Wednesday, 02 December 2020

 


Toyama Prefecture, on the Japan Sea coast of Honshu, has always been a region with excellent potential to support a J.League team. The city itself, as well as the surrounding towns, are big enough and populous enough. Furthermore, the popularity of the sport in this region is reflected in the tremendous crowds attracted by nearby Albirex Niigata, just up the Japan Sea coast from Toyama. What held the region back, until just recently, was the fact that during the 1980s and 90s the Toyama area spawned several separate teams that were all legitimate candidates for local support, and competing loyalties kept football fans in the region from fully expressing their potential, in terms of financial backing and fan fervour.

In 2008, after many years of false hopes and dithering uncertainty, Toyama finally "got its act together" and established a unified, independent home-town team. If anything, this move merely confirmed what we had always suspected about the region's potential. Just 12 months after the team was created, Kataller Toyama had earned a spot in the J2. But the journey to reach this success was a long and winding road, indeed.

Even before the J.League started encouraging the development of new teams in regional areas, there were at least two major company-sponsored teams in Toyama city, each with a strong financial and grassroots backing. For years, neither one of the two teams could gain the upper hand either on the football pitch or in terms of organization. With two rival candidates for the role as "Toyama's Team", the Toyama Football Association's strong desire to establish a J.League club was stymied by the very divisive question of which team -- Alo's Hokuriku or YKK AP --should receive their support.

After several years of competing side by side in the JFL, Alo's and YKK were finally convinced to combine their forces and create a single club. Because of the pride that both teams and sets of fans had developed over the years, and the danger that this merger might create some friction between the two clubs, the Toyama FA took great pains to ensure that the negotiations were as friendly as possible, and that both teams would see themselves as "equal partners" in the new club -- as two parents who had come together to give birth to a new and more competitive offspring.This concerted effort to maintain equality and balance in the merger would have a number of "interesting" consequences, as we will see below. To understand Kataller Toyama properly, therefore, it is necessary to examine the history of the two clubs in detail, and consider the various factors which supported their parallel development and their eventual merger, in 2007, to create this new football power in the Hokuriku region.

To begin, therefore, we need to take a look at the history of the two clubs, and their status in 2006:The team with the longest history, and the best results during the past decade or so, was YKK AP. YKK AP was formed in 1962, by a subsidiary of the YKK Corporation (the AP stands for Architectural Products - they make things like doors and window frames). The team registered with the prefectural FA in 1969. Three years later, YKK won the Toyama Prefectural League and in 1975 they joined the Hokushinetsu League at Regional level.

In 1988, the corporation imported two Brazilian players to boost the team's prospects, and from the early 1990s onwards, YKK AP became one of the three major powers in the Hokushinetsu League, along with Alo's Hokuriku and Albireo Niigata (which later changed its name to Albirex and entered the J.League in the J2's inaugural season). YKK continued to draw upon its employee base for some of its players, but as time went on, the team gradually started to adopt the character of a semi-professional football club. By the late 90s there was already a great deal of discussion about the possibility of spinning off the football team as an independent organization, and having it make a bid for J.League status.

The oddly named Alo's Hokuriku got a slightly later start than YKK AP, but at least initially they had more success. Formed in 1990, as the corporate club of Hokuriku Electric Power Co., Alo's became YKK AP's fiercest local rival. Under the name "Hokuriku Electric Power Football Club", they quickly established themselves in the Hokushinetsu Regional League, and in 1996 came close to winning their first title, missing out only on goal difference to Albireo Niigata -- forerunners to current J1 side, Albirex. In the same year, the team made the decision to change its moniker to the more friendly, though grammatically and etymologically mysterious "Alo's Hokuriku".

The word "Alo's" is a shining example of how Japanese football teams often adopt ersatz foreign words in their team names: "Alo's" is a corrupted abbreviation of the word "antelopes", referring to a local animal (the Japanese serow -- actually a type of deer) which lives in the mountains of the Hokuriku district. In addition to inspiring the team name, the "antelope" was adopted as the team mascot.Alo's, like YKK AP, gradually began to attract players who were clearly there for the football, and not simply company employees who wanted to kick the ball around on the weekends. By the late 90s they, too, were on the verge of advancing to the JFL, and fans started to pressure Hokuriku Electric to spin off the team and let it pursue a professional future.


Team Name:

Team Logo & Mascot:

 

Alo-kun

The team mascot of Alo's Hokuriku, and also the source of the team's name, was the Japanese serow, a type of deer which lives in the mountains of the Shin-etsu and Hokuriku regions. Although it is most closely related to the Japanese deer, its prong-like horns apparently caused some English-speaking locals to start referring to it with the word "antelope".

Team Name:

Team Logo & Mascot:

YKK Bird

The YKK team mascot was based on a common type of sea bird, similar to a duck, which is found on the shores of the Toyama coast. The mascot was never as carefully planned or designed as the Alo's mascot, and did not even have a name. Nevertheless, it did have a certain amount of wacky charm.

In 1998, Alo's pipped YKK to win their first Hokushinetsu League title, but failed to make it through the Annual Nationwide Regional League Championship Tournament to a spot in the JFL. In 1999, though, they were not to be denied. Despite finishing runners-up to YKK in the Regional League title chase, they nevertheless gained a place in the playoffs and outperformed their local rivals to make their way into the JFL. YKK AP finally achieved promotion to the JFL in 2000, a year after Alo's.

