Monday, 30 June 2008

S-Pa 2-1 Kyoto Sanga

The month-long J. League break was brought to an end on Saturday, and not before time. Fortunately, for some of us at least, we had shenanigan-filled holidays in Ireland to help pass the barren, football-less weeks. Still, with the footer back on Saturday, so it was that I dragged my jet-lag riddled body out of my futon and off to Nihondaira. After a week in the British Isles' breezy sunshine, Shizuoka's humidity takes some getting used to, and as we head into summer's muggy, sweaty heat, it's great to know that the next five or six home games are all evening starts.

When attacking midfield lynchpin Fernandinho signed on loan for Kyoto last month, it was with a classic twist of footballing fate that they should be the very next opponents down the 'Daira. Predictably (and rightly) he was warmly greeted with a crescendo of boos each time he got hold of the ball. No doubt it just made it sweeter for him when he knocked the ball home to make it 1-0 to Kyoto three minutes after half time. Kyoto are playing him as an out-and-out striker it would seem, and to be honest I think they'll be missing out on a lot of what he can do in the centre of the park, but then what I know? And what do I care? His loan is up at the end of the season, and while I'd like to think he'll come back, knowing how many of these long-term loans go in the J. League, I can't see it. Not unless Kyoto get relegated that is...

It didn't take long for us to draw level, and it was Edamura who did the honours with a precisely placed shot which went in off the post. We'd given Aurerio his first start for a while, but he didn't ever really trouble the keeper, and when he was taken off on 78 for Hara it was no surprise. What was a surprise was the impact Hara had on the game. As soon as he was on the pitch he was harassing the Kyoto back line and it was his battling which earned us a free kick on 84. Jungo swung a perfect ball into the box where the Kyoto defence was only able to help direct Hara's half-volley into their own net.

S-Pulse's 800th pro goal - scored by a Kyoto defender!

After that there was a couple of hairy moments where Kyoto went close, in particular when they had a one-on-one, but they failed to hit the target. Their travelling fans will no doubt feel hard done by given their superior number of shots, but that's been the story of a lot their season so far. If Fernandinho can turn things around remains to be seen. He was taken off with 25 minutes to go, so sadly got to miss out on our winner. :) So far as we went, we weren't wholly convincing, but three points in three points. Marcos Paulo looked slow, clumsy and not entirely interested. He was taken off at half time for Hyodo. So yeah, anyway, we're up to twelfth but not far off the ACL positions points-wise. Next up is Antlers in the cup which I'm not relishing given their 4-0 away demolition of Nagoya on Saturday! Still, let's have it - get a draw there then it's all back to 'Daira next month - bring it!

Highlights:

Monday, 9 June 2008

Lose the Game, Win the Group! Jubilo 2-0 S-Pa

S-Pulse roll into Iwata

With our route to the quarter finals already in the bag, you could argue that we had little reason to even turn up against Jubilo. You could also argue that losing 2-0 meant nothing, as had we won 5-0, Group B's final standings still would look exactly the same. You could argue these things, (yes, we are through as group winners - yes Jubilo are out) but try arguing that to the thousands of S-Pa fans who ventured into deepest, darkest Iwata yesterday. In the terms of the competition it may haven been meaningless, but so far as local pride goes, a derby is a derby, and getting beat hurts like hell.

S-Pa homejacked the arse out of the Yamaha

There's really not a great deal to be said about the game. Jubilo wanted it more, we were lethargic and made stupid mistakes which gave them the chances they needed. 2-0 at half time, Nishizawa went closest ten minutes into the second half but Matsui did excellently to get down low and deny him. After that it felt like the blues were just playing out time, and we never looked like coming back. Again Omae was put on with ten minutes to go, again far too little time to have any impact, and when the whistle went, the Jubilo fans predictably started bouncing around like loons. Fair play, it was their first derby win since 2006, and with us comprising a good 35-40% of the crowd, they got to rub our our noses right in it.

