Kashiwa Reysol 2 Matsumoto Yamaga 0 (20th August 2015)
Despite being less than two weeks ago, my memories of this game aren’t the clearest. It’s not the fault of the game itself, but more that I’d flown into Japan that day overnight from London, and had been awake for about 30 hours straight due to my inability to sleep on planes. That does funny things to the mind.
At least I’d got in early enough to make getting to Kashiwa, about an hour out into the Tokyo suburbs, a leisurely trip. I even had time to make my first visit of several to one of the “Hub” chain of British style pubs opposite the station. It was a faithful recreation of a British pub, and even had the place decked out in Kashiwa Reysol memorabilia, but serving a pizza with chopsticks isn’t something that I’d imagine happens too often in Blighty.
The ground wasn’t quite so close, but was still a fairly easy 20 minute walk through the bright but not quite impressive lights of Kashiwa’s centre, before emerging at a forested park containing the ground. The summer buzz of cicadas in the trees provided an interesting, if incredibly noisy, backdrop to the short walk to the lights of the stadium.
Armed with my first of three tickets, picked up in a 7-11 convenience store on the ground floor of my hotel after being purchased online, I made my way into the ground. The hotel itself, right in the thick of the bright lights of Kabukicho in Tokyo’s Shinjuku district, is rather notable for the fact that it has a large model of Godzilla peering off the rooftop onto the streets below.
No rooftop Godzilla at Kashiwa’s Hitachi Stadium, and not much of a roof either, which could have been an issue if the gloomy weather forecast was true. Three of the sides were open, and the fourth was only partially covered, but luckily the predicted rain was no more that the odd spotty shower, almost refreshing in the heat of the summer evening.
However cooling the very light rain might have been, I still found myself in awe of the fans on the terraces – yes, terraces – at either end of the ground, who’s spend almost the whole game singing away and jumping up and down. I was impressed too with the travelling support from Matsumoto. Even with Japanese trains, the trek from there to Kashiwa still takes nearly four hours, so 1500 was a very good turnout for a game hastily rearranged for a Thursday night, due to Kashiwa’s participation in the Asian Champions League the following week. They also proving a welcome contrasting splash of green to a stadium otherwise the colour of butter.
Naturally, as is the way with the modern game and the desire to shift away shirts as well as home ones, Matsumoto had decided their British Racing Green shirts were far too similar to Kashiwa’s yellow, and played in white shirts and maroon shorts instead. Absolutely everybody still wore the green anyway. Marketing people, take note.
This was my 4th game of the season. All of the previous three had ended 0-0, and as the first half wore on, I have to confess I was getting a little worried about a 4th. It wasn’t that it was a poor game by any means. It’s just that – and this would be a common feature of the Japanese games I’d see – players all too often thought they had much more time on the ball than they actually did, and promising moves would break down with forwards being tackled to a sense of bewilderment, as if the possibility of being dispossessed had never occurred to them.
Just before half time though, a Kashiwa player got the ball on the edge of the box, just outside the D, looking all set for a shot…then he cut back onto his left. Just as I was inwardly groaning, wondering why he did that, he provided the answer – he was clearly left footed, curling the ball into the far top corner. After 304 minutes of goalless football, I was almost as delighted as the home fans.
I saw another in the 2nd half too. A ball from a set piece was flicked onto the crossbar, and Kashiwa reacted quickest to make it 2-0 in the 70th minute, and with them comfortably on top, Matsumoto never really looked like getting back into the game. They would even hit the crossbar again, with the ball bouncing to safety this time, and force a good save or two from the Matsumoto keeper, while Matsumoto’s efforts at goal did little to convince the travelling faithful that a trip that would see them get home in the early hours of the morning, at best, was really worthwhile.
For me, this unexpected bonus game certainly was worthwhile, even if there were quite a few moments of jet-laggy struggle during the evening, but if arriving back to the buzz of Kabukicho doesn’t wake you up, not a lot will. It certainly wasn’t a bad way to start the trip.
(while I didn’t see a game in Matsumoto, I did visit the city on this trip, so a few pics from there as well)