Thursday, November 5, 2009

When a giant falls - Curtains for FC Nippon?

Chances are, you don't know much about Tokyo Verdy FC, if you know anything about them.

Verdy was once Japan's foremost soccer club, a giant in a sea of minnows. Originally known as Yomiuri FC -- owned by the same company that owns baseball's wildly successful Yomiuri Giants, thirty-times Champions of the Central League -- Verdy was founded in 1969 -- thus it's old name: Tokyo Verdy 1969 -- and eventually ascending to the top of Japanese soccer, the Japan Soccer League First Division, in 1977 before winning their first trophy, the JSL Cup, in 1979. This success was the first of many for Yomiuri FC and inevitably spurred comparison's to the Giants causing Yomuiri to envision a soccer version of their famed baseball team, complete with top stars and massive crowds. Yomuiri took to boastfully calling the club "FC Nippon", Japan's team, in an effort to attract fans from every corner of the Land of the Rising Sun.

To a degree, it worked, eventually Yomuiri would claim continental glory in the form of the Asian Club Championship in 1987/88. Yomuiri's success would continue on into the '90's when the JFA decided to move away from corporate club and onto clubs with a more civic or provincial styling with the foundation of the J. League in 1992. Yomuiri became founder members of the new league under the name Verdy Kawasaki, a homage to their green uniforms and Kanagawa hometown. The first three editions of the J. League were extremely successful for Verdy as they claimed two championships and played before crowds of well over 20,000 each season. But that success would come to an abrupt end in 1996 as Verdy finished 7th of 16. The 1996 Emperor's Cup would prove to be Verdy's final triumph of the decade, and final trophy in Kawasaki.

In 2001, following a succession of poor seasons both on and off the pitch Verdy decided to decamp for Tokyo in an effort to tap into what they saw as an under-served market and to get farther away from the cluster of successful clubs, such as Yokohama Marinos and upstarts Kawasaki Frontale, which called Kanagawa home. The move backfired, spectacularly. By the time Verdy moved in Tokyo was already home to a J. League club, the beloved FC Tokyo, and FCT's fans wanted no part of Verdy and began to taunt the former giants with banners proclaiming their club as the "Real Tokyo FC". Verdy's crowds did improve from Kawasaki, but were still short of FC Tokyo's numbers. A continued lack of success on the field eventually drove fans away from Verdy, and to the Gas Men, who despite not being terribly successful had always been Tokyo's club.


FC Tokyo supporters before the Tokyo Derby. From: yken0109

In 2005, despite the best efforts of their lionhearted Brazilian Washington, Verdy were relegated. FC Nippon was facing away trips to the likes of Mito Hollyhock and Avispa Fukuoka. It was embarrassing for what was once considered footballing royalty in Japan, and even more embarrassing were the crowds that turned up at the Ajinomoto Stadium: 5,700. Following a mid-table finish, Verdy were able to claw their way back into the top flight as runners-up, back where they belonged, or so they hoped. 2008 saw an impotent Verdy relegated once again, and could have proved the final blow to an aging giant.

It has been reported that Verdy must come up with $6,000,000 by November 16th or the club will hit the wall as Nippon TV, who purchased the club from Yomiuri in the late 90's have attempted to rid themselves of the club.

It's not right to gloat at other's misery, but it's difficult to feel bad for Verdy as a club, though it's easy to feel sympathy for it's supporters. They didn't move the club, after all. With that said, there would be some poetic justice if Frontale, the pride and joy of Kawasaki, were to win their first title in Verdy's final season.

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