横浜FC / Yokohama FC
- City: Yokohama, Kanagawa Prefecture / 横浜市, 神奈川県
- Founded: 1998
- Ground: Mitsuzawa Stadium (15,046)
- Nicknames: Fulie
- Colours: Cyan shirts with navy blue trim, white shorts, and navy blue socks.
- 2023 League: J1 League
- Club Website: https://www.yokohamafc.com/
- Club Twitter: @yokohama_fc/
- Club Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/yokohamafc1999/
- Best League Finish: 15th in the J1 League (2020)
- Best Emperor’s Cup Finish: Round of 16/Fifth Round (3 times)
- J.League Division 2
- Champions (1): 2006
- Japan Football League
- Champions (2): 1999, 2000
Yokohama FC / 横浜FC is a Japanese club that currently plays in the J1 League, the top-tier league in the Japanese football pyramid. They are based in the important high-tech industrial hub and the cosmopolitan port city of Yokohama / 横浜市, situated in Kanagawa Province, within the Kantō region, on the central-eastern coast of the main Japanese island of Honshu. Yokohama is Japan’s second most populous city with a population of 3,8 million inhabitants and is located on the western banks of Tokyo Bay, with the Katabira River flowing through it.
Yokohama FC currently plays its home games at the 15,046-capacity Mitsuzawa Stadium, currently known by its sponsored name of the NHK Spring Mitsuzawa Football Stadium / ニッパツ三ツ沢球技場, which is positioned within the central ward of Kanagawa-ku / 神奈川区. Opened in 1955, and further expanded in both 1964 and 1993, the ground can be found within Mitsuzawa Park and next to the Athletic Stadium of the same name. It was also the traditional home of Yokohama FC’s predecessor, Yokohama Flügels.
The club was founded on Christmas Day 1998 by fans of “Original Ten” side Yokohama Flügels as a protest against the Flügels’ forced merger with fierce city rivals Yokohama Marinos (to become Yokohama F. Marinos) in 1999. They felt their side was being dissolved rather than merged with the Marinos and thus decided to create a new team rather than support the Marinos. Following the socio model that is famously used by FC Barcelona, they created Yokohama FC, the first supporter-owned Japanese professional sports team. The phoenix on their badge symbolises the rise of Yokohama FC from the ashes of the Flügels, with the blue ribbon on the top representing the ‘Blue Ribbon Movement‘ that began in 1998 to initially keep the Flügels alive.
The new club attempted to automatically join the professional J.League in 1999 but the Japanese FA only permitted them entry to the third-tier amateur Japan Football League (JFL) and additionally ruled they would not be eligible for promotion to the J2 League at the end of the club’s first season. Unexpectantly, Yokohama FC won the JFA title in their debut season and were thus denied promotion with Mito Hollyhock getting promoted instead. However, Yokohama successfully defended their JFA title in the following season meaning the club was finally allowed to join the J.League for the 2001 season.
Yokohama FC’s initial stay in the J2 League was a difficult one as a lack of financial power in comparison with other teams in the league resulted in the club finishing in the bottom half of the J2. Yokohama FC’s financial situation was so poor that they didn’t even own their own football ground or a clubhouse, and the players did everything themselves including carrying the goalposts and washing their own jerseys. Under such circumstances, it meant that their 2006 campaign became so memorable and captivated the Japanese football community. Despite the club finishing in eleventh position in 2005, Yokohama managed to shock everyone by finishing the 2006 campaign as the J2 champions and getting promoted to the J1 League for the first time – nine years after the Flügels’ final appearance in the top flight.
Sadly, Yokohama’s first season in the J1 was a brief stay as they were relegated after just one season by finishing rock bottom of the league having earned just 16 points from their campaign. Their return back to the second tier would result in another lengthy stay by competing for twelve consecutive seasons in the J2, more often finishing mid-table in the league. It wouldn’t be until the late 2010s that the club consistently challenged for promotion once again. They achieved a third-place finish in 2018, missing out on automatic promotion by goal difference, before failing the playoffs when they lost to sixth-placed team Tokyo Verdy through a 97th-minute injury-time winner to cap off an agonising conclusion to the season. However, Yokohama managed to heal the heartbreak of the previous campaign when they achieved their second promotion to J1 in the 2019 season by finishing as runners-up to J2 champions, Kashiwa Reysol.
During the 2020 J1 campaign, which was hugely affected by the pandemic and resulted in no clubs being relegated, Yokohama achieved their highest league placement by finishing in fifteenth position to confirm a second season in a row in the top flight for the first time in their history. Alas, the club would suffer ‘second season syndrome’ by finishing bottom of the J1 table (and ten points adrift of safety) to return back to the second tier for the 2022 season. However, unlike their previous relegation, Yokohama made an instant return to the top flight by concluding their schedule in second place, eight points ahead of nearest rivals Fagiano Okayama, to make an instant return to the J1 league for the 2023 season.
To talk about a club that has fluctuated between the top two leagues of the Japanese football pyramid over the past few years, and will be looking to avoid relegation back to the J2 for this ongoing season in the J1 league, we interviewed the excellent Yokohama FC Foreign Supporters Group Twitter account. As the name suggests, it is an unofficial account that reports on all things happening with the Fulie to its international fans in the English language. To find out more about the group, their social media accounts can be found in the list below:
- Twitter: @YokohamaFSG
Q. Firstly, how did you decide to start following and supporting Yokohama FC?
I started living in Japan around 2015. At that point, I really missed watching live football. My wife is from Yokohama and I wanted to have that connection with the city. While I’m a Manchester City supporter I couldn’t quite bond with our city rivals Yokohama F. Marinos, so Yokohama FC it was. Unfortunately, my career took me to many different countries so was unable to follow them in person, but followed them online. Then COVID came and we thought it best to move back to Japan. This will be my first full season of being able to go to every home game.
