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JFL Team Profile - Honda FC

Based just down the road from J1 giants Jubilo Iwata, Honda FC have long been one of the traditional powerhouses of the Japanese non-league game and indeed can perhaps be considered to be the strongest club never to have moved into the J-League. They were formed in 1971 and quickly went up through the Shizuoka Prefectural League to the Tokai League, where Honda won the title in both 1973 and 1974.

At that time, however, Regional League success was unconnected with gaining JSL status. It was instead as a result of having won the 1974 All-Japan Shakaijin that the Reds took part in a Promotion / Relegation Play-off against the bottom team in Division 2 of the JSL, Ibaraki Hitachi, who were duly dispatched 3-1 on aggregate.

Winning the divisional title in 1978, Honda lost a Play-off to Furukawa Electrics, but in 1980 they triumphed again and on this occasion, automatic promotion to the top flight followed. Over the next decade, the team were mostly to be found in low mid-table, their highest finish being a couple of third spots, but in 1992, the club game in Japan was drastically overhauled as the J-League was established and the JSL re-organised into the JFL.

Despite a wobble when they were relegated for a single year into the short-lived JFL Division 2, Honda then began to emerge as real contenders among teams like Consadole Sapporo and Montedio Yamagata, who by that time were preparing for life in J2. The Reds’ first JFL title was duly picked up in 1996 - Vissel Kobe ended up second and Tokyo Gas, the corporate forerunners to FC Tokyo, third - and indeed since the JFL was further re-constituted in 1999, the club have on only one occasion finished outside the top two.

With subsequent JFL championship crowns in 2001, 2002 and a comfortable win in 2006, Honda have much to be proud of in terms of on-the-field success, as well as having earned a reputation as a developer of young footballing talent. But despite all these considerable strengths, there has nevertheless come to be something of a question mark hanging over the future of Honda FC.

This uncertainty stems from their parent company's corporate stance in refusing to finance a J-League bid (in fact, Honda have actively turned down places in J2 that were available to them). The environment around the club has begun to change rapidly and, in specifically aiming for the J-League, many of Honda's JFL rivals have adopted a very different view of the idea of the development of club football in Japan.

One wonders, therefore, if the corporation's unwillingness to make a further financial commitment will have an impact upon the calibre of players that their football team are able to attract, thus eroding the club's strength on the pitch. Players still hoping for a career among the professionals - who in the past might have been keen to go to Honda after finishing university, say - would potentially be more interested now in ambitious teams like Tochigi SC, Rosso Kumamoto or even SC Tottori.

Looking further ahead, an additional difficulty for Honda might come in the form of league re-organisation, something which in the past they have been able to ride to their advantage. It is not too hard to imagine a scenario in a few years' time where the majority of JFL clubs are effectively waiting their turn to get into an expanded J-League, potentially leaving Honda high and dry as some kind of last bastions of amateurism.
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