Friday, 04 December 2020

 

 


Mito Hollyhock got its start in 1991, under the club name "Prima Ham Football Club". After several successful seasons in local leagues, the team finished second in its regional competition in 1996 and gained admission to the JFL. Following its admission to the JFL, Prima Ham FC changed its name to Mito Hollyhock, and adopted a JFL charter in the town of Mito, Ibaraki Prefecture (about 75 km northeast of Tokyo). The team took its name from the prefectural flower of Ibaraki, which is where the club is located.

In 1999, after winning the second and third stages of the JFL competition, Mito Hollyhock was admitted to the J.League second division. Unfortunately, however, the team had neither the financial backing of a large sponsor, nor a great deal of local grassroots support. The actual performance of the team was not tht bad, in part because of its unofficial links to other clubs -- particularly Yokohama Marinos and FC Tokyo -- which farm out young players to Mito as a way of helping them get accustomed to J.League play. In its first year in the league, Mito finished ninth in the J2, with a record of 15 wins, 24 losses and one draw. In 2002, it finished tenth with a very similar record, if one considers that extra time was abolished that year.

Unfortunately, though Mito has managed to avoid the level of ineptitude shown by some other J2 clubs, the team definitely is not in good condition. At the end of 2002, it was very uncertain whether the team would have the finances to continue. Some financial help from the prefecture kept the team alive, and by 2005 Hollyhock was back on its feet and earning a profit. However, the team's small fan base has prevented any acquisition of the talent needed to improve their fortunes on the playing field. At least Mito has now banished the threat of a financial collapse.

The question, clearly, is where the team will go from here. Mito is a big enough city to support a competitive club. Unfortunately, it appears that the team has lost most of the area's fans to its next-door neighbour, Kashima. Until the end of the 00s, the club never displayed either the ambition or the vision to try to distinguish itself, and become something other than a J2 also-ran. However, in recent years there have been at least some signs that the Asian Dragons were ready to start acting like their mascot, and breathing a bit of fire. 

In 2009, the team moved to a new stadium, closer to Mito City, and marked the occasion by getting off to their best start in history. For half a season, they even managed to raise hopes of promotion to the J1. The team faded in the latter half of the year, but still managed their second-highest finish in club history -- 8th place.

Though they may no longer occupy the J2 basement, Hollyhock still has a way to go before they can start calling themselves a true promotion candidate. Following the relative success of the 2009 season, Mito lost nearly all of its best players to clubs with stronger finances, and the result was a disappointing drop back down the table. Thereafter, the club stagnated for nearly a decade, mired just below midtable in division 2. Although there were some signs that the team was moving in the right direction under Hashiratani, following his departure Mito seemed to lose its ambition, and went through a series of short-termed and ultimately forgettable coaches before finally appointing Shigetoshi Hasebe to the helm in 2018.

Despite only average technical skills, Hasebe's hard work, understanding of the game, and ability to keep the formation in balance earned him a long career at clubs like Vissel, Frontale and JEF United, even getting a few NT call-ups under Ivica Osim.  In his first year he led The Azure Dragons to a tenth-place finish, and in 2019 they finished seventh -- the first single-digit performance since 2009. Though they need to strengthen their grassroots base and improve their youth programme if they want to achieve any sort of "sustainable" success, Mito does seem to be moving in a positive direction at last. 


Team Results for 2000-2001

Year Rank W D L GF GA G.Dif
90 ET
2000 9 9 6 4 21 37 61 -24
2001 11 5 3 4 32 41 93 -52

Team Results for 2002-Present

Year Rank Pts W D L GF GA G.Dif
2002 10 40 11 7 26 45 73 -28
2003 7 56 15 11 18 37 41 -4
2004 9 37 6 19 19 33 60 -27
2005 10 52 13 13 18 41 57 -16
2006 10 51 14 9 25 48 69 -21
2007 12 34 8 10 30 32 70 -38
2008 11 47 13 8 21 52 70 -18
2009 8 73 21 10 20 70 79 -9
2010 16 38 8 14 14 29 45 -16
2011 17 42 11 9 18 40 49 -9
2012 13 56 15 11 16 47 49 -2
2013 15 55 14 13 15 50 58 -8
2014 15 50 12 14 16 46 46 +0
2015 19 46 10 16 16 40 47 -7
2016 13 48 10 18 14 45 49 -4
2017 14 54 14 12 16 45 48 -3
2018 10 57 16 9 17 48 46 +2
2019 7 70 19 13 10 56 37 +19

 *Note: Data from 2000-01 is separated from later data to reflect the change in league format, to eliminate "Golden Goal" overtime.