Japanese Non-league Football News

JFL Team Profile - Sagawa Printing

Although they have some historical corporate ties to the Sagawa Kyubin delivery company, Sagawa Printing are a completely separate organisation from the Sagawa Kyubin clubs that have lined up alongside them in the JFL. At the moment, the club are still too small to start considering J-League entry - average crowds are generally around the 350 mark, towards the lower end of the JFL scale - but there are signs that they may soon take the necessary steps to establish an independent organisational structure, thus making themselves eligible for promotion in the future.

Dating back to 1986 and based in Muko City in Kyoto, Sagawa Printing nevertheless started out in the depths of the Kyoto Prefectural League Division 4, moving up to win Division 2 in 1998 and so gain promotion to Division 1. The club then made a serious effort to improve and were immediately rewarded with a further step up into the Kansai League, which in 2000 was still a single-division competition.

Ironically, Sagawa Kyubin FC (i.e. Sagawa Kyubin Osaka) were the strongest team at that time - but once they had moved up to the JFL at the end of 2001, Printing wasted no time in following suit. 2002 saw them go through the season undefeated - even running in an 8-1 win against NTT Western Japan Kyoto - and once through into the First Round of the Regional League Championship Winners’ Play-off tournament, they eased past Nagano Elsa and Kanto’s Ome FC.

Kansai rivals Ain Food actually beat Printing in the penalty shoot-out between the two in the Second Round, but wins over Shizuoka FC and Volca Kagoshima were still enough to ensure that the club made it through to the final Relegation / Promotion Play-off – the first time such a mechanism had been used since the JFL’s 1999 re-structuring. And so the longest season in Sagawa Printing’s history came down to two matches against Shizuoka Sangyo University, who had had the misfortune to finish fifteenth out of eighteen in the JFL. Goalless draws in both legs stretched out the agony even longer, but the students were defeated in the penalty competition and Printing were up.

For the next few seasons, they made gradual improvements to move away from the lower reaches of the division and in 2005 finished eleventh out of sixteen, their highest final position to date. Prior to the 2006 campaign, club management took the bold step of appointing as coach the highly-regarded Hideki Matsunaga, who emerged onto the Japanese coaching scene most notably via his work at Ventforet Kofu - a side he transformed from no-hopers anchored to the foot of J2 into a solid mid-table outfit, paving the way for their incredible run to promotion at the end of 2005.

Unlikely it may have been that Matsunaga could turn Printing into title challengers, but expectations of a top-half finish in 2006 were perhaps not unrealistic. It was therefore a huge disappointment to wait until round 10 for the new coach to win his first match and the team were consequently stuck to the bottom of the table for some weeks.

Further victories over the likes of rivals Honda Lock and Ryutsu Keizai University eased the pressure on Matsunaga, but he nevertheless stepped down at the end of August. Replacement Katsuki Tanaka was barely more successful and if management had hoped that 2006 would see Sagawa Printing take a major step forward towards becoming significant players in the JFL, they will have felt extremely let down by the results of their investment.

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