Fantasy Football – Fukuoka

“Sliding doors” may be an over-rated concept, but sometimes it makes you think. Think about how things could be different seen from another perspective, especially in a country like Japan, where football is young and pro-football is even younger. J. League has gifted us wonderful histories, but how could this league become if regional criteria would come into play?

We’ve always heard that Kansai and Tokyo metropolitan area are the strongest in this country (with the risk of overpopulation in these areas), but is this true also in football? Looking at which clubs won the title in the last years, you would say “no”: Hiroshima and Ibaraki Prefecture looked good. And a Saitama-based club brought home the continental trophy after being the last one to win it, a decade ago. But it would be the same with Prefecture-based squads?

So we came up with this little fantasy league, where every player is chosen due to his birthplace and so due to his prefecture. It was a strange game, but it led us to a different view of Japanese football. In every episode, we’ll try to visit Japan for what it is, a land with different landscapes and scenarios. We did it also to value everything that this nation can offer: we’re no travel guides, but we may add here and there some general tips for every prefecture, besides their football history until now.

A few rules:

  • Every squad features from 11 to 23 players, depending on the depth of the Prefecture;
  • Not every Prefecture has its own squad, since not everyone of them was able to feature the needed players to form a team;
  • You will find many surprises.

So let’s go with episode no. 7, where we’ll talk about Fukuoka Prefecture.

Among the Japanese Prefectures, Fukuoka may be one of the few which never get mentioned enough, but it’s a key-part of the country. Not so large (29th for area, even behind Prefecture like Ehime, Mie or Shimane), but densely populated (9th for inhabitants, 5 million of people, even more than Shizuoka or Hiroshima), Fukuoka Prefecture is the first place you’ll ever meet in Kyushu Island coming by train from the Chūgoku region. You can reach that through the Kanmon Straits, a little trait of water separating the two regions.

Kitakyushu and Fukuoka are the main towns of the region; you could also associate the homonym city with two famous brands like Bridgestone and Best Denki, which were founded in Fukuoka. And you can’t leave out of this picture Kyushu University, considered among one of the best universities of Japan. Also Yanagawa – called “The Venice of Japan” – and the night view from Mount Sarakura are surely landscapes to visit.

If we’re talking about sports, instead, Fukuoka Prefecture is absolutely thriving in baseball, where the SoftBank Hawks have won four out of the last five titles in the Nippon Professional Baseball League. Also, the basketball team, Rizing Zephyr Fukuoka, is making some waves, while the rugby squads – Coca-Cola Red Sparks and Munakata Sanix Blues – are struggling a little.

And it’s not like football is doing better than them. We all know two teams from that Prefecture: the first one is Avispa Fukuoka, which played nine seasons in J1 League, but only three of them took place in the last 15 years. It hasn’t been easy for Avispa to keep the pace with other realities, although the stadium has a nice vibe and the stint under Masami Ihara was successful, with many players who started from Avispa to launch their careers.

A worst deflection happened to Giravanz Kitakyushu, which surely didn’t expect to celebrate their first-ever game into their new stadium – a jewel near the sea, Mikuni World Stadium Kitakyushu – in J3 League, just after a dreadful relegation. Unfortunately, the results haven’t brought Giravanz back in second division, with 2018 season being the worst ever. Can they recover from this? We hope so, but they give us the opportunity to talk about Fukuoka Prefecture and their players.

If we have to field a starting eleven, we would pick a 4-2-2-2, a strange formation, but fit for our protagonists. The choice of a goalkeeper is probably the hardest one: Fukuoka Prefecture hasn’t offered those many no. 1, so we have to choose Hiroki Mawatari (class ’94), who didn’t play that much at Ehime FC. Unfortunately, Taku Akahoshi – a senator at Sagan Tosu for more than a decade – just retired after a short loan to Tokushima Vortis.

To field a back four, we would pick a mixed bunch. Tatsuya Tanaka (’92) just made a great leap from Roasso Kumamoto to Gamba Osaka, but he should take one for the team and play as a full-back in this case. On the other flank, you would find Yu Tamura (’92), a former Avispa Fukuoka member, who moved to Montedio Yamagata after a brief experience at Urawa Red Diamonds. In the middle, a strange duo: Tatsuya Sakai (’90), who is trying to get back to regular time at Montedio after even playing in the national team (Aguirre, why?) and the future of Japanese football, Takehiro Tomiyasu (’98), who’s just waiting for someone to buy him this Summer.

To play as holding midfielders, we picked two veterans of J. League. On one side, the new member of Cerezo Osaka, Naoyuki Fujita (’87), who lived great season at Sagan Tosu and then found himself lost in Kobe. Alongside him, a player who could have been at a different point of his career right now: Yosuke Ideguchi (’96), who’s still in time to recover from a terrible 2018, when he lost his starting spot for Japan before the World Cup and then suffered a terrible injury during a lucky stint with Greuther Fürth. In that role, you could also play Jun Suzuki (’89), now captain of Avispa Fukuoka.

As wingers or offensive midfielders, we could field two special names. Maybe not so much celebrated, but solid. On the left, Yatsunori Shimaya (’89), who played four wonderful seasons between Renofa Yamaguchi and Tokushima Vortis. Then, last Summer, he moved to Sagan Tosu, where ha hasn’t found the right space on the pitch. On the other flank, Kaoru Takayama (’88), who just broke Shonan fans’ hearts moving to Oita Trinita. He’s a certainly experienced player, who could make into this special starting eleven.

Last but not least, the two strikers. We could have picked a different solution, with a pure “10”, like the captain of FC Tokyo, Keigo Higashi (’90), or former Avispa-Prince of Football, Takeshi Kanamori (‘94). But to represent this Prefecture at its best, we picked Hisashi Jogo (’86), a legend for Avispa Fukuoka and cult hero for J2-lovers. Alongside him, the obvious choice, even if his last two years on the pitch wouldn’t push towards that: Yoshito Ōkubo (’82), the all-time top-scorer for J1 League, probably pissed for how his career panned out after leaving Kawasaki Frontale as a goal machine.

Bench 12 Nakayama (GIR), 21 Nakashima (GRU); 13 Tone (OIT), 14 Obu (ALB), 15 Kumamoto (MON), 16 Y. Tanaka (VEN), 17 J. Suzuki (AVI), 18 Kato (ALB), 19 Shimizu (SFC), 20 Higashi (FCT), 22 Kanamori (KSM), 23 Tagawa (FCT)

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