Japanese Non-league Football News

Tohoku League Team Profile - Grulla Morioka
Grulla Morioka have crammed into their history more drama, excitement, gut-wrenching disappointment, on-the-pitch success and off-the-pitch catastrophe than most teams do in many decades. The pivotal point in the Grulla story so far came at the end of 2005, when the team were drawn with Fagiano Okayama and Rosso Kumamoto in the First Round of the Regional League Championship Winners’ Play-off.

Desperate to achieve their aim of promotion to the JFL, the Tohoku League joint champions beat Fagiano - but a disastrous defeat to Rosso condemned Grulla to elimination. All the hopes and expectations that had been built up since the decision had been made in 2003 to go for the J-League collapsed with that single loss, and Grulla seemed to come out of the competition a club totally lacking in direction.

The story had begun, however, with Villanova Morioka, who were formed in 2000 as an Old Boys club for ex-students of Morioka Commercial and Morioka Central High Schools. In 2003, they finished mid-table in what was their first season at Regional level, but then - no doubt with an eye on the tremendous popularity of J-League teams based in other northern cities - Villanova officials decided that an audience for professional football could be developed in their home town. They changed the name to Grulla Morioka and drafted in former JEF United and Oita Trinita midfielder Shinichi Muto as player-coach, together with a number of other ex-J2 professionals.

2004 saw the new team dominate the Tohoku League Division 2 (North), and after promotion the momentum continued into 2005. Muto’s men matched Division 1 big guns TDK point for point as the season went on, 2-1 away wins in the fixtures between the pair serving to cancel each other out. A final day win over NEC Tokin confirmed a remarkable outcome: that Grulla and TDK had ended absolutely dead level at the top of the table. Muto and his players were through to the Championship Winners’ Play-off.

Subsequently losing to Rosso and failing to reach the JFL, though, Grulla fell apart. With debts to creditors and unpaid salaries reported to amount to 10 million yen, the squad disintegrated, while Muto and some of the club management jumped ship - only to emerge a short time later with a newly-formed club, FC Ganju Iwate.

But a number of officials and fans remained loyal to Grulla, who re-grouped for 2006. Inevitably, it proved difficult to sustain the level that had been reached the previous year and although the team were a cut above most of the rest of the division, they were unable to recover from a 4-0 drubbing in July at the hands of their rivals TDK; under the circumstances, a second place finish was a very respectable result, as well as providing a signal that their dreams of a J-League place are still alive.

2007: Grulla will start the Tohoku League season as clear favourites.

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