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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.
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.
Tohoku League Team Profile - Furukawa Battery
Furukawa Battery were for many years the nearly men of Tohoku football. The club was originally formed in 1985 and participated initially at the less-than-dizzy heights of the Iwaki City League Division 3, although they quickly moved up through the Fukushima Prefectural League.

Ever since the League established its own regionalised second tiers in 1997, the Fukushima-based side have been close to making the step up to Division 1, winning the Division 2 (South) title twice and finishing runners-up on no fewer than five occasions. But they always just missed out on promotion, either pipped to the title by teams like Sendai Nakata Club and Northern Peaks Koriyama, or losing to the Division 2 (North) champions in the Promotion Play-off – as in 2001, when they went down 2-1 to Akita City Hall.

2006 again saw Furukawa challenge at the top of Division 2 (South) table, as the battle for the championship crown quickly became a two-horse race involving themselves and Marysol Matsushima. But the Elephants moved into the lead with a 4-2 defeat of their rivals, later confirming their superiority over the other teams by scoring seven home-and-away against Kanai Club and twice putting eight past the hapless Kureha.

The title was finally confirmed in mid-October with another 4-2 victory, this time against late challengers Northern Peaks. Even then, though, the hurdle of the Play-off with Division 2 (North) runaway winners FC Akita Cambiare had to be overcome – but this time, Furukawa finally triumphed and a place in Division 1 for 2007 was theirs.

Having reached the top level of Regional football, in contrast with other teams in Fukushima’s competitive environment, Furukawa seem content to consolidate and have no stated desire to seek a place in the JFL or higher in the Japanese footballing pyramid. Indeed, their ambition seems to be directed equally towards league status as it does towards achieving success in the various cup competitions, as the club have never yet participated in the final stages of either the Emperor’s Cup or the All-Japan Shakaijin. So far, in seeking to qualify they have been unable to cope with better-placed clubs from their home prefecture, such as FC Primeiro and Fukushima University – and this seems to be just as much a preoccupation as achieving success in the league.

2007: Having taken a decade to reach Division 1, Furukawa Battery’s first target will be stay up – so a mid-table finish will constitute a good season’s work for the Elephants.
Tohoku League Team Profile - FC Primeiro
Football in Fukushima prefecture since the mid-90s has had something of an abortive history in terms of the development of a team with J-League potential. The demise of FC Fukushima at the end of the 1997 JFL season – when most of the other clubs in that division were focused on turning professional and populating the forthcoming J2 – was a disaster from which it could be argued that the sport locally has yet to emerge.

The highest-ranking team in the area currently are FC Primeiro, although even they haven’t indicated that they wish to be promoted beyond the JFL, in contrast with their neighbours at Viancone Fukushima and FC Perada Fukushima. Formed at the beginning of 1996 by amateur players who departed FC Fukushima while they were still a going concern, Primeiro immediately took their place in the Prefectural League and by 1998, as well as running a strong Consadole Sapporo side close in the Emperor’s Cup Second Round, were winning Division 2 (South) of the Tohoku League with a record of ten victories in ten matches.

The club have since been fixtures in the Tohoku League Division 1, their most successful season being in 2001 when Primeiro finished five points clear of TDK to take the title and so gain a place in the Regional League Championship Winners’ Play-off competition: remarkably, in the space of just a few years, this new team had come within an ace of achieving the same JFL status as FC Fukushima. In a weak First Round group, Tohoku’s representatives were nevertheless squeezed out by Ueda Gentian from Hokushinetsu and the chance for promotion out of the Regional Leagues was gone.

TDK tightened their grip on the Tohoku League in subsequent seasons, taking the championship for five consecutive years before themselves moving up to the JFL. A combination of TDK’s consistency and the emergence in 2005 of Grulla Morioka has made life more difficult for smaller clubs such as Primeiro, who lack the infrastructure and a pool of players with which to piece together a strong challenge.