Final group standings and quarter final ties

The result was a sickener, and especially so because it played out with such a terrible sense of inevitability. A team which knows it can afford to lose invariably will lose, and as we knew was the case before kick off, it made not the slightest difference in the bigger picture. Still, to allow Jubilo to end their run of four straight defeats is frustrating to say the least.

Well, onwards, upwards and on to the quarters! We now face Antlers who, along with Gamba, join the competition having been tied up with the Asian Champions' League. Why Antlers and Gamba didn't get paired with the two best runners up is anyone's guess, and so Tokyo who finished behind us are rewarded with the far less intimidating prospect of Oita Trinita. Still, no complaints. The cup's the cup, and you can only beat who's put in front of you, as we will - home and away - with Antlers. Bring it!!

In other news, playmaker Fernandinho has seen fit to leave S-Pulse for Kyoto Sanga. On the surface, this is a pretty odd move, with newly promoted Kyoto certainly looking no better than S-Pa so far this year. We at least have been under-performing thus far, and while I can't speak much for Kyoto, I'd put money on us finishing a good few places above them come December. All I can imagine (and this is pure speculation) is that for whatever reason he wants to be back near Osaka where he started his J. League career. Either way, we're going to miss all the work he gave the ball boys with wayward shot after wayward shot... Nah, seriously, it's a big hole behind the front two, and I'm anxious to see how we fill it. Just to make it interesting, guess who our next league game is against on June 28th? Seriously, you couldn't write it better!

Friday, 6 June 2008

Homejack The Yamaha! Jubilo v S-Pa Part 3 (Preview)


Another day another newly learnt Japanese English word - Homejack! This was a new one on me when I read it yesterday, but the meaning is simple enough: to take over an away ground and make it a home game. I'm sure Fuz is more than used to this following Rangers; their travelling army swamps pretty much any ground it visits. So far as S-Pa go, it never fails to impress me how many of our fans travel, but apart from the away derby, I can't say we ever come close to outnumbering the home fans. However, this Sunday we're going for it - let's homejack the Yamaha and paint it orange!

A quaint little stadium somewhere outside Hamamatsu

On account of Jubilo's Nabisco Cup hopes hanging by a thread and S-Pa's route to the quarter finals already assured, it won't quite be quite the cauldron atmosphere it might have been. Still, a decent enough crowd will be turning out - lets hope over half of them are in orange! I'm going to stick my neck out and predict a 13500 crowd to witness a 2-0 S-Pa win with Genki Omae getting both! As with the home leg, we're missing a handful of players due to international call ups and injuries, and I hear Aurelio won't be playing, so I don't think we'll get a more perfect chance to give Omae his first start - and his first goal!

Okazaki after getting crocked in Toulon last week

I've never been to the Yamaha to watch S-Pulse, and I won't be alone in this fact since it's our first game there in six years. I can only imagine what the atmosphere was like back in 1999 when we played there in a title decider. Sunday's Nabisco Cup antics will be a world away from those kinds of stakes, but as ever local pride is on the line, with the chance to beat Iwata in their own back yard. Doing it at Ecopa with a stoppage time winner (ah, memories...) is one thing, but for the first time in eight years we have the chance to do it at the Yamaha - let's have it!!

Tuesday, 3 June 2008

How to Support the 'Pulse - The English Guide

So you have a healthy interest in the J. League and are sensible enough to support Shimizu S-Pulse - so far so good. You're not alone - at any given home game you'll always see a smattering of foreign faces in the crowd. However, for members of the Orange Army who don't happen to either A) live in Japan or B) speak Japanese, following the mighty S-Pa isn't always that easy.

The S-Pulse official home page goes some way to introduce the club to the English speaking world, but for a new fan wanting answers on where to buy tickets, how to get to the stadium, or even who our next opponents are, it comes up short. I remember only too well the mission it was attending my first game, so this guide is intended to make it as easy as possible for anyone interested to get involved (and if the club oneday feels like giving me a free season ticket for my efforts, that's entirely their prerogative!)

