Friday, 04 December 2020

 


For such a new club, Renofa Yamaguchi has a long history. In fact, the team can trace its origins all the way back to 1949, when a group of teachers in Yamaguchi prefecture formed a team known as Yamaguchi Teachers Soccer Club. This team spent five decades playing with relatively limited success in the Chugoku Regional League, never once managing to win a title but never getting relegated either. It wasnt until 1998 that the team had to endure its first spell in the Yamaguchi Prefectural League, bouncing back after two seasons but showing signs that it was starting to run out of vitality. Yamaguchi Teachers were relegated again at the end of 2003, and both players and team officials were forced to give some thought to their future.

After winning the Yamaguchi Prefectural title in 2004, and regaining a spot in the regional league, the team rounded up some financial backing and decided to "Renovate" the team. At this point people in the area were starting to consider, for the first time, the idea of building a local football team that could vie for professional status. Renovation was exactly what the team needed, and when the question of what to name the new club arose, someone apparently said: "Hey I know . . . lets call it "Renovation".

No, although sometimes we might WISH we were joking, this sort of thing has become commonplace in Japanese sports circles. The team seized upon the idea of naming the team after the English word for renovation, and after brainstorming a few similar-sounding words, settled on the name "Renofa". Considering the fact that the Japanese language lacks a phonetic character for the "fa" sound, the most likely explanationis that someone had already copyrighted the name "Renova", so the team had to choose a similar word as a substitute. Renofa's official team history claims that the "f" was chosen deliberately, but this official version sounds more than a bit suspicious. "Renova" was almost certainly the initial idea, but the team claims it replaced the "v" with an "f" because . . . . (are you ready?)  . . . they wanted supporters to understand that the team will always "F"ight, always play "F"air, and consequently their performance is expected to be "F"ine.

A comedian couldnt make something like that up, no matter how hard they tried. Silly as it may sound, however, Renofa's "F"ighting spirit has indeed produced "F"ine results. At the start, the club faced major challanges just to make a bid for professional status. Among other things their ihome stadium had a capacity of just 3,850 - about 10,000 short of J2 requirements. Sponsors were not exactly jumping at the opportunity to put their name on the Renofa shirt. Furthermore, though there were several good football minds who signed on as coaches, few in the team's head office had much business experience. Thus, it is probably understandable that the first attempt at corporate design was a bit amateurish, to say the least. In their first season, this is what the team logo and uniform badge looked like:

On the pitch, though, Renofa has outdone itself, with one success following another in rapid succession A first-place finish in the Chugoku League in 2008 marked the team's first Regional title ever. In 2013 Renofa finally managed to win the playoffs and climb into the JFL, but there was no time to pause for self-congratulations. The J.League announced that only teams that had met all organizational criteria by the end of the year would be accepted as founding members in the J3. The people of Yamaguchi Prefecture responded with unflagging effort, not only turning out in record numbers to push the team's attendances over the minimum required level, but also attracting a great deal of local corporate support, to clear all the financial hurdles. Sure enough, Renofa came through in every category, and joined the J3 in 2015.

If the miraculous climb had ended there, Renofa would already be a great success story. But they were not finished yet. Casting a wide net, the team coaches and front office staff approached virtually every talented player in the JFL whose team had not mane the jump to J3, and convinced a large number of them to join the team.  For the 2014 season, they also landed a major coup, convincing Yokohama Marinos to loan out a young striker by the name of Sho Matsumoto, who hailed from just across the straits of Shimonoseki, in Fukuoka. To the total amazement of older, more-experienced and better-prepared J3 opponents, Renofa roared to the J3 title, and secured a spot in the J2 for the 2016 season!

The Renovators' first year in the J2 was successful enough to boost local pride. A midtable finish suggests that the rapid renofation of football in western Honshu was not yet over, and the team still had some momentum left to climb even higher. Unfortunately, the team has experienced the same sort of cyclical instability that many other J2 clubs experience, climbing as high as eighth in 2018, but also finishing just above the J3 relegation zone in 2017. Experience shows that in order to make the next step, the team needs to cultivate young prospects who can make a long-term contribution, or at least generate some sell-on income. Only time will tell how long Yamaguchi fans will have to wait. But with a large geographical area and a significant potential fan base to cultivate, there is certainly reason for optimism. The 2020 season could give viewers a hint as to how likely -- and how far off -- further progress may be.


 

Team Results: 2006-present

Year Rank GP Pts W D L GF GA G.Dif
2006 (Reg.) 4 14 25 7 3 4 26 28 -2
2007 (Reg.) 3 16 25 6 4 7 33 46 -13
2008 (Reg.) 1 16 38 11 5 0 45 15 +30
2009 (Reg.) 2 18 40 13 1 4 53 21 +32
2010 (Reg.) 1 18 43 14 1 3 51 16 +35
2011 (Reg.) 2 18 41 13 2 3 54 17 +37
2012 (Reg.) 4 18 32 9 5 4 47 22 +25
2013 (Reg.) 3 18 42 13 3 2 53 13 +40
2014 (JFL) 4 26 51 16 3 7 51 27 +24
2015 (J3) 1 36 78 25 3 8 96 36 +60
2016 (J2) 12 42 53 14 11 17 55 63 -8
2017 (J2) 20 38 11 5 26 48 69 -21
2018 (J2) 8 61 16 13 13 63 64 -1
2019 (J2) 15 47 13 8 21 54 70 -16