Wednesday, 18 July 2018

J League History: 1999

After the fiasco of 1998, the J.League did its best to try to repair its image and rebuild its fan base in 1999. One of the first steps taken was to introduce a format a bit more in keeping with international standards. Although the J.League maintained its unusual scoring system, PK shootouts were eliminated except in tournament matches. Games that were not decided in regulation time would go on to golden goal extra time, but if the match is not decided in two extra time periods, it ends as a draw, with both teams receiving one point. The league also announced that it would make no further rule changes or changes to the number of teams or structure of the league for at least three years.

1999 First Stage

Rank Team GP Win D L Pts GF GA G.Dif
90 ET
1 Jubilo Iwata 15 10 2 . 3 34 29 15 14
2 Verdy Kawasaki 15 9 2 1 3 32 20 15 5
3 Shimizu S-Pulse 15 9 1 1 4 30 28 23 5
4 Kashiwa Reysol 15 9 1 . 5 29 26 18 8
5 Cerezo Osaka 15 9 1 . 5 29 25 21 4
6 Sanfrecce Hiroshima 15 9 . . 6 27 30 18 12
7 Yokohama Marinos 15 6 2 1 6 23 31 20 11
8 Nagoya Grampus 15 6 1 1 7 21 30 23 7
9 Kashima Antlers 15 5 1 1 8 18 23 19 4
10 Gamba Osaka 15 5 1 . 9 17 21 25 -4
11 Avispa Fukuoka 15 4 2 . 9 16 23 30 -7
12 Vissel Kobe 15 4 1 1 9 15 20 24 -4
13 Urawa Reds 15 3 . 4 7 13 21 33 -12
14 Kyoto Purple Sanga 15 4 . . 11 12 18 28 -10
15 JEF United Ichihara 15 2 2 2 9 12 19 34 15
16 Bellmare Hiratsuka 15 3 . . 12 9 15 33 -18
Scoring: Win in regulation time=3pts Win in extra time=2pts Draw=1pt Loss =0

 

1999 Second Stage

Rank Team GP Win D L Pts GF GA G.Dif
90 ET
1 Shimizu S-Pulse 15 11 1 . 3 35 28 13 15
2 Nagoya Grampus 15 10 1 1 3 33 32 23 9
3 Yokohama Marinos 15 8 2 2 3 30 30 15 15
4 Kashiwa Reysol 15 8 2 1 4 29 23 18 5
5 Cerezo Osaka 15 6 3 . 6 24 39 24 15
6 Kashima Antlers 15 6 2 0 7 22 30 18 12
7 Vissel Kobe 15 5 2 3 4 22 18 21 -3
8 Sanfrecce Hiroshima 15 6 1 1 7 21 24 25 -1
9 Kyoto Purple Sanga 15 5 2 0 8 19 20 30 -10
10 Verdy Kawasaki 15 4 2 1 8 17 23 28 -5
11 JEF United Ichihara 15 4 2 0 9 16 22 22 0
12 Jubilo Iwata 15 4 1 1 9 15 23 27 -4
13 Gamba Osaka 15 4 1 1 9 15 15 21 -6
14 Urawa Reds 15 4 1 1 9 15 18 25 -7
15 Avispa Fukuoka 15 3 1 1 10 12 18 29 -11
16 Bellmare Hiratsuka 15 1 0 1 13 4 15 39 -24
Scoring: Win in regulation time=3pts Win in extra time=2pts Draw=1pt Loss =0

 

Several factors helped to restore the popularity and prosperity of the J.League. One was the fact that the league championship was closely contested in both the first and second stages. A second benefit came from the emergence of many young players with enough talent to shine on the international stage. Japan's under-20 national team went to the finals of the World Youth Championships in Nigeria during the summer, putting on a spectacular performance and finishing in second place after a Finals loss to Spain. Meanwhile the Olympic team breezed through the qualifiers for Sydney in superb style.

 

As a result, attendance figures leveled off after declining steadily since 1994, and the league began to stabilise with a solid core base of fans and teams. By the end of 1999, it seemed that the instability created by the Flugels Fiasco in 1998 had been laid to rest, and the league was back on solid ground. However, it would be another three years before rising attendances and fan interest banished those bad memories completely.

 

In 1999, the league championship was contested by two teams from Shizuoka prefecture. Shizuoka has long been considered the birthplace of football in Japan, and both Jubilo Iwata and Shimizu S-Pulse have long traditions of challenging for the title. However, unlike Jubilo, Shimizu S-Pulse had always been a "bridesmaid", finishing as second place team in the division or as the runner up in cup competitions.

 

In 1999, S-Pulse finally managed to win the second stage, after Jubilo won the first stage, setting up a "Shizuoka Derby" championship series. The struggle could not have been any closer, with both teams capturing 2-1 victories away from home. However, in the end Jubilo Iwata prevailed in the penalty kick shootout.

