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Groundhopping: An Evening in Kashiwa

Tuesday 20th March 2018

Groundhopping in Japan is just as fun as it sounds. Your Suica card can take you far and wide across the bountiful country and to many football stadia. The grounds are in great supply and with the season back until the end of the year, it’s time to get back on the train and experience many more grounds.

This year the J.League is pushing Friday night games as a real feature of the season. Which incidentally fits my own schedule. Fantastic, lots of live football.

The season has just kicked off, with a mere two games being played so far. As you know by now, I’m an avid supporter of Yokohama F. Marinos since relocating to the city. With their second game of the season against Kashiwa Reysol and being Friday night kick-off, I set sail for the northern Chiba prefecture town of Kashiwa for what would hopefully be a cracking away day.

Well, first I had to buy a ticket. Speaking very limited Japanese, sometimes transactions like this can be drawn out affairs. It seems that the home team, are sponsored by one of the major convenience stores here. Lawson. You can do all manner of things at convenience stores here, one of which is buy tickets. I’ve normally had no issue with doing this prior. Yet, wherever I seemed the tickets for this game they were simply not listed.

Cutting the fat on this story, it seems that as the ticketing industry plays a large part of  a particular store’s revenue, Lawson. They reserve some exclusivity on ticketing rights on specific events. It turned out that this particular game was one such event. I tried my local Lawson after a down-trodden afternoon of failed attempts elsewhere and was pleasantly surprised. A note for anyone travelling to Japan and wanting to watch football, try Lawson first.

Now with a ticket in hand; I could travel to the stadium ready to get my post-work groove on with my favourite J.League team. Well… first I had to navigate the Tokaido line delays. Basically, it took a lot longer than expected.

The aforementioned delays meant that I arrived with little time left. I did manage to see the kick-off, but only just. I took my place literally with a few seconds to spare. Given the raw timing, I was in awe of it all. Trying to concurrently watch the game, monitor the stadium and of both sets of supporters.

Our end, the away end was, as always, fantastic. Vocal from the start and in great number. The hosts allocated us the smaller standing end and a small seated area. Yokohama’s travelling support however made up for it with their energy. The Yokohama blue was very evident on this side of the ground.

The Hitachi is atypical to all other stadia I’ve visited in the country. Instead of feeling like a minor cog in the machine - I felt like a major component to the game’s attendance. By all means, this is an intimate ground. I was close to the game. Very close. Ilkeston Town close. I was able to make out each player by their facial features, try that at the Emirates or even the Nissan (as beautiful as it is). Given the close proximity of the spectators to the players, it makes for a spectacular away day.

Across the ground, there was a sea of yellow. Kashiwa’s colours filled most of the standing kop but noticeably had gaps in their seating area. Maybe it’s fan bias, or just that I was standing on the other side - but it seemed like they were less excited at the prospect of the game.

After the initial seconds of scoping out the ground, I turned my attention to the game in hand. Yokohama had a good share of the ball and largely looked the better team. Degenerek looked solid at the back; whilst Vieira was incredibly creative going forward. Sadly nothing got past the Kashiwa goal after a few chances. It seemed at the time that relatively few of the shots were on target.

The home team’s hopes seemed to be pinned exclusively on Brazilian, Cristiano da Silva. He often led the team on the break during the first half. Many times; he was isolated at the top - and simply couldn’t convert anything towards goal.

The ref blew the whistle on the first half; which in terms of football was quite forgettable. Although the aurora and atmospheric qualities of standing within the Yokohama F. Marinos away boys are simply not forgettable. One of the best football ambiences I’ve been a part of. The fellowship between the supporters is evident and electric. Creating a noise which unites all within the stands.

Halftime was upon us and yet again my quest for a half-time pie was in vain. Although, the small stadium atmosphere was upheld in the break. A very small catering trolley sold few items, beer, water and limited food options. I felt like I was back in the heady arenas of League 1 football (although, with no pie). I opted for the hot dog. Well, you got a little discount if you were okay with having a cold one. So, I had a cold dog. It was ok. I think the cheapskate in me let me down here, it probably would have been ten times better if it was warmer.

After a lacklustre meaty snack, I relished the thought of another Asahi and another 45 minutes of football. Now the teams were attacking their respective fan ends, so the supporters could really get in full swing. Sadly, it turned out to be the Kashiwa fans that were singing shortly after. Just four minutes into the restart Koizumi put one away as the home team took the lead.

Although, if Yokohama FM fans are one thing - it's resilient. After the initial depression of cold dogs and going 1-0 down, we resumed singing to try to spur the team on. Various songs overpowered the ground and anyone could have been forgiven that this was a home game for the away side. My particular favourite was the song dedicated to Hugo Vieira; who was all too welcoming to show his gratitude for the efforts by applauding the supporters mid game.

The team did pile forward and with the introduction of Babunski, did look threatening - yet all the shots were wayward. They did, however, look like the stronger team after the first goal hadn’t gone their way.

Although a clever break from Kashiwa followed in the 79th minute and the travelling side was caught off kilter. A scramble in the box saw Matsubara get enough of a touch on it to qualify as an own goal. 2-0 down with ten minutes to go.

The team showed character and didn't give up, yet it was clear that shooting practice is required. No guilt end chances were made despite the team applying pressure, there was no killer instinct at all from the forwards. The game finished, and to emphasise my point - Yokohama managed just one shot on target throughout the whole 90 minutes.

Whilst the game itself wasn’t the highlight of my footballing spectatorship career, I managed to see a ‘proper’ stadium in Japan. A real buzz about the ground with an intense up-close feel.

Walking back to the station was a little bit of a walk with the fan congestion through the backside of the town, but transportation options are many when you reach it.

A good ground, fantastic support and interesting incentives for cold meat. All for the low low price of about £17, excluding travel fare. Kashiwa is even playing in this year’s Asian Champions League competition, so chances to visit the ground are plentiful as well as bountiful. I’d highly recommend.

Warren Smith

Yokohama F•Marinos supporter. Seen it all in the J.League, relegation fights and being crowned champions. Play five-a-side, pretty good too. Once scored an overhead kick.

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