And now a bit of story time for Mito followers. Bits of it were revealed over the past two years for those paying attention. It's a sad story that may turn happy by this time next week.
Koji Fukasawa was born December 29, 1984 in a town located in the present day Minami Alps City, Yamansahi prefecture. From a very young age he played soccer, as many in the Yamanashi-Shizuoka region have. (A quick glimpse of the full J. League roster will reveal a disproportionally large percentage of all players as coming from these two prefectures, as well as local support for the pro teams.) After playing well throughout his youth, he was chosen to play for the team of Kokushikan University. This university is most famous for creating soccer players and fielding successful teams, and was the first university team to play in a national league upon entering the JFL almost ten years ago. While Kokushikan fell out of grace with that league before he could play on the team, the school remains a source of great talent scouted by teams around the country.
Fukasawa was scouted by many and went to Tochigi SC in the JFL upon graduating in March of 2007. He felt he would be given many chances to show talent there that other clubs may not offer. He joined as a part time player (as almost all JFL players are, outside of the company teams) and was provided with a full time job that would allow him the time and resources to practice and be a part of the JFL schedule... He was made soccer coach at a junior high school in Utsunomiya. It was there that I met him, as on business I would spend a month in the city, mostly at that school, coordinating local English teaching activity. I happened to bring up being a Mito soccer supporter and word got around to him that someone actually cared about soccer in the school. We talked quite a bit and he started inviting me to games and practices, and Tochigi SC became my second team to enjoy on those days when there were no Mito activities on that day. While on the whole the team played fairly well, it wasn't up to J. League caliber. A few players were, though, and Fukasawa certainly was one of them, and I'd go so far to say that with enough luck he could fill a specific niche for a J1 team. He displayed dribbling and speed better than most players I've seen and has incredibly good through passing ability. At the end of the 2007 season, Tochigi announced a serious effort to be promoted to the J. League and let go almost all of the part time players to go fully professional. The only part time player announced to stay in Tochigi and given a pro contract was Koji Fukasawa. He left the school and started work full time as a pro player.
Around this time, and before he was offered the contract, I suggested that he try to join a J. League team for 2008 and he flatly refused the idea, saying that he wanted to become a J. Leaguer through Tochigi by helping his team be promoted.
For the second half of the 2007 season and the 2008 season he would appear in about half the games, remarkable considering that in April 2007 he didn't know if he would ever take the field, and that 2008 the team was made up mostly of players who had been in the J.League the year before. He became a fan favorite during this time and when I visited Tochigi games and sat with him in the player's area, I was surprised to see how many ladies came up to talk with him and pass him notes and support. They seemed the type to be happy to associate with any player, but he was the one to always give the time and care about the fans, and the fans would feel special and appreciated. I know that on the field, in practice, and in the stands, he put forth more effort than any other player to help the team succeed. And it paid off as Tochigi SC secured standing high enough to join J2 and that team will play against teams ranging from Tokushima to Mito to Tokyo Verdy in 2009. I mailed him congratulating him on his work, and on becoming a J. league player. His reply came stating that it was an incredible feeling and that he couldn't wait to come play against Mito in a league match as he had done in practice matches in the past.
Tochigi SC made it to J. League thanks in large part to Koji Fukasawa, but also in large part to spending itself into a hole. A few weeks ago, with promotion secure, the club cut over half the contracted roster to be replaced with cheaper college players and veterans past their prime. Fukasawa was one of those cut.
After being cut, I received a mail from him as he worried about what he would do, and for some reason I felt the responsibility to get him back into a uniform. It seems almost unfair to the sport that he's not a part of the pro scene. So, I gave him the information to the Mito tryouts this week and had him send in his name. Then during the past weekend, I made sure to talk to the coaches, club president, and manager Kiyama to take a close look at him as he would be a great fit for the team. (Which is the case... I certainly would do nothing to damage the Mito HollyHock club!) They largely thanked me for the advice, and told me that they would remember his name and give him extra focus as he played in the tryout practices this weekend. I then offered Fukasawa to stay at my home, as I have an extra bedroom and parking space and actually live very close to the tryout field. As the tryouts start at 8:30 AM, someone trying to come in that day would be at a huge disadvantage. He accepted the offer and will arrive Friday night, leaving either Saturday or Sunday depending on if he passes the first day of selection and is asked to come back on Sunday. I have high confidence that he will be on the field Sunday as well. Thinking about it, this seems like a lot to offer but he's done so much for the sport and the fans that he deserves any help and support to continue playing professionally.
As much confidence as I have that he will impress and even knowing that the Mito staff will be looking closely, there can't be any guarantees, of course. However, if he can pull this off and join the roster, and ends up one day becoming a player that the country follows and respects, please remember that Koji Fukasawa is one of the good ones who deserves all success and owes all of it to hard work and good efforts alone. Compared to most players you have seen, I don't think there is any success he DOESN'T deserve.
We'll see how this weekend goes. By the end of the year he could be preparing to play in blue.