FC今治 / FC Imabari
- City: Imabari, Ehime Prefecture / 今治市, 愛媛県
- Founded: 1976
- Ground: Imabari Satoyama Stadium (5,316)
- Nicknames: n/a
- Colours: Blue shirt with hexagonal tiled design and yellow trim, blue shorts and socks with yellow trim.
- 2023 League: J3 League
- Club Website: https://www.fcimabari.com/
- Club Twitter: @fcimabari
- Club Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/fcimabari
- Club Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/fcimabari_official/
- Best League Finish: 5th in the J3 League (2022)
- Best Emperor’s Cup Finish: Third Round (2012)
- Shikoku Soccer League
- Champions (5): 2011, 2012, 2013, 2015, 2016
- Japanese Regional League
- Champions (1): 2016
FC Imabari / FC今治 are a Japanese club that currently plays in the J3 League, the third-tier league in the Japanese football pyramid. They are based in the shipbuilding port city of Imabari / 今治市, which is the second-largest city in Ehime Prefecture / 愛媛県 with an estimated population of about 153k inhabitants. Imabari is located at a strategically important point on Shikoku’s / 四国 (the smallest of the four main islands of Japan) northwestern coast and guards the middle section of the Seto Inland Sea in the southwest of Japan. FC Imabari currently plays its home games at the newly built 5,316-capacity Imabari Satoyama Stadium which can be found on the city’s western outskirts. They originally played at the 5,030-capacity Arigato Service Dream Stadium between 2017 and 2022 before moving to their new stadium in January 2023.
FC Imabari was founded in 1976 and has spent the majority of its history in the local regional leagues, only achieving promotion to the Shikoku Soccer League (SSL) in 2001. Between 2009 and 2011, the club was owned by local rivals Ehime FC and became their reserve team, changing the club’s name to Ehime FC Shimanami to reflect this. The reserve side won its first SSL title in the final year of Ehime’s ownership before the club reverted back to its current name in 2012 as it split away from Ehime. They would continue to dominate the SSL for the next five years by winning the regional title a further four times. 2012 would also see Imabari achieve their best performance in the Emperor’s Cup when they reached the third round. The highlight of that run was the amazing and historic ‘cupset’ against that year’s J1 champions Sanfrecce Hiroshima with the fifth-tier club winning their more illustrious opponents 2-1.
Imabari would later be bought by former Japanese national team coach, Takeshi Okada (who managed the Samurai Blue from 1997 to 1998, and again from 2007 to 2010) in 2014, and is still the chairman of the club today. Under new ownership, it saw the club develop towards future progression through the Japanese pyramid. Firstly, they acquired the J.League Hundred Year Vision license from the JFA in 2016 which is a requirement for a club to join the J.League structure, and they further enhanced their position when in the same year they won Regional Promotion Series. This enabled them to gain promotion to the fourth-tier Japan Football League (JFL).
Imabari spent three seasons in the JFL, often improving their points tally and league finish every season. In their first season, they finished in sixth position, before then achieving a fifth-placed finish in the following season. In their final season in the JFL, Imabari finished in third place during the 2019 season which was a high enough position (along with the 100-Year Plan status) to achieve promotion to the J3 League.
The 2023 season will be Imabari’s fourth consecutive season at the third-tier level since their promotion from the JFL. After previously finishing in seventh and eleventh positions respectively, Imabari achieved their highest league placement to date when they concluded the 2022 J3 League campaign with a fifth-place finish and just seven points adrift of the promotion places. With the club having acquired a J2 license in 2021, it means that should the club finish in the top two spots this coming season, Imabari will be able to earn promotion to Japan’s second tier.
To talk about a club that is upwardly mobile in the Japanese football pyramid and considered one of the favourites to gain promotion from the J3 League in 2023, we interviewed the excellent Jonatan from the superb ‘The Imabari Anchor‘ Twitter account. It is an unofficial English-language Twitter account that reports on all news involving FC Imabari for the club’s foreign supporters dotted around the world., with Jonatan himself being based in Sweden. To find out more about The Imabari Anchor, you can find their social media accounts in the links below:
- Twitter: @Imabari_Anchor
- Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/imabari_anchor/
Q. Firstly, how did you decide to start following and supporting FC Imabari?
I actually started following J3 as recently as a few years ago, having previously followed J1 and J2. I remember that one of the first J3 matches I saw the highlights from was an Imabari home game against Fujieda MYFC. Then, I also remember immediately falling in love with the Yume Stadium, our previous home stadium which sadly has been replaced for the upcoming season. Eventually, I also began to admire their colors (which I, as a Swede, obviously appreciate), and also the club’s supporters, who I find to be absolutely fantastic.
Q. From your time following the club, who has been your favourite player, and the reasoning behind your choice?
My favorite Imabari player is our Brazilian right midfielder/winger Marcus Índio. Besides his very good technique, he is also a fantastic finisher. Last season, he scored nine goals (actually just third-best in the team) and averaged 3.8 shots per 90 minutes. In other words, he has a great instinct for goals and is always very active in the offensive play.
