The J1 League finale is finally on 7 December. Albirex Niigata, who miraculously stayed up last year, are in seventh place with one game to go! And they have won eight straight home games! They have won four league games in a row! They have a lot of momentum. We went to Vic Swan to support Albirex in their game against Nagoya Grampus!
This time we took the train and shuttle bus to the stadium. In the cold winter of Niigata, when it rains from the morning, the stadium must be very cold, so I wore a HEATTECH top and bottom, a HEATTECH top and seven layers including a down jacket.
When you arrive at Niigata Station, go out the south exit ticket gate and turn left at the end of the station towards Bic Camera. Inside the station you will see many posters and messages from supporters. Go straight ahead and down the stairs and you will see the shuttle bus stop. Many supporters went to Bic Swan in the rain. Some of them are Nagoya Grampus supporters.
Today's game kicked off at 15:30 and I got on the bus at around 13:40. In the past, messages from the players used to be played on the shuttle buses, but they don't seem to be anymore. There was no particular traffic jam and we got to the stadium in about 15 minutes.
Incidentally, the official name of Albi's home stadium is "Tohoku Electric Power Vic Swan Stadium". However, Tohoku Electric's naming rights expire this year and the name will be changed next year. That's a bit sad!
Across the road from Bix One is the Hard Off Eco Stadium baseball stadium. With its sports complex and baseball stadium, Toriyano Lagoon is truly a mecca for sports in Niigata.
On match days, the area around the stadium is like a festival with food stalls, mini football goals for children to play on, the first Albi taxi on display and goods for sale. The 'stadium gourmet food' in particular is said to be one of the highlights of watching a football match. Nagoya supporters who came from away from home also lined up at the food stalls.
And now it's time to enter the stadium!
Entry after 15:00.
The players are in the middle of their ups. I look at the temperature on my phone and see 2°C! Cold! Nevertheless, the crowd was quite good, probably due to the team's good form, with 30,504 people in attendance. The seats were on the second floor, S seats. The Nagoya Grampus supporters' seats were directly below and their voices were loud. One of the features of Vic Swan is that, thanks to the roof, "supporters' voices can easily be heard". It was certainly very powerful.
The ups are over and the players enter the field. Supporters of both teams welcome the players with cheering songs. The voltage in the stadium is at its highest!
Albirex Niigata have won nine consecutive home games and five in a row for the first time in the league. This is also an important final game with seventh place in the prize money on the line. Nagoya Grampus, on the other hand, are determined to win their coach Stojkovic's last game before he retires this year.
From the kick-off, both teams played with great spirit. Nagoya were a young, mainly young team, but their passing speed was fast! Niigata also created chances with aggressive defence and short counters. It was the first match I had seen in the stadium for a long time. It was interesting to see the tactics between the players in places not shown on the TV screen. I was completely excited during the game and forgot to take any photos (laughs).
It was an athletic game for both teams, but that is where Niigata, who have always been good runners, came into their own. After 15 minutes of the second half, Nagoya's momentum gradually dropped and they began to take the initiative. Then, in the 20th minute of the second half, FW Ken Go Kawamata took the lead with a shot from outside the penalty area! In the 38th minute of the second half, midfielder Adomu Tanaka stole the ball in midfield and passed to Kawamata from the dribble. Kawamata, who is in contention to be the top scorer, hits it? The moment he thought he would, he made a return pass to Tanaka, who scored the goal! Albirex Niigata went on to win 2-0!
The game was played in cold and rainy weather, but the excitement in the stadium was at its highest with Albi's comfortable victory.
After the game, the players usually greet the supporters and that is the end of the game, but today, as it was the last game of the season, there was a ceremony to mark the end of the league. Away from home, Nagoya Grampus left the stadium after greeting the supporters first. Among them was Stojkovic, who will be leaving the club at the end of the season... a legend who helped to build the J.League in its early days as a player and won a championship as a manager. Tears in the eyes of Nagoya supporters.
The end of the league also marks the beginning of the farewell season. At Albirex Niigata, DF Jun Uchida and DF Yusuke Murakami, whose departure has been announced, gave their farewell speeches.
In particular, Jun Uchida has been with the team for seven years since 2006. He played as a right-back and also contributed to the team as a leader, such as serving as player president. Personally, I have a special attachment to this player, who joined the team when I started attending Albi games and played an active role. When I heard his final speech, I felt tears welling up in my eyes.
Uchida was loved by supporters. A message was sent on a banner. He has not yet decided whether he will retire or continue working for another team, but I hope Uchi will continue to be a player.
The 2013 J-League season came to an end as the players took one last lap around the stadium. We won nine home games in a row, five league games in a row and finished seventh in the standings. Incidentally, we also won the prize money of 10 million yen! Everyone went home from the stadium dreaming of a further breakthrough next year.
In the 2014 season, we would like to fill Vic Swan with more supporters and get the team excited! Regulars, newcomers and those who haven't been to the stadium recently are welcome to join us in supporting Albirex Niigata!
Writer Yorimitsu Karasawa, freelance writer/researcher based in Niigata