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From Yamaguchi To The J-League
The 2005 season saw the Yamaguchi Teachers club struggle to give a good account of themselves in the Chugoku League. With just one win throughout their league campaign, unsurprisingly the men in orange finished bottom of the table and it was only the narrowest of play-off victories over New Nippon Oil Mizushima in December that enabled them to avoid the drop down to the Yamaguchi Prefectural League for the forthcoming season.

But despite this, the football bug is biting hard across the south and west of Japan. The Kyushu League has emerged as the most competitive Regional League in recent years, from which Rosso Kumamoto and FC Ryukyu have both emerged to this year's JFL with a clear eye on bringing professional, J-League football to their corners of the country. In 2006, V Varen Nagasaki and New Wave Kitakyushu will both be fighting hard to make the same jump, looking to the likes of Ehime FC and Tokushima Vortis on the island of Shikoku as examples of teams from comparatively remote, provincial cities who have nevertheless organised and developed themselves to take a place in J2.

10 Mar 06 - Yamaguchi Top FC's promo image

Yamaguchi Top FC's promo image

In the Chugoku League, Fagiano Okayama and Shimane's newly-promoted FC Central de Chugoku were seen as the best examples of this new breed of local but ambitious club, aiming in effect to be the J-League franchise for their respective prefectures. The likes of Yamaguchi Teachers have barely featured on any radar of potential pro sides - until now. For the Yamaguchi FA are supporting the development of a team, based upon the Teachers club, that will aim to achieve J2 status in around six to eight years' time.

An initial target for the new team - to be called temporarily Yamaguchi Top FC, although suggestions from the public have been invited for a longer-term name - is to win the Chugoku League in 2006 and so earn a place in the Regional League Championship Winners' Play-off at the end of the year. That means overcoming not only Fagiano and FC Central but also the other strongest teams in the league, 2005 champions Sagawa Kyubin Chugoku and the experienced Hiroshima Fujita SC.

It's with this in mind that the organisers behind Yamaguchi Top have organised a selection process for new players in the middle of March, through which they're seeking to recruit between five and ten additions to the existing Teachers' squad. While it seems unlikely that this will enable them to make up the gap between themselves and even the top of their own Regional League quite so quickly, in fact the management are realistic enough not to be thinking of winning a JFL spot before 2010. So although it all seems somewhat hazy at the moment, the J-League are actively seeking to expand and do have a long-term aim of pro football in every prefecture in Japan. And just maybe, the journey to the big time from one of the most rural parts of the country starts now.
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