After joining the JFL, however, it was YKK who surpassed Alo's on the football pitch. Between 2000 and 2004, YKK AP tended to finish around midtable or higher, while Alo's struggled and finished in the bottom three in three of the five seasons. But in 2005, Alo's picked up a few players on loan from the recently promoted Tokushima Vortis, as well as a number of players who had spent time with smaller J2 sides, such as Mito Hollyhock and Sagan Tosu. For the first time since earning promotion, Alo's managed to end the season in the top half of the table, and closed out the season with a blistering series of nine wins and two draws in the last eleven matches. Halfway through this impressive run, a crowd of over 10,000 fans at Toyama Stadium watched as Alo's put in a magnificent performance against Nagoya Grampus in the Emperor's Cup, succumbing only to an isolated goal early in the second half, which allowed Grampus to progress with a 1-0 win. Though they failed to progress any further, Alo's had already established themselves as one of the most attractive Cinderellas of 2005, with a 2-1 win against Shonan Bellmare, in the previous round.

At this point, the Toyama FA initiated discussions between Alo's and YKK AP, probing the possibility of creating a "Toyama United" team to compete for J.League admission. These discussions came to nothing, and the two teams returned to their separate camps to compete for both the loyalty of local fans and the favour of the FA. YKK AP might have gained the edge if their corporate sponsor had immediately thrown its support behind an independent club. However, YKK played coy while Alo's made no secret of its ambition to eventually pursue an existence independent of Hokuriku Electric.

By 2007, with both teams battling in the top five spots of the JFL, Toyama's football bosses stepped in once more, and put pressure on the two teams to resolve their differences and merge, or face the possibility that the FA would throw its weight behind the other club as a J.League candidate. This time both clubs saw the merits of a merger, and even as they continued to battle it out on the pitch, they began setting up the independent corporation needed to front for a newly merged club.As you might expect there were a few "compromises" that had to be made in order to ensure an equal and friendly merger. The choice of a mascot was certainly not the least of these.

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As the 2007 JFL season neared its climax, the two parent companies appeared before the press, accompanied by several JFA, Toyama FA and J.League hotshots to announce the creation of the "Toyama Prefecture Football Club Team Co., Ltd", and a new football club named "Kataller". The name is a suitable replacement for the oddly derived "Alo's Hokuriku", since it reportedly is a combination of the Japanese word "katsu" (to win) and the French "aller" (to go), thus producing the injunction "go win!" In addition, "katare" (a homonym for "Kataller") means "to speak" in standard Japanese, as well as "You can win" in the local Toyama dialect.

The combination of two already-competitive teams, and the merger of two very enthusiastic fan contingents produced a club that clearly has the ability to go places. The first place it went was straight to the top of the JFL table. Although we were curious to see if the two teams would be able to create immediate harmony on the pitch, the result was as favorably surprising and as pleasing to the eye as Kataller's questionably conceived but visually impressive mascot, Raika (Ryker?). Toyama faded a bit, as the season went on, but they had no trouble claiming one of the top four spots in the JFL, thus earning promotion to the J.League in time to celebrate its first birthday as a team.

Considering how long fans in Toyama waited to have a J.League team of their own, and how dramatically successful Kataller was in their first season as a J2 club, it was only to be expected that the party would have to end eventually. The 2010 season was a big disappointment, as the team was forced to edge out all the "veteran amateurs" who had carried them into the professional ranks and replace them with younger, less experienced, but more "professional" players. Toyama finished in 18th place in 2010, edging out only newcomers Giravanz Kitakyushu. There followed several years of treading water, under the tutelage of coach Takayoshi Amma. Though he had very little experience and owed his one stint as head coach of Ventforet Kofu to the team's ill-considered firing of Takeshi Oki, when Kofu were relegated back to J2 in 2007. Amma brought enough former Kofu players in to keep Toyama stable, but never really did anything to develop the team. Instead, Toyama slipped steadily downward until at last, -- with relegation beckoning in late 2014 -- Amma finally was relieved of control and the reins were handed to Yasutyoshi Miura. 

Though it is a big disappointment for Toyama fans to see their team back in the third tier, their choice of coach was a clever one. Miura has shown his ability to get strong performances from undermotivated players and teams. And motivation was the biggest thing lacking last year. Kataller has strong fan support and a good youth programme. It will take some time to rebuild a club that stagnated badly under Amma, but as the name indicates, Kataller is all about winning. 


Team Results for 2009-Present

Year Rank Pts W D L GF GA G.Dif
2009 13 61 15 16 20 48 58 -10
2010 18 28 8 4 24 39 71 -32
2011 16 43 11 10 17 36 53 -17
2012 19 38 9 11 22 38 59 -21
2013 18 44 11 11 20 45 59 -14
2014 22 23 5 8 29 28 74 -46
2015 (J3) 5 52 14 10 12 37 36 +1
2016 (J3) 6 49 13 10 7 37 29 +8
2017  " 8 47 13 8 11 37 33 +4
2018  " 11 41 12 5 15 41 50 -9
2019  " 4 58 16 10 8 54 31 +23