Soccer / J. League | J. LEAGUE NOTEBOOK

J. League fans make best of virus-induced sabbatical

by Dan Orlowitz

No games, no problem — as long as you’ve got a Twitter account.

Following last Tuesday’s decision by the J. League to suspend fixtures through March 15 — beginning with several Levain Cup games on Feb. 25, one day after the announcement — fans across the league did what they’ve done time and time again when things don’t go as planned.

They made their own fun.

Using hashtags featuring the phrase #エアルヴァン杯 (#AirLevainCup) and their imaginations, supporters tweeted everything they would normally tweet on matchday — from photos of food and flags to reactions to big plays and bigger goals. Others streamed the scheduled fixtures simulated in soccer video game FIFA 20.

Even the official account of Nagoya Grampus got in on the action, tweeting a photo tribute to the club’s “always amazing friends behind the goal” after the team’s match would have ended.

By the weekend the action had spread as far as the J. League’s official account, which dutifully signaled kickoffs and final whistles for all of the “Air J. League” games along with all of the appropriate hashtags.

The phenomenon escaped Twitter and made it as far as NHK, which featured it in a segment on the Monday edition of its primetime “News Watch 9” show.

In addition to cheering on their clubs during the COVID-19 crisis, J. League fans are also lending their support to club sponsors who are missing the exposure they would normally receive at games, whether that means pitchside ad boards or stadium food stalls.

Using the hashtag #今こそJサポーターがスポンサーを応援する時 (“Now is the time for J. League fans to support the sponsors”), users are highlighting everything from snacks produced by Levain Cup title sponsor Yamazaki Biscuit Co. to computer manufacturer Fujitsu.

Clubs granted 100 Year status

Buried in J. League Chairman Mitsuru Murai’s news conference last week announcing the suspension of league competitions through mid-March was the announcement that five clubs have been granted J. League 100 Year Plan status, the first step needed for a professional club to be admitted to the league.

The five include the Japan Football League’s Iwaki FC, Veertien Mie and FC Osaka, Vonds Ichihara in the Kanto first division, and Nankatsu SC in the Tokyo first division.

With its backing from sportswear manufacturer Under Armour, Iwaki FC, which was founded in 2013 and has risen from the ninth tier of Japan’s soccer pyramid to the fourth-division JFL through five league titles in five seasons, is arguably the clear favorite among the 2020 class to reach the J. League first.

Veertien, which also pulled off five straight promotions from 2012-2016, is aiming to become Mie Prefecture’s first J. League club and is in the process of renovating its home ground, Toincho Sports Park Stadium, to accommodate the minimum of 5,000 fans required for a J3 Club License.

FC Osaka, which has participated in the JFL since 2015 and finished runner-up in 2018, announced an agreement last November to renovate the subground at Hanazono Rugby Stadium.

Vonds, a descendent of the former Furukawa Electric Chiba team founded in 1967, has won the Kanto League twice in the last three seasons but last played in a national league in 1977.

If Nankatsu SC sounds familiar, it’s because the club based in Tokyo’s Katsushika Ward is not only named after the club featured in the internationally famous Captain Tsubasa — its representative director is series creator Yoichi Takahashi, whose clout has drawn a number of sponsors.

Kashima Antlers legend and former Japan international Takeshi Aoki and recent signing Jumpei Kusukami are two of several players with J. League experience in the Nankatsu squad.

Tochigi City FC, Tokyo Musashino City FC, ReinMeer Aomori and Tegevajaro Miyazaki are the other clubs with 100 Year Plan approval, while Nara Club could lose their status in June after they were found to have falsified attendance numbers over the last five seasons in order to gain approval for a J3 license.

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