27 November 2008

Mito's Newest Rival Now More Official, Home Stadium Issues

On Tuesday, the governor of Tochigi prefecture met with a high ranking J. League official to confirm that public government funds will assure the club's solvency up to 50,000,000 yen and that the government will fund improvements of Tochigi SC's home stadium after joining the league.

It's this kind of guarantee that the league wants to hear in order to approve promotion... It's the lack of this guarantee that forced Mito to sit out of the first year of J2 despite qualifying.

Tochigi Green Stadium is soccer-specific and can hold over 15,000, but is visibly old, exposed to the elements, and half the spectator area is elevated grass seating. It is very similar to Mito's situation, where the city has a local stadium of dubious quality. Unlike Mito, which has the much better stadium of nearby Kasamatsu, the only other reasonable fields in Tochigi prefecture are in Tochigi city and Ashikaga city and both of those hold about 5000 people. Mito's home stadium reformation currently being undertaken is taking about a year and a half, but with Kasamatsu as the de facto home stadium for years this is not much of an issue for Mito fans. A similar amount of effort is certainly needed for Tochigi Green, which while great for viewing games, is little more than a glorified staircase of concrete slabs with two seating options: cheap plastic bench or grass. Should the J. League allow this home stadium to remain it will easily be considered the worst main stadium in the country. I have nothing to go on regarding this decision, but don't be surprised if Tochigi SC plays its first J. League season in a temporary home or in several different "home" stadiums. Could they play in Tochigi or Ashikaga? Perhaps Kanto's substitute stadium of choice, Kumagaya? Surprisingly, the stadium closest to Tochigi Green that satisfies all of the J. League requirements is Kasamatsu. Don't be surprised if any of these places host Tochigi SC home games in 2009. Make doubly sure of your away game preparations if you plan to head out.

26 November 2008

Mito 1 - 2 Kofu, 2009 J2 Update, and a Lost Chance

This was a hard game to watch as the stadium was cold and the result was colder. Mito looks back to the beginning of the season to finish off matches unfortunately.

Kofu was incredibly aggressive and honestly deserved to win. They came so close to giving up a draw, as close as possible actually, by being a bit too aggressive for their own good in injury time. Kofu scored, and then the final moments of the first half saw Kofu get its first red card of the game in the penalty area. Mito forward Akahoshi took the PK and converted to tie it up. The second half starts up, Kofu scores, and wouldn't you know it but another injury time foul in the penalty area, Kofu takes its second red card, and Akahoshi sets up for the tie game shot in the very last minute. The ball flies above the cross bar, the whistle sounds, and Mito drops the ball after having it handed lovingly on a silver platter.

On the plus side, the Holly-kun renewal fund went AMAZINGLY well, with what I'd estimate as 200,000-300,000 yen collected to repair the beloved mascot. After their win, one Kofu fan even dropped in a 10,000 yen bill. The cold day showed a lot of warmth from the hearts of soccer compatriots hailing from the two smallest capital cities in the Tokyo metro area.

This result leaves Mito in 10th, and needing to win the last two to have even a chance at 9th when the season ends. Next week's opponent, Yokohama FC, is just a point behind in the standings. A win by Mito will assure a middle table finish. In the north Yamagata is flying so high that it seems almost certain that they will be in J1 for the first time in 2009. I'll see what could be their last J2 match ever on the 6th when I make the drive to Tohoku. Below J2, Kataller Toyama has secured a spot, and Okayama and Tottori fight for the last position in the JFL standings to turn pro. There will definitely be 3 new teams in J2 to even up the number of teams in all divisions, and on Sunday we will know which team takes the third spot. I could have seen Tottori face RKU in Ibaraki and see their potential rise, but I decided that I will go to Utsunomiya and see Tochigi SC's last semi-pro match. It's going to be an eventful two weekends, watching 3 matches in 3 prefectural capitals in 2 leagues and wrapping it up with the Mito fan fest on the 7th. After that, I'll have a month to recover before Mito begins training the 2009 squad.