The club’s best season since winning the title was a second place in 2003, a campaign which saw an exciting three-way race between Primeiro, TDK and Sagawa Kyubin Tohoku. Now, however, the club are seemingly in a rut where they are unable to find a place among the stronger teams in the division but are in no danger of stumbling into a relegation battle.

2007: TDK’s promotion may unwittingly have provided a way forward for FC Primeiro – can they take advantage of the fact that Tohoku will be allocated two places in the Regional League Championship Winners’ Play-off?
JNFN Team Profile Index
This post comprises a list of all the team profiles on JNFN, which it is intended will be rolled out throughout 2007. There are two parts to the index; firstly, a league-by-league approach that starts with the JFL and will later include all the Regional Leagues. The second part is a straightforward alphabetical list of every team and the link to the page where their profile can be found.

JFL

Alo's Hokuriku
http://furtho2.blog32.fc2.com/blog-entry-650.html

Arte Takasaki
http://furtho2.blog32.fc2.com/blog-entry-651.html

FC Gifu
http://furtho2.blog32.fc2.com/blog-entry-652.html

FC Kariya
http://furtho2.blog32.fc2.com/blog-entry-653.html

FC Ryukyu
http://furtho2.blog32.fc2.com/blog-entry-654.html

Gainare Tottori
http://furtho2.blog32.fc2.com/blog-entry-664.html

Honda FC
http://furtho2.blog32.fc2.com/blog-entry-655.html

JEF Reserves
http://furtho2.blog32.fc2.com/blog-entry-656.html

Mitsubishi Mizushima
http://furtho2.blog32.fc2.com/blog-entry-657.html

Ryutsu Keizai University
http://furtho2.blog32.fc2.com/blog-entry-658.html

Sagawa Kyubin SC
http://furtho2.blog32.fc2.com/blog-entry-659.html

Sagawa Printing
http://furtho2.blog32.fc2.com/blog-entry-660.html

Sony Sendai
http://furtho2.blog32.fc2.com/blog-entry-661.html

TDK SC
http://furtho2.blog32.fc2.com/blog-entry-662.html

Tochigi SC
http://furtho2.blog32.fc2.com/blog-entry-663.html

YKK AP
http://furtho2.blog32.fc2.com/blog-entry-665.html

Yokogawa Musashino
http://furtho2.blog32.fc2.com/blog-entry-666.html


JNFN Team Profile A-Z

Alo's Hokuriku
http://furtho2.blog32.fc2.com/blog-entry-650.html

Arte Takasaki
http://furtho2.blog32.fc2.com/blog-entry-651.html

FC Gifu
http://furtho2.blog32.fc2.com/blog-entry-652.html

FC Kariya
http://furtho2.blog32.fc2.com/blog-entry-653.html

FC Ryukyu
http://furtho2.blog32.fc2.com/blog-entry-654.html

Gainare Tottori
http://furtho2.blog32.fc2.com/blog-entry-664.html

Honda FC
http://furtho2.blog32.fc2.com/blog-entry-655.html

JEF Reserves
http://furtho2.blog32.fc2.com/blog-entry-656.html

Mitsubishi Mizushima
http://furtho2.blog32.fc2.com/blog-entry-657.html

Ryutsu Keizai University
http://furtho2.blog32.fc2.com/blog-entry-658.html

Sagawa Kyubin SC
http://furtho2.blog32.fc2.com/blog-entry-659.html

Sagawa Printing
http://furtho2.blog32.fc2.com/blog-entry-660.html

Sony Sendai
http://furtho2.blog32.fc2.com/blog-entry-661.html

TDK SC
http://furtho2.blog32.fc2.com/blog-entry-662.html

Tochigi SC
http://furtho2.blog32.fc2.com/blog-entry-663.html

YKK AP
http://furtho2.blog32.fc2.com/blog-entry-665.html

Yokogawa Musashino
http://furtho2.blog32.fc2.com/blog-entry-666.html
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