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Nadeshiko League

“History of the Nadeshiko League” 1.“The day it all started”

From the time when it was still unusual for women to play football, through to the birth of the Japan Women’s Football League, victory in the Women’s World Cup, and creation of the Japan Women’s Empowerment Professional Football League, social conditions and the environment surrounding girls’ and women’s football have undergone great changes.

We intend to publish a series of 22 articles before the end of the year in which we will look back over the tempestuous history of girls’ and women’s football in Japan.

The “Nadeshiko League” was launched on Saturday, September 9, 1989. At the time, no such nickname existed, and the league went only by its official title “The Japan Ladies Soccer League (JLSL)”.

The summer heat still lingered during the day, however, with the autumn days shortening, it was already dark by the time that the opening ceremony got underway before the inaugural game between Yomiuri Beleza and Shimizu FC kicked off at 19:00 at the Nishigaoka Soccer Stadium (the current Ajinomoto Field Nishigaoka) in Tokyo.

On this day, all six member teams of the new league gathered at Nishigaoka. Players of the six teams, wearing their kits and led by placard bearers, entered the stadium to a goodwill fanfare played by 50 members of the All Japan Junior Marching Band Association. It was a symbolic scene marking the start of a new era for girls’ and women’s soccer in Japan.

That year, 491 girls’ and women’s teams and 10,409 players were registered with the Japan Football Association. The fact that these figures represent around one third of the current numbers demonstrates that girls’ and women’s soccer in Japan was still in the developmental stage. However, in the following year, with women’s soccer being conducted as an official event for the first time in the 1990 Asian Games (Beijing), and the first Women’s World Cup being announced in 1991, there was an urgent need to strengthen the women’s game.

However, the powerhouse teams were widely scattered over Tokyo, Shizuoka and two prefectures (Osaka and Hyogo) in the Kansai region. Moreover, the Empress’s Cup JFA Japan Women’s Football Championship – a knockout tournament held once a year – did not provide sufficient opportunities for teams to play in earnest. It was at this time that Mr. Tetsuji Hotta, chairperson of the JFA 5th Committee that oversaw women’s soccer, proposed the idea of strengthening the women’s game through forming a nationwide league so that high-level matches could be played throughout the year.

Mr. Hitoshi Kurotaki, who was involved in running a women’s team in Yokohama, Kanagawa Prefecture, was appointed as the executive director and worked tirelessly in bringing the concept to fruition with inauguration of the league in only six months.
In the first year, the league had six teams located in Tokyo and three other prefectures: Yomiuri SC Ladies Beleza (Tokyo), Shimizu Football Club (Shizuoka), Tasaki Shinju Kobe Football Club Ladies (Hyogo), Nissan FC Ladies (Tokyo), Shinko Seiko FC Clair (Tokyo), and Prima Ham FC Kunoichi (Mie).

Following the opening ceremony held on September 9, when Beleza ace Akemi Noda pronounced the players’ oath of fair play, the game between Beleza and Shimizu was held, and two further games (Shinko vs. Prima and Nissan vs. Kobe) were held at the same Nishigaoka Soccer Stadium on the next day (Sunday, September 10).

In the highly anticipated opening game, a lot of attention was directed to Shimizu, which had the Japanese national team players Etsuko Handa (forward) and Futaba Kioka (midfield) as well as the Taiwanese forward Chou Tai-ying, who was regarded as the top player in Asia at the time, however, Beleza, who had won the Empress’s Cup for two years running, played a solid game and came out as 2-0 winners.

The all-important first goal of the new league was scored by Beleza’s forward Asako Takakura (the current manager of Nadeshiko Japan) in the 27th minute, when she scored with a right-foot shot from a cross by midfielder Takako Tezuka. Midfielder Akiko Hayakawa scored a spectacular freekick just before full-time to help Beleza to a 2-0 victory.

This game marked the first step in the “long journey” of the Nadeshiko League, which is being held for the 33rd time this year and is the ultimate goal of soccer-loving girls throughout Japan.

 

Yoshiyuki Osumi (football journalist)