Zweigen Kanazawa

ツエーゲン金沢 / Zweigen Kanazawa

  • City: Kanazawa, Ishikawa Prefecture, Honshu
  • Founded: 1956 (2006 as Zweigen Kanazawa)
  • Ground: Ishikawa Athletics Stadium (20,261)
  • Nicknames: n/a
  • Colours: Red shirts with black trim, black shorts with red trim, and red socks with black trim.
  • 2022 League: J2 League
  • Club Website: https://www.zweigen-kanazawa.jp/
  • Club Twitter: @zweigen_staff

Honours

  • Best League Finish: 11th in the J2 League (2019)
  • Best Emperor’s Cup Finish: Third Round (Various)
  • J3 League
    • Champions (1): 2014

Zweigen Kanazawa / ツエーゲン金沢 is a Japanese football team that currently plays in the J.League Division 2, the second tier in the Japanese football pyramid. They come from the traditional fortified and cultural city of Kanazawa (with a population of about 466k), the capital city of Ishikawa Prefecture, situated on Japan’s central western coast on the main island of Honshu. The city sits between the Sai and Asano rivers, with the Sea of Japan to the west, and the Japanese Alps mountain range to the east. Zweigen play their home games at the 20,261-capacity Ishikawa Athletics Stadium / 石川県西部緑地公園陸上競技場 which is located within the Seibu Ryokuchi Park, in the northwest of the city, and next to the confluence of Fushimi River into the larger Sai River.

The club was formed way back in 1956 under its original name of Kanazawa Soccer Club, although its history was spent playing in the regional leagues of a region not traditionally known for its football teams. It wouldn’t be until 2006 that the club switched to its current name with the aim of gaining promotion to the Japan Football League. The name “Zweigen” is a portmanteau of the German words “zwei” (English: “two“) and “gehen” (English: “to advance“) meaning the two components of Kanazawa, the club, and its supporters, will advance forward together. Kanazawa’s badge is the black fleur-de-lis which is meant to symbolise the black lily, the official flower of Ishikawa Prefecture.

After having competed in the regional leagues throughout the club’s history, Kanazawa finally achieved promotion to the Japan Football League (JFL) in December 2009 when they defeated FC Kariya 2-1 in the two-legged promotion/relegation playoff. The club played four seasons in the JFL, finishing as high as seventh position, before becoming one of the twelve founding members of the new J3 League in 2014, the newly-created third-tier league in the Japanese pyramid that leapfrogged the JFL in the football structure. Kanazawa’s stay in the new league was very brief as they became the inaugural J3 champions, and earned themselves promotion to the J2 for the very first time. Kanazawa finished their promotion campaign six points ahead of nearest rivals Nagano Parceiro.

The Ishikawa Athletics Stadium from 2018.
[IMAGE: Courtesy of Kanazawa Dreamin’]

Since their debut in the second tier in 2015, Kanazawa have continually finished in the bottom half of the J2 table. They narrowly avoided relegation from J2 in 2016 after finishing in 21st position and avoided automatic relegation by a single point, but they managed to win the two-legged promotion/relegation playoff against that season’s J3 runners-up, Tochigi SC, 3-0 on aggregate to maintain their J2 berth. The club’s best league finish came in the 2019 season when Kanazawa finished in the top half for the only time when they finished in eleventh position. In 2021, Zweigen Kanazawa finished in seventeenth position, a place improvement on the previous year’s efforts, whilst for this year’s schedule, Kanazawa maintained their J2 spot for another year when they finished in fourteenth position, albeit with the league’s second-worst defence (69 goals conceded)!

To talk about a club who were the inaugural J3 champion and is becoming a mainstay in the Japanese second tier by having its ninth consecutive season in J2 for the 2023 campaign, we spoke to James from the excellent Kanazawa Dreamin’ Twitter account. A Crystal Palace supporter living in Ishikawa Prefecture, he reports on all things going on at Zweigen Kanazawa in the English language. In addition, he is also the co-host of the superb J-Talk: Extra Time podcast, a regularly produced podcast that covers the J2 and J3 leagues, and part of the J-Talk podcast network. To find the Kanazawa Dreamin’ account, and the J-Talk: Extra Time podcasts and media channels, follow the links below:

Q. Who would you say is Zweigen Kanazawa’s best player, and coach/manager of all-time, and the reasonings behind the choices?