Football lovers the world over often combine a trip to Japan with taking in a J. League game, and there are few better places to do that than at Nihondaira with S-Pulse as your hosts. Renowned as some of the best supporters in the country, if you're hoping to hit a J. League while in the country, you could do far worse that making the pilgrimage to Nihondaira Stadium in the heart of Shizuoka, Japan's number one football city. Use this guide to help with buying tickets, getting to the stadium and many other useful pointers on the way football is done in J. Land. See the fixture list for information for information on upcoming games.

General InfoA sold out Nihondaira for the 2007 derby
Tickets
The Stadium(s)
Getting There
What You'll Need

Away Games
S-Pulse Merchandise
Other Stuff

General Info

Even though the wondrous UK Ultras blog which will keep you updated with match previews, reports and features to a level unrivalled in the English speaking world, there's another link you need. For up-to-the-minute scores, fixtures and league tables, the excellent SoccerWay.com can't be beat. Updated while the UK Ultras are still stumbling half cut from the stadium, it's the quickest way to keep up to speed with the J. League as it happens. A more specialised and in-depth look into each game is what our blog is for, and we generally publish reports the following day, hangover permitting.

Tickets

First things first: tickets are not available outside the country. Though you need to be in Japan to buy one, it's a fairly easy process. Tickets can be bought at most convenience stores by way of a funky little machine which stands in the corner looking for all the world like a colourful ATM. Good examples are the ones in 7/11, Lawson, and Family Mart.

In Japanese only, they can seem an imposing prospect if you don't read kanji, but fear not. Back when I spoke not a word of Japanese, I would walk into 7/11 armed only with a scrap of paper with the game, date, and type of ticket I wanted scrawled on it. The shop staff would be only too happy to walk me through the process.

Aside from convenience stores, there are no less than eight S-Pulse club shops dotted around Shizuoka Prefecture. Of these, the ones in Shizuoka, Shimizu, Yaizu, Fuji and Sunto all sell match tickets. Again, even if you don't speak Japanese, jotting down the opponents and the date will be enough to get your message across. The club shops have pictures of different views to help you choose where to watch from, more about which, below.

Lastly, for all but the very biggest games you can pick up tickets at the ground on the day. Nihondaira's capacity is only really tested a handful of times a season, such as on derby day, but it's always worth getting tickets beforehand if for no other reason than it saves you a couple of quid on the price.

Season tickets are available which can save a good few thousand yen over the course of the year. These come in either full season or half season packages. Full season tickets are available up till around three weeks before the start of the season, and half season tickets for the final 7 or so games go on sale a couple of months into the season. Check the official home page for prices etc.

The Stadium(s)

Officially speaking, we have two home grounds, Nihondaira and Ecopa, although the reality is that since 2007 nearly all our home games have been played at 'Daira. It may be half the size of Ecopa, but it's got the advantage of being in Shizuoka City, rather than an hour train journey away.

Nihondaira holds just over 20000 which, while we fill it on average 80% for each home match, is adequate for the majority of our games. Built in the early 90s, it was designed much in the vein of an old-style British ground with the stands right on top of the pitch. Less than twenty years old, 'Daira still has bagfuls of character most J. League grounds can only dream of. Depending on what kind of match experience you're after you can choose from the following tickets: (figures in brackets denote matchday price)

  • West (jp: nishi) End Stand (pictured) 2nd Tier - ¥2300 (2800)
  • West (jp: nishi) End Stand (pictured) 1st Tier - ¥2500 (3000)
  • Back / Main Side Stand A Zone - ¥3000 (3500)
  • Back / Main Side Stand S Zone (reserved) - ¥5000 (5500)
  • Back / Main Side Stand SS Zone (reserved) - ¥6000 (6500)
This page from the official site is in Japanese, but is fairly self explanatory letting you see the type of views you can expect. The picture above is taken from the Main Side Stand, looking towards the West Stand. In addition to the above there's also the East (jp: higashi) End Stand, but being the away end, if you're buying tickets in there, to hell with you. ;-D Just to confuse matters, the East and West end stands are referred to as the Higashi and Nishi Side Stand respectively, despite clearly being ends.

