Ask someone to point to Tottori on a Japanese map, and the chances are that they will struggle to accurately place it. Ask someone to tell you what the current situation of their football team is and you might get a reply along the lines of “Tottori has a team?”

Gainare Tottori are more or less forgotten about by the Japanese footballing public. Currently languishing in the depths of J3, barely scraping past reserve teams and teams without the J.League pedigree Tottori have. J.League pedigree? Yes, for not so long ago, Gainare were plying their trade in J2, and were actually top of it for a short time.

In this piece, we chart the demise of the team of Gainaman & Masayuki Okano. And it all started on a glorious autumn day in 2013…..

 

September 22nd, 2013 – Asanaka Stadium, Ogaki, Gifu prefecture

A long kick upfield by FC Gifu defender Tatsuya Arai is let bounce by Gainare defenders Eijiro Mori & Tomokazu Nagira. Gifu’s big, strong forward Yuki Nakamura reacts quickest, heads the ball on to Croatian forward Stipe Plazibat, who pokes the ball past ‘keeper Kobari to give the home side a 2-0 lead.

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Gainare players (in white) after their 2013 defeat in Gifu

Gainare would get one back through Brazilian defender Dudu, but on that day Gifu all but secured their survival in J2, and more or less condemned Tottori to bottom place in J2. After this game, Gainare wouldn’t win again all season, losing five and drawing three of their final eight games. There were other low points in that campaign including a 1-7 home thumping by Gamba Osaka, a 0-6 home defeat by Yamagata and a damaging 3-4 home defeat by FC Gifu. But the season had started so well for Tottori. They were unbeaten in their first five games – and they were actually top after winning two and drawing one of their opening three games. Forward Yuichi Kubo and the exciting Genki Nagasato looked like a handful to deal with up front, and at the back the veteran, dread-locked Kiyomitsu Kobari gave Gainare a recognized face to build upon.

What happened after the first five games was almost annihilation. They won three, yes THREE, of their subsequent 37 games. After the victory at Montedio Yamagata on July 3rd, Tottori didn’t win a J2 game. For the record, that was twenty games. The stats tell their own story:

  • Won: 5
  • Draw: 16
  • Lost 21
  • Goals against: 76 (1.8 goals per game)
  • Final league position: 22nd (out of 22)

Gainare were given one final chance to save themselves from relegation. Nagano Parceiro were winners of the JFL that year (the JFL being the precursor to J3) but their new stadium wasn’t ready, and their stadium at the time wasn’t up to J.League specification. That meant that they weren’t eligible for promotion and so Kamatamare Sanuki, who finished in 2nd place, would get the chance to face Tottori in a two-legged play-off – winner plays in J2, loser plays in J3.

But Tottori fluffed their lines….again. They got a draw in the first leg in Kagawa prefecture (home of Kamatamare) but they suffered a catastrophic 0-1 home defeat in the second leg, with Yutaka Takahashi’s early goal proving enough to condemn Tottori to the new but unappealing world of J3.

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(above) Gainare Tottori players come to the horrible realization that they have been relegated….

Fast forward……

August 13th, 2016, Toyama Athletic Stadium

Kataller Toyama 4-1 Gainare Tottori. A result that plunges Tottori into 15th place in J3. So far this season they’ve only won four games. Their top scorer is the soon to be 37 year old Fernandinho with four goals, and they’ve already lost to teams like Fujieda, Fukushima United and Kagoshima United – a team that weren’t even in existence when Gainare were top of J2 back in the spring of 2013.

 

Stuck in a rut

Tottori is a prefecture of some 570,000 residents situated on the Sea of Japan coast, north of Hiroshima prefecture. The main attraction in the prefecture are the magnificent sand dunes that stretch for a round 25-30km along part of the coast. Gainare Tottori’s Torigin Stadium is located in Tottori city, home to a third of Tottori prefecture’s residents, but it has only been half full or more (the official capacity is listed as 16,033) a handful of times. Word of mouth is considered one of the best forms of publicity (well, it is if, like me, you watch a lot of Gordon Ramsay shows. He always bangs on about it) but it can also puncture any enterprise if that word of mouth is negative.

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Average gates since 2007 have hovered around 3,500 – although in 2013 it spiked to just over 4,000, boosted by the visits of Gamba Osaka & Vissel Kobe. The relative consistency (up until this season, more on that later) tells me that there is a small core of football supporters in the city/prefecture, but that not many other people want to go out and watch them.

