A few weeks ago I attended Kashiwa Reysol’s 2011 season conference and had a far better Saturday night than I’d been expecting.
Yellow is my favourite colour. To me it reflects positivity, and as soon as you add a splash to the picture everything becomes a lot warmer and more vibrant.
As such, I was disappointed at the end of the 2009 J.League season when the colour drained from J1 substantially as JEF United – ever-present in the top-flight since the league’s inception in 1993 – were relegated, along with their Chiba neighbours, Kashiwa Reysol.
While I was unhappy to see JEF go down, Kashiwa represented the bigger loss to me, with a trip to Hitachi Dai providing one of the best atmospheres in Japanese football.
The supporters – as they always should be in football stadiums – are right on top of the action and use their close proximity to the pitch to great effect. They taunt and intimidate opposing players, and possess a unique sense of humour that is lacking in the majority of J.League stadiums.
For this reason I was pleased when the side made an instant return to the top-flight – after a terrific season in J2 where they only lost two games – and headed eagerly along to Kashiwa City Civic Cultural Hall last weekend for their 2011 season conference.
This was the first time I had been to such an event and all I really expected was for a handful of local journalists to be firing some simple questions at the coach and new players while a few supporters milled around for a picture or autograph.
How wrong I was. The hall was a sellout, and once the 1,200 seats had been filled the remaining fans who had ventured out had to stand. The atmosphere, too, was more boisterous than I’d anticipated (caused, in no small part, by head coach Nelsinho who declined the opportunity to introduce the club’s slogan for the season in the usually straight-laced manner in favour of a far more interactive ‘call-back’: “1, 2, 3…” he began. “Vittoria!” came the response. “Not loud enough,” he challenged, “One more time: 1, 2, 3…”, “Vittoria!”)
And the entertainment for the evening didn’t stop there: Kazushige Kirihata struck a couple of catwalk-esque poses when modelling the new goalkeepers’ kit, Jorge Wagner, the team’s latest addition from Brazil, introduced himself in Japanese (which was actually slightly more efficient than his translator, who forgot what he was translating at one point), and An Young Hak joked that North Korea had deliberately lost their final Asian Cup match so he could be back in time to appear at the event.
In fact, except for a mystifyingly long and serious description of the new kit for 2011 (which was delivered by an official from manufacturers Yonex and lasted longer than Nelsinho’s address to the audience) the majority of the conference was a light-hearted and enjoyable affair.
Indeed, the new signings all paid reference to the effect that the character of the club – and their inimitable fans – had on their decisions to join, and while such remarks are a must at any unveiling, they certainly sound more genuine when applied to Reysol.
Former Omiya midfielder An commented that, “My impression was that Kashiwa have a fevered support. Many people came today so I now realise the challenge; I want to play for such passionate supporters,” while Tatsuya Masushima, signed from Kyoto Sanga, said, “The fans here are fantastic. They have an influence on the opposing team right from the warm-up and I’m really looking forward to that.”
Of course, there was some serious talk of football as well, and as much as Kashiwa thrive upon their status as a compact, community club, their coach knows that they really have to put the effort in on the pitch as well as off it in the season ahead.
“2011 is a big season. Kashiwa is a winning team but we will have to compete because I think the level in J1 is high,” he said, before insisting that he is prepared and feels he has the players to succeed in J1.
“I have many plans, of course. We have tall players and creative players and our forwards are all capable of scoring goals.”
One thing’s for certain; with Kashiwa back in the mix 2011 will be kept interesting. The future’s bright.