In Yokohama, there is a stadium that has divided a city
The greatest battles are internal. Derbies define us. Whose colours do we wear? Whose banner do we fly? Who are we proud to stand with? For what do we stand?
In this manner, the Emperor’s Cup fits the same criteria as the FA Cup. A famous old cup with national and royal interest where everyone is given a chance. Teams from all three professional divisions, as well as non-league sides, participate. The Japanese competition possesses all the homogeneous togetherness that fuels the “Magic of the Cup."
Yokohama is a business city. This season, the cup has initiated an internal meeting for the majority shareholders. Yokohama F. Marinos versus Yokohama FC. This isn’t a common conference. This is a meeting of heated rivals.
Before the 2002 World Cup, Marinos didn’t have the F. It arrived later, following a merger with another club. The condensed version of the story reads that the Japanese Football Association wanted the legacy of the newly built Nissan stadium to continue after the World Cup. It felt that merging Yokohama Marinos and Flugels would establish a big club that would fill the massive ground and create a fitting legacy.
A novel idea, but the Flugels, much like dodos, were simply consumed as a club. The Marinos brand, insignia and pretty much everything except the F stayed the same. For all intents and purposes, the Flugels had folded. Fans were expected to support their newly absorbing-benefactor club. The teams had been fierce rivals before the merger. The Marinos supporters didn’t care about an extra character in their name and the Flugels fans didn’t play ball. For them, F came to stand for something else.
As a result, Yokohama FC was formed just months later by disgruntled Flugels fans. Think FC United of Manchester, the club formed by jaded Manchester United supporters opposed to the commercialism and Glazer takeover. Within two years, YFC had secured J.League professional status in J2. It’s this history which fuels the rivalry beyond your standard local derby. This is Cane and Abel. One club essentially killed the other.
The game also intensifies when we consider how seldom the reconstituted Flugels have a chance to exact revenge. FM has never been relegated. FC has spent 18 of their 19-year existence in J2. The two have met three times.
Two meetings occurred during their one season in the top flight. The Phoenix club rose to the occasion of their first ever meeting; and won 1-0. While both teams prefer to wear the city's blue, this was a red letter day for the reborn side.
The away fixture was a little more difficult. FC lost 8-1, an absolute thrashing to put them firmly in their place. Their subsequent relegation ensured Marinos were illustrated as the city’s top club.
The other meeting was in the 2012 Emperor’s Cup. FM triumphed again, albeit less empathetic 2-1 winners.
Marinos enter the latest conflict, their status as the big strong, lofty team from J1 intact. The big dogs who own the Nissan-corporation kennel. This game will always be their bone to lose but the season is going pear-shaped for the side. Key players have left. The new head coach can't motivate the side. They simply can’t defend.
The leaky rearguard is even more troubling considering how potent the attack is. FM have scored the league's most goals, but they are fragments of the team's performance. The big dog can’t string a set of results together.
The Yokohama Derby will not only give them the opportunity to renew their lease of dominance on the city, but also a platform to build on for the rest of the season. This will be their first game since the last round of the Emperor’s Cup. J1 is on hiatus for the World Cup.
On the other hand, FC will be relishing this game. They smell blood in the water. The highs of beating their would-be masters the first time did not last thanks to the subsequent thrashing. They are desperate to produce a lasting victory.
In sixth, their J2 campaign is going relatively well. They will qualify for the playoff competition should that continue. FC will be more fatigued but in better form. The second tier does not share the luxury of a mid-season break.
What will happen, then?
FM are the stronger team but are rusty. Aussie Milos Degenek, maybe their best defender, has left for Partizan Belgrade. Forward Hugo Viera’s future is also uncertain. The club is in a state of flux.
FC comes into the derby on a decent run, going unbeaten against Okayama, Kofu and, in a resounding 3-0 win Renofa Yamaguchi.
We may end up with an Emperor’s Cup tie that goes the distance. Penalty kicks may determine who advances and claims the bragging rights for football in Yokohama.