Promotion and relegation was introduced in 1999, and the two teams relegated were Bellmare Hiratsuka and Urawa Reds -- both of which had been founding members of the J.League. Bellmare was already in serious financial difficulty, and relegation was almost a blessing for them. It allowed the team to restructure under new management and scale back its operations. The team took a new name -- Shonan Bellmare -- and began to look for new sponsors when the former corporate sponsor of the team, Fujita Industries, pulled out. One of the largest sponsors was former Bellmare player Hidetoshi Nakata, whose private website "Nakata.net" became an official sponsor of his old team.

 

For the Urawa Reds, demotion was a crushing blow to the hopes of one of the league's largest and most passionate fan clubs. Yet their response to this disappointment, and the raw emotional drama that played out on the final day of the 1999 season, would live forever in J.League history as a testament to the power of loyalty and the true spirit of The Beautiful Game.


Red Twilight at Old Komaba

They say that football is the cruelest of games, for its ability to shatter hopes and snatch victory away from even the most deserving of teams, in the blink of an eye. For the Urawa Red Diamonds and their passionately loyal fans, the 1999 season proved just how cruel it can be.. It seemed that every possible misfortune arrived at the Reds’ doorstep at exactly the same time. The season began with reports that a major corporate sponsor, Mitsubishi Motors, was restructuring and would cut back expenses by reducing its support for the team. This problem would be compounded by some poor personnel decisions that left the Reds with only one non-Japanese player on the roster as the season neared conclusion. 

To make matters worse, two of the team's most influential young players -- Shinji Jojo and Shinji Ono -- missed long stretches of the season due to commitments for Japan's U-20 squad (which finished second in the 1999 Youth World Cup, in Nigeria). Jojo suffered a serious leg injury on international duty, midway through the season, which would keep him out for the rest of the year. As the warm afternoons of September faded into the cool misty evenings of October, and the Reds battled to escape from the danger of relegation, their luck only seemed to get worse. Three weekends in a row, they played their opponents to a deadlock over 90 minutes, only to see all their hard work undone by a "Golden Goal", which under the J.League's old format gave the loser zero points. 

Just as it was starting to look hopeless, the team managed to rediscover their form, winning key matches against Gamba Osaka and Bellmare Hiratsuka. Following an away draw to Verdy Kawasaki, on November 23, the team went into the final week of the season needing to make up three points, at home against Sanfrecce Hiroshima, to move into 14th place on aggregate for the full season and send Avispa Fukuoka down to relegation in their stead. The drama that played out that late November afternoon at Komaba Stadium would earn the Saitama Red Army a place in J.League history for all time.  

As the sun slowly crept towards the horizon, a throbbing, pulsating army of Reds fans filled the air with their chants, their roars of expectation and wails of disappointment. The two teams battled back and forth, cheered on by the huge throng, but neither one could break the scoreless stalemate. By the middle of the second half, fans and players alike had heard the word that Avispa were losing 2-0 in their match against Yokohama, and were on track for a defeat. But since Avispa had a two-point advantage in the league table and a superior goal difference, the Reds had to win the match in regulation time. Two points would not be enough to overtake the team from Fukuoka.

The frenzy of noise that shook the rafters of old Komaba took on an increasingly desperate tone, as the players threw themselves forward into attack again and again. The sun sank deeper and deeper into the jumble of concrete polygons that surrounded the stadium, and a chill slowly began to grip the stadium as the November night crept nearer. But the valiant charges by Fukunaga, Fukuda, Okano and Oshima all came to naught. The final whistle sounded, and the contest moved into golden goal overtime, yet the Saitama Army cheered on, without even a momentary break in their thundering song.

Just a few minutes after the extra time period began, the Reds surged forward in attack as they had done time after time that afternoon. The ball swung in on a looping trajectory, from the left flank, and team captain Masahiro Fukuda dashed forward to meet it at the edge of the six-yard box. His stooping header bounded into the back strings, for the winning goal!

As the ball hit the back of the net, Fukuda came to a stop on the goal line, and turned back towards his teammates. A crowd of red jerseys swarmed towards him in celebration, with hands raised in triumph. But as the first of his teammates arrived, the veteran striker met him with a stiff-arm shove in the chest. Shaking a clenched fist at his "reception committee", the captain began shouting in rage, furious at the scenes of celebration.

"How can you cheer at a time like this! Dont you GET IT?! We LOST!" Despite the valiant effort they had delivered, Fukuda's winning goal had come an agonizing five minutes too late to prevent Urawa from being relegated. With two points from the extra-time win, the Reds finished level on points with Avispa, but one goal behind in goal difference. The team was condemned to spend a full year in the newly-created Division Two.

As the realization hit, and Fukuda’s words began to sink in, the players dropped their heads, with tears of dismay beginning to well in their eyes. The sky which had glowed red with a glimmer of hope for most of the second half was now completely dark, and the chill of failure closed in about them. The year that had begun with so much promise and such high hopes had ended in abject failure, and the team would be forced to spend a year in the wilderness before they could have any hope of finally claiming their long-awaited first piece of silverware. As the players came to grips with the tragedy of what had just taken place, many were overcome with tears. Fukuda had to haul several burly teammates to their feet and shepherd them to midfield for the customary handshake. The JEF United players did their best to console the valiant losers, but many were already breaking down in tears.