Shohei Kiyohara

The best player based on their achievements at the club has to be Shohei Kiyohara, Kanazawa’s all-time top scorer (47 goals from 184 games). From 2013 to 2015, the right-sided midfielder’s goals helped propel Kanazawa from the Japan Football League to J3 and briefly to the top of J2 in our first season at that level. He was our top scorer in each of those seasons, and when he left for Cerezo Osaka at the end of 2015, we struggled to replace his goals. He came back for two more seasons in 2018 and scored in front of the home fans just moments after coming on as a substitute in his final appearance for the club.

Masaaki Yanagishita

As for the manager, it’s a toss-up between the current manager, Masaaki Yanagishita, and his predecessor, Hitoshi Morishita. Morishita spent five years at Kanazawa, taking us from the JFL to J3, which we won at the first attempt, then to the top of J2 for a while in 2015. Unfortunately, 2016 was a poor season, and he left after securing safety in a relegation playoff. Yanagishita is just completing his sixth season as Kanazawa boss. In each of the first three years, he oversaw a gradual improvement in performances and final league position. In the second half of the 2020 season, our form dipped, and in 2021 we only survived relegation on the final day despite having been third after six matches. This year has been steadier for the most part, although there was a worrying midseason dip in form. Tactically, Yanagishita is not particularly flexible, and he seems not to be able to end runs of poor form, but on good days his teams play exciting attacking football, and he has always been committed to giving young players plenty of game time. I think Yanagishita edges it for me, with the caveat that I only saw one season (the worst) of Morishita’s tenure.

Q. Who could be regarded as a ‘cult hero’ for the club in both the past and present squads?

Kyohei Sugiura

Of the current squad, it’s got to be striker Kyohei Sugiura and goalkeeper Yuto Shirai. Both are hugely popular with the Kanazawa supporters, they are first and third on the all-time appearances list for the club. Sugiura is currently enjoying a tremendous season and is Kanazawa’s second-highest scorer of all time (27 goals from 224 games). He’s highly regarded as a player who will produce something, whether it’s a goal or a key pass, when the team needs it. A revealing stat is that going into the final game of this season, Sugiura has 7 goals and 7 assists, and in games in which he has scored or assisted, Kanazawa have not lost (8 wins, 4 draws). In fact, Kanazawa are unbeaten in 16 games when Sugiura has scored or assisted, going back to late 2020.

Yuto Shirai

Yuto Shirai joined Kanazawa at the start of the 2017 season and has played 199 times for us, but he had a nightmare debut: he rushed 40 yards out of his goal to clear the ball, completely fluffed it, and gifted an Ehime striker the only goal of the game. Things got better after that, and by 2019 he was widely regarded as one of the best keepers in J2. His form dipped in 2020 (as did the entire team’s, in fairness) and in 2021 he lost the starting position to Masaaki Goto. Shirai was reinstated as the number one for 2022, and has regularly shown signs of the keeper he was three years ago. A measure of his popularity at the club is that I’ve seen more than one family of four all wearing Shirai shirts.

Keiya Nakami

From the past, I think I would choose Keiya Nakami. He was a right winger who joined on loan from Sagan Tosu midway through the 2016 season and instantly provided an attacking spark that had been completely lacking prior to his arrival. He scored 2 league goals that year, earning four vital points, but more importantly, he scored 2 goals in the second leg of the relegation playoff against Tochigi, his former club and hometown team, to keep Kanazawa in J2. The following year he bagged 12 goals and assisted 6 more playing as a striker with the experienced Koichi Sato, before moving to Matsumoto Yamaga, where he won J2.

