Wednesday, 24 July 2024

J League History: 2004

It is difficult to describe in precise words what the year 2004 signified, in terms of its place in J.League history. Of course, the more time that passes, the easier it becomes to look at events in a "historical context", and discuss how they relate to longer-term trends. However, while it is often possible to give a synopsis of the events of a season, immediately after it ends, and have that description remain accurate and relevant even several years later, that is hard to do when discussing 2004. Perhaps a few decades from now it will be easier to present things in a historical context. All we can say at present is that the J.League passed a watershed during the mid-00s, and there are several strong reasons to pinpoint 2004 as the critical year in that evolution. But until we know what course the league will take in its gradual evolution, it will remain difficult to provide a specific tally of all the changes, and the moments which marked the transition.

After the J.League reached its tenth birthday, in late 2002, League officials in Japan no longer had to focus their energies on simply keeping professional football alive. They were finally able to begin thinking carefully about what they wanted the League to become in the future. At the end of the 2003 season, a number of key decisions were made with the aim of expanding the reach of professional football in Japan, and cultivating a football culture at the grassroots level throughout the country. This included the decision to switch the J.League to a single-stage format, and to phase out other elements which formerly set Japan apart from the football formats in Europe.

J.League 2004, First Stage

. Team Pts GP W D L GF GA GDif
1 Yokohama Marinos 36 15 11 3 1 26 13 +13
2 Jubilo Iwata 34 15 11 1 3 31 16 +15
3 Urawa Reds 25 15 7 4 4 30 24 +6
4 Gamba Osaka 24 15 7 3 5 31 23 +8
5 Kashima Antlers 24 15 7 3 5 18 14 +4
6 FC Tokyo 23 15 6 5 4 19 19 +0
7 JEF United 22 15 5 7 3 28 23 +5
8 Nagoya Grampus 20 15 5 5 5 24 22 +2
9 Tokyo Verdy 19 15 5 4 6 21 23 -2
10 Oita Trinita 17 15 5 2 8 21 27 -6
11 Shimizu S-Pulse 16 15 3 7 5 20 27 -7
12 Vissel Kobe 15 15 3 6 6 21 25 -4
13 Sanfrecce Hiroshima 15 15 3 6 6 15 19 -4
14 Albirex Niigata 14 15 3 5 7 16 25 -9
15 Kashiwa Reysol 12 15 3 3 9 14 22 -8
16 Cerezo Osaka 10 15 2 4 9 17 30 -13


J.League 2004, Second Stage

. Team Pts GP W D L GF GA GDif
1 Urawa Reds 37 15 12 1 2 40 15 +25
2 JEF United Ichihara 28 15 8 4 3 27 22 +5
3 Gamba Osaka 27 15 8 3 4 38 25 +13
4 Kashima Antlers 24 15 7 3 5 23 17 +6
5 Nagoya Grampus 24 15 7 3 5 25 21 +4
6 Yokohama Marinos 23 15 6 5 4 21 17 +4
7 Albirex Niigata 23 15 7 2 6 31 33 -2
8 Vissel Kobe 21 15 6 3 6 29 30 -1
9 Tokyo Verdy 20 15 6 2 7 22 23 -1
10 FC Tokyo 18 15 4 6 5 21 22 -1
11 Sanfrecce Hiroshima 16 15 3 7 5 21 23 -2
12 Cerezo Osaka 16 15 4 4 7 25 34 -9
13 Jubilo Iwata 14 15 3 5 7 23 28 -5
14 Shimizu S-Pulse 13 15 4 1 10 17 26 -9
15 Kashiwa Reysol 13 15 2 7 6 15 27 -12
16 Oita Trinita 13 15 3 4 8 14 29 -15


Championship Series

5 Dec Yokohama Marinos 1 - 0 Urawa Reds
Kawai (66')    
11 Dec Urawa Reds 1 - 0
(PK 2-4)
Yokohama Marinos
Santos (76')    


Promotion/Relegation Series

4 Dec Avispa Fukuoka 0 - 2 Kashiwa Reysol
    Ono (47')
Tanizawa (89)
12 Dec Kashiwa Reysol 2 - 0 Avispa Fukuoka
Unozawa (57')
Hato (61')

