Wednesday, 02 December 2020

 


 

Machida Zelvia was formed in 1989, though it can trace its roots back to 1977 when a club was formed under the name of Machida FC. In 1989, the club had reached the top of the amateur pyramid in western Tokyo and in preparation for the next step, it reformed as as Machida Zelvia. Originally the team wanted to call itself "Zelkova". after the Zelkova (Keyaki) tree which is the official symbol of Machida city. However, the name Zelkova had already been registered as a trademark, so the current name was adopted, and team officials explained that it had been derived by adding "Zelkova" to the name of a species of grass -- "Salvia" -- often used for football pitches . Zelkova + Salvia = Zelvia. Simple arithmetic, right?

OK, probably the truth of the matter is that when the team found out that the word was already trademarked, they just decided to choose something that was as similar as possible to "Zelkova", and which looks nice in katakana, chose "Zelvia", and then made up the explanation afterward (in much the same way that Rosso Kumamoto became "Roasso"). But the scientific name for grass certainly lends a nice touch to a football team. In fact, the team's original logo, shown below, reflected the concept of grassy turf and football in its design. Though not quite as "modern" as the current one, it certainly provided a good indication that Machida Zelvia viewed itself as the ultimate in "Grass Roots team development".

 

Regardless of the derivation of the name, Zelvia was always a grassroots team. It spent a number of years struggling in the Tokyo prefectural leagues until 1997 when a group of leaders in the city decided to try to establish a team to compete for eventual J.League membership. By 2002 the team had attracted some financial support from All Nippon Airways, which has its corporate headquarters in the city, and from a number of other local businesses. The final step from an organizational standpoint was taken at the end of 2003, when a separate corporation known as Athletic Club Machida Co., Ltd. was established and took over management of the team from the 2004 season

One might think that it would be hard to establish a club based in Tokyo -- which already has two J.League teams -- and attract enough support to achieve J.League status. However, Machida is not a part of Tokyo City proper; its relation to "downtown" Tokyo is more akin to Watford's relationship to London, or White Plains' relationship to New York City. Machida has a fairly strong local identity, and if the team can climb to a level where J.League admission is a more immediate possibility, we suspect that the fan support will develop even more rapidly.

Zelvia certainly seems to be on track towards this goal. Under its new independent status the team has progressed rapidly since the 2004 season. Zelvia won the Kanto League Division 2 in 2006, advancing to the top division, then followed up its performance by winning the Kanto League's Division One just a year later. Although Zelvia fell short in the Nationwide Regional League Champioinship Tournament at the end of 2007, their second bid for a JFL berth in 2008 was successful, leaving them only one step away from the cherished goal of a J.League spot.

In 2009, the team hired former Kashima Antlers wingback Naoki Soma as coach, and brought in a large number of players with previous J.League experience, in a bid to make a quick climb through the JFL ranks. While this strategy had marvelous results on the pitch, the team discovered that it unfortunately was still lacking the sort of infrastructure needed to receive J.League approval. The biggest shortcoming was their stadium. Machida City's Notsuda Stadium is a typical multipurpose facility from the 1970s, which is not only old and impersonal, but also has just 1,200 fixed seats and terraces for another 5,000. That leaves it well short of the reguirements for J2 admission. Although there are numerous other stadiums in the Tokyo area that Zelvia has used, over the years, for home matches, none seem to fit the bill as a potential home for a Machida-based team. Thus, when the J.League convened to consider Zelvia's application for league admission, in late 2009, the stadium issue was immediately identified as a disqualifier.  The team would simply have to locate, or build, a better facility.

In 2010, Zelvia's impressive results on the pitch made it clear to everyone that time was of the essence. From the very outset of the season, it was clear that Zelvia had the talent and the organization to finish in the top four. But without a stadium, they could not earn promotion to the J2. A flurry of plans and proposals were considered and several were put forward as formal submissions to the J.League. With support from the Odakyu conglomerate -- which operates the main train link through Machida City as well as a chain of department stores in the Tokyo area - the team gave itself a thorough upgrade in terms of organizational structure and "corporate identity. Not only did it adopt the logos, emblems and color scheme that it retains today; it also chose the crested Kingfisher (a bird often spotted along the shores of the Tama river) as its team mascot.  But despite the improvement in organizational quality, and success on the pitch, the league insisted that Zelvia would have to find a 12,000-seat stadium (or larger) somewhere in Machida City itself, or in another far-western suburb of Tokyo, if it wanted to join the J.League.

