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Wednesday, May 11, 2005


J. League expected to throw the book at Reysol

Friday the 13th is not the best day to be receiving news of a punishment.

Jeremy Walker

But in two days the J. League will announce the action to be taken against Kashiwa Reysol following a serious outbreak of crowd trouble after its home game with Nagoya Grampus Eight on April 23.

It could be a hefty fine for Reysol, a deduction of points, or maybe a ground closure for one match.

Who knows?

The J. League could even follow FIFA's example and make Reysol play at a neutral venue.

Anyone for Reysol against Oita Trinita on May 21 in Pyongyang?

Of the options available, a fine looks inevitable, especially as J. League chairman Masaru Suzuki described it as the worst case of hooliganism he had seen in the 13-year history of the league.

Admittedly, this doesn't count for much, as Japan's idea of crowd trouble is someone putting their pet bottle into the wrong plastic bag as they leave the stadium, or, as Philippe Troussier put it recently, "schoolgirls in miniskirts throwing teddy bears on to the pitch."

But this time the Reysol fans went too far, leaving their "end" of the compact Hitachi Stadium, entering the "away" section and laying into a few Grampus fans who were gloating over their team's 3-0 victory. Twelve fans were treated for minor injuries.

The Reysol supporters are among the most passionate in the league, and revel in their collective nickname of the "Yellow Monkeys" as they leap into the netting which separates them from the pitch.

When a visiting player comes too close, especially to take a corner kick, he is hounded and heckled by the Yellow Monkeys, who rush this way and that to offer him a warm Chiba greeting.

Within the Yellow Monkeys there are splinter groups of "ultras," and it was members of two of these groups that led the charge down the back-stand, through or over the security gate and into the celebrating Grampus supporters after the final whistle.

Some belonged to the "Taiyo Komuten" (sun factory) and the rest to "Rey-ken" ("ken" coming from "kenkyu," meaning research).

Reysol, which is funded generously by Hitachi, with little reward on the pitch, has already announced its own list of punishments, including an indefinite ban on 11 supporters who were identified on video.

On top of this, the club president and head of security have been given pay cuts of 20 percent and 10 percent, respectively, for three months.

The club has also replaced the old gate separating the away fans with a more imposing two-meter model, and will send security guards to away games to mingle with the Reysol fans and keep order.

Reysol's latest home game was Sunday against Albirex Niigata, and took place at the vast Kashiwanoha Stadium as opposed to Hitachi Stadium, which is within walking distance of Kashiwa Station.

No wonder the Yellow Monkeys were subdued, as they were outnumbered by the traveling Albirex Army.

And they didn't even have a goal to celebrate as the match finished 0-0.

With only 10 points from 11 games and occupying a lowly 17th place in the table, it's not been the best of seasons so far for Kashiwa Reysol.

On Friday the 13th it could get a whole lot worse.

In the race to score the 10,000th goal in J. League top-flight history, the list of candidates read like a Who's Who of Japanese soccer.

Emerson, Masashi Oguro, Kazuyoshi Miura, Washington . . . all the big names were being tipped by voters chasing the first prize of a 5 million yen travel voucher.

But when the goal finally came Sunday, it was more a case of "who's he?" as the honor went to Gamba Osaka rookie Masafumi Maeda.

Maeda, 22, is in his first season with Gamba after graduating from Kansai University. He had made only four appearances in J1 before entering Sunday's home game against Nagoya as a 62nd-minute substitute.

Fifteen minutes later, Maeda raced on to a pass from Oguro and fired in his first career goal . . . and the one everyone had been waiting for.

"Even some people in the J. League hadn't heard of him," said spokesman Hisao Shuto, who had the pick of all nine J1 games to attend, and decided on Saturday to go to Gamba-Grampus the following afternoon.

If the player was a mystery to many, he wasn't to some, as 57 fans had voted for him via the Internet to score the 10,000th goal.

"We still haven't checked all the postcards. There may be more than 57," Shuto added.

The J. League will draw the lucky winner from all the Maeda voters at the end of the week . . . and don't be surprised if first prize goes to someone with the same family name living down Osaka way.

Zico's squad announcements have become as predictable as a General Election in Britain, although at least Tony Blair smiles a bit.

On Monday, Japan's national coach selected 20 players for the two Kirin Cup games with Peru and the United Arab Emirates in Japan this month.

As expected there were no surprises, no fresh faces and no sense of adventure, especially in his choice of backup players.

Surely there were a few players worth looking at, such as Tokyo Verdy left-back Takahito Soma, FC Tokyo midfielder Yasuyuki Konno and Grampus Eight schemer Naoshi Nakamura.

They would inject some youth and energy into the squad, and would gain a lot just by being exposed to the international scene, even if they didn't get on the pitch.

For the time being, it looks as though Zico's Japan is a closed shop, no matter the quality of the goods on the shelf, or what's knocking on the door trying to get in.

Player of the Week: Who else but Gamba's Masafumi Maeda.

The 10,000th goal in J. League top-flight history was Maeda's first career goal, and a fine finish, too, with his right foot in a 3-1 victory over Grampus.

Quote of the Week: "We have pressed the self-destruct button so many times it's embarrassing. I don't think any of us can look back on this season with any pride."

-- Newcastle United defender Titus Bramble, summing up another trophy-free season on Tyneside.

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