It's already been an eventful week in the J-League, and they're not done yet in the Land of the Rising Sun. Michael Hudson has the story.
After a six-week investigation into their club’s attendance figures, Omiya Ardija fans finally got the news they’d been waiting for. Having admitted to inflating their crowds by over 110,000 people over the course of the last three years, Ardija’s financial penalty was set at 20 million yen (about £150,000 or enough to get you roughly sixty minutes of Yaya Toure charging head down at defenders). This matched the record fine given to Urawa Reds after their supporters reacted to a 3-2 home defeat by tearing down barriers, pelting Gamba Osaka’s travelling fans with plastic bottles, and trapping their rivals in the stadium whilst they ripped up all their flags.
Those of us who’d wondered how Omiya could possibly have managed to count the same people twice when totalling their crowds were given a clue in the club’s response to the punishment, in which they “apologised unreservedly to both fans and supporters”. J-League chairman Kazumi Ohigashi told reporters a points deduction had “never been considered” but demanded a written apology from Ardija for “destroying the trust in the league”. On cue, a contrite Omiya official begged forgiveness for any inconvenience caused to the league’s other 36 clubs, who, to the surprise of nobody, were all judged, officially, to have reported their attendances with the accuracy of a Keisuke Honda free-kick.
Omiya certainly needed some good news. Only 8,457 people turned up for their last home game against Montedio Yamagata, while last weekend’s disastrous first-half in Nagoya saw them lose not only the game but also key midfielder Shin Kanazawa to injury and Korean international Lee Ho to a second yellow card. Kanazawa now misses Omiya’s trip to already-relegated Kyoto Sanga and next Tuesday’s equally crucial home game with Vissel Kobe, who now sit just four points behind Ardija in the third and final relegation place. Splitting the two are FC Tokyo (touted during pre-season as championship dark horses) who won 2-1 at Yokohama Marinos thanks to a brace from ex- Heracles Almelo forward Sota Hirayama, who, despite his potential, has spent more of his career playing like the bastard offspring of Carlton Cole than the son of Zeus.
At the other end of the table, Nagoya Grampus can seal their first ever J-League title this Saturday afternoon with three points at Shonan Bellmare, whose one-season stay in the top flight was brought to its long-awaited end by a 5-0 mauling courtesy of Shimizu S-Pulse. “We’re taking nothing for granted,” Grampus boss Dragan Stojkovic recently told the press. But with Shonan’s defence leakier than a Qantas A380, expect to see Nagoya old boy Gary Lineker celebrating this Saturday night on the Match of the Day sofa, before missing the remainder of the season with a badly injured toe.
The only team who can stop Nagoya are Kashima Antlers, who came from behind to win 2-1 at fourth-placed Kawasaki Frontale, leaving them with the slimmest of chances of their fourth J1 title in a row. Kashima’s Brazilian manager Oswaldo Oliveira refused to concede defeat. "I will tell you again to remember Yokohama FC," he told reporters, referring to the minnows’ shock final-day win over Urawa in 2007 which handed Kashima their first title win in six years. Next up for the Antlers is a trip to Kobe. Omiya fans must surely be praying that Ohigashi- Kashima’s chairman before leaving to head the J-League- won’t be the last person connected with the Ibaraki club to give them a helping hand this week.
As well as writing for IBWM, Michael is responsible for the fine 'The Accidental Grasshopper' blog. You can follow him on Twitter @DolphinHotel.