“Make a grass-field soccer stadium in Kasugai!” pleads the opening line of the Kasugai Football Federation’s website, the accompanying petition signed by more than a sixth of the 300,000 people who live in the town. “For the future of your children, please lend us your support.”
The bright lights of Kaizu Station.
Kasugai Football Club could definitely use a little bit of that. With a website last updated at the beginning of the year, they’re forced to play their home games on the grounds of Chukyo University’s Toyota Campus, whose ‘A’ and ‘B’ teams occupy the top two places in the Tokai League’s Division Two. Champions themselves in 2002 and 2006, Kasugai were immediately relegated on both occasions and are currently no higher than fifth of the eight teams which comprise the second-tier of the Tokai Regional League (and the fifth-tier of Japanese football overall). That’s still three places ahead of Volare Hamamatsu, whose name is derived from their hometown and the Latin for ‘to leap’, “relating to the team flying to high places” as their website – subtitled 'From Hamamatsu to the J-League' – helpfully explains.
Kasugai huddleBy far the best thing about Kasugai’s exile is the maglev ride to the ground. The $574 million Linimo Line was constructed for the 2005 World Expo, linking north-east Nagoya to nearby Toyota City. Automated trains glide noiselessly eight millimetres above the track. “We will soon make a brief stop at Aichikyūhaku-kinen-kōen,” says a voice in flawless, slightly American accented English shortly after passing the Toyota Automobile Museum. “The doors on the left side will open. Should you encounter any trouble on the train, please notify a station attendant.” I change at Yakusa, the end of the nine-kilometre line, sharing an Aichi Loop Line train as far as Kaizu Station with a pack of high school students in matching Hummel tracksuits, Meito Challenge emblazoned across their shoulder blades.
Around the edge of a rice paddy and straight on through a cabbage patch, I hear the first whistle as I crest the hill and see Kasugai - resplendent in dark green shirts – kick off towards the scoreboard at the forested end of the ground. Volare (whose red shirts signify “blazing passion and our extreme combative heart”) defend the clubhouse goal. The twenty or so people already in attendance sit on a grass bank and concrete with their backs to an American Football pitch. The home side look more accomplished in possession but Volare - in their first season out of the Shizuoka Prefectural League - are more incisive when it counts, player-manager Takayuki Uchiyama smacking a waist high volley which clanks back off the underside of the crossbar, drawing a ‘Woah, woah, woah’ from two thirds of the crowd.
With their number thirteen exuding a Death Star grip at the heart of the defence, Kasugai build patiently, hitting the post when a cross evades a congested goalmouth and finds a forward lurking at the far post. It’s a miss they soon have cause to regret. Volare prove that if you can’t go through a centre half you can at least go round him, Daniro Munemori stumbling through two challenges on the left of midfield before squeezing a shot that loops up and in off a defender’s big toe, earning three hugs and a slap on the arse from his grateful teammates. Kasugai come back strongly, Kengo Wakuda making a slapstick triple save which ends with him dragging his shorts back up as he rises from the ground. Very Bruce Grobelaar.
Volare sit so deep in the second half I begin to suspect the halfway line is electrified. Kasugai throw on their substitutes and force a steady stream of corner kicks, but their touch grows progressively less certain the closer they get to the Volare goal. With a minute left to play, Takayuka Tsuboi is upended during the away side’s first real foray towards the Kasugai end of the pitch, and Uchiyama sends the keeper the wrong way to seal only their third win of the campaign. Nobody said that football was fair.
Date: 23rd October 2011