With that time, I wanted to approach my US hometown's nearest pro team, also in the 2nd division, about creating some kind of international partnership with Mito HollyHock. But it was just announced that the Atlanta Silverbacks team was disbanded. Looks like I'll be without any soccer activities for over a month.

21 November 2008

Supporters Club Appreciation for the Last Home Game, Auction

For the last home game this season on the 29th vs. Yokohama FC, as part of the effort to bring in 10,000 fans to see the game, a special offer is being given to people who are a part of the 2008 Supporters Club.

Just by showing the member's card, that person can gain free admission to either the A section or the S section.

In addition, members will receive a logo hand towel.

As always, previous club members will be able to join the 2009 club at a discounted price on that day.

Lastly will be a silent auction taking place with player signed items or equipment used in games on the block. Bids are placed on that day and the highest bid will be awarded on the fan appreciation day, December 7. This positive event will surely remove the negativity of this date that has lived in infamy!

20 November 2008

Time to Help Out Holly-kun

On Sunday's game there will be a collection taken at the gates to professionally repair the team mascot Holly-kun.

Even up close, it's hard to see what is wrong, but I happen to think it needs a good cleaning in addition to being made lighter, cooler, and to offer more movement around the midsection...

Holly-kun's message to the fans: 「僕を助けてください!」("Please help me!")

18 November 2008

Training Match: Mito 1 - 2 Kashima

Mito and Kashima Antlers had a training match yesterday. Both teams fielded a more or less top team the first half and replaced half the players for the second.

Mito's goal was taken by the young forward Mitsuru Mansho.

17 November 2008

Specials for Sunday's Match, Hopeful Promotion

For next week's home match vs. Kofu, SkyPerfecTV will continue the 200 yen Kasamatsu stadium food ticket present promotion.

Also, it's an appreciation day for everyone residing in the Mito hometown area. That incorporates Mito and all cities and towns bordering it, as well as Tokai village just to the north. Anyone with proof of residency can be admitted for only 500 yen, and anyone under 18 years old is free.

With the next day being a national holiday, the club is hoping for a big turnout. In fact for the first time ever, everyone living at least in Mito and perhaps other cities have received a glossy flier promoting that game as well as the Yokohama FC game a week later. The flier promoted the "full stadium project" with hopes for more than 10,000 people to attend. Even with the holiday, reduced price, and promotion, it seems like a lofty goal for Mito and would still technically mean less than half capacity for Kasamatsu.

For those curious, the only time a Mito matchup has brought in more than 10,000 people was an exhibition match between Mito and the Costa Rica national team in Kasamatsu. The largest league match was a J2 meeting between Mito and Kashiwa Reysol in 2006 that numbered more than 9500. Mito has been at the bottom or next to the bottom of the J. League attendance rankings since turning pro, unfortunately being topped by expansion teams as well as teams placed lower such as Tokushima, who successfully defended their last place crown to make 2008 their third in a row. Yet they still have more fans and money, it seems.

Enough of the pity party! Go to the cheap game on Sunday and enjoy yourself!

16 November 2008

Mito's Newest Rival Now Unofficially Official

Tochigi SC destroyed the visiting Arte Takasaki 6-1 in an emotional contest to secure the standings position needed to gain promotion to J2 for the 2009 season.

Up to two other teams will enter J2 and Toyama and Okayama both have more than a win advantage over two other top four contenders with 2 games to go.

This result puts a single team in J2 in the 3 north Kanto prefectures. Unfortunately that looks to be it for a while. The only team with even a remote chance to make it in the near future is, unfortunately, Arte Takasaki.

The promotion will be official once the J. League administration gives the formality of its permission.

Goalkeeper Shuto Is OK

After sustaining a fairly serious injury in the Emperor's Cup match at Fukuoka, Goalkeeper Shuto underwent surgery and today it was announced as a complete success. He will still be unavailable until well into next year.

