Albirex Niigata fans have had very little to cheer about this season.

The Denka Swan Stadium residents, who once boasted the biggest crowds in the J. League's first division despite never mounting any serious title challenges, struggled in their first year back in the league's second flight since 2003 and will finish the campaign no higher than mid-table.

On Monday, however, came some good news from the club in the form of an announcement that defender Fumiya Hayakawa's contract has been unfrozen, marking a major step in the 24-year-old's journey to return to the pitch after a two-year battle with acute leukemia.