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JFL Team Profile - Ryutsu Keizai University

As a general rule, clubs within the JFL fall into two categories as far as their organisation and financing is concerned. On the one hand, there are the corporate sides like Honda FC, Mitsubishi Mizushima and Sagawa Kyubin SC, who receive their backing mostly or entirely from a parent company, from which they may or may not be legally independent.

Alternatively, there are what one might describe as community-based sides such as Tochigi SC, SC Tottori and FC Kariya, whose development is in many ways reliant upon their attracting support from among the population of a specific area, and upon forming good relationships with local government and a range of local business sponsors.

Built into the Play-off mechanism by which clubs gain promotion into the JFL, however, is the possibility for a third type of team to find a place amongst the elite of the Japanese semi-pro game. On occasions – although this in fact didn’t happen in 2006 – the All-Nippon University FA nominate a candidate from amongst their membership to participate in the Regional League Championship Winners’ Play-off competition, alongside eleven or twelve teams from the nine Regional Leagues.

The recent progress to the JFL of Ibaraki-based Ryutsu Keizai University – RKU for short, or the University of Transportation Economics, to give them their English name – has thus taken place not through the regular Prefectural and Regional Leagues, but instead via the parallel structure of college football. The two routes are mostly separate up to the point of the play-offs and indeed, aside from the Albirex Niigata-affiliated Japan Soccer College, there are only a handful of examples of sides in the Regional Leagues representing educational institutions.

RKU entered the Ibaraki Prefecture University League after having been formed in 1965 – but it wasn’t until the late 90s that things really started to happen for the club. The appointment as coach in 1998 of former Mito Hollyhock boss Yuuji Nakano was the catalyst and later the same year, his team gained promotion to the Kanto University League Division 2. They were immediately relegated back to prefectural level, but the end of 2001 saw RKU battle their way through the Play-offs into the Kanto University League again.

Quickly becoming more accustomed to regional football, Nakano’s outfit were promoted having won the Division 2 title in 2003 – and at the end of a successful 2004 in Division 1, RKU were put forward by the All-Nippon University FA as the university candidates for a possible place in the JFL. In the First Round of the Regional League Play-offs, TDK and the military men of Kanto Leaguers MSDF Atsugi Marcus proved no obstacle to the students from Ibaraki - and the following week, a 3-1 win in their final match against Luminozo Sayama confirmed a surprise promotion.

Making their JFL debut in 2005, then, RKU were for the majority of the campaign rooted to thirteenth position – fourth from bottom – a long way behind the next weakest team, SC Tottori. Things were very similar the following year, but the club just had enough to stay out of the bottom two, despite such results as an 8-0 hammering at home to Sagawa Kyubin Tokyo.

The problem for Yuuji Nakano and his players is that in the coming seasons more and more JFL clubs are likely to have the resources to put in improved performances. Ryutsu Keizai University’s task is simply to try and remain competitive at this level, as the make up of the third tier changes around them. And that may be a challenge too far.
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