J. Therapy – Kyoto Sanga

It’s not whether you get knocked down, it’s whether you get up”. This might be a motivational catchphrase you head many, many times, but there’s a layer of truth underneath it. It’s tough to have success, but it’s way harder to get it back after you stumbled: a lesson which several football teams have learned the hard way.

Just look at J2 League: with the expansion of Japanese football and the increased success of new clubs, some realities fell out of favor and started a long period of stagnation in terms of results. Clubs who were once at the pinnacle of the football hierarchy are now stuck in this purgatory. And some of them have been there for a really long time, more than we could actually realize.

Our column, “J. Therapy”, is about them. We picked four clubs, invited four fans to talk about them, like we’re trying to talk it out: the despairs of the past, the grim reality and the hopes for a better future. All condensed in one piece, where we go through how a club lost its magic, when all broke down and how they could or should find better ways to get back on its feet.

In the first three episodes, we talked about the misfortunes of JEF United Chiba, Omiya Ardija and Tokyo Verdy, but for the last episode of this column, we move to a team which could actually break the spell, once and for all. Kyoto Sanga have seen a lot after more than a decade in J2, but we chatted with Nick Bolton – also known as @UKSangaUltra on Twitter– to understand more about the past events and ventures in Kyoto.

Last day in J1? December 4, 2010: it’s the same day of the last success, a 2-0 home win against FC Tokyo, who got then relegated because of that loss. Fun fact: they’ll have a rematch not only in J2, but also in the 2011 Emperor’s Cup final.

Could you describe how it was and what it meant for the fans to see Sanga in J1?

Unfortunately, I haven’t been in Japan long enough to have experienced Sanga in J1. However, it is a historical club and deserves to be a J1 club… the stadium, the fans, the infrastructure are all there for the club to be a staple of J1.

What was the key-factor which pushed Sanga to relegation back in 2010?

Again, I wasn’t there at the time, but the consensus in that the management at the time was poor and Sanga haven’t been able to escape J2 since.

The best memory of this decade in J2?

My favorite memory personally is a final day away trip to Sanuki in 2018, during which there was no fear of relegation and no chance of promotion so a completely stress-free experience.

I was able to fully enjoy the trip, the food and the experience with my friends in the Miyako Unison Ultras: on a beautiful day, Sanga ended up winning 2-0. It’s a cherished memory for me.

The worst memory of this time in J2?

The worst memory absolutely has to be the 13-1 loss of the final day of 2019 to Kashiwa Reysol. I felt physically sick when I saw the score line. I was just lucky I couldn’t make the away trip that day. It would have been ten times worse.

It’s a pity that a city like Kyoto couldn’t enjoy J1 football for over a decade. This year has been promising until now, but what do you think could it be the right way for Sanga to come back to J1?

I think the way back to J1 for Kyoto may be coming soon. The squad has plenty of depth and quality players. There is great leadership from the likes of Jordy Buijs and a great team chemistry.

If Sanga aren’t able to do it this year, then the club have to try and keep the best players and build on the quality of the squad to finally get there.


And this was the fourth and last episode of “J. Therapy”, for which we can only thank Nick. This colum has brought us a little bit more inside the problems of J2 perennial clubs. Some might stay, some might go – either up or down –, but it was a nice journey to discover more about the past of these historical clubs. See you soon with further content and stories to tell!

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