Japanese Non-league Football News

JFL Team Profile - JEF Reserves

When the Regional League Championship Winners' Play-off tournament to decide promotion from the Regional Leagues into the JFL began at the end of November 2005, most fans had a clear idea who were the favourites to win through and who were the real outsiders. So the fact that Rosso Kumamoto and their neighbours from Okinawa, FC Ryukyu, lined up as JFL members come the start of the 2006 season will surprise no-one - but the appearance among the elite of Japanese non-league football of JEF United Amateurs (known in 2006 as JEF Club, but now JEF Reserves) was a very different matter.

For as recently as 2002, JEF were embarking upon their first-ever season of competition in their local Prefectural League in Chiba, immediately gaining promotion to the Kanto League Division 2. In 2004, they took the Division 2 title and the following year, after a slow start the team were soon competing well in Division 1 with teams such as Saitama SC and MSDF Atsugi Marcus for second spot behind clear leaders Luminozo Sayama. In the final fixture of the season, JEF clinched a top two finish and a place in the Play-offs thanks to a 5-1 win over YSCC.

The First Round of the Play-offs proved to be nerve-wracking stuff indeed, as the Yellows fought tooth and nail with the favourites - experienced Tohoku League side TDK - for the single qualifying position. Throwing caution to the wind in the last match, however, JEF roared to a 7-0 thrashing of Norbritz Hokkaido to go through on goal difference.

A week later in the Final Stage, a vital 2-0 win over Banditonce Kobe from Kansai set the team off on the right foot and, despite subsequently losing to FC Ryukyu, a goal from Brazilian striker Danilo then helped JEF to a remarkable 2-1 defeat of everyone’s hot tips, Rosso Kumamoto. Second place was good enough and the outsiders were, to the surprise of all, members of the JFL for 2006.

But aside from their success on the pitch, the other facet of the club that to raise eyebrows has been their status as an amateur team under the umbrella of J1 side JEF United. JEF Amateurs were established in 2000, based on the model of German and Italian clubs including within their structures an amateur XI that plays in the lower leagues as a kind of reserve team.

In Japan, however, this is an unusual arrangement - Tokushima Vortis Amateurs are perhaps the only other directly comparable example, given that over in the Hokushinetsu League Japan Soccer College has a role as an educational foundation role within the youth set-up of Albirex Niigata. The hope from JEF United's point of view is that it will help them not only to unearth new young talent to begin with, but also to develop players more quickly to the point where they can make the transition to the ranks of the first team proper.

Once promoted to the JFL in 2006, though, three straight defeats with no goals scored did not exactly constitute a dream start for the then JEF Club - but in what turned out to be an extremely inconsistent year they did achieve some good results, such as a 4-1 defeat of Yokogawa Musashino. The JEF United infrastructure and, ironically, their professionalism gave the amateur club an advantage with which many of the smaller JFL teams could not compete, a finish just below half way representing a perfectly satisfactory year’s work.

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