Q. Of the current squad, who would you say is the best player at the club and why?
This is actually a very difficult question to answer. In my view, Imabari is a very balanced team, and I think that there are great qualities in all positions. However, if I have to pick just one player, it would probably be Kazaki Nakagawa. Although it is perhaps a bit boring to choose yet another offensive player, I believe that he is absolutely crucial for us. He arrived at Imabari from Kyoto Sanga ahead of the last season, and I have no hesitation in saying that I don’t think Imabari would have finished as high in the table without him. He is able to play both as an attacking midfielder and as a forward, and he scored 12 goals and made 4 assists in 2022. He is not only a good finisher but also very good in the pressing game. He certainly is a real key player, and I am very happy that we have been able to keep him for yet another season!
Q. Who would you say is the most exciting up & coming talent at the club?
Imabari actually has one of the oldest squads in J3 this year, but we still have some young players with great potential. I am very pleased that we have made a permanent deal with Hayato Teruyama after he was previously on loan from Vegalta Sendai. He is 22 years old, and a great centre-back who made 22 appearances in the league last year. Apart from Teruyama, I’m also very much looking forward to seeing more of our 20-year-old forward Taisei Takase, who seems to be very promising!
Q. Who would you regard as Imabari’s biggest or historical rivals?
Our biggest rival is definitely our prefectural neighbour, Ehime FC. Ehime actually owned Imabari between the years 2009-2011, and was then used as their reserve team (playing as Ehime FC Shimanami). Since then, a rivalry has flared up, and the two teams have met each other a number of times in cup competitions and friendlies. However, the first league meeting didn’t come until the 2022 season, and there was a fantastic atmosphere at Yume Stadium! Apart from Ehime FC, the matches against the other Shikoku teams could also be counted as derbies. These teams are Tokushima Vortis, Kamatamare Sanuki, and Kochi United. Right now, however, only Sanuki plays in the same division as Imabari.
Q. From the last season, what would you say was the best game, result, or performance in your opinion?
Imabari had some great results last season (including a stunning 4-3 win away to Kagoshima United), but I still think I have to pick our 2-0 derby win at home to Ehime. As previously mentioned, this was the first professional league meeting ever between these two clubs. Ehime started the match well, but Imabari gradually grew into it and managed to take the lead in injury time of the first half. The goal came from a right-sided free kick which, after some confusion in the penalty area, was flicked in by our centre-back Tomoya Ando. The second half started very evenly with chances in both directions, but again Imabari drew the longest straw and scored in the 77th minute. This time it was Takatora Kondo who first received a long ball, dribbled into the penalty area, and fired a shot that was deflected off an Ehime player and went into the goal. Overall, the match was very even, but after a real team effort, Imabari managed to take it home. Afterwards, a real party atmosphere followed in the stadium!
Q. What do you think of the situation in Japanese league football currently? Are there any improvements you would like to see happen?
Professional football is still quite young in Japan, and over the course of the seasons, there have been many changes in the structures of the leagues respectively. The most recent change in the overall structure is that all three leagues, starting in 2024, will contain 20 teams. Currently, this implies no change for Imabari (since J3 already contains 20 teams), but hopefully, it will make it easier for newly promoted J3 teams to establish in J2. Regarding changes I would like to see, I would strongly appreciate a J3 promotion playoff. Hopefully, that would intensify both the promotion battle of J3 and the relegation battle of J2.
Q. How would you describe the current performance or state of the club? How do you think this past season has gone?
Overall, I’m pretty happy with how our last season went. Imabari finished fifth, seven points behind second-placed (and promoted) side Fujieda. At times, we tended to drop points against lower-ranked opposition, something we need to fix to really challenge for promotion in 2023. However, we fared better against opposition higher up the table, managing to win all four games against both the two promoted sides, Iwaki FC and Fujieda. Looking ahead, it is very difficult to predict where we will end up in 2023. Someone described the promotion battle of J3 2023 as a guessing game, and indeed that’s certainly what it is. There are at least five of the previous J3 teams who want to join and challenge for promotion this season. And then we have both FC Ryukyu and Iwate Grulla Morioka who come down from J2 and definitely hope to jump straight back up. Apart from all these teams, things usually go well for the promoted JFL sides, and both Nara Club and FC Osaka seem (in my view) very well prepared. I know that a lot of people have Imabari in the top two, but personally, I’m really not sure. Certainly, we have upgraded the squad since last season, but I don’t know if it will be enough to gain promotion.
Q. What are the best and worst things about being a fan of the club?
The best thing must be the club’s high ambition, and its qualifications to achieve it. Imabari is, compared to many others, still a very small club, but I think the possibility is certainly there to be promoted in one of the upcoming seasons. Personally, I think it’s fantastic to be part of a club’s journey in that way. I’ve had a lot of trouble coming up with anything bad, and the only thing I can think of is that Imabari does not always have the best support at away games. We don’t have too many “hardcore supporters”, who always accompany the team. Still, I think Imabari’s support at the home games is fantastic, and there is a real community feel amongst the supporters!
Q. Finally, what are your hopes for the future of FC Imabari?
Actually, I only have one hope, and that is promotion in one of the upcoming seasons. It might sound a bit harsh, but I fear Imabari will be stuck in J3 if promotion is not achieved in the next few seasons.
A massive thank you to Jonatan from The Imabari Anchor Twitter account for answering our questions on the J3 League side FC Imabari. Remember you can find their social media accounts 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 email@example.com or send a message at @The94thMin on Twitter.
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