On the 15th of April, over 6,500 spectators turned up to watch a women’s football match in the north east city Sendai, Japan. This attendance figure would not be so surprising considering the unprecedented popularity and interests to the women’s game in Japan after their national team winning the Women’s World Cup last summer. However this match was not an international friendly or even top-flight league match that features star-studded teams like INAC Kobe. This was a SECOND devision league (aka. Challenge League) match between newly formed team (Vegalta Sendai Ladies) and a high school team (Tokiwagi Gakuen).  This is truly astonishing.

This was a Sendai derby match, but this was not the only reason this match got so much attentions (the local TV channel broadcasted the match live). There was a back-story to this event.

It’s been mere three months since Vegalta Sendai Ladies was formed. Most of the players were former players of TEPCO Mareeze, the former Nadeshiko League (women’s top division league in Japan) club that is now technically dissolved. Mareeze was based in Fukushima and sponsored by the company that runs the nuclear power plant that was hit by the earthquake and tsunami last year. After the disaster the team suspended its activity. All the Mareeze players were employees of that company. A few of them left and moved to another club, but most of the players had not played for almost a year.  J-League (Japan’s men’s top league) club Vegalta Sendai offered to form a women’s team with these players, and it was accepted by the JFA and TEPCO Mareeze last November. Sendai is also in the north east of Japan as Fukushima that was hit by the disaster last march. There were offers from other J-League clubs, but because of the proximity of these two, Sendai was considered to be the best option. Now 18 former Mareeze players found new club to play football again (and new day jobs in new place as they are not professional).

This match was their first home game. The opponent Tokiwagi Gakuen is a high school team but this is not a normal high school team. This school has produced many Nadeshiko League players and also national team players such as Aya Sameshima (Montpellier, France), Saki Kumagai (FFC FrankFurt, Germany), and Asuna Tanaka (INAC Kobe). Also many players are selected for the youth category U20, U17. Coincidentally Sameshima was also a former Mareeze player until it stopped its activity.

The atmosphere in the stadium looked absolutely fantastic with the crowd. The match ended 1-1 draw. After the match, Vegalta Sendai players looked very emotional and some tears were seen when they were going around the pitch to thank the supporters.

The current boom of women’s game in Japan is based on the national team’s success, and it did raise the profile of women’s game. Most of people come to the league games because they want to see these national team players. So that reflects the attendance figures in the league matches. The more the team has national team players, the bigger the attendance is. However Sendai is a unique team that has a strong tie to the community. Most of people that day in the stadium came to support the team rather than to see the national team players. I truly hope they are promoted to the top division next season. Good luck to Vegalta Sendai Ladies and their supporters. The Vegalta Sendai supporter’s banner read “Make history with us in Sendai”. Their journey has just begun.

 

Match highlights:

 

 

© Hiroshi Tabata / WomensSoccerUnited.com

 

4 Comments
  1. Women's Soccer United 6 years ago

    47′ GOAL! Germany 0-1 USA (Wambach scores a header!)

  2. Author
    Hiroshi Tabata 7 years ago

    Unfortunately, in Asia, we do not have any competitions like Champions League for women. I can understand it’s difficult in current status of women’s game in Asia as not many countries have established women’s leagues. There is one off championship game between winners of South Korean and Japanese leagues, but it’s more like a glorified friendly match. In that sense the system and foundation of women’s game in Europe is much more established than any other regions. I do envy it. I’m sure women’s UEFA Champions League will get bigger and bigger, no doubt.

    However even in Asia, I believe there are ways to have such a competition. For financial reasons, it will be difficult for women’s teams to travel home and away games across the countries. But I’m sure we could have a mini tournament in one location between teams from each country who are willing to participate. Australia is a member of AFC, so we can have a team from them as well. Not sure if China and North Korea have some sort of league (I’m sure they do…).

    But what I really want to see is a World Club Championship for women. That would be more interesting than men’s World Club Championship in which we all know European teams are the best in men’s game. I watched on feeds Japanese club INAC Kobe’s matches against Arsenal Ladies and Barcelona’s women’s team. Even though they were friendlies, they were very interesting.

    Japan’s women’s league staff have been working to arrange a match between Japanese champions and UEFA Champions League winners. Apparently this has been accepted by this season’s two finalists of champions league. The details are not yet finalized but it looks like the match will take place around November this year in Japan. Hopefully this is not just one off event but gradually grow and become something like men’s club world championship. For example, we can start this by throwing USA champions (winners of whatever the top league nowadays) to this kind of event.

    Is it too much to ask or too ambitious for women’s game? Well, certainly some of Japanese women’s clubs are having this ambition.

  3. Author
    Hiroshi Tabata 7 years ago

    Lars,

    I don’t think it’s that clear cut in Japan. It’s probably because it’s difficult to tell which men’s clubs are “big clubs” in Japan (I left Japan 10 years ago but it still looks that way) . For example, last season’s men’s top league winners were newly promoted team from the second division. Nevertheless I don’t think there is much relations between attendance numbers for women’s games and men’s clubs in Japan (for now).  If anything, J-league clubs that have women’s teams seem to get some passionate supporters from men’s teams, so their women’s teams tend to get fairly steady attendance numbers every home game.

    I think pre WWC 2011, the attendance figures in Japan were similar to the Swedish ones you mentioned there. However it’s now very difficult to predict the numbers. In some games they do get 4,000 – 6,000 but my feeling is that the fist timers still outweigh the core fans who go week in week out in these games with big attendance. For example, last weekend a team called  NTV Beleza got 7,000 in the game took place in a neutral place miles away from their home (even though it was their home game). However they got just above 1,500 at their home in the previous week. So it’s easy to guess the most of crowds in the 7,000 game are first timers who usually don’t have opportunities to watch the game.

    So even though they are enjoying the good crowds at the moment, there are challenges still ahead to sustain this when the boom settles down eventually. The good news, though, is that we can see there is an appetite for women’s football even from these figures. Especially when it comes to the national team’s games, the TV viewing figures are almost shoulder to shoulder with the ones of baseball games which is the number one sport in Japan.

  4. joel 7 years ago

    Very interesting, Hiroshi. Thank you.

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