As far as I’m concerned there’s only one team in Chiba and that’s Kashiwa Reysol! The reality though is that there are actually two sides based in this prefecture and they both play in yellow! The other team is called JEF United and they play at the Fukuda Denshi Arena in Soga which opened in 2005. The closest station is Soga which is awash with JEF-related decor going as far as having team shirts painted on the toilet cubicle doors!
On a mission to get round as many grounds as possible, Scottish Neil and I teamed up again to watch another J-League match last Sunday (July 24th) and Shimizu S-Pulse were the visitors. I chose for us to join the Shizuoka-based team in the away end for a couple of reasons.
Firstly, I didn’t want to support Reysol’s prefecture rivals and secondly I thought it would be nice to support the team where Leicester City’s Premier League winner Shinji Okazaki started his career in December 2005. Due to that latter fact I thought I could get away with wearing my new Leicester City shirt (with Okazaki 20 on the back) amongst the predominately orange crowd and it attracted a fair bit of (positive) attention.
During the Japanese Summer all J-League games kick off in the evenings due to the extreme heat of the afternoons. Only fellow J2 side Consadole Sapporo play in the afternoons as they always play under a roof at the Sapporo Dome so can presumably control the air-conditioning. This one had a 6pm start and there was a great atmosphere in the concourse of the away end and that inevitably continued right the way through the match as is the way in Japan where the atmosphere often has very little correlation with what is happening on the field!
The crowd in this 19,781 capacity stadium were treated to a classic J2 match with goals galore. Shimizu went two-nil up inside 27 minutes but Funayama levelled for the home side with goals either side of the break.
Neil said he’d never seen a red card at a match in Japan and I couldn’t remember seeing one either. Not so long after that conversation a red card was shown to one of the Shimizu’s goalscorers for a rash two-footed sliding tackle which was a tad too high for the referees liking.
Five minutes later and the turnaround was complete as JEF made it 3-2 and the majority of the 13,400 crowd must’ve thought that was it. In the 90th minute though an own goal made it 3-3 and unbelievably that wasn’t the end of it as in the fourth minute of the five additional minutes Tae-Se Jong passed it in to the bottom corner as JEF failed to clear. I was out of my seat the moment it left his foot as I could see it heading for the net. Even though I’m not a Shimizu fan I got caught up in the moment and was just happy for the supporters around me. These are the occasions which fans live for and the reason they continue to turn up each and every week.
Final Score: JEF United 3-4 Shimizu S-Pulse
That was a thriller of a match which can’t really be said of the one I saw in Kashiwa at the start of the month (July 2nd) when I had a rare Saturday off work and decided to make the most of it in the way of live sporting action. In the afternoon I took in a Sunwolves rugby match at Chichibunomiya in sweltering conditions and after that I made my way over to Chiba prefecture to see my Japanese team Kashiwa Reysol in action. They were hosting Albirex Niigata and I met up with my mate Gideon as indeed I did when I was last in town a year ago.
Outside the ground we bumped into an ex-student of Gideon’s and chatted to her for a bit before the inevitable selfies.
This time we decided to spend an extra few hundred yen on reserved seats right next to the atmospheric singing home end which was a good idea as it saved going through the arduous process of trying to find seats which are free and haven’t been reserved by having towels or tissues on them.
Overall we probably got more enjoyment from the food than the football which was quite poor. I finally sampled the mochi-mochi long fries which are made via boiling potatoes, mashing them, crafting them into long strips and then frying them.
At half time Gideon disappeared and emerged a few minutes into the second half with a giant kakigori; a dessert basically made up of shaved ice with syrup and condensed milk. All a far cry from the pie and bovril tradition of English football stadia!
Unlike the JEF match, this one really was a poor match ultimately decided by a rather comical own goal but having never seen a home win at this stadium I was delighted that that ghost was finally laid to rest as Kashiwa Reysol got the 2nd stage of the J-League season off to a winning start.
Final Score: Kashiwa Reysol 1-0 Albirex Niigata
Click on the links below to read about other trips to J-League stadiums in recent times: