On Sunday I took the drive to north Tochigi to see a practice match between Fukushima United FC and Arte Takasaki. Fukushima, in the Tohoku regional league, defeated JFL's Takasaki 2-0 on a high school's fairly nice artificial pitch over 3 35 minute periods.
I went for three reasons: to catch up with Fukushima player Koji Fukasawa, to see the former Mito players now playing for Fukushima, and to see if Takasaki has improved and if it could become a rival for Mito. With Tochigi's promotion, there are only three reasonable possibilities for the north Kanto derby to expand, all very unlikely... Takasaki could suddenly improve and join J2, Tonan SC Gunma could continue its progress and do the same, or champions Kashima could have a disastrous year and be relegated. Frankly, there is a much higher chance for Kusatsu, Tochigi, or Mito to be promoted before that.
Unfortunately it seems Takasaki still has fan problems. Two dozen Fukushima fans made the 2 hour drive, which is how long it took the 8 Mito fans who took the relatively nearby chance to see old players again. 5 Tochigi SC fans also took an hour drive to see Koji, and apparently they all knew me too and wanted a picture with both of us. Despite somewhat close and the first chance to see all the new players, only 3 Takasaki fans came to support. They are a BITTER group and would trash their team for the laugh. In a scene of great love of soccer and appreciation over hero worship, it was a disappointing sight.
On the toll road leaving Tochigi, I passed the Takasaki bus. The players looking out the window and made some small talk and pointed seeing me with all the Mito junk on my car.
About the match, all former Mito players did well, especially Ki-Su Kim and Naoya Ohashi. It was good to see Ohashi shine in a role that wasn't possible at Mito. Seeing a lower level of play was refreshing in some ways too, although all the players are still on pro contracts. However Fukushima players seemed attached to their former pro clubs... Players tended to wear the warm up gear of the highest level team they had played with. Only high school recruits warmed up in their own team's gear.
Ki-Su Kim goes over the last period's play
Naoya Ohashi hustles
Kim still has Mito on his mind 2 years later
Ohashi pulls a Mitre warm up OVER the pre-2006 Puma Mito gear. An impressive double!
Koji Fukasawa earns his keep