Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Vissel Kobe (Japan)

Now here's a cautionary tale in these days of corporate clubs that become the idle play things of the mega rich. Vissel Kobe are a historic Japanese club. Formed in 1966 as the Kawasaki Steel Soccer Club from the city of Kurashiki, they finally found their way to the Japanese Soccer League Division 2 in 1986, and stayed there until the league folded in 1992. Two years later the city of Kobe came to an arrangement with Kawasaki Steel - the company that owned the club, to move them about 160 miles up the coast and compete for a spot in the newly formed J League.

The new club was dubbed Vissel - a mix up word blending Victory and Vessel - noting the city's maritime heritage. They joined the league in the second tier, and had the giant supermarket chain Daiei in as a sponsor. But then things took a major turn for the worse. First the Great Hanshin earthquake decimated the city of Kobe, and then the local financial downturn led Daiei to pull out - leaving the devistated city of Kobe to foot the bill for the club. Despite all of this, they were promoted to the J League as runners up in 1996.

They pottered around for a few years, their lack of a major corporate sponsor meaning that although safe, they never looked a danger to take a title. In 2004, Vissel were so skint that the city sold them to a company called The Crimson Group, run by a local character called Hiroshi Mikitani. Now the clue should have been in the name of the group, but after only a short time in charge, Mikitani horrified life-long supporters of the club who'd followed them through all the change and disasters that befell them, by changing their historic black and white striped kit to a sort of off-crimson - resembling Arsenal's centenary kit - which just happened to be the colour of hist university - Harvard Business School.

They