15 November 2008

The Three-Way North Kanto Derby is Nigh

While Tochigi SC could lose every game and still be promoted to J2 for next year, that promotion can now be guaranteed by winning one of the last three of the season. Tomorrow's match will be against Arte Takasaki, who have lost eight in a row by sometimes huge margins. If anyone in the area wants to be a part of Japanese soccer history and experience the birth of a new pro club, this is your best chance.

This would be a mixed blessing for Mito, as a new rival so nearby will create more interest in the team. Utsunomiya is actually easier to reach by car than Mito's spiritual prefectural rival Kashima. However, Mito will likely lose the fans actually living in Tochigi who came to Mito as the closest pro team.

13 November 2008

Mito Over Kusatsu in Minor Leagues

The J. League Youth Cup and Satellite League are still in full swing, and Mito's own development system is showing to be fairly adequate at the very least.

Mito is still top of the Satellite League group but mathematically cannot stay there as the other teams' games in hand will force at least one to push ahead even if on drawn points. The only team that cannot surpass Mito on points is Kusatsu, with only two draws in the group so far.

In the Youth Cup group as well, Mito had early success due to having the first matches played but despte close contests so far has only recorded two wins, both over Kusatsu, who are being demolished in each matchup against the other J League U-18 squads.

It seems that the North Kanto Derby will be very interesting in the near future, not only with the addition of Tochigi SC, but with the huge difference in quality between the Mito and Kusatsu farm systems.

10 November 2008

Mito 0 - 1 Shonan, Stadium Impressions, and 2009 J2 Notes

I woke early on Saturday to make the drive to Hiratsuka. The train schedules showed a nearly four hour journey so I set out thinking I needed the time... I don't drive particularly slowly and arrived in less than half the time the train would have taken. This meant that I'd have no problem taking one of the very few parking spaces available, which is apparently only one of the many hassles facing away supporters going to a Shonan Bellmare match.

There is absolutely nothing to do other than walk in the park or go to the petting zoo, even within a 20 minute drive away. So I just waited under a tree in the rain near the away supporters' entrance. The security hired by Shonan is far more intrusive than others I have seen, and were even hassling when a supporter tried to put his bag within the 20 seat wide roped-off "security area" for a moment. Worst of all is the stadium itself which offers a terrible view from the field (when I thought Kasamatsu had to be worst in that department) and most unforgiving, poor acoustics. Even if the stadium were quiet, the little touches of hearing the feet striking the ball and player chatter is impossible. The only way to know if the other supporters are cheering is to watch their movements. And because sound doesn't carry, the speakers are set very annoyingly loud to compensate. Combined with the weather it was miserable, but I'd recommend pretty much any away supporter wanting to enjoy a match against Shonan, even in perfect weather, to just watch it on TV. The only positive thing is that going by car is very easy due to lack of driving fans... I could also see the hell that most people had to go through to cram on the bus back to the station though. It looked like a long wait for a lot of people.

With that out of the way, I can say the game was remarkably played on both sides, maybe with a slight edge of possession and lack of mistake to Mito, and certainly a huge amount of turnovers on Shonan's part as Mito continuously took the ball away. However, while Shonan made many mistakes in midfield regarding possession, Mito made its mistakes in offense and Shonan played the entire match relentlessly to prevent a single Mito goal. The result had no chance to be anything but low-scoring.

In many ways, the first half seemed like two people playing foosball while only controlling the goalkeeper pegs. The ball bounced around in the middle until occasionally weakly heading toward a very capable keeper. Mito was playing better soccer, but Shonan was playing the kind of game they wanted to play in this vital contest for their promotion. The second half continued as the first, but started to get more interesting after about ten minutes. Mito's biggest chance came at about 13 in, with forward Arata's shot bouncing off the Shonan keeper and rolling toward forward Nishino literally a body length in front of the goal. Racing against a Shonan defender his shot was at a heartbreakingly impossible angle, flying above the goal. Only a minute later J. League veteran striker Tuto would score one for Shonan. Even with 30 minutes left, Shonan would focus its efforts on defense and possession, even pulling forwards back almost a quarter of a field length. With this strategy they would hold on for a slim win and vital points in their efforts to return to the top flight after 8 years.

