Wednesday, 02 December 2020

 

Grulla Morioka is a relatively young club, having been formed in 2000 by a group of young football players, with the support of the local government. However, it is already one of the more "established" clubs in the region, and probably the best prospect for JFL (and eventually J.League) promotion in the near term. The idea of building a J.League club has enjoyed widespread support in Morioka for several years. The tremendous popularity enjoyed by J.League clubs like Vegalta Sendai and Montedio Yamagata has convinced even the most conservative local government officials to get behind the project, and though its success on the football pitch has been limited, the idea of bringing J.League football to Morioka has been a source of high expectations and strong ambitions for several years.

However, the only football team of any real note that existed in the prefecture, until very recently, was Morioka Zebra which made it to the Tohoku regional in the early years of the century. Grulla was formed by a group of former Morioka Shogyo High School players, and was a very modest competitor in the Morioka Prefectural league in 2003, when some city officials approached the players and asked it to serve as the focus for their plan to build a J.League club. In January 2004, the ambitions of these city officials and local sports fans alike got a huge boost, when local boy Shinichi Muto took early retirement from J.League club JEF United in order to return home and take the spot as Grulla's head coach and top player. Muto probably could have played another two or three years at the J.League level, if he wanted to, so this represented a big investment on his part, in the new team.

The effort immediately began paying off. Grulla won the Iwate Prefecture league title in its first season, and in 2005 it conquered the Tohoku Region's division two (North), earning promotion to the Tohoku Regional League Division 1. It appeared that 2006 might be the team's big chance to leap into the JFL, as they won the Tohoku Regional League and advanced to the Nationwide Regional League Championship Tournament as one of the most highly regarded entrants. But a crushing defeat to Rosso Kumamoto sent them tumbling out of the tournament, and in the subsequent storm of finger-pointing, Muto got disgusted and walked out on the team. In 2006 he formed a team of his own, named "FC Ganju Iwate", but Ganju was still battling their way up through the prefectural ranks, and turnmed out to be little more than a "protest movement" aimed at influencing the future direction of Grulla.

Though Grulla's J.League ambitions remained strong, it took the team quite a while to recover after the loss of Muto and a few other key players in 2006. The team recovered to win the Tohoku Regional title again in 2007, and then retained the title for the next four years. However, this time their prospects for JFL admission were more subdued, and rightly so. Time after time, the team's performance in the Nationwide Regional League Championship Tournament illustrated that they were not facing enough stern competition in their home region to prepare themselves for a JFL jump. Grulla needed some big event to energise their local base and allow them to take the next step to the nationwide stage.

That transformative event would arrive on March 11, 2011, but not in a way that anyone could have expected. The Tohoku earthquake and tsunami devastated the coast of Iwate prefecture, and put the season on hold for Grulla as well as most of its main opponents. Players volunteered their time in rescue and cleanup efforts, and as was the case throughout Tohoku, the football teams served as a rallying point for locals. Grulla organized fundraising activities throughout the season, and consequently won a place in the hearts of Morioka citizens. But the disruption caused Grulla to drop into second place for the first time in five years. Making matters worse, they lost the first match of the Nationwide Regional League Championship Tournament to their southern neighbors, Cobaltore Onagawa -- a team that had been even more seriously battered by the quake and tsunami.

This setback cost coach Toru Yoshida his job, after five years at the helm Yoshida had stepped in as manager after Muto's departure) - a change that many felt was long overdue. It also prompted local politicians, businessmen and sports-related officials to begin giving more serious thought to the J.League bid. If Morioka was going to host a professional team, what sort of backing did it need from the local community in order to climb out of the stagnant backwaters of a small regional league?

The timing could not have been better, because at almost the same time, the J.League was launching its "J3 Preparation Process". Even though Grulla Morioka was still in the Tohoku Regional League, their organization and history of grassroots team development was  more advanced than many (perhaps most) JFL teams. When the J.League laid out all the criteria for admission to the new J3, Grulla found that they were already able to tick almost all of the boxes. The one area of weakness -- attendance figures -- was quickly corrected as locals urned out in response to the prospect of a spot in the J.League.

At the close of the 2013 season, Morioka was one of only two prefectural-based teams to jump straight into the J3 without ever passing through the JFL (the other was SC Sagamihara). As the team's performance in the six years since J.League entry should indicate, however, the task of competing in a professional league is a bit more difficult than getting there.  Morioka still needs to do a lot of work to attract fan support and gradually build up the club's competitiveness. Nevertheless, any club with a logo as beautiful as Grulla's is a boon to the J.League on that merit alone. The Snow Cranes are airborne at last, and despite a last-place finish in 2019, who knows how far or how high they may fly one day.


 Team Results: 2003-2013

Year Rank Pts GP W D L GF GA G.Dif
2003 (Div II) 4 18 10 5 3 2 12 16 +4
2004 (Div II) 1 28 10 9 1 0 54 9 +45
2005 (Tohoku I) 1 29 12 9 2 1 36 10 +26
2006  2 30 14 11 0 3 32 18 +14
2007 1 39 14 13 0 1 65 14 +51
2008  1 38 14 12 2 0 63 8 +55
2009  1 36 14 11 3 0 59 15 +44
2010 1 37 14 12 1 1 57 11 +46
2011 2 27 12 8 3 1 35 15 +20
2012 2 30 12 10 0 2 48 5 +43
2013 1 49 18 16 1 1 95 10 +85

 Team Results: 2013-Present

Year Rank Pts GP W D L GF GA G.Dif
2014 (J3) 5 45 33 12 9 12 43 39 +4
2015 (J3) 11 35 36 8 11 17 36 47 -11
2016  " 13 30 30 6 12 12 43 47 -4
2017  " 15 29 7 8 17 32 49 -17
2018  " 13 40 12 4 16 41 56 -15
2019  " 18 26 7 5 22 36 63 -27