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(above) Gainare’s Torigin Stadium

New Stadium

In order to try and take advantage of Tottori’s “second city” of Yonago, a new stadium was constructed, completed in 2012, and opened officially in winter 2012 with an “all-star” game. The plan was to make Gainare more accessible to the entirety of the prefecture, much like “Hokkaido” Consadole Sapporo have done playing games in the southern city of Hakodate.

Unfortunately, the new stadium – Chubu YAJIN stadium, to give it its proper title – has been beset by problems. It wasn’t used for any J.League matches in 2013 due to not being given a J.League licence, instead it was used as a training ground. There were disputes between the club and the local bus company on payments for shuttle buses from local stations to the stadium, and there are continuing concerns surrounding transport access to the stadium.

It has been given a J3 stadium licence, and it hosted its first Gainare Tottori competitive game in April 2014 – a 0-1 defeat by Machida Zelvia.

 

Appeal

Putting aside the issues of venue, Tottori has tried to boost its image by bringing in “stars” to promote the club. Probably the most famous of these is Masayuki Okano – scorer of important Japan goals, and Urawa Reds icon who finished his playing career at Gainare. He was appointed GM of the club in 2014 and set about trying to raise the profile. He helped bring in former Gamba Osaka, Shimizu S-Pulse & Vegalta Sendai forward Fernandinho, which raised a few eyebrows, but he’s done well for them, scoring at a clip of 1 every 3 games.

Of course, you can’t be considered a serious team in Japan unless you have a cute/weird mascot, and Gainare have Gainaman! If you imagine a football club branded Power Ranger, that’s what Gainaman is. Witness his “exercise video” :

I bet you will all be doing that before your morning corn flakes. You may laugh at it (the character, not the exercise – that is important!) but it is important to realize that this is just one plank of PR that Gainare have used to try and:

  • a) make themselves attractive to potential supporters
  • b) make the matchday experience better for younger supporters
  • c) implant themselves in the psyche of Tottori natives

The PR office at Gainare Tottori have tried many different promotions to try and bring in new supporters. At one time or another during the last three years they’ve tried special offers for ladies and special offers for people coming straight from work (on weekday nights) but still they haven’t found the secret, magical ingredient that brings in bigger crowds on a regular basis.

 

Notable names in Gainare’s recent history

– Masayuki Okano

The ex-Japanese international (and now Gainare GM) spent four seasons with the club between 2009-2013, and he helped the club transition from the Japan Football League (JFL) to the professional league.

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(above) Masayuki Okano. And crabs. And some kind of fish…..

– Toshihiro Hattori

The ex-Japanese international midfielder and current Jubilo Iwata GM played in Tottori for a couple of seasons and was also an integral part of the Gainare side that went from the JFL to J2, winning the JFL player of the year in Gainare’s 2010 Championship winning season.

– Atsushi Mio

Mio was a huge fan favourite at the Torigin stadium during his three years there. An accomplished (for Tottori’s level anyway) ball playing midfielder with a huge work rate and a beautiful left foot, he was one of the main catalysts for Gainare’s ascension into the professional ranks. He scored 7 in 34 games as he led the team to promotion, and whenever he played against Tottori for subsequent club FC Gifu, he was always given a fantastic reception by the Gainare supporters – an indication as to how high an esteem he is was/still is held in.

 

2016 and beyond….

The immediate future doesn’t look particularly bright for Gainare. They haven’t applied for a J.League Associate Member license (J2) for the last two seasons due to stadium & financial concerns, effectively making their league position irrelevant, and bringing all the motivational problems that this kind of situation might incur.

Current manager Tetsuji Hashiratani – most recently of current J2 side Mito Hollyhock – is at the helm, but so far the results this season haven’t indicated that Gainare are going anywhere soon. The aforementioned licensing concerns and financial issues make it hard to attract the quality of player that would make it feasible for them to climb into a position where they’d be fighting for promotion back to J2. Ultimately, the off field issues will determine how far and how fast they can come back.

The J.League public must have some sort of hope that Gainare can get their stuff together. Their particular part of Japan is under-represented in the the professional stakes – neighbouring prefecture Shimane doesn’t have a team, and so the nearest team is actually over 120km away in Okayama – and this oft-forgotten area of Japan really needs a sporting lift. Hopefully, that time is not too far off the horizon.

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