a reasonably close game between fourth and first degenerated into a practice match for Sagawa, who nevertheless showed some professionalism by keeping the pressure on Yahhh-man despite the scoreline. Sagawa are unbeaten in the Chugoku League this season however, so perhaps this game is indicative of the gulf in relative abilities that exists in this league.
The thirty or so fans on the terraces seemed to be mostly Yahhh-man fans, as it was their rare attacks that drew the gasps, while the Sagawa goals went largely unrecognised. I was disappointed to find that there were no souvenir stands with “YAHHH-MAN” t-shirts, but maybe that’s for the best. I do have some suspicions however that many of the fans that turned up were friends and/or family of the players, in which case the attendance was effectively me.
To give an idea of the respective abilities of the teams in this league, it is enlightening to compare them with the local high school and University teams. Several of the sides in this league have come up against such teams in the course of progressing through the qualifying rounds for this year’s Emperor’s Cup. Both JFE Steel and Mazda SC fell in the first qualifying round to University teams: Fukuyama Heisei and Hiroshima Shudo respectively. I am also told that JFE are regularly beaten by Hiroshima’s top high school teams, and indeed Hiroshima Minami got to the semi-finals of this year’s competition, beating Chugoku Electric 6-1 along the way. The tournament plan can be found here.
The Final for the qualifying competition, which will decide Hiroshima Prefecture’s representative in the Emperor’s Cup first round proper (Sanfrecce Hiroshima have a bye into the second round), will be between the Chugoku League’s Sagawa Kyubin and Fukuyama University. The match will be played at the Big Arch on the 30th of August, and the winner will play the winner of the Nagasaki Prefecture competition in Fukuyama in late September. The full Emperor’s Cup draw can be found here.
The Chugoku League is on the second step of the Japan Football League, and the fourth step of Japanese football (i.e. J4). It shares this step with eight other regional leagues: the Hokkaido League, the Tohoku League, the Kanto League, the Tokai League, the Hoku-Shinetsu League, the Kansai League, the Shikoku League and the Kyushu League. Above these leagues is the JFL (J3), a national league, and beyond that the professional J-League (J2 and J1). Below (i.e. J5 and below) are the independent prefectural leagues, run by the prefectural football associations. Five prefectures make up the Chugoku League: Shimane, Tottori, Yamaguchi, Hiroshima and Okayama. There are three Hiroshima teams of the 10 competing teams: Sagawa (Hiroshima), Mazda (Aki-gun, Hiroshima) and JFE Steel (Fukuyama).
Fagiano Okayama provide an illustration of the route to the professional leagues for teams and cities with the ambition to make it to the top: they were promoted from the Okayama League (J5) to the Chugoku League (J4) after the 2004 season, won promotion to the JFL (J3) at the end of the 2007 season, and won promotion to J2 a season later. In 2009 they are languishing near the bottom of J2, but with relegation impossible (the J-League is expanding so there is no relegation from J2 this year) they still have a chance to establish themselves in the professional leagues.
There are suspicions amongst fans of Japanese football that company teams, such as Sagawa, use lower-league football as a form of advertising for their company. It is apparently common-enough practice for companies to subsidise their teams by offering footballers contracts at the parent company, but with responsibilities that basically amount to just playing football. There are already two Sagawa teams in the JFL (J3), namely Sagawa Shiga and Sagawa Printing, and Sagawa Shiga are currently top of J3. The J-League (J2 & J1) however, has strict standards that prospective teams must meet if they are to gain promotion. One is that the team must be completely financially independent, in order to avoid another Yokohama Flügels disaster.
Due to the vagaries of the Chugoku League’s fixture system (the joys of which can be experienced here and here), this was one of two matches played this day. The other match was another high-scoring game, namely Renofa Yamaguchi’s 6-0 drubbing of JFE Steel Fukuyama on what was technically round 3. (I suspect that the fixtures are all over the place due to clashes with the Emperor’s Cup qualifiers, etc.) The next round of fixtures (in the temporal sense) will be round 13, this Sunday 16th of August. Renofa will take on Mazda, and Dezzolla will take on Japan Oil. The matches will take place in Shunan, Yamaguchi (周南市) and Matsue, Shimane (松江市).
At this stage though, with just a few games left, the top of the table is looking like it’s settled. The top two teams will go on to play in the All Japan Regional Football Promotion League Series (amusingly titled the “Chiiki Riigu” in Japanese) in a tournament of 16 teams: four groups of four and then a straight knockout. At the moment it is Sagawa and NTN Okayama who are out in front and looking the most likely to represent Chugoku at the Chiiki Riigu. Last season’s Chugoku representatives were Renofa Yamaguchi and Sagawa, who both lost their three group matches and so failed to qualify for the knockout stage, finishing bottom of their respective groups. This year’s Promotion League Series will be held exclusively in Nagano, in late November.
As for the Chugoku League’s cellar-dwellers, relegation beckons for the bottom two teams back into the prefectural leagues. As it stands, JFE Steel Fukuyama would be relegated back to the Hiroshima league, and Genki SC would be relegated back to the Tottori league after spending just a year in the Chugoku League.
It is a great time for footballing romantics with dreams of the big time, but Yahhh-man still have some way to go if they expect to follow in Fagiano Okayama’s footsteps.