As a Brit the autumn season always brings with it a palpable excitement for me. Despite the oncoming of the colder months, autumn also brings with it the dawning of the new football (soccer) season; a time when hopes are high and possibilities are seemingly endless (until that first 5-0 thrashing by your local rivals happens, of course).
Unfortunately, with the eight and soon to be nine hour time differences between Japan and the UK, unless I want to revert to the sort of sleeping patterns I kept during my university days I don’t often get to watch my team play. However, I have found a way around this by adopting a local team, and it just so happens that in Nagoya we have one of the most famous teams in Japan.
Nagoya Grampus were initially formed as Toyota Motor Soccer Club, which later become the Nagoya Grampus Eight currently play in the J League Division 1. The etymology of the team’s name comes from the golden dolphins that adorn the roof of Nagoya castle (there is a genus of dolphin entitled grampus, although the figures atop Nagoya-jo are probably more accurately described as “shachi,” a mythical animal with the head of a tiger and the body of a carp… but I digress). The number eight, whilst no longer making up part of the official team name, can still be found in the club badge and represents Nagoya’s official symbol the maru-hachi, or circle eight, meaning increasing success.
Success is not something that Grampus are strangers to. In the year before the opening of the J League, a league in which they have played since its inception in 1993, they achieved something of a coup by signing Gary Lineker from England’s Tottenham Hotspurs. Lineker was a World Cup Golden Boot winner and to this day is the England international team’s all-time second highest goal scorer. Unfortunately his time in Nagoya was plagued by injury, but it paved the way for Grampus to employ an English Manager, Gordon Milne, one time midfielder of the famous all conquering Liverpool side of the 1960’s. However, it was not under Milne, but Arsene Wenger who brought success for Grampus in 1995, winning the Emperor’s cup for the first time in their history following it with a second place finish in the J League the next year, at that time, their highest ever league position.
In September 1996 Wenger left Japan to manage English Premier League team Arsenal where he achieved great success winning the league three times and the FA Cup five times. Grampus would win the cup once again in 1999 under the Brazillian manager João Carlos, but the league would not be captured until the arrival of Yugoslavian legend Dragan Stojković.
Often compared to Maradonna, Stojković is considered perhaps the greatest Yugoslavian and Serbian footballer of all time, and was expected to become a superstar after a transfer to the French champions Olympique Marseille. However, he surprised the world when after four years in France he joined Grampus in 1994 where he won the cup under Arsene Wenger and was named J League MVP.
He remained as a player until 2001, playing 183 times for the Nagoya side. Yet his greatest triumph wearing Barbarian Red was yet to come, not as a player, but as the manager. He coached the team to the AFC Champions League for the first time in 2008, his debut season, before going on to eclipse his mentor Wenger by winning the J League in 2010 and the Super Cup the following year.
Stojković retired from Grampus at the end of 2013 to be replaced by current coach Akira Nishino, who has been unable to replicate the success of the Serb. Grampus is currently sitting in mid-table, 11th place in the J League (2014). However, there is still time in the season to cheer Grampus and their Australian star striker Joshua Kennedy before the season closes on November 29.
Home games are split between two stadiums: the Mihuzo Athletic Stadium in Nagoya holds up to 27,000 fans, and the football specific 45,000 seater Toyota Staduim in (yes, you guessed it) Toyota. Seats cost between 2,500 JPY and 7,100 JPY, with kids getting in for as low as 500 JPY, which makes it a great and affordable family day out.
Tickets for upcoming games can be bought online from the club shop or from various convenience stores such as Lawson and 7-Eleven. At Ticket Pia, Family Mart, Circle K, & SunKus you can buy tickets using P-code 592-070 and, as games rarely sell out, you can often buy your tickets on the gate.
Toyota Stadium is just east of central Toyota, approximately a 15 minutes walk from Meitetsu Toyotashi Station, or via the Tsuramai Subway line from Nagoya. Toyota Stadium is also walking distance, about 17 minutes, from Shin-Toyota Station on the Aichi Loop line.
The Mizuho Athletic Stadium is a straightforward 5-minute walk from Mizuhoundojo Higashi Subway Station.
By Mark Guthrie
Image is the logo of a Japanese football (soccer) club of Nagoya Grampus Eight.