Japanese Non-league Football News

JFL Team Profile - Tochigi SC

2006 was without much doubt the single most important season that Tochigi SC have faced in their history. Towards the end of the previous year, the club announced that they had made an approach to the prefectural government to request council and local business support in making a final push for J2 membership, and subsequently established a public company to oversee necessary developments that will enable them to achieve their target of a place in J2.

In fact, in many ways Tochigi SC can be seen as a test case for similarly-ranked clubs seeking to become fully paid-up members of the pro game. Their infrastructure and support are good – the average home crowd in 2006 stood at more than 2000 - and they have an excellent stadium in the beautiful Tochigi Green. There are no other sides in their home prefecture even close to their level, the nearest being Hitachi Tochigi Uva in the Kanto League, which means that all attention locally can be focused on just the one organisation.

But while there are reasons to believe that the club might have a successful future, their history now stretches back more than fifty years. It was in 1953 that they were formed as Tochigi Teachers Soccer Group, who in 1982 began a sporadic participation in the Kanto League that lasted over a period of a decade.

Back in the Prefectural League in 1994, the team changed their name to Tochigi SC - but in 1999, when the JFL was reorganised, they happened to take a first-ever Kanto League title in nail-biting fashion, on goal difference from local top dogs Luminozo Sayama. Even though this was Tochigi's first season back in the Regional League, they nevertheless then went on to claim a pair of 1-0 wins over NTT Kyushu and Sagawa Kyubin Osaka in the First Round of the Play-offs, subsequently gaining promotion to the JFL alongside Alo’s Hokuriku from the Hokushinetsu region.

After taking some time to find their feet in the third tier, prior to 2006 the team had been gradually improving their results year-on-year. By 2003, the club were established in mid-table above the habitual strugglers - and two seasons later they even led the division in mid-term, when striker Manabu Wakabayashi was the league's top scorer prior to being poached by goal-shy J1 outfit Omiya Ardija.

Tochigi eventually finished fourth, but to the disappointment of their developing fanbase rather lost their way in an inconsistent 2006, thanks partly to a lack of goals caused by the failure to replace Wakabayashi. Defeats to lower-ranking teams like Sagawa Printing and Arte Takasaki in particular were scarcely results about which an ambitious, go-ahead club would be proud and they ended more than twenty points off the pace of champions Honda FC. Failure, too, to be granted the requisite J-League associate membership has meant that the schedule for promotion has slipped a year - although this status was achieved prior to the 2007 season - but Tochigi are nevertheless set up for a major battle with the other sides throughout Japan who are hoping to follow Tokushima Vortis, Thespa Kusatsu and Ehime FC up from the JFL.

So, can Tochigi SC bring professional football to the one remaining Kanto-area prefecture to be without a J-League team? Although Rosso Kumamoto must be considered the frontrunners and there is an expanding field of alternative candidates, Tochigi may not be all that far behind.

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