Japanese Non-league Football News

Tohoku League Team Profile - Morioka Zebra
Success may in the main have eluded Morioka Zebra, but in these days of cut-throat ambition and the increasing impact of money on the Japanese non-league game, the fact that the club celebrate their 50th anniversary in 2007 still as members of the Tohoku League Division 1 can be regarded as a small triumph for the spirit of amateur football in Japan.

The single most striking aspect of their lengthy history is probably the fact that Zebra have participated in every season since the league’s inception in 1977. Indeed, for the first decade, Zebra were consistently one of the strongest teams on offer, almost on a par with tough corporate outfits Nippon Steel Kamaishi and TDK.

Their proudest moment came in 1980 - actually the sole occasion upon which the club have managed to take the league title. Finishing comfortably ahead of Nippon Steel and Matsushima Club, their triumph secured Zebra a place in the recently-established Regional League Championship Winners’ Play-off tournament, but a 1-0 defeat from Saitama Teachers meant that they were eliminated at the First Round stage.

By the late 1980s, Morioka Zebra’s days as a powerhouse of the game at Regional level were more or less over. For several seasons they survived on mere handfuls of points, lucky that whipping boys such as Ishinomaki City Hall were around – however briefly - to keep them off the very bottom of the table.

A revival under coach Takashi Takahashi secured the club another brief period in the sun in the latter part of the 90s and in 1998, Zebra were just two points off what would have been a second Tohoku title victory. That same year, they also managed a rare All-Japan Shakaijin appearance and even squeezed their way into the Championship Winners’ Play-off for a stab at a JFL spot, but Nippon Steel Oita did for them in the former and the Black-and-Whites were out of their depth in the latter against NTT Kyushu and Mazda SC.

In recent seasons, they have been reliant on Play-off victories and the like to maintain their presence in the region’s top division, as at the end of 2005 when Zebra won 4-0 on aggregate against Tono Club from Iwate. Twelve months later, they were saved from having to participate in another Play-off only by the shock promotion to the JFL of TDK, who dished out an 8-1 hammering as the low point in a campaign that included only three wins.

2007: Hard to see anything but another season of struggle ahead for Morioka Zebra. The matches against Furukawa Battery and Nippon Steel Kamaishi are likely to prove crucial to their chances of survival.

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