Friday, 04 December 2020

 

Fukushima United Football Club is one of the newest clubs in the Tohoku region, even if one traces its history back to the very beginning. In 2002 a group of young men in their late teens and twenties established a club which they tentatively named "Fukushima Dreams". Two years later, as they began their pursuit of glory from the lowest rung of the Fukushima Prefecture league pyramid, the team changed its name to "Fukushima Junkers", and promptly made its first step up the ladder, to the Fukushima second division. The team had a tremendous amount of incentive and energy, but clearly had a long way to go if they ever hoped to advance to the level where they could think seriously about forming a professional club structure.

Apparently, some influential supporters felt the same way, and decided to intervene to give the team a boost up the league ladder. In December 2006 another team known as FC Perada Fukushima, which had a somewhat longer history and was already a member of the Tohoku Regional League's Division II (South), was prevailed upon to merge with Junkers, turn over its position in the Regional League, and assume the status of a satellite team (and youth organization) of Junkers. While this might seem to be an odd arrangement, the comparative strength of the two teams can be seen in the performance of Perada prior to the merger (sixth place with a 3-1-8 record) and the results when Junkers took over the Perada name, in 2007 (a second place finish, a 12-1-1 record, and a goal difference of +75) A year later, to formalize this merger, the team adopted the new name "Fukushima United FC", and formally announced its intention to build a J.League club in Fukushima. Unfortunately, they were a year late, since Viancone Fukushima (formerly Northern Peaks Koriyama) had made a similar announcement one year earlier. Indeed, the only disappointing element of the team's first season as a united club (albeit under the Perada name) was that they finished second to Viancone, who advanced to the Tohoku League Division I narrowly ahead of them

Nevertheless, the merger provided even more momentum, and a tremendous amount of public support. The team drew over 24,000 fans to home matches in the 2008 season, which is pretty amazing for a club that was a low-level prefectural league member just three years ago. In their first season under the new name, Fukushima United earned promotion to the top division of the Tohoku League with a perfect record. This moved Fukushima into the top tier of the Tohoku heirarchy, and prompted the official website of Fukushima United to begin talking about the prospects of a JFL berth as early as 2010.

While that objective proved to be a bit overly ambitious, nobody could have anticipated at that time the sort of emotional and material challenges that Fukushima would face just a few years later. In March 2011, the region was hit by a catastrophic earthquake, and a meltdown at the nuclear power plant just a short distance across the mountains from Fukushima United's home base would make the name "Fukushima" synonymous with disaster, in the minds of people worldwide.

The immediate impact was so catastrophic that it is hard to even make an attempt at describing it. Over 20,000 people died in the quake and tsunami, while several million were displaced from their homes -- and that doesnt even mention the emotional trauma and uncertainty people dealt with as authorities struggled to contain, and then clear up the accident at Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Facility.

Throughout it all, the team's motto served as a symbol of the incredible resilience of people in the area:
"All our dreams can come true if we have the courage to pursue them"

True to this optimistic declaration, the players and supporters of Fukushima United banded together to rebuild their communities, and when the Tohoku Leageu resumed play they charged straight to the title, defeating their long-time nemesis Grulla Morioka. The following year they won the Tohoku League again, and this time they battled through the Nationwide Regional League Championships to claim a spot in the JFL. To top off a fantastic year, the upstarts from Fukushima defeated J.League teams Ventforet Kofu and Albirex Niigata in the Emperor's Cup, before finally succumbing to JEF United in the round of 16!

The triumphant revival of Fukushima United in 2012 would set the stage for a truly celebratory 2013 season, when all of the team's ambitions were finally realised. In 2013 the J.League announced that they would launch a third division in 2013, and any team that could meet all of the technical, financial and organizational requirements would be able to enter as a founding member. Fukushima Prefecture was still experiencing a lot of economic hardship as the earthquake/tsunami rebuilding effort continued. But this gave locals all the more reason to look for sources of hope and excitement. Shonan Bellmare signed an alliance with Fukushima, providing guidance and organizational support to ensure that the team could clear all the hurdles, and in November 2013 Fukushima United was confirmed as a founding member of the new J3.

Since their entry to the J.League, Fukushima United has remained solidly in the bottom half of the J3 table. This is still a small and weakly-supported team, which will need time to build grassroots support and develop the financial and organizational depth to progress further. Nevertheless, Fukushima is an area with a proud history and a lot of local colour. The region has ample population to support a team, and if the club can truly "unite" Fukushima Prefecture behind the club, their long-term prospects may be good. For the time being, however,  the region remains something of a football backwater. It may take some time before the team can begin planning for their next advance.


Team Results: 2006-2013

Year Rank Pts GP W D L GF GA G.Dif
2006 (Tohoku Div II) 6 10 12 3 1 8 27 41 -14
2007 (Div II) 2 37 14 12 1 1 83 8 +75
2008 (Div II) 1 42 14 14 0 0 76 8 +68
2009 (Tohoku Div I) 2 36 14 11 3 0 51 8 +43
2010 (Div I) 2 37 14 12 1 1 46 9 +37
2011 (Div I) 1 33 12 11 0 1 53 6 +47
2012 (Div I) 1 33 12 11 0 1 61 6 +55
2013 (JFL) 14 34 34 8 6 16 33 40 -7

 Team Results: 2014-present

Year Rank Pts W D L GF GA G.Dif
2014 (J3) 7 36 9 9 15 30 38 -8
2015 7 49 13 10 13 42 48 -6
2016 14 30 7 9 14 35 44 -9
2017 10 43 13 4 15 39 43 -4
2018 12 40 9 13 10 36 43 -7
2019 11 43 13 4 17 45 53 -8