“History of the Nadeshiko League” 17. Resumption of the League Cup
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.
In 2007, a new competition – the “MOC Nadeshiko League Cup” – was launched in the Nadeshiko League. However, this wasn’t actually a new competition. During the “L. League” era, the “League Cup” was held for four seasons from 1996 to 1999.
The “twin pillars of league and cup” were established in England, the birthplace of football, at the end of the 19th century. In a “league competition”, between 10-20 teams of similar level are assembled to compete for the title of champions by playing in a round-robin format whereby they play each other two times (home and away). In contrast, in a “cup competition”, which is open to teams of various levels, teams progress on a knockout basis, playing no more games if they are defeated.
Additionally, the “League Cup” was launched in England in 1960 as a “third competition”. The original intention was to give teams that lost in the early stages of the cup a new challenge to play for.
In Japan too, the “JSL Cup” was started in the men’s football league in 1976. However, the situation in Japan was a little different from that in England. In this year, because the Montreal Olympics qualifiers and main tournament were consecutively held from spring to summer, the Japan national team needed to concentrate on these games. It was thus decided to postpone the start of the league until the end of August and hold the new tournament in April and May.
The L. League started its own League Cup in 1996 for exactly the same reason. The Atlanta Olympics, in which women’s football became an official event for the first time, was due to be held in July of that year. To ensure the best possible preparations for this, the Japan women’s national team (later known as Nadeshiko Japan) focused on strengthening by going to the United States for a training camp and so on from May. With the start of the league season delayed until August 18, it was decided to stage the League Cup in June and July. The title sponsor for the tournament was Oki Electric Industry Co., Ltd., the sponsor of “OKI FC Winds”, which had gained promotion to the L. League that year.
Having been cancelled from 2000, the League Cup was resumed in 2007, again due to scheduling concerning Nadeshiko Japan. Making use of the preparation period for the FIFA Women’s World Cup to be held in China in September, a total of 16 teams comprising eight from Division 1 and eight from Division 2 were divided into four groups to play a qualifying round, with semi-finals and final to be played following the return of the Nadeshiko Japan players from the World Cup.
In the qualifying round, TEPCO Women’s Football Club Mareeze, which had only just been promoted to Division 2 that year and was leading the division, caused a surprise by advancing to the semi-finals following a 3-1 victory over Division 1 powerhouse TASAKI Perule FC and a 7-2 victory over Iga Football Club Kunoichi. However, Nippon TV Beleza, which came through qualifying with a 100% win record despite having nine players away on duty with Nadeshiko Japan, was head and shoulders above the rest. In the final tournament, having welcomed back its national team players, Beleza beat INAC KOBE LEONESSA 5-0 in the semi-final and won the cup by beating Urawa Reds Ladies 2-1 in the final.
Because MOC Corporation stepped down as the league’s title sponsor in this year, the “Nadeshiko League Cup” was cancelled for two years, however, it was once again resumed, as the “Plenus Nadeshiko League Cup”, in 2010. Since then, rather than as a competition dictated by the schedule of Nadeshiko Japan, it has been staged with the aims of increasing the number of games for each club and raising the level of women’s football.
In 2014 and 2015, the “Exciting Series” was staged. In this, following a league tournament involving the 10 Division 1 teams playing each other two times in a round-robin, the top six teams and bottom four teams were split into two groups. Because this meant that the top six teams had to play 28 games a year, the tournament was cancelled, however, it was resumed once again in 2016 with teams divided into Division 1 and Division 2, and it has since been continued on the same format.
In 2020, Divisions 1 and 2 were once again combined, and the 20 teams were divided into four groups of five to play a qualifying round. However, unfortunately, this had to be cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and it was also cancelled in 2021.
The League Cup leads to additional games and gives more players the opportunity to experience official games. There have been numerous examples, both in the Nadeshiko League and the J. League, of young players who acquired confidence and boosted their reputations in the League Cup and subsequently went on to energize their teams in the league. It may be said that the “Nadeshiko League Cup” is a very important tournament for the development of women’s football in Japan.
Yoshiyuki Osumi (football journalist)