Yokohama is a big port, renowned for its merchant as well as military activities. It’s also less than 20 minutes from Tokyo, so when its major football team, Yokohama F Marinos, play in the Japanese capital, it’s a local derby.
Yokohama and Saitama are arguably better qualified football locations than Tokyo and that may have been why the World Cup Final of 2002 was played in Yokohama.
If you’re in town, you just have to pay a visit to one of the venues where footballing history was made. Brazil 2 Germany 0, the climax of an undistinguished World Cup, although the competition did a lot for the development of football in Japan and South Korea.
It’s a mighty stadium, with a capacity of over 70,000 and a presence about it that suggests great things can happen here. A monument to the 2002 competition lets you know that the Nissan Stadium, or to use its proper name, The International Stadium, once hosted the World Cup. It has also been used for the FIFA Club World Cup.
It is also the main home ground of the Yokohama F Marinos. On the route to the stadium, there are strategically-planted messages in the pavement that tell you you’re on the road to their home. “Marinos” means sailor in Spanish, apparently, so the club is keeping in line with the city’s maritime heritage.
The Marinos are one of the best supported sides in the J-League, attracting an average of 20,000 people to their home games. That said, gates are more than 26% down on last season as Marinos have started the J-League campaign inconsistently after a campaign that saw them finish runners-up in the league win the Emperor’ Cup and reach the semi-finals of the J-League Cup.
But they are making progress in the AFC Champions League having just beaten Sou Korea’s Jeonbuk Motors 2-1 in the Nissan to keep alive their hopes of a place in the next stage of Asia’s equivalent of the UEFA Champions League. Only 7,000 watched the game on April 15. The group, which also includes China’s Guangzhou Evergrande (the holders) and Melbourne Victory of Australia, is wide open, with all four teams on seven points from five games. The Marinos go to China on April 22.
The Marinos had to thank Manabu Saito for a two-goal salvo that turned the game around after the Koreans had taken an early lead. Saito, a busy midfielder, is one of the players vying for a place in Japan’s World Cup squad for Brazil. He’s also likely to be playing in Germany next season.
The Marinos are not the only team in Yokohama, however. There’s Yokohama FC, who were formed in response to the merger of the Marinos with Yokohama Fluegels. And the F in Fluegel is where Yokohama F Marinos gets its 1980s-style middle name ( when it was fashionable to have your middle name on your business card as an initial…and if you didn’t have one, you made it up!). Yokohama FC play in the second tier of Japanese football, and in the shadow of the Marinos.
One thing that struck me was that the Marinos seem extremely well marketed. And you get the feeling that Japanese football is definitely in the ascendancy, and I am sure we will hear a lot about the Marinos in the years to come. As for that stadium, it looks great…but even at 20,000 a game, the fans must rattle about a bit…