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Yokohama FC struggling to survive despite JFL success

by Kumi Kinohara

Yokohama FC, the club formed by the former Yokohama Flugels supporters 1 1/2 years ago, is fighting hard, both on and off the pitch, in its quest to gain promotion from the Japan Football League to the J. League’s second division next season. But the club is struggling financially and this has put pressure on German manager Pierre Littbarski.

On the pitch, Yokohama FC extended its winning streak to 13 against no losses with a 1-0 win over FC KYOKEN at Yokohama’s Mitsuzawa Stadium on Sunday. Former JEF United midfielder Yoshikazu Goto scored the sole goal on a free-kick and goalkeeper Hiroki Mizuhara made some good saves before the 3,185 fans. Yokohama FC, which won the 12-team JFL last year, remains on top this year. Littbarski says his team is better than last year.

“We play more consistently and we are more organized,” he noted. “Our players in the second year know our style of play better. But I didn’t expect we would win 13 games in a row.”

But off the pitch, the club’s budget limitations have caused many difficulties. The team doesn’t have its own training ground and has to travel to one of the three different grounds, including a dirt pitch, depending on their availability.

“This week, we can only train at a good (grass) ground twice,” the 40-year-old manager said.

According to a senior club official, the club has more companies paying for advertisement boards around the pitch this year. The club lost 2 million yen on a 300 million yen budget last year, but has a budget of 450 million yen this year.

Luckily, most of the league games are played in the afternoon. The club probably couldn’t afford accommodation if it had to play away and stay overnight.

Yokohama FC’s senior operating manager Kazuyoshi Tanabe commented: “We’re just managing to survive. We need a big sponsor. We all know what we need in J2.”

By finishing in the top two this season, the club will be considered for promotion by the J. League. This will depend on meeting the league’s criteria as a professional club — such as financial stability, stadium, training facilities and youth team program.

“(General manager Yasuhiko) Okudera and I are always searching for a company, searching, searching, searching. But it’s not easy to find a company in the current economic situation,” said Littbarski. “We need to find a company as the dream (of going to J. League) must continue. It’s not nice to see it cut here.”

The former German World Cup hero guided the brand-new team to victory last year, but it’s hard to find and keep good players because of the club’s low budget. Good players are always likely to move on to another club.

Frustrated with the situation, Littbarski said this may be his last season with Yokohama.

“I may have to find another club to join,” said Littbarski. “I have stayed in Japan seven years and have to think about my family. My contract with the club ends this year and we will probably have talks in November or so. We’ll see.”

The JFL season will end on Nov. 12.