Q. From your time following the club, who has been your favourite player, and the reasoning behind your choice?
It’s a hard choice, and perhaps maybe an obvious one but really liked Shunsuke Nakamura [legendary attacking midfielder who played for Japan 98 times and scored 24 goals and played for Yokohama FC between 2019 and 2022]. He seemed to have a really good ethic, was very friendly with the fans, and was great at free kicks. He retired last season but he’s sticking around the club [appointed as a first-team coach]. I feel like his experience is invaluable for us, and unlike Kazu (Kazuyoshi Miura), he knew when to stop playing. The only downside is that he played for our rivals Marinos but he has overcome that with his loyalty to the club.
Q. Of the current squad, who would you say is the best player at the club and why?
At the moment I’d have to say [25-year-old forward] Koki Ogawa. He was our top scorer in J2 [with 26 goals in 41 games], and even though we have started terribly, he has scored nearly all of our goals so far this season [3 goals at the time of writing]. It’s still early days as to whether he can truly repeat the J2 success in J1, but he shows effort and commitment for the team.
Q. Who would you say is the most exciting up & coming talent at the club?
I would have mentioned Zain Issaka [25-year-old defender], he seemed really promising, but never quite got into a rhythm with us but thought he had potential. Shawn van Eerden [18-year-old defender] has shown some potential in the under-21s but seems unlikely he’ll get much play time at the moment. We don’t have a vast youth system at the club, relying on getting youth players from either high school or university teams.
Q. Who would you regard as Yokohama’s biggest or historical rivals?
It has to be Yokohama F. Marinos. Back in the day we were called Yokohama Flugels and were a pretty successful team. Then they merged with the other Yokohama team – Yokohama Marinos to form Yokohama F. Marinos. Many Flugel fans felt like our club was totally forgotten and so created a phoenix club based on the socio model. We started off with not much money at all and really struggled financially. We still don’t have a lot of money, not enough to really compete with the bigger clubs. So our city rivals still remain our biggest rivals. They have held the upper hand for much of our history and we haven’t literally and metaphorically been in the same league as them. The rivalry is intense. I don’t like them very much but we’re at the moment not able to really compete with them financially or on the pitch.
Q. What has been the best game, result, or performance from your time following the club?
It has to be when we won 3-1 against our city rivals. We did it at home but in the midst of the pandemic so we couldn’t really celebrate. But what a game! We looked so good and it was nice to beat Marinos for a change. That is still our only win against them but was so nice to be able to have that win and have pride in the team.
Q. What do you think of the situation in Japanese league football currently? Are there any improvements you would like to see happen?
I’d like to see European clubs pay far more for the talent that’s here and, at the same time, I’d like the league and clubs to try to keep the talent here in the league. I’d also like better communication about injuries and would be great to have pyro at games too.
Q. How would you describe the current performance or state of the club? How do you think this past season has gone?
Well, we’ve just been promoted to J1 after one season back in J2. That seems like we yo-yo between the leagues but in reality, we’ve spent much of our time in J2. Our last outing in J1 was an unmitigated disaster, although we nearly managed the impossible by avoiding relegation in the end it was all too little too late. We had a pretty good J2 season and we almost stormed the league. A mid-season bump followed by an uninspiring finish meant we ended J2 in second place, enough to secure automatic promotion. The club spent money in the off-season and bought a load of players. Think Nottingham Forrest amount. We are probably most pundits’ choice for automatic relegation as we don’t have a great defense. That being said, our first two league games (a loss and a draw) showed some real positives. It felt like we might just have enough if we tightened a few things up. More recently we haven’t been playing well, our defense is poor and our manager wants to play from the back. Our current goalie has made several mistakes and we’ve scored an insane amount of OGs. Our next game (at the time of writing) is vital against a team who might be our nearest league competitor.
Q. What are the best and worst things about being a fan of the club?
The best things are the fans. We don’t have a massive fan base but the ultras are friendly, welcoming, and more importantly loud. The stadium too is amazing. Unusually for Japan, you’re right up close to the pitch like back home in the UK. You can also bring beer into the grounds and it’s a great atmosphere.
The worst things are undoubtedly losing. There is nothing worse than making the long trip home. Secondly, while the atmosphere is really good this season, it’s been a bit muted. The club has to compete with much bigger clubs in our local area for new fans and so they’re desperate to not put people off from the club. They’ve been fighting with supporters groups about flags and banners and it’s not been well handled at all. So we’re in a situation where away fans this season have been bringing in more flags and banners than we have been able to ourselves.
Q. Finally, what are your hopes for the future of Yokohama FC?
In my heart, I would love us to be able to stay and compete in J1 and get a big sponsor to help fund that. I’d also just wish for us to simply keep going and for more fans, especially foreigners, to take an interest in us. We might not have all the glitz and glamour of other clubs but we’re a club that’s local and that matters. We are a club for fans and you can come and support us and feel like a valued fan.
A massive thank you to the Yokohama FC Foreign Supporters Group Twitter account for answering our questions on the J1 League side Yokohama FC. 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 firstname.lastname@example.org or send a message at @The94thMin on Twitter.