You have to be mentally strong to be between the sticks in the professional game. When things aren’t going for you, that mental fortitude gets tested to the limit – as a goalkeeper you know that if you’re not first choice, then there isn’t an easy way into the first team. It isn’t easy being a goalkeeper. The last line of defence is always the loneliest, and there is no hiding place.

One goalkeeper who knows what this situation is like, is Avispa Fukuoka goalkeeper Ryuichi Kamiyama. In another look at his beloved Avispa, @NavyBlueWasp takes us on Kamiyama’s up & down career journey. Strap yourself in, it is a bumpy ride…..

 

 

LIFE IS A ROLLERCOASTER

Avispa Fukuoka got a “problem” for a long time now. Since almost ten years ago, there was no season where the club had a real Number One for a whole season and this fella I will tell you about is a big part of this story, or maybe the main reason for it.

When you think about Ryuichi Kamiyama as a casual J.League fan, you may just know he’s one of the goalkeepers of Avispa Fukuoka or maybe you even don’t know him.

A quite average keeper with some mistakes here and there, which is a common thing with Japanese number ones. For Avispa fans, he is one of the big club legends like Hisashi Jogo or current FC Tokyo coach and “Mr. Avispa” Yoshiyuki Shinoda, but he had a long way to come and many challenges to overcome to make it this far, so let me tell you the story of “Gori” like the fans like to call him – Ryuichi Kamiyama.

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(photo from avispa.co.jp)

EARLY DAYS & BECOMING NUMBER ONE

The Kansai-native from Sakai, Osaka prefecture began playing football at the age of four at his hometown’s Seiei Gakuen Soccer Club, where also everyone’s favourite Junichi Inamoto kicked the football for the first time. Later he played for Gamba Osaka’s junior youth from 1997 till 1999, just like Japan’s World Cup hero of 2002 did as well.

Kamiyama left Osaka and went to Shimane prefecture to attend Rissho University Shonan High School in Matsue for three years. After he gratuaded, Kamiyama joined Avispa Fukuoka in early 2003.

With no games in 2003 and 2004, he had to wait nearly three seasons for his professional debut on October 9th 2005 in the 85th Emperor’s Cup 3rd round match against Sagawa Printing SC. He did a perfect job for a goalkeeper and finished the game with a clean sheet and a 1-0 win for Fukuoka.

Becoming the new Number 2 behind Yuichi Mizutani in 2006, Kamiyama’s J1 debut came on May 6th 2006 when Avispa traveled to the Big Arch Stadium to play Sanfrecce Hiroshima. Fukuoka lost the game 0-1 due to a late free-kick from Yuichi Komano.

When Avispa finished the season in 16th place, they subsequently lost the J1/J2-Playoffs against Vissel Kobe and went down to J2. Yuichi Mizutani left the club for newly promoted J2 champions Kashiwa Reysol, and Ryuichi was chosen to be the new man between the posts, going on to play the full J2 schedule of 48 games in 2007, with Fukuoka finishing in 7th place.

2008 & 2009
THE VETERAN & THE LONG ROAD OF RECOVERY

The next year had a great challenge for him when Fukuoka signed veteran Motohiro Yoshida from Cerezo Osaka, who was Cerezo’s regular keeper in 2005 when the champions trophy slipped trough their hands and was grabbed by rival Gamba Osaka in the last seconds.

Kamiyama played the first two games, but fell behind Yoshida only to return in matchday twelve and promptly got eleven goals put against him in the next four games. He stood between the posts for twenty games till Sanfrecce put four past him on matchday 32 (0:4).

It was to be Kamiyama’s last game before a long and rocky road that was lying in wait for him.

In a training session at Gannosu Recreation Center in October 2008, he suffered a meniscal lesion in his right knee, so season 2008 was over for him. In February 2009, still in the stage of recovery, Kamiyama suffered an even more severe injury with a rupture of his right cruciate ligament.

These two injuries combined to force him into a long break and a long rehabilitation, so he missed the whole 2009 J2 season battling these injuries and working hard on his comeback.

2010
THE COMEBACK & GREAT SUCCESS

After he overcame his bad injury, Kamiyama was ready for season 2010, but it was the time for young Yuji Rokutan to show his potential, so “Gori” sat on the bench at the beginning of the year. Rokutan held his position between the posts for eleven games, but sloppy performances against FC Gifu (0-1) and Mito HollyHock (0-2) gave coach Yoshiyuki Shinoda something to think about, so 610 days after the accident in training, 610 days without a single game Kamiyama returned to the pitch of the Level5-Stadium in the Kyushu-Derby versus Sagan Tosu. Avispa lost 0-1, but Kamiyama showed a good comeback. He had no chance for Tosu’s goal which came from a Kim Min-Woo corner headed in by centre back Kosuke Kitani.