SS Zone is great fun if you want to spend half the game asleep, with S Zone only mildly less sedate. It's worth noting that S and SS Zones are the only parts of the ground with reserved seating, so if you have your ticket in advance, you can turn up five minutes before kick off and waltz into your seats. No other areas afford this luxury, and spaces fill up fast.

A Zone is fine if you want to concentrate on the game rather than singing, and it also provides a first rate view of the behind-the-goal-show which is always worth watching. But to get involved with all the fun of an S-Pulse game, you'll be needing a ticket for the thick of the fray: behind the goal in the West Stand, otherwise known as The Kop. The first tier affords protection from the elements, but upstairs you can join in the non-stop singing, dancing and general fun and games which accompany every match. It comes highly recommended!

As mentioned, aside from S and SS Zones, everywhere is unreserved. People generally get there very early, so good seats go within an hour of the gates opening. If you're in a big group, you'll often have trouble finding spaces together if you don't get there in plenty of time, so bare that in mind when planning your day.

Getting There
Being lucky enough to play in one of the most atmospheric grounds in the J. League is tempered by the fact that getting to and from ’Daira can be something of a mission. Hopefully the following directions will give you a bit of a helping hand in finding Nihondaira that first time.

From Abroad

Kansai Airport (Osaka) Once you've arrived in Osaka, Tokyo bound trains on the Tokaido Shinkansen from Shin-Osaka will take you to Shizuoka. Any Hikari or Kodama service will stop at Shizuoka. Nozomi services do not stop at Shizuoka, but it is possible to ride a Nozomi train as far as Nagoya and change to a Hikari or Kodama. Journey time is around 1 hour 45 minutes.

Centrair Airport (Nagoya) From Nagoya, Shizuoka is easily reachable on the Tokaido Shinkansen on any Tokyo bound Hikari or Kodama service. Nozomi services will no stop at Shizuoka. Journey time is around 1 hour.

Narita Airport (Tokyo) After the trip from the airport into Tokyo, Shizuoka is easy and quick to get to. Any Nagoya or Shin-Osaka bound Hikari or Kodama services on the Tokaido Shinkansen will stop in Shizuoka with a journey time of around 1 hour. In all of the above cases, Hikari services are faster than Kodama.

Shizuoka Airport (Shizuoka) Mount Fuji Shizuoka Airport is a 55 minute bus ride from Shizuoka Station where there is direct access to Nihondaira Stadium on match days. Alternatively, there is a 25 minute bus ride available to Shimada Station where local line trains will take you to Shizuoka (25m) or, if you stay on the line, to Shimizu (35m).

If travelling to Japan, you will probably want to consider the Japan Rail Pass for a convenient way to get around.

From Within Shizuoka City

Once in Shizuoka City centre, special matchday shuttle buses run from the north exit of Shizuoka Station (opposite Hotel Associa), which at ¥600 one way are cheap enough. Depending on traffic, these can take up to an hour with no toilet breaks (hugely important on the return journey!) so I usually split up the journey by taking the train from Shizuoka to Shimizu (10 minutes) and then a shuttle bus from Shimizu Station. Shuttle buses in Shimizu run from the east (jp: higashi) side of the station.

From Shimizu the buses are ¥300 one way and take twenty minutes going, but can end up pushing an hour coming back. In both cases, the ticket spots are easily found, with huge S-Pulse flags flying.

These buses start running three hours before kick off, which is usually plenty of time, but for sold out or otherwise busy games (pictured), you might want to get there earlier. In this case you can take a regular bus from the terminal at the west (jp: nishi) side of Shimizu Station. Most buses from stop numbers 6, 7 and 8 will take you there - just follow the other orange shirts! This costs ¥300 one way, and you need to get off at Nihondaira Undou Kouen Iriguchi which is a ten minute walk from the ground. Again, just follow the other orange shirts!