The good news, however, was that the league was at a crossroads in its own expansion plan, and it was important to the bureaucrats to demonstrate support for any and all efforts to create a J.League team. When Zelvia finished third in the JFL, in 2010, it was granted its own unique "provisional member" status. Although the meaning of the term "provisional" was never adequately explained, it seemed to mean that Zelvia would be able to join the J.League as soon as it completed work on a J2-standard stadium. Construction work on a new stadium had begun, by 2011, and the municipal government, threw its weight behind the team in a concerted effort to help Zelvia move into the pro ranks. But more importantly, the J.League was eager to fill out the 22 spots in the J2 quickly, to revive momentum for growth in the wake of the 2011 Great Eastern Japan earthquake. Thus, even though it was still a bit short of fully meeting all the criteria, Zelvia was granted promotion to the J2 for the 2012 season.

The next phase of development for Zelvia, unfortunately, required a few steps backward before it was possible to resume progress. Despite being permitted to join the J2 in 2012, their stadium was still below required specifications, and this fact also had an influence on fan-related income. In hopes of making a competitive showing in the J2, the team signed a number of aging veterans of J1 and J2, but this only succeeded in weakening finances further. To make matters worse, the departure of Soma for a stint as head coach of Kawasaki Frontale left Zelvia rudderless on the pitch. After just one season in the J2, Machida was relegated back to the JFL in 2013.

But the return to JFL status was a blessing in disguise. It not only gave the city time to finish a new stadium (10,500 seats initially, but with plans to add a second deck and raise capacity to J2 standards), but also reduced the financial burden for a few key years, until Zelvia had attracted a larger core fan base. Furthermore, the presence of a "professional team" in the JFL created contradictions that the JFA and J.League were forced to resolve. Everyone was aware that the launch of a third division would require extensive resources and a lot of hard organizational work. Until Machida's relegation, the J.League was content to postpone third-division expansion for as long as possible. But when Zelvia slipped back into the JFL, it naturally caused the friction between amateur clubs and the professional J.League to intensify. Large corporate-sponsored teams like Honda and Sony insisted that a clear line be drawn between the amateur ranks and the J.League. this forced League officials to accelerate the schedule for launching a "J3."

Naturally, Zelvia was one of the J3's founding members, since it was already (on paper, at least) a provisional member of the J.League. When the J3 kicked off in 2014, Machida was one of the strongest and most well-organized members. The return of Coach Soma to guide the team was another important boost, and by 2015 the Kingfishers were able to finish second, and earn promotion to the J2 for a second time.

This time around, Zelvia had the finances to pick up some aging but moderately talented players, and solidify their position in J2. In 2018, with veteran talent such as Yuki Nakashima, Ri Han-Jae and Romero Frank, they even managed to claim a spot in the J1 promotion playoffs, finishing ahead of Tokyo Verdy and thus staking a legitimate claim to be "the second strongest team in the nation's capital."

Zelvia slipped back down to 18th place in 2019, as the older players moved on and as Machida's improved finances allow them to build a younger core team. 2020 may be a bit too soon for them to make another bid for promotion, but the grass in Western Tokyo us certainly looking greener. . . . and we don't mean "Verdi".


Machida Zelvia Results - 2006-2013

Year Rank Pts GP W D L GF GA G.Dif
2006 (Kanto Div II) 1 32 14 10 2 2 45 17 +28
2007 (Kanto Div I) 1 36 14 12 1 1 36 10 +26
2008 (Kanto Div I) 1 38 14 12 2 0 57 10 +47
2009 (JFL) 6 54 34 14 12 8 38 30 +8
2010 (JFL) 3 61 34 19 4 11 71 44 +27
2011 (JFL) 3 61 33 18 7 8 61 28 +33
2012 (J2) 22 32 42 7 11 24 34 67 -33
2013 (JFL) 4 61 34 18 7 9 51 44 +7

Machida Zelvia Results - 2014-Present

Year Rank Pts GP W D L GF GA G.Dif
2014 (J3) 3 54 33 20 8 5 59 22 +37
2015 (J3) 2 61 36 23 9 4 52 18 +34
2016 (J2) 7 65 42 18 11 13 53 44 +9
2017 " 16 50 42 11 17 14 53 53 +0
2018 " 4 76 42 21 13 8 62 44 +18
2019 " 18 43 42 9 16 17 36 59 -23