At the start of 2004, however, the J.League Management Committee introduced a tremendously ambitious blueprint for developing the sport in Japan, which would take on increasing significance over the subsequent few years. The proposal, which the League referred to as "The Hundred Year Plan" was a very ambitious program of organisational development whose clear, though unstated goal was to replace baseball as Japan's national sport. At first the very title -- "The Hundred Year Plan" -- made it sound like a deliberately grandiose public relations effort, which relied on bravado and big words to hype the concept and get the major newspapers and TV stations to talk about it. After all, nobody really has any idea what may occur over the next century. How could the J.League create a "Hundred Year Plan" that would survive the vagaries and chance events of just a few years, or a decade at most?


In retrospect, this plan was a visionary document which sketched out the major trends of football development in Japan, both organizational and in terms of public interest. The plan provided guiding principles which were specific enough to capture the imagination of football fans from one end of the country to the other, yet flexible enough to be adjusted as conditions changed and as lessons were learned from ongoing experience. The underlying purpose of the Hundred Year Plan is to spread the passion for football to every corner of the country. But it was the bold commitment that the J.League expressed in its title -- the idea of setting out on a journey with the full knowledge that only your children or grandchildren will actually reach the final goal, and the determination to sustain the effort for a hundred years -- which captures the imagination of anyone who hears about it. The Hundred Year Plan gave football fans a sense of the tremendous enthusiasm and optimism that the J.League maintains. An energetic spirit which pervades football in Japan.


Essentially, the "hundred year" portion of the plan sets very broad objectives with the assumption that the details will be filled in, bit by bit, as years go by. The league wants to encourage growth of the sport at both the professional and amateur levels such that one day, every prefecture in Japan, and every major city, will have at least one professional team and a number of amateur or semipro clubs playing in regional or prefectural leagues. However, in addition to the starry-eyed, long-term goals, there is also a far more specific plan, covering about the next ten years, whose goal is to create a three-division structure containing about 50-60 teams.


The first step in implementing the plan involves establishing a uniform format for all league competitions. Among other changes, extra time was eliminated from league contests (at the end of the 2003 season), and hereafter will be used only in the knockout round of cup competitions. In addition, the League decided to introduce a single-stage format for the top division. The J2 has always operated with only a single-stage, but apart from 1996, the J1 championship was always decided by playing two "stages", with the winners of each stage playing one another in a home-and-away playoff, to decide the J.League title. This format was abandoned in 2005, so 2004 marked the last time that stage champions were decided, and the last time a "Suntory Championship Series" was played.


The second step was to expand the top division to 18 teams, which officials view an ideal number for scheduling purposes (34 league matches played over a 52-week year). This was accomplished by shifting two teams from the second division (J2) to the top division in 2004. The top two teams in the J2 were awarded automatic promotion, and the last-placed J1 team played a promotion/relegation series against the third-ranked J2 team.


The third step was to expand the J2, step by step, to an eventual maximum of 22 teams, through promotion from the JFL. Two teams earned promotion from the JFL at the end of 2004, suggesting that this step would proceed fairly quickly and smoothly. There were a few bumps along the road, but in subsequent years the process continued as planned. The fourth step, which was finally implemented in 2014, was to create a third professional division. This third division will continue growing for at least a few decades (possibly adopting a regional segmentation like the North and South leagues in Germany's lower division, when there are enough teams to justify the change).


 This is one reason why our strongest feeling, looking back at 2004, is a sense that the league has left its boisterous childhood behind, and is stepping forward into adolescence, with all its changes and uncertainties. But changes to the league structure and tournament rules were just the first chapter in a saga of changes taking place in 2004. Another, perhaps more important transition, came on the playing field, where a number of young and energetic teams began to vie with the "old guard" for silverware.

In the league's first eleven seasons, just four teams exercised a near monopoly on titles -- Verdy Kawasaki (now known as Tokyo Verdy), Yokohama Marinos, Kashima Antlers and Jubilo Iwata. Between them, these four teams had won all eleven league titles (and indeed, all but two stage titles), as well as eight of the eleven Nabisco Cup titles. But this season, both Jubilo and Antlers dropped into the middle of the league table while a completely restructured Verdy is still just beginniung its climb back to the ranks of contenders. Only the Marinos remained a dominant force, and though they claimed the first stage title (and eventually, the league championship as well), it quickly became clear that this period of success would not last.

