Japanese Non-league Football News

JFL Team Profile - YKK AP

On paper one of the outsiders of the JFL, Toyama-based company outfit YKK AP have nevertheless proved themselves to be a very competitive side over the last few seasons. A solid upper mid-table team since their arrival in the division in 2001, a remarkable thirteen wins in the last seventeen matches of 2005 nevertheless saw them rise to a shock second place finish, ahead of more fancied teams like Honda FC and Tochigi SC.

YKK began 2006 where they had left off, storming to the top of the league on the back of seven straight victories including a 7-1 drubbing of relegation-bound Honda Lock. A mid-season slump meant that they were unable to keep up with the blistering form of Honda and Sagawa Kyubin Tokyo, but they bounced back to secure fourth position and maintain a role as consistently one of the stronger sides outside of the professional ranks.

Despite this comparative success, the club's parent company have never shown any indication that they wish to take the necessary steps to support a bid for J-League membership. Tentative discussions instigated in 2005 by the Toyama FA into the possibility of creating a “Toyama United” J-League candidate via a merger between YKK AP and local rivals Alo’s Hokuriku came to nothing at the time and there have been no subsequent signs of any more developments in that area.

Under these circumstances, it's hard to see where YKK AP can go in the coming seasons, but their past is longer than that of most clubs at this level. They date back to 1962, formed in Kurobe City by a subsidiary of the YKK corporation (the AP stands for Architectural Products - they make things like doors and window frames), and registered with the prefectural FA in 1969. Three years later, YKK won the Toyama Prefectural League and then in 1975 the club joined the inaugural Hokushinetsu League.

In 1988, the company rather proudly imported two Brazilian players to boost the team and from the early 90s onwards, YKK AP strengthened further their position as one of the forces in the Hokushinetsu region - along with Alo's Hokuriku and the then Albireo Niigata - winning the league in total on eleven occasions and only once finishing outside the top four. But this was scarcely one of Japan’s footballing hotbeds and the local champions always struggled in competition on the national stage, causing a bottleneck as the top three dominated each season in Hokushinetsu but could not make the step up into the JFL.

Matters began to improve in the mid-90s, however, and by the end of the decade both Albirex Niigata and Alo’s had won promotion. YKK finally followed in their footsteps in 2000, emerging undefeated from a season of matches against the likes of Fukui Teachers and Nissei Resin to finish second in the Final Stage of the Regional league Championship Winners’ Play-off tournament.

A 7-0 win over Yokogawa FC was the highlight of a promising 2001 campaign, with new star striker Mitsuru Hasegawa making an immediate impact. Indeed, Hasegawa has remained a key figure in YKK's squad and in 2005 was named a member of the prestigious JFL's Best Eleven end-of-season team, alongside team-mates midfielder Takeshi Ushibana and defender Yuki Hamano, the latter of whom even managed to retain the honour for the following season. But more broadly, one must wonder what the longer-term future holds for YKK AP as the development of the professional game continues around them.

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