Q. Of the current squad, who would you say is the best player at the club and why?

Hiroya Matsumoto

This is a tough one. We have former Japanese international Yohei Toyoda, who despite being at the end of his career and somewhat limited in what he can do, is still an effective player. We have talented attackers like Shintaro Shimada, Masamichi Hayashi, and the aforementioned Sugiura, plus keeper Shirai. But for me, the most talented player is midfielder Hiroya Matsumoto. He joined on loan from Sanfrecce Hiroshima at the start of this season and as the year’s gone on he has increasingly shown his value and ability, playing as a central midfielder or on the left. He has 8 goals and 2 assists, and at the time of writing (before the last game of the season) he is on an incredible run of form: 7 goals and 2 assists in 12 games. He was chosen as the J2 MVP for September, and his performances in the second half of the season have made it increasingly unlikely that he’ll be with us next year. I’m excited to see what he can do at a higher level.

Q. Who would you say is the most exciting up & coming talent at Zweigen?

Yuto Nagamine

The 22-year-old left-back, Yuto Nagamine, is the standout of a fairly young squad. He joined from Takushoku University midway through last season on a special arrangement, and played 15 times. This year he quickly took the starting position from Shunya Mouri. Defensively he is still raw, but in attack, he is very useful, and his crosses have earned him 5 assists. In attack, he formed a potent partnership with Toyoda: Nagamine crosses, Toyoda heads. If he continues to develop, especially in terms of his defensive work, there’s no reason why he can’t go on to great things.

Q. Who would you regard as Kanazawa’s biggest or historical rivals?

Kanazawa is quite isolated as a football club – our nearest neighbours in J2 this year were 300km away. Our biggest rival, though, is based on history more than geography. For many years, Kanazawa and Matsumoto Yamaga have come up against each other in the Hokushinetsu Regional League, the JFL, and J2. Of the 16 matches between the teams, Kanazawa have won twice: a penalty shootout win in the Regional Champions League in 2009, and a 1-0 win away in 2020. The fact that Matsumoto have beaten us so many (10) times adds to the sense of rivalry on our part. It also helps that they’re not too far away, so both sides are able to take plenty of supporters to away games.

Apart from Matsumoto, it’s hard to pick any other rivals really. Albirex Niigata are comparatively close, but that has never sparked as a rivalry, I don’t think. Kanazawa tried to market matches with FC Gifu as the “Hakusan Derby”, named after the mountain that straddles the border between Ishikawa and Gifu prefectures, but Gifu got relegated from J2 before that could really capture anyone’s imagination. Kataller Toyama would be a potential rival, but we have never played them in the J.League: their sole season in J2 was our sole season in J3.

Q. How would you describe the current performance or state of the club? How do you think this season has gone?

This season has been a mixed bag for Kanazawa. Compared to last year, it’s been a massive improvement, but the failure to build on a steady start to the season has been a disappointment. Likewise, the defence has been poor in the second half of the season: we haven’t kept a clean sheet in 18 games. In July and August, we went on an inexplicable five-game losing streak in which we conceded at least three goals in each (three 3-0s followed by two 4-1s). After that, the attack got going again and we managed to score enough to compensate for the defensive frailties and secure safety with several games to spare.

The 2022 J2 League table.
[IMAGE: Wikipedia]

Overall, the club is doing OK. Before the pandemic, average attendances were gradually increasing. They’re going up again now, but slowly – attracting supporters in an area like this, which is not a traditionally sporty area, is difficult. The club announced a target average attendance of 4,000 for this year, and it looks like they’ll fall slightly short. They also fell 8 short of their target of 3,700 fan club members, but that’s still a good effort. The club has been working hard on different events, activities, and promotions to try and get people to come to games, but then getting them to come again is hard, especially if the team loses and then they get rained on or stuck in traffic getting out of the car park at the stadium. That will hopefully be solved by our new stadium, due to open for the 2024 season, which will be a football-specific stadium located much closer to Kanazawa Station and with covered stands for home supporters, no athletics track, and incorporating aspects of universal design to make it more accessible.

