Please note that the Japanese names in these posts are written in Japanese order, i.e. Family Name followed by Given Name

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Women's Football in Tohoku since 2011

The Past

In early March of 2011, Japan's national women's team travelled to Portugal for the Algarve Cup as part of their preparation for the upcoming FIFA Women's World Cup in Germany, while an U-19 selection travelled to Russia for an international tournament. Both of these national teams featured players from the two teams affected by the tsunami on March 11th - TEPCO Mareeze and the JFA Academy Fukushima.

Due to the destruction of the Academy's facilities in the J-Village, the JFA's national training centre, they were forced to move to Gotenba in Shizuoka Prefecture. TEPCO were naturally in no position to continue to run a women's football team and Mareeze were disbanded, with the players who had worked in the nuclear power plant moving to other clubs around Japan and abroad.
The six prefectures of Tohoku and some of the locations relevant to this piece
Kesennuma City, March 12th, 2011
Kesennuma City, March 12th, 2011
The author's former home, March 12th, 2011
Kesennuma's Okawa River, April 14th, 2011
The start of the league season in Japan was delayed and attendances were down, but the unexpected victory for the Nadeshiko Japan side in July led to an enormous growth of interest in women's football, with a record crowd of 24,546 at Albirex Niigata Ladies' home game against INAC Kobe Leonessa on August 6th.

Later in the year J.League club Vegalta Sendai announced that they would take control of TEPCO Mareeze's operations, beginning a new life in the Challenge League, the Japan Women's Football League's second tier. The response from the public was overwhelming, with 6,532 attending their first home game in the Yurtec Stadium. Their opponents fittingly were the girls of local Tokiwagi Gakuen High School. In an unbeaten season, Vegalta Sendai Ladies won the Challenge League and were promoted into the Nadeshiko League. Meanwhile, the national team won silver at the Olympic Games in London.

Part of the display in the Japan Football Museum commemorating the national team's win
in the 2011 FIFA Women's World Cup
Vegalta Sendai Ladies' Yamamoto Risa and Yasumoto Sawako
celebrate a goal against Ehime FC Ladies
July 22nd, 2012 in Matsushima
Sameshima Aya addresses the crowd before her first match for Vegalta Sendai Ladies
on September 16th, 2012

A crowd of 8,658 attended the match between Vegalta Sendai Ladies and AC Parceiro Nagano Ladies - a record attendance for a league game outside the top division
The Vegalta Sendai Ladies starting XI for their final match of the 2012 Challenge League season
Back, L-R: Osafune Kana, Kakazu Asuka, Ono Hitomi, Ideue Asako,
Sameshima Aya, Amano Misaki
Front, L-R: Takahashi Nana, Uetsuji Yumi, Nakamura Mami, Ito Minako, Shimokozuru Aya

All of these players had been members of TEPCO Mareeze prior to the disaster

The Present

Vegalta Sendai Ladies has established themselves in the Nadeshiko League and in 2014 created a new youth side. Both men's and women's teams organise and run football events for children throughout Miyagi. The JFA Academy Fukushima remains in Shizuoka, where it has been based since the destruction of the J-Village training centre in Fukushima. It is hoped that the centre can reopen in 2018. Outside of league football, there has been an increase in the number of youth teams, collegiate teams and also more schools have created clubs for girls.

The JFA Academy Fukushima starting XI for their match against Tokiwagi Gakuen High School
May 3rd, 2014 in Matsushima
Tokiwagi Gakuen High School (in green) host the Japan Soccer College Ladies on the new artificial pitch in Matsushima (October 5th, 2014)
Tohoku's leading collegiate side, Sendai University (in red) take on Seiwa Gakuen High School, three-time national schools' champions in the regional championship final (October 11th, 2014)

Support for the region has come from around Japan and indeed the world, as detailed below. Construction and recovery in the area continues daily.

In a boys' U-15 tournament in Tohoku, Miyagi (in green) take on Iwate. FC Bayern München and Adidas invited several teams from the affected region to Germany in 2014. FC Barcelona also invited local children to visit, and support has come from teams around the world

One of the most severely damaged cities was Rikuzentakata City in southeastern Iwate
The land in this city and in others is being raised quite significantly
Construction facilities in Rikuzentakata City, February 2015. This facility significantly reduces the amount of time needed to move earth and sand from one place to another
This lone pine tree was the only survivor among thousands of trees along the coastline.
Due to the nearby seawater it had to be uprooted, preserved and restored
A youth tournament is held in Rikuzentakata's redeveloped pitch
while construction continues around it
Sawa Homare was heavily involved in organising charity events such as the
Sawa and Friends X'mas Night 2012 match in Tokyo.
Sawa was also instrumental in the redevelopment of this pitch in Rikuzentakata
A signed jersey and letter of support from Cristiano Ronaldo in the Takata FC clubhouse
The World Cup trophy visited Rikuzentakata on April 12th, 2014, along with a selection of former players pictured here playing the local boys of Takata FC. Their coach died in the tsunami and they were one of the teams invited to Germany by FC Bayern München. There is no girls' team, and so two local girls have now joined Mizusawa United FC Princess further west

The Future
The recovery will take many years, and sport will be part of that recovery. It was announced on March 2nd that Kamaishi City will be one of the venues for the 2019 Rugby World Cup, and a new stadium will be built. The Olympic Games will be hosted by Tokyo in 2020, and it is planned that Miyagi Stadium, will host some of the football games. Japan intends bidding for the 2023 FIFA Women's World Cup, and again Miyagi Stadium would be expected to host some games.

The national team is now back in Portugal for the Algarve Cup, with the World Cup to come in a few months. Schools and universities will welcome a new intake in April and the football season will begin once again.
The number of women's teams (left y-axis, blue) and players (right y-axis, pink) registered with the JFA since 1979. After a few years with no growth the numbers have begun to increase since the World Cup win in 2011
Miyagi Stadium in Rifu, north of Sendai. Nadeshiko League and Challenge League matches are held here, as were matches in the 2012 FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup. It is planned that this stadium will also host Olympic matches in 2020

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