One can only hope that the high degree of parity shown over the past two decades can persist for years to come. As noted above, the old guard had its last hurrah in the first stage of 2004, with the Yokohama Marinos claiming the first stage title, Jubilo Iwata finishing a close second, and the Kashima Antlers acting as the deciding influence, defeating Jubilo in the second-to-last match of the stage before losing the penultimate match to Yokohama. However, the second stage provided hints of a very different future, with several teams placing bids to be included in the ranks of the new contenders. The Urawa Reds were by far the biggest story, as they stormed to the second-stage title with the best won-lost record ever from a single stage. However, several other teams including Gamba Osaka and JEF United also made a strong showing. Indeed, Gamba did well enough to finish atop the table in a normal year, and if not for the Reds' record-setting pace, the Osaka team might have claimed its first piece of silverware.

Unfortunately, the Reds peaked too early, and were unable to sustain their momentum into the championship series. The Marinos, led by a number of experienced veterans such as Daisuke Oku, Naoki Matsuda and Yuji Nakazawa, came into the championship knowing that if they forced the Reds to fight a defensive battle, they had a chance to snatch the title. Sure enough, the two teams traded 1-0 results at their home stadiums, and the championship series was forced into extra time, and then, to a penalty kick shootout. The Marinos prevailed on PKs and thus prevented the Reds from claiming their first league championship.

The "two-stage" period of J.League history came to an end with only four teams' names engraved on the Suntory Trophy. But teams like the Reds, Gamba, Kashiwa Reysol, Sanfrecce Hiroshima and others were beginning to establish themselves as future title-winner, once the League moved into the single-stage era. The promotion-relegation series was a bit anticlimactic, by comparison with the closely-fought championship series. But then, that may not be surprising when one considers that last-placed Kashiwa Reysol did not have to face the two strongest J2 clubs. Expansion gave Kawasaki Frontale and Omiya Ardija an automatic ticket to the J1, and so Reysol's opponents were the J2's third-ranked team, Avispa Fukuoka. Avispa proved to be no match, losing both legs to Reysol by identical 2-0 score lines.


Scoring Leaders

Rank Player Team Goals (PKs) Shots
1 Emerson Urawa Reds 27 145
2 Masashi Oguro Gamba Osaka 20 (0) 109
3 Marques Nagoya Grampus 17 (1) 60
3 Ryuji Bando Vissel Kobe 17 (2) 66
5 Rodrigo Gral Jubilo Iwata 16 (2) 65
6 Edmilson Albirex Niigata 15 (3) 73
6 Yoshito Okubo Cerezo Osaka 15 (2) 70
8 Marquinhos JEF United 12 (1) 61
8 Ahn Jung-Hwan Yokohama Marinos 12 (0) 77
10 Lucas Severino FC Tokyo 11 (2) 63
10 Magno Alves Oita Trinita 11 (3) 67
12 Tatsuya Tanaka Urawa Reds 10 (0) 61
12 Keiji Tamada Kashiwa Reysol 10 (1) 69
12 Daisuke Sakata Yokohama Marinos 10 (0) 46
12 Daisuke Oku Yokohama Marinos 10 (2) 35
12 Ueslei Nagoya Grampus 10 (2) 110
12 Fernandinho Gamba Osaka 10 (0) 69


J.League Awards, 2004

MVP Yuji Nakazawa 26 Yokohama Marinos
Rookie of the Year Takayuki Morimoto 16 Tokyo Verdy
Golden Boot Emerson 23 Urawa Reds
Coach of the Year Takeshi Okada 48 Yokohama Marinos

Best Eleven

GK Yoichi Doi 32 FC Tokyo
DF Marcus Tulio Tanaka 23 Urawa Reds
Yuji Nakazawa 26 Yokohama Marinos
Dutra 31 Yokohama Marinos
MF Mitsuo Ogasawara 25 Kashima Antlers
Daisuke Oku 28 Yokohama Marinos
Yasuhiro Endo 25 Gamba Osaka
Makoto Hasebe 20 Urawa Reds
FW Emerson 23 Urawa Reds
Marques 31 Nagoya Grampus
Yoshito Oguro 24 Gamba Osaka