Q. Looking at the club’s history, what would you say has been the best game, result, or performance in your opinion?

It’s hard to pick just one, so I’ve picked a few that have been important at various points during our time in J2. First, a 2-0 away win over Cerezo Osaka on matchday 7 in 2015. This was a shock result: recently relegated from J1 against just promoted from J3. It was part of the surprise start to the season that saw us sitting on top of J2 for a while. Second, the relegation playoff matches against Tochigi at the end of the 2016 season. We had been in the bottom three from matchday 3, and only avoided finishing dead last thanks to two 0-0 draws away to Yokohama FC and champions Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo. Finishing second-bottom meant a two-legged playoff against the J3 runners-up Tochigi. We won the first leg away thanks to a late goal, then the “home” leg – which was actually played in Toyama due to construction work at the stadium in Kanazawa – 2-0.

A night home game in 2021.
[IMAGE: Courtesy of Kanazawa Dreamin’]

Third, I’ve chosen another result that was crucial in keeping us in J2, and the best game I’ve been at. In 2021, we went on a 13-game winless run from July to October. After that, we managed to pick up some points but a run of three straight losses left us going into the final two games against strong opponents in Montedio Yamagata and promoted Kyoto Sanga knowing we needed results to stay up. The game against Yamagata was a great one played in glorious November sunshine. A valiant defensive effort kept Yamagata at bay, and we had a few good chances on the counterattack but couldn’t take them, until the 79th minute, when keeper Goto caught a corner and rolled it gently to the feet of striker Yuji Senuma, who had come on three minutes earlier. Senuma charged up the middle of the pitch and laid the ball off to Ryuhei Oishi on the left, just outside the Yamagata area. Oishi took a few seconds as Senuma continued his run unnoticed, and put a cross perfectly onto his head for the first goal. When Yamagata equalised via a deflection in the 86th minute, the mood around the stadium was “here we go again”. But in stoppage time, Yuto Nagamine hoofed the ball clear of our area and it landed in the vicinity of Senuma near the halfway line. He managed to head it past the last defender and found himself one-on-one with a rapidly retreating keeper. Senuma set himself and curled the ball into the bottom corner for 2-1, and three vital points. I still get goosebumps thinking about it. I wrote this from memory, so it might be inaccurate and romanticised, but you can see the highlights here:

Q. Do you have a favourite or iconic shirt from the history of the club?

The 2019 Kanazawa Summer shirt.
[IMAGE: Zweigen Kanazawa Website]

There’s a tradition in Japanese football of teams producing special kits for a few games in the summer. Kanazawa never really did this, but when they did it was a beauty: the black and gold kits in 2019, before seemingly every club started having a black and gold kit. Gold is particularly relevant to Kanazawa as the city produces something like 98% of the world’s gold leaf, and it’s a huge part of the city’s history and culture, as well as its tourist industry. The only Kanazawa shirt I’ve bought (so far!) is the concept shirt based on the design for the 2019 summer kit.

Q. What are the best and worst things about being a fan of the club?

One for the floodlight lovers out there!
[IMAGE: Courtesy of Kanazawa Dreamin’]

The worst things are the frequent disappointments, be they on-field performances or getting rained on while watching them. We actually got snowed on at the first home game this year! The best thing, though, is the sense of potential around the club: there is surely a market for Zweigen, and the club will find it eventually. There’s the potential of the new stadium, and the on-field potential of a young-ish squad, many of whom will go on to bigger and better things, will hopefully help this club to develop as they develop themselves. With a club like Zweigen Kanazawa, I think the high points stand out more because there’s not often a lot to celebrate.

Q. Finally, what are your hopes for the future of Zweigen Kanazawa?

For the club to keep growing off the pitch and keep improving on the pitch, with players and a manager who give their all for the club.

A massive thank you to James from Kanazawa Dreamin’ and the J-Talk: Extra Time podcast, for answering our questions on the J2 side Zweigen Kanazawa. Remember you can find their excellent social media account and podcast in the links towards the top of the blogpage.

If you have any comments, suggestions, reactions, or even your own answers to the above questions, please write them in the comments box below. Likewise, you can either email us at the94thmin@gmail.com or send a message at @The94thMin on Twitter.

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