Avispa lost the next game versus Ehime FC as well, but Shinoda held on to Kamiyama and “Gori” paid back his coach. In his 26 games after the loses to Tosu and Ehime, Avispa won 17 and only lost four to make their way back to J1 in 2011.

2011
A TERRIBLE YEAR IN J1

2011 was a hard year for the club and Kamiyama again. 13 goals against in the first six games of the season sent Kamiyama to the bench once again, but just for one game. Yuji Rokutan started in the following game against Jubilo Iwata, but they put the ball past him four times, so Shinoda gave Kamiyama another chance to prove himself. After suffering five goals against versus Nagoya Grampus and another three against Cerezo Osaka, he lost his place between the posts for three months again.

Back in the goal for matchday 26 versus Ventforet Kofu, Avispa won three games out of the last nine with “Gori” in nets, but couldn’t avoid relegation after a 1-3 defeat against Albirex Niigata on matchday 30 and ended the season with a massive 1-7 defeat against Cerezo Osaka in the last game.

In total, Kamiyama had to get the ball out of the net 41 times in 17 matches, which is clearly not a good number! Avispa in total got 75 goals against in 2011.

 

2012
MANY GAMES BUT LESS POINTS

You are an Avispa fan? Remember 2012? Of course you don’t, because you successfully forgot it. Sorry to remind you of the worst year in Avispa’s history…

Kamiyama played for the first 31 games, but when the year went on and the results were getting worse, coach Koji Maeda put him on the bench and replaced him with Kohei Kawata, who was signed on loan from Gamba Osaka for one season.

With Kawata in ten games between the posts, Avispa didn’t win a single one, with four draws and six loses. After five games in these ten, Kamiyama was even “banned” from the squad. Maeda’s last game as Avispa-Coach (0-1 vs Oita Trinita) was also Ryuichi’s last game outside the squad.

New coach Futoshi Ikeda put some trust back into Kamiyama and called him back up in the squad replacing Eita Kasagawa as keeper on the bench.

After losing to Kyoto Sanga FC and the fourth defeat in a row, Ikeda gave Kamiyama the last game of the season against Gainare Tottori, but Avispa lost this one 1-2 in the last minute and finished 2012 in 18th place.

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2013
AN OLD FRIEND & THE CRAZY ONE VS KUMAMOTO

It was a start from zero for Avispa and also Kamiyama started the year without knowing if he would be the first-choice goalkeeper for the season.

Avispa signed a well-known face for 2013. It was Yuichi Mizutani, who left Avispa for Kashiwa Reysol back in 2007, so Kamiyama trained with his mentor from his early Avispa days again.

Ryuichi won the fight in the pre-season and started the season as the first-choice keeper. After two wins against Tokyo Verdy (1-0) and Montedio Yamagata (2-1), three loses in a row followed. After the row of loses, Marijan Pusnik put his trust into Mizutani and Kamiyama was number two once again.

On matchday 17, Avispa hosted Roasso Kumamoto for one of the craziest games in J.League-History. A cards galore for Avispa and a goal against them in the 101st (!) minute! Kamiyama didn’t even take part, but with a look at the goalkeeper situation, the late minutes at the second half of the game had a big impact on that.

Yuichi Mizutani suffered an injury and had to leave after a long time lying on the pitch, but Avispa already did all three substitutions at that time of the game, so an outfield player had to keep the goal clean. Hisashi Jogo, who celebrated his professional debut together with Kamiyama in the Emperor’s Cup game back in 2005, did a fine job, but couldn’t do anything against Fabio’s late equalizer for Roasso.

After medical examinations it was clear that Mizutani suffered a rupture of his achilles tendon which took him out of action for five months, so “Gori” was the man for the rest of the season, just missing two games till season’s end. One after a red card in the game against Vissel Kobe (0-4) and the other one was the comeback and the last game of Mizutani for Avispa against Ehime FC (2-2).

2014
ANOTHER NEW FACE, ANOTHER NEW OPPONENT

Another season and another new face in the Avispa three man goalkeeper team as Keisuke Shimizu joined the team from Kyushu neighbour Oita Trinita on another loan deal for one year.