Especially eager fans can be found at midnight the night before games taping down plastic sheeting outside the stadium to save their space in the queue. You can do this so long as you turn up the next day at least thirty minutes before the gates open to claim your reserved spot.

Ecopa
Since 2009, we've played one game each season at Ecopa. Usually against Urawa, and usually scheduled on a bank holiday weekend to bring in the crowds. This new 50000 seater stadium is well served by the bullet train at Kakegawa Station or the local line at Aino Station. Shuttle buses run to the ground from Kakegawa, while from Aino it's walkable in 15 minutes. Ticket prices are the same as for Nihondaira, and a seating guide can be found here. The Kop gets transplanted to the North Stand (the blue stand on the left) for home games at Ecopa.

What You'll Need


Needless to say, a bright orange t-shirt and / or scarf is mandatory attire for all S-Pa games! Aside from the normal replica shirts on sale (ie, the same ones the players wear) you can also buy much cheaper versions for around ¥3000. There is no need to be restricted to official club goods, however. At any given home game you will see hundreds of people with hand made flags and banners. That number includes us, of course, with our very own hand made UK Ultras flag!

Also extremely popular among our numerous different ultras groups are uniquely designed and self-funded t-shirts, scarves and colossal banners which cover half the stand. We are in the process of creating t-shirts for our own fledgling ultras troop, and any new fans shouldn't feel embarrassed about doing the same!

With all the time, effort and money put in by our various fan groups, and the thousands of other individuals, the atmosphere is nothing short of a party of colour, noise and music for each and every home game. The samba band which follows the club all over the country also helps see to that, and the regular huge choreographed displays are the direct result of supporter efforts. Such a positive and passionate fan base thrives on new blood and new ideas, so what are you waiting for? Get down 'Daira and get involved!

The season starts in March when it can still be quite chilly, and runs through spring, summer (typhoon season included) before ending in December. In Shizuoka the full range of the varied Japanese weather is encompassed, and with the majority of the ground being uncovered, you need to come prepared. Brollies aren't an option during the game, so for the wet days you'll need a decent rain coat, or you can buy a highly fashionable orange plastic mac at the ground. In the summer Shiz gets very hot and humid, and you run the opposite risk of being burnt to a crisp, so pack the suntan cream.

Aside from that, you may want to take BEER. You're more than welcome to bring your own booze, indeed there are special bins put aside for empty cans. There are no Draconian European-style drink laws in the J. League, so get a six pack on your way to 'Daira and enjoy.

Beer is also available inside, but at ¥550 a pop you're paying more than double you would in a convenience store, so it's really worth picking some up before. Many people get to the game when the gates open two to three hours before kick off, so if you're one of them, throw a pack of cards in your bag to help pass the time. Saying that, with the option of relaxing in the sunshine with a few beers, the time goes surprisingly fast! One more word to wise - when S-Pa win, it best not to leave right away. Stick around 15 minutes and you'll see why. :)
Away Games

As any football fan will tell you, home games are only half the fun of supporting a team. Heading out on the road in your colours is a totally different experience, so why not take it to the next level with some away game action? As a foreigner in Japan, what better way to see some of this great land than combining sightseeing with an S-Pulse away day to Tokyo (pictured) / Osaka / Yokohama / Kyoto etc? Unless you join an official tour bus, away tickets can't be bought at the club shop, so you'll have to get them from a convenience store which can be done as described above.

For help getting to away games, this site is invaluable for finding out information on the J. League’s many stadiums. Amongst other stuff, it gives you details of the nearest stations and bus stops to the ground. This information, used together with the rail journey planner found here, will give you everything you need to know to get to an away game. Another useful place to look for info about stadium access etc is the ground in question’s Wikipedia page. A good example of this is Ecopa’s article.
S-Pa have a good away following, and being located slap bang in the centre of Honshu, we're in easy reach of many other J1 teams, so join the fun.

