2009-11-03 Mitsubishi Mizushima 0-3 Gainare Tottori (Gainare’s road to J2, part two)
Posted by stefanole on 2009/11/25
A rogue fixture scheduled for the Culture Day national holiday saw me and Claire take local trains from Okayama to Kasaoka on the Sanyo main line. Kasaoka is the last stop in Okayama prefecture before you enter Hiroshima prefecture, and it is not a particularly attractive town. It is however the home of the JFL’s ‘lovable losers’ Mitsubishi Mizushima, which made it important enough to warrant a visit.
Kasaoka’s sports stadium is the worst facility we have visited in Japan, which is surprising for a team that professes a desire to reach the J-League on their official website. The stadium was half-an-hour away from the station on foot, and we accessed it by following Route 2 until we got to a bridge. There are no buses that go past the ground (most go in the opposite direction if I read the map correctly), but the walk itself was not difficult with a Google map as a guide.
The stadium is set in a kind of public park which seems to be popular in Japan, as it has a public field with portable goals and a children’s play area next door. The designers of the stadium itself however seem to have struck a painful compromise over its use, as it is blighted by the biggest and most unnecessary blue running track I have ever seen. Not content with just having a running track, there is also a very wide ring of green clay that widened in the corners, which happened to correspond exactly with good shooting (and viewing) locations.
The facilities were also very poor, since there was only one actual stand (capacity 200 or so), and this was already full by the time we got there. The overspill from the stand, almost entirely dressed in green (save for one girl who turned up with a Sanfrecce shirt), were forced to claim a patch of grass as their own on the bank that surrounded the maddening expanse of clay.
The tenants of Kasaoka athletics stadium, Mitsubishi Mizushima, are an even better example of why a club needs to properly prepare and plan for success if they seriously wish to achieve professional status. Promoted to the JFL a year later than Arte Takasaki, the fact that Mitsubishi Mizushima haven’t been relegated yet is down to the expansion of the J-League.
Fans of Mitsubishi Mizushima, whose parent company is the same as J1’s Urawa Red Diamonds, were clearly hoping that their team would become the regional equivalent in Okayama. A supporters’ organisation was even created that called itself “The Red Adamant Club”, ‘adamant’ being another name for diamond. Indeed, until very recently, Mitsubishi have publicly maintained that they are working towards membership of the J-League, despite the fact that their performances in the JFL have been consistently rubbish. In 2005, their début season in the JFL, the organisation went as far as to incorporate as a separate entity from Mitsubishi Motors, a requirement for entry to the J-League (one intended to neutralise the fickleness of the men in suits when it comes to funding sports teams).
Clearly something was amiss though, as the prefectural government and backers in Okayama put their weight behind Fagiano Okayama instead, and in 2009 Fagiano débuted in J2 as Okayama’s national representatives. It is likely that this, along with the oft-repeated mantra of the global financial crisis, led to the decision of Mitsubishi’s to pull out of the JFL at the end of the 2009 season (announced on the JFL website the previous day and presumably repeated to the crowd at the end of this game). How the financial crisis should lead a supposedly independent football club to want to cut costs by voluntarily relegating itself to a regional league, is not immediately apparent to me. But the writing must have been on the wall at Mitsubishi Mizushima for some time, as there were only half-a-dozen identifiable Ultras in a crowd totally dominated by Gainare green (something which led Claire to comment that “You’d never know this is supposed to be an away game for these guys.”)
As for Gainare, I briefly mentioned in Part One how the club appointed a foreign manager two years ago to steer the club to professional status. Witthaya LAOHAKUL, a Thai with extensive international experience (61 caps and 18 goals for his country), was the man brought in to do the job. No stranger to Japan, Laohakul (or Hloagune) played for the Yanmar Diesel and Matsushita FC company teams, clubs which would later become Cerezo Osaka and Gamba Osaka respectively. He also played in the Bundesliga with Hertha Berlin, in a side which finished as runners-up in the German Cup. His coaching apprenticeship began in 1988 with Matsushita FC, and he continued as assistant coach for Gamba’s first two seasons of the J-League. He has an Emperor’s Cup win in 1990 under his belt from this period. Success in the Thai league as a full manager was interspersed with a stint as manager of the University of Nevada’s soccer team, and his appointment with Gainare represents his first full managerial job in Japan.
I also mentioned in Part One how the substitution into the game of Kone HAMED invigorated the Gainare attack, although in that game Hamed was not directly responsible for the goal that followed. Hamed seems to have created an interesting niche for himself as an impact player at Gainare: in both games we’ve seen, manager Laohakul has sent him on after about an hour to capitalise on the tired legs of the opposition. Interestingly, Hamed probably came to the attention of Laohakul while he was playing at the Thai’s former team, Chonburi FC. Born in Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast), Hamed graduated from an African football academy (l’Académie de JMG) before heading to the Far East. Still only 22 (his birthday was the day before this match, so happy birthday Kone!), Hamed has his best years ahead of him, and I look forward to seeing what he can do if Gainare can reach the J-League.
Moving onto the match, I think I can safely say that we could have turned up at half-time and not have missed anything. Admittedly, getting numb legs and a sore neck from crouching under a railing did not help, but Claire was equally nonplussed at the standard of play, so I don’t think it was just me. The closest either side came to a goal came a couple of minutes before half-time, when Gainare’s ABE Yutaro stabbed a cross wide, as Mitsubishi goalkeeper Nagatomo was left in no-man’s-land.
The second half brought with it a little more skill and attacking play, but no goals as of the 66th minute. That was until Hamed made his expected appearance, and his bustling runs up the left flank immediately unsettled Mitsubishi and made their defence look distinctly flat-footed. The goal I had been anticipating arrived four minutes after the substitution, as Hamed scored a good goal from thirty yards out.
Gainare’s second came followed swiftly, and again it was Hamed’s left foot that blasted the ball in, this time from closer range. Hamed’s two efforts encouraged his team-mates to attack more directly, which had the immediate consequence of making the game a lot more interesting. Hamed’s tendency to drift around the pitch did nothing to settle the Mitsubishi defence either, and Gainare’s final goal came from a run up the left made by TSURUMI Toshitaka, and a good finish by MORI Eijiro.
After that, the game was over as a contest. Mitsubishi did find the time to pick up a couple of yellow cards though, as their discipline (which seemed fairly shaky throughout) started to break down.
Post-match, the Mitsubishi players and some of the staff lined up in front of the crowd, while a long announcement was made over the PA. I only caught a few mentions of “JFA” before we left to get the train back, but I think it is safe to assume that the team was confirming the announcement made on the JFL website that the team would be voluntarily relegating themselves at the end of the season.
As for Gainare, they spent some time celebrating with the impressive travelling support (a video of which can be seen below). The result meant that Gainare moved into third place, one place ahead of the all-important fourth place that the team needs to promote to the J-League.
Results since this match have been poor however, with a loss and a draw to Honda FC and Honda Lock coming as the teams around them have won their games. As a result, Gainare have to rely on Sony Sendai losing their final match against JEF Reserves, and Gainare have to win at home against V-Varen Nagasaki this Sunday. Any other result will see Tottori finish just short of what they need to turn professional for the second season in a row, and the J-League will remain unrepresented in the San-In region for another year.