Now this is an interesting case. A club that was seemingly on the way up but now finds itself struggling a bit to get to grips with life in the third tier. Ironically, Giravanz are the envy of many clubs after building a brand new, football specific stadium located close to the centre of their city – their new Mikuni World Stadium is about 10 minutes on foot from the nearby transportation hub of Kokura Station – but on the pitch has been where the story diverges from happy tales off it.
To get more on this complex situation in Kitakyushu, we spoke to Kitakyushu resident and Giravanz follower @AnIrishTrueBlue (the “true blue” part is in homage to a European club, not Kitakyushu’s goalkeeper shirt…..I think) to find out what the deal is.
1. Just a general question, how popular is football in Kitakyushu? It seems that even when the team was doing well but based at Honjo, there was little interest. Have you noticed a change this year?
Football in Kitakyushu is very stagnant to be honest. There was a lot of focus on pushing for J1 last year and that sent the early season hopes & expectations to the moon. Those hopes soon came down and brought us all back to ground though. For now, the J3 image is acting as a deterrent to younger fans. Older fans are a constant however. We have averaged above 4000 fans a home game this year, which is better than Honjo (to be fair, the location of our new stadium is perfect). But if you compare that average crowd to the record crowd we had on the first day, it leaves a lot to be desired.
2. A lot of focus has been on the new stadium. How has it been?
The stadium is the bees knees. A wonderful, beautifully crafted and very impressive stadium. I’ve sat in the stadium for both rugby and soccer, having watched sports from all sides of the ground it is a pleasure from any angle. The location right on the ocean did mean it got a bit chilly on opening day and I expect winter won’t be fun.
3. Lots of people expected this year to be a “yellow battle” (I might have just made up that phrase, actually) between Giravanz & Tochigi for the J3 title, but so far Giravanz have struggled a bit. Why is that?
We don’t like to travel! Our away from is absolutely diabolical and some of the results we have had at home have shocked me. We have (at times) played some great football at Mikuni World Stadium but even a bird has to leave it’s nest to eat. Looking at our squad’s quality, we should be doing better in this league… but a combination of new signings failing to adapt, lack of leadership (Masashi Motoyama, Kazuya Maeda) and perhaps a slight sense of entitlement from some of our players. Either way we are facing a critical point in the club’s long term future. We need to turn this form around and push more intently for promotion. On top of that, taking the quality of Kazuki Hara (the striker who moved to J2 side Kamatamare Sanuki in the winter) out of any team outside of J1 was bound to have a negative impact on the team as a whole.
4. If Giravanz are to get their stuff together, which players will have to play better than they have been doing?
Losing Hara at the start of the season left me very worried about the potential for a severe lack of goals. However, for now, Tomoki Ikemoto is doing his best to keep us firing. Our midfield is being overrun game after game and in the absence of Motoyama we are being outplayed away from home. I would expect an awful lot more from Shota Inoue in midfield. The man has a gift to use but just does not use it enough, it is very frustrating. Sho Hanai came in with huge expectations and has failed to live up to it. When you add this to Shoma Mizunaga’s dominance over Shoki Hirai in terms of selection & performance, it becomes very easy to see we need to get more goal contributions from these players.
5. Promotion: Yay or Nay?
Promotion… to J1 right? Well at least that was the expectation last year. Sadly things have taken a turn for the worse and we find ourselves fighting for a glimmer of promotion in J3. If seasons were decided on only home games I would expect us to go straight back up to J2. However… our away form (something which was also terrible last year) is just not up to scratch. I discussed this a little with @giravanzwombat and whereas he feels we are in for a chance to grab 2nd place, I think we will fall short in our fight to return to J2… unless Hirai, Hanai and Inoue up their game in the next few weeks and months and push us back into the rays of hope and contention.