S-Pulse Merchandise
If you're not quite ready to start making your own S-Pulse shirts, scarves, toys etc, all the above are of course available in their official, club produced incarnations. You can find these either in the club shops mentioned above, or the various other S-Pulse themed places in and around Shizuoka; pictured is S-Pulse Dream Plaza in Shimizu. Alternatively, you buy pretty much anything you need at the ground on match days, and in doing so rest safe in the knowledge you're also contributing to the fund for our next big signing.

The official online shop does not have an English language service, nor does it offer international delivery. There are a few websites which sell J. League shirts, but whenever I've searched they all seem either out of date or out of stock. If you're aware of a good, up-to-date retailer, do leave a comment so we can add the link here.

Other Stuff

I plan to add a page dedicated to the many songs and chants you may want to familiarise yourself with before your first game. This is still in the pipeline, but in the meantime you can learn all about the one song you can't do without, Loco Loco, here. Other than that, good sources of general information in English are the team's Wiki page, Nihondaira's Wiki page, The Rising Sun's S-Pa page, and of course the official English home page.

If there's anything else you need to know, (or if I made any mistakes!) just leave a comment and I'll add the info. I hope this guide was useful, and I hope you enjoy being a fan of a truly unique footballing experience - Shimizu S-Pulse! If you need any further convincing to get down to 'Daira, here's a compilation video I threw together myself with just a tiny selection of the fun to be had as an S-Pa fan - enjoy!

Monday, 2 June 2008

FC Tokyo 1-1 S-Pa: Through to Round 2! Bring on Jubilo (again)!

It was FC Tokyo versus Shimizu S-Pulse, so what better place to play it than in Nagano? I understand the theory behind teams going on tour for "home" games, (creating new fans in a football-starved corner of the country) but the poor supporters who travel for hours only to stand in the rain in a stadium with no roof... well, they deserve a free season ticket or something. Put in perspective, Tokyo fans got off lightly - Jubilo played their home tie against Verdy in Kagoshima, not far short of five hundred miles from Iwata.

I didn't make the journey, busy as I was halfway up a mountain feeding raw meat to lions (Fuji Safari Park - fun for all the family, and with authentic Turkish kebabs for sale on site, a great day out not to be missed!). My mobile kept me up to date with all the action from the Matsumoto, but it was Tokyo who led for almost the entire game. It took an 88th minute free kick from Jungo to put us through to round two for the first time since 2005:



It didn't look the most threatening of shots, but the movement in the area seemed to fox the Tokyo keeper, and moments later it was all over. It was a timely goal, as had things ended 1-0, Jubilo's victory meant we'd have gone into our final game needing a win. While we're now pretty much guaranteed to win our group, a win for both Jubilo (unlikely) and Tokyo (very likely) on Sunday could see us finish 2nd, although it would mean our superior goal difference having to get reversed. This isn't totally beyond the realms of possibility since whipping boys Verdy have so far let in thirteen without reply. FC Tokyo will have their shooting boots on! Either way, we're through to round two, and a first place finish would mean we meet Antlers home and away in the last eight. Not ideal, but pride won't allow me to accept a beating from Jubilo, even if it meant an easier tie in the quarters. For all the different permutations in the four groups, Dokool over at Aishiteru Tokyo has all the details you could ever need.


Next up is Jubilo at their place. Since Ecopa was built, it's now been six years since we've played them at the Yamaha, and eight years since we beat them there. I was considering giving it a miss as we're already through, but who was I kidding? The chance to give them a doing on their home patch is too good an opportunity to pass up. Tickets are bought for our third derby this year and 2008's BDO2 is coming! I have a feeling a lot of S-Pa will be heading out west on Sunday, even if for nothing more than the nostalgia value of playing Jubilo at the Yamaha, and with only one derby loss from ten, we've got to be confident. Hopefully Genki Omae will get more of a run out, too. He's made brief appearances in our last two Nabisco games, but let's have him out there from the start - go on Kenta, you know it makes sense!