The fight for J1 promotion became a lot clearer with the other matches this round. Yamagata will have to lose each game spectacularly not to at least make the playoff spot, and two of three wins would assure them of direct promotion no matter how the teams below perform. With the following two matches against Kumamoto and Tokushima, it would be hard to bet on anything but the first direct promotion for Yamagata, but I hope for some stumbling as I will go to their final home match of the year as Mito plays them in December. It would be nice to have some drama involved in the decision, and in some ways it will be nice to see them get their feet wet in the top division, where they will surely be destroyed against the J1 powers in Yokohama FC/Sapporo-esque style. Shonan's win probably causes concern for Sendai fans who took a bittersweet point against nearly unbeatable Hiroshima. While Tosu and Osaka have a shot, it seems very likely that this year's promotion teams will be Hiroshima and Yamagata, with either Sendai or Shonan taking the 3rd spot.

If only J1's battle against relegation could be predictable for any team aside from doomed Sapporo.

In JFL results, Tochigi finally got a win over the bottom team of the league to jump back into second place. Honda FC officially won the JFL season which means that the four teams approved for J2 promotion are fighting for three slots. And wouldn't you know it but with three games left they occupy places 2 through 5 with only 4 points difference between them. While Yokogawa and RKU could prove spoilers for those spots, there will undoubtedly be one new J2 promoted team next year and more likely than not three promoted teams. For those concerned about the J2 landscape next year the unofficial JFL news page includes a final standing predictor with its standings list here.

06 November 2008

Hiroki Kato to Mito HollyHock

Defender Hiroki Kato, who played as number 28 for Mito in the summer of 2007 as a JFA appointed special player, has signed to join Mito for the 2009 season. He is currently playing in the JFL for Ryutsu Keizai University in south Ibaraki.

College Profile

His comment: 「自分自身成長し試合に出られるようにがんばります。応援よろしくお願いします。」 ("I'll try hard to raise my confidence and become a top team player. I ask for your support.")

Forward Endo in Saudi Arabia

Mito forward Keisuke Endo will continue to play internationally for Japan's U-19 team in this year's AFC tournament. Japan won its group against hosts Saudi Arabia as well as Iran and Yemen to make it to the next round.

While his teammates and myself will be in Kanagawa for Mito's match against Shonan Bellmare on Saturday, Endo will take the field in a match against South Korea.

Goalkeeper Shuto Injured

After sustaining an injury, Mito's backup goalkeeper will miss the rest of the season.

05 November 2008

Ex Mito Forward Pyeong-Ho Shin

I just received a mail from Korea regarding one of the teams former great players:


Ex-Mito HollyHock striker Shin Pyeong Ho retired from football last weekend. He had been playing at Jeju United. When he was at Mito in 2001 he scored 13 goals in 31 games.

As a mark of respect for his career Jeju fans have set up a facebook group in his honour.

Facebook Group: http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=37732875046

Korean News Article with pics:


Shin was a fantastic player for Mito and is still fondly remembered by the loyal fans.

Emperor's Cup: Mito 0 - 3 Kyoto

Mito's run in this year's Emperor's Cup ends with a win and a loss, being defeated at "home" in Kyoto by Kyoto. Due to a peculiarity in match placement, Mito was arbitrarily made the home team at a random location that happened to coincide with the away team's home stadium. In this match, of course, home and away would have no influence.

Mito has never beaten Kyoto, having previously had 8 chances in league play. Of possible J1 opponents though, Kyoto seemed like one of the better possibilities as the teams have a history of close or drawn matches and Mito's keeper Honma is a master at blocking PK attempts. Kyoto is doing well in its first year back in J1, though, and the result clearly and fairly showed the difference in team ability and financial support between them.

As for other results, there are still three matches in the round left to play and unless Tosu or Kofu surprise their opponents, no real underdogs will remain in the tournament. The only J2 team to win was Hiroshima and few would deny that this year's J2 champions aren't better than half of the teams in J1 right now. It seems all but decided that the Emperor's cup winner crowned on January 1, 2009 will be playing in Japan's top division that year.