With shoulders bowed and eyes brimming with disappointment, the red-clad warriors turned toward the crowd, to take their traditional match-ending bow, wondering how they could apologise for dashing the hopes of their supporters. But as they approached the red mob behind the goal, a wave of sound began to rise from the cold terraces, slowly gaining in pitch and power. The players joined hands and lowered their heads in humble apology, but instead of fading in disappointment, the sound continued to swell. For years, the Saitama Red Army had celebrated each victory with a thunderous chant of "We Are Reds". It was their traditional sendoff to a victorious team, and the echoes of that chant had reverberated from the rafters of stadiums from one end of Japan to the other. Now, despite the pain of disappointment, the fan club captains pounded out the drumbeat to initiate the traditional victory chant. Wiping tears from their eyes, the crowd rose as one, and took up the chant with a defiant passion. 

"We Are Reds! We Are Reds!"

They shouted into the chill of the approaching night. The sound rose from the terraces and with each repetition it seemed to grow in volume and passion. The Red Army faithful were announcing their pride and their unfailing loyalty to something that – over the years – had grown into more than just a football team. "We Are Reds!” they roared. As if nothing else in the world could possibly mean as much. "We Are Reds! We Are Reds! We Are Reds!" The defiant words echoed around the concrete bowl, and with each repetition it pushed back the pain of defeat a bit further.  The players could only stand with mouths open in wonder, humbled by the display of emotion. In the gathering darkness, the dim alleys and avenues of Urawa seemed to fill with the rhythmic echoes, ringing through the night. 

As the chant rose louder and louder, the fainthearted few who had made an early run for the exits were drawn back into the stands by its infectious power. When the roar of passionate loyalty failed to subside, evening news programmes on TV networks across the country got the word. Something truly historic was afoot, and one by one they broke away from their scripts to carry images of the scene unfolding on the terraces of Komaba Stadium. The Saitama Red Army stood on the terraces long into that dark November evening, roaring their passion, their loyalty, their pride. The players -- tears of conflicted emotion pouring down their cheeks -- began pounding their chests and kissing the badges on their left breasts to convey their appreciation. With the fan club leaders directing the show, the drumbeats changed and the fans began to sing each of the individual player chants. On and on, with a passion that shook the rafters. And after each song feting one of the players, they would return to the same proud declaration once again. 

"We Are Reds! We Are Reds!"

Even in defeat. "We Are Reds!" Even in failure. "We Are Reds!" Even in the face of relegation. "We Are Reds!" Long after the TV cameras were gone . . . after the awed players finally bid them farewell and returned to the dressing room . . . deep into that magical November twilight they remained on the terraces. Singing. Celebrating. Declaring their undimmed pride and love for the team, for the players, and for the Beautiful Game itself. "We Are Reds! We Are Reds! We Are Reds!

And with that, the Red Army seized their place in the annals of J.League history, and gave birth to a legend.


Championship Series

4 Dec Jubilo Iwata 2 - 1 (ET) Shimizu S-Pulse
30 min Masashi Nakayama
98 min Masashi Nakayama
. 34 min Masaaki Sawanobori
11 Dec Shimizu S-Pulse 2 - 1 Jubilo Iwata
37 min Masaaki Sawanobori
90 min Fabinho
. 34min Toshihiro Hattori
PK shootout Jubilo Iwata 4 - 2 Shimizu S-Pulse

Scoring Leaders

24 18 Hwang Sun-Hong Cerezo Osaka
18 11 Shoji Jo Yokohama Marinos
17 10 Marcelo Baron JEF United Ichihara
13 9 Masahiro Fukuda Urawa Reds
13 30 Wagner Lopes Nagoya Grampus
13 10 Tatsuhiko Kubo Sanfrecce Hiroshima
12 15 Yoshikiyo Kuboyama Shimizu S-Pulse
12 8 Hiroaki Morishima Cerezo Osaka
11 8 Alex Shimizu S-Pulse
11 10 Dragan Stojkovic Nagoya Grampus
11 9 Akinori Nishizawa Cerezo Osaka
10 7 Bentinho Kashiwa Reysol
10 23 Takashi Fukunishi Jubilo Iwata
10 18 Kenji Fukuda Nagoya Grampus
10 9 Kim Do-Hoon Vissel Kobe

J.League Awards, 1999

MVP Alex (Alessandro dos Santos) Shimizu S-Pulse
Rookie of the Year Yuji Nakazawa Verdy Kawasaki
Golden Boot Hwang Sun-Hong Cerezo Osaka
Coach of the Year Steve Perryman Shimizu S-Pulse

Best Eleven

GK Masanori Sanada Shimizu S-Pulse
DF Yuji Nakazawa Verdy Kawasaki
Ryuzo Morioka Shimizu S-Pulse
Toshihide Saito Shimizu S-Pulse
MF Shunsuke Nakamura Yokohama Marinos
Masaaki Sawanobori Shimizu S-Pulse
Teruyoshi Ito Shimizu S-Pulse
Alex (Alessandro dos Santos) Shimizu S-Pulse
Takashi Fukunishi Jubilo Iwata
FW Dragan Stojkovic Nagoya Grampus
Hwang Sun-Hong Cerezo Osaka