Wednesday, 02 December 2020

 


Though the club has been around for quite some time, fans may look back on 2006 as a "starting point" for Tochigi SC. At the end of 2005, the club announced that they have asked the Tochigi prefectural government to offer administrative support, and encourage local businesses to support the team in a push for J.League membership. Following a positive response from local political and business leaders, Tochigi SC established a public corporation to oversee operations, thus meeting one of the requirements that will enable them to earn J.League status. The club has set itself the ambitious goal of earning promotion in 2007, and though the battle to join the J2 proved to be a bit tougher than the club had hoped, Tochigi SC did indeed manage to claim a J.League berth in 2008, one year later than expected.

This was the culmination of a long climb for the club, which was originally formed in 1953, as "Tochigi Teachers Soccer Group", in the lower levels of the old JSL. Though the team had no major corporate sponsor, they performed well enough to move gradually up the ranks. When the JSL was reorganised, and the J.League formed in 1992, Tochigi Teachers Soccer Group entered the Kanto League. In 1994, following a relegation to the Tochigi Prefectural League, the team changed its name to Tochigi SC. By 1999, Tochigi SC had revived its fortunes, and managed to win the Kanto League title in nail-biting fashion, with a superior goal difference to Saitama Prefecture's Luminozo Sayama. The timing of this title run was fortunate, since the JFL was being reorganised in the same year as part of the changes which created the J2. Though it was Tochigi's first season back in the Regional League, they nevertheless were included in the playoff round and earned promotion to the reorganised JFL.

In many ways, Tochigi can be seen as a test case for similar regional clubs seeking to take their place in of the professional ranks: The corporate infrastructure and fan support are reasonably good, and the team has an excellent home venue in the beautiful Tochigi Green Stadium. (One hopes that the beautiful grass terraces, which provide all of the seating available apart from the main grandstand, will not be completely destroyed as the stadium is brought up to League standards. They provide an atmosphere that is truly unique). Tochigi SC also is fortunate to have no legitimate rivals for local support. The only other club in Tochigi prefecture that is even close to their level is Hitachi Tochigi, a company team playing in the Kanto League. This means that local fan support can be focused on just one team.

The team also got its act together on the pitch. Although its results were only modest after the club was included in the JFL's re-launch, in 1999, the club did drift gradually upward, building a fan base and gaining organizational strength. The preparatory work had all been completed when the club was reorganised, in 2005, and Tochigi SC was ready to make its move. For a while it seemed like Tochigi might even manage to beat its ambitious target of a J2 spot by the end of 2007. The team emerged from the pack to claim the league lead at midseason. But after the club's top scorer, striker Manabu Wakabayashi ,was poached by Omiya Ardija, results dropped off slightly and the team eventually finished in fourth place. Forced to rebuild its offence, Tochigi failed to achieve the same competitiveness in 2006. For the time being, the team turned its focus to the task of completing the paperwork needed to satisfy J.League officials. By 2008 everything was in order, the J.League approved its request for Associate Member status, and Tochigi SC was ready to make the final sprint.

And what a sprint it was. With the addition of some former J1 veterans like striker Yoshiteru Yamashita, who even had a breif stint in the national team, keeper Kiyomitsu Kobari and midfielder Daisuke Hoshi, Tochigi SC roared out of the blocks in 2008 and never looked back. Though they fell just short of claiming the JFL title, losing out to perennial JFL power Honda FC, Tochigi finished in second place and thus became the 16th member of the J2. At long last, every prefecture in the Kanto area has at least one professional football team, and fans from Tochigi could finally look forward to battles for bragging rights with other north-Kanto clubs like Thespa Kusatsu and Mito Hollyhock.  In fact, Tochigi outperformed its northern Kanto neighbors, finishing in an impressive 10th place in just its second season following promotion.

This performance in 2010, and the fact that the team stocked its roster with relatively young players rather than aging veterans, generated considerable optimism in Tochigi, but after that initial surge, the team found itself ill prepared to consolidate the successes. Instead, the younger core of the team were lured away one by one, to rival clubs. As is often the case after the initial momentum for promotion starts to fade, Tochigi started to slip downtable, and there were widespread fan defections as a result.

Apparently, there was a certain element in both the management and fan ranks that was mainly interested in success. Once the thrill of promotion passed, the front office seemed unable to identify its next target or set priorities properly, while fans soon lost interest in the "local pride" factor (among Japan's geographical regions, the prefectures of Tochigi, Gunma, Ibaraki and Fukushima probably have the hardest time generating enthusiasm based merely on local loyalty).

For Tochigi, it seems, it was necessary to take a step backward before they could start moving forward once again. In this case, the step backward came at the end of 2015, when the club succumbed to relegation and moved into the J3 for the first time. It took two years for them to rejoin the second tier, and the team's results in 2018 and 2019 were no source of comfort. Fellow North-Kanto rivals ThespaKusatsu Gunma also stumbled into the J3, and only rejoins the competition this year. 

Only time will tell whether the Northern-Kanto latecomers can regain their earlier momentum. At the moment, sports fans in the region seem to have lost interest in football (or have thrown their loyalties to Kashima Antlers), and the only club in the northern half of Kanto that has any possibility of reaching the promotion playoffs this year is Mito Hollyhock. The other two will battle for second place in the 2020 North-Kanto Derby.


Team Results for 2009-Present

Year Rank Pts W D L GF GA G.Dif
2009 17 37 8 13 30 38 77 -39
2010 10 50 14 8 14 46 42 +4
2011 10 56 15 11 12 44 39 +5
2012 11 60 17 9 16 50 49 +1
2013 9 63 17 12 13 61 55 +6
2014 12 55 15 10 17 52 58 -6
2015 22 35 7 14 21 39 64 -25
2016 (J3) 2 59 17 8 5 38 20 +18
2017 (J3) 2 60 16 12 4 44 24 +20
2018 17 50 13 11 18 38 48 -10
2019 20 40 8 16 18 33 53 -20