“History of the Nadeshiko League” 7. “The Dream and Tragedy of Nikko Securities”
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.
Yomiuri SC Ladies Beleza won the Japan Women’s Football League (the current Nadeshiko League) for four consecutive years starting from the second season in 1990. However, as the sponsor companies of rival teams started flexing their muscles to recruit high-quality foreign players and so on, the league entered a period of more intense competition. In the fifth and sixth years of the league in 1994 and 1995, the champions were Matsushita Electric Industrial Ladies SC Bambina and Prima Ham FC Kunoichi, respectively.
Matsushita Electric, which joined the league from its third season in 1991, was in seventh place at the end of the first stage in 1994, however, based on a tough defense (4 goals conceded in 9 games) built around the defender Maki Ueda, it tenaciously fought its way to the top of the table and won the title after defeating the previous year’s champions Beleza 1-0 in a championship playoff. This team, now called Konomiya Spertanza Osaka Takatsuki, is still playing in the Nadeshiko League.
Prima Ham was a member of the league from its inaugural season. Under the guidance of manager Satoshi Miyauchi, the team featured powerful overseas players such as the forward Charmaine Hooper, a member of the Canada women’s national football team, and Chinese midfielder Li Xiufu, as well as Japan national team players such as defender Yumi Tomei, midfielder Kaoru Nagadome, and forward Tamaki Uchiyama, and it won the championship with a perfect record winning every game in both the first and second stages. This team, now called Iga FC Kunoichi Mie, also still plays in the current Nadeshiko League.
However, it was “Nikko Securities Dream Ladies”, which joined the league from the third season in 1991, that really boosted its presence during this period. The major securities company Nikko Securities, under the initiative of company president Mr. Takuya Iwasaki, formed the team in 1990. Immediately the team won that season’s JFA Japan Women’s Football Championship (the current Empress’s Cup) and was soon promoted to the Japan Women’s Football League in 1991. In the team’s first year in the league, it finished fourth, and it won a second successive JFA Japan Women’s Football Championship the following year in 1992.
Mr. Iwasaki entrusted the job of the team’s first manager to Ryohei Suzuki, who demanded an environment on a par with J-League men’s teams. For example, Mr. Suzuki demanded that all players be made company employees and be allowed to concentrate solely on football, that the team have its own dedicated practice ground, and that the company build a clubhouse and a players’ dormitory, and all these demands were met. In addition to its own kit and practice wear, the team even had originally designed practice balls made and grew stronger in an environment that was the envy of onlookers.
In 1992, Nikko Securities strengthened its squad with the addition of the Norwegian forward Linda Medalen and defender Gunn Nyborg, and it also added the Norwegian midfielder Hege Riise in 1994. Such additions also stimulated the rapid development of Japanese talents such as defender Rie Yamaki and Yumi Obe.
Nikko Securities finished second to Prima Ham in 1995, however, after recruiting Tamotsu Suzuki, former manager of the Japan women’s national team, as manager before the 1996 season, the team went on to win its first championship, finishing first in both the first and second stages. Ace striker Linda Medalen was voted the league’s best player after finishing top of the scoring charts with a record 29 goals, beating the previous record of 27 goals (18 games) set in the previous season by Prima Ham’s Charmaine Hooper.
In the following 1997 season, Nikko Securities lost the second stage title to Yomiuri-Seiyu Beleza, however, it became the season champion for the second successive year by defeating Beleza 2-1 in the championship playoff thanks to goals by midfielder Lisa and forward Inesu Emiko Takeoka in response to a Homare Sawa goal by Beleza.
Aiming for a third successive championship in 1998, Nikko Securities lost the services of Medalen and Riise, but still managed to win all its games in the first stage. In the second stage, the team lost to Suzuyo Shimizu, however, thanks to the efforts of goalkeeper Naoko Nishigai and the speedy ace striker Mayumi Omatsu, it finished with eight wins and one defeat, enabling it to win its third successive title.
However, while the second stage of the league was still in progress, Nikko Securities announced the dissolution of its team in October of that year. With the Japanese economy experiencing ongoing recession following the collapse of the “bubble economy”, Nikko Securities also suffered from a slump in business performance and had no alternative but to dissolve its women’s football club as part of its cost cutting policy. Out of 10 seasons of the Japan Women’s Football League up to this point, Nikko Securities Dream Ladies had won three championships, second only to Yomiuri Beleza’s four, however, its “dream” of catapulting Japan’s women’s football onto the world stage was finally over.
Moreover, this wasn’t the only blow to the league. Fujita Soccer Club Mercury, which had joined the league together with Nikko Securities in 1991, also disbanded, while Suzuyo Shimizu FC Lovely Ladies, which won the inaugural championship and regularly contested first place, and Shiroki FC Serena, which had joined in 1993, also made the decision to withdraw at the beginning of 1999. In a complete change of fortune following the boom years, the Japan Women’s Football League (L. League) was now faced with a crisis of existence.
Yoshiyuki Osumi (football journalist)