Saturday afternoon, the sun is shining bright in the country of the rising sun. We’ve only landed in Tokyo 6 hours ago on that November 9th, and we’re already around the NHK Spring Mitsuzawa stadium ready to watch some football. Small ground of 15,454 sits, on top of a hill with a pretty steep incline we have to club from Yokohama metro station. We had no idea that’d be that difficult to get tickets for this J-League game against Yokohama F Marinos and Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo. We realised soon enough that the game was sold-out and it’s not really a local habit to re-sell tickets at the black market. As we didn’t quite have an other choice than trying all we could to be able to get inside the stands for the game, we started singing “Ticketos sagashimas”, or something like that, (“we’re looking for tickets”) and after 20 minutes we finally managed to find some fans to sell it to us. Looking that stupid in front of all Japanese fans making fun of us was definitely worth it. At the very minute we stepped in the kop, we understood straight away that would be quite an experience. Welcome to a beautiful land of football.
Three games before the end of the season, the stakes are high for the Marinos, currently 3rd of the League but only one point behind the leader, Tokyo FC. And we didn’t have to wait much to see some action on the pitch as well as in the stands. Two minutes only after the kick-off, Brazilian striker scores the first goal, soon followed by the second at the 4th minute. The atmosphere, already pretty intense, become totally nuts. The ground is absolutely packed. With every single fan wearing the colours of the Marinos, a wave blue, white and red takes over the NHK Spring Mitsuzawa. The kop is on fire, providing an amazing support to the locals, with a lot of respect to the other side, which is pretty uncommon for us. We’re also surprised by the gender split in the kop, with a lot of women providing as much support as the men. Despite the early goal of Hokkaido at the 8th minute to get them back in the game, local fans keep pushing to the end for a well deserved victory 4-2. The most amazing thing in all that? Probably the fact that absolutely none of the 13,617 fans present that day left the stadium before every single player came back in the changing room. A matter of respect and culture. Quite a big difference with the Premier League when 60% of the fans leave the ground before the end of the game.
The thing is, Yokohama F Marinos is not just a random team. With three J-League titles, the club owned by Nissan group at 80% and City Football Group (Manchester City owners) at 20%, the Marinos actually are the former Nissan Motors team, one of the founding members of the J-League. The team surprisingly plays its home games in two different stadiums. The small Mitsuzawa Stadium and the huge Yokohama Nissan Stadium, theatre of the 2002 World Cup final. Only two games before the end of the season, Marinos have never been that close to a fourth title. With this win against the team from Hokkaido, followed by a fresh victory 1-0 against Matsumoto Yamaga and a draw of Tokyo FC, they take the lead at the best time of the season. Knowing that the last game will be played at home against Tokyo FC, we can only imagine the crazy atmosphere and scenes we’re going to see in Yokohama. From what we saw that day, the J-League don’t have much to look up to our European leagues.
Rendez-vous on December 7th for the finish of that crazy season.
Photographies shot by Jeremie Roturier who lost his iD on his way to the game