This time, Shimizu was no big deal for Kamiyama to handle so it was not that much of a rollercoaster-like year for him.

He just missed six games that season with the away game against Jubilo Iwata and a five games in a row-mental break for him after Avispa’s total 2-5 blackout at home against V-Varen Nagasaki, where Nagasaki passed him five times in the first half and was leading 0-3 after just 13 minutes into the game.

2015
THE YOUNG GUN & GREAT SPORTSMANSHIP

In 2015, Kamiyama went into the season still the Number one, but new coach Masami Ihara brought a bit of pressure with him from Kashiwa Reysol. Kosuke Nakamura, youth-international with huge potential, was signed on a loan deal for one season.

Like in 2008, Kamiyama “survived” just the first two games after five goals against him and had to step behind Eita Kasagawa for the third game in Sapporo after Avispa lost both games. Drawing 1-1, Fukuoka was near their first point of the season against Consadole, but Kasagawa showed a massive fail in the 89th minute when he passed the ball, with no pressure at all, to Consadole’s Akito Fukumoto, who had no problem to score into an empty net from nearly 50 yards out.

Back between the posts after this embarrassment, “Gori” helped Avispa start an unbeaten run.

After six games unbeaten, Avispa traveled to Iwata to play Jubilo (Like in 2014, no playing time for him in Iwata). Maybe to give Kamiyama a rest in this midweek game, Ihara gave Nakamura a chance and he put in a massive performance. Nakamura injured both of his wrists soon after, so it was Kamiyama stood in for another 13 games, but after missing the next game in Omiya, he came back as number two behind the outstanding Nakamura.

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Kosuke Nakamura

Kamiyama showed great sportsmanship when he had to step behind Nakamura, but like a mentor, he supported him in any way through out the rest of the year and it didn’t look like he had a problem with his role as Number two again, like he put his own goals behind the success of the team. Nakamura was fantastic and was a big part of Avispa’s promotion back to J1 with 13 clean sheets in 20 games.

2016
ANOTHER CHALLENGE & ANOTHER COMEBACK

After Kosuke Nakamura had to leave Fukuoka and head back home (becoming Kashiwa’s number one) and teammate Kasagawa was released after seven years to find a new home in Singapore, there was a good chance for Kamiyama to become the first choice keeper once again, but Avispa gave him two new faces to compete with, one of them was to be a pretty big challenge which arrived pretty late on the shores of Kyushu.

Avispa signed former South Korean international Lee Beom-Young from K-League’s relegated side Busan I’Park and Montedio Yamagata’s Akishige Kaneda. Not good circumstances for “Gori” to get a lot of playing time this season and he was just the third choice for the first five league games, but somehow he managed to pass the 199 cm tall Lee and made it to be first choice again.

His first game in 2016 was on April 20th against Vegalta Sendai in the  League Cup, where teams like to give second-choice players a chance to shine. But the game in which Ryuichi shined was on July 13th. FC Tokyo visited the Level5 for J1’s second stage matchday three and he saved Avispa numerous times in an important 2-1 victory with many great saves. It was like he just waited so long for this game and wanted the fans to show what he is capable of.

Unluckily, Lee passed Ryuichi again after Avispa suffered four defeats in a row, so the 2-3 home defeat versus Jubilo Iwata on August 24th was his last game for Avispa so far and he will have to climb the mountain he climbed so many times in his career once again.

Ok, that is the story of Ryuichi Kamiyama’s rollercoaster career.

His own club and its coaches challenged him every single season, but he took and mastered them all! Every season a new “opponent” he had to face, he had to overcome. He is maybe not the goalkeeper with the greatest abilities on this globe, but he is the gentle giant of this club with a great heart and that is why all Avispa fans love him. Show me an Avispa fan who wants Kamiyama out of the club. You won’t find a single one.

Let’s see what 2017 will bring for him.

Can he becoming the main One again? I’m sure, because he’s got a great character and it seems like the word “patient” was created just for him. He will work his way to the spot in the Avispa goal no matter who the club brings into Gannosu Recreation Center. Kamiyama will accept the challenge and will find a way to win it.

As I mentioned, he is not blessed with the greatest abilities under the sun, but he’s got a trademark save and which J.League keeper can say that?

It’s the Kami-Save (神セーブ), the god-like save (“kami” literally means “god” in Japanese). Even the commentators at the games know that and give great saves this nickname.

Keep that in mind and and i am sure will hear it again soon.

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