Back on November 20, 1992, around 9,500 thousand kilometers from downtown Nagoya, one of the British royal family’s palaces, Windsor Castle near London was ablaze.
At the same time the UK media was filled with stories about the then still married couple of Charles and Diana about to announce their separation. (their separation was formally announced in early December, and the rest as they say is history….. Charles getting the girl he always longed for, and Diana dying in a crash in a Paris underpass)
Few were that surprised then when in a speech in London’s Guildhall in late November, Queen Elizabeth referred to 1992 as her “annus horribilis” – a term so often of late that could be used, if not outright copyrighted by the lacklustre efforts of Nagoya’s very own Grampus J1 football team in recent years.
Yes, the team was massive in the early years of the J.League back in the mid 90s when England legend Gary Lineker was over playing for the team. Yes, Grampus had Dragan Stojkovic, a.k.a Piksi, as both a player in the early years, and later as a manager.
And yes, Japan’s most iconic player in the past few years, both on and off the pitch with his bleached blond tussles, Keisuke Honda, cut his teeth at Grampus, but despite the big names, the massive and hugely passionate local support there is very little in the way of silverware to show for a club of Grampus’ stature.
And 2014 has been no different.
Champions of the top flight just once (2010) and the Emperor’s Cup just twice but not for well over a decade (1995, 1999) Grampus have over the years threatened to do little else bar serve as also-rans to others.
Never having dropped to J2 is something that must be admired in a league that blows so hot and cold year after year.
Yet, with all the talent that has passed through the club in recent years and a current 12th position in a league of 18 coupled to a goal difference of -3 (at time of typing) as the team head into their last two games of the season, perhaps it is time to start thinking speeches peppered with “annus horribilis” when handing out the excuses come the end of play on December 6th.
Indeed, were it not for the 2010 league title ‘decade horribilius’ might be better suited.
Fortunately, the signs are there that the club is looking to the future and the post-Marcus Tulio Tanaka era; the pony-tailed club captain who has long since lost his once fearful presence at the back, and needs putting out to pasture sooner rather than later.
Relative youngsters such as Yuki Honda, Ryota Tanabe and Reo Mochizuki have all made their mark of late and will hopefully come to the fore in 2015 when we switch back to a two-legged season.
Coupled to the experience and unquestioned talent of Kengo Kawamata up front, and a switch to the 35 year-old Yoshinari Takagi in goal with current man between the posts Seigo Narazaki (now 38) joining Tulio grazing in a meadow somewhere the team has a chance, just a slim one to bounce back.
It will take time, it will take patience, and it will take a couple of signings to realize.
However, come March 7th when the horrors of 2014 are a thing of the past and the 2015 season kicks off, this football journo is more than willing to wager a Grampus team minus aging deadwood and with one eye on youth can come closer to bringing some silverware back to Nagoya than anytime in the past few years!
Get to a game next year, support your local team, and watch the above prediction of better times to come unfold on these pages with monthly updates.
And if a blurb is of use:
Mark Buckton has covered the J.League for print and online media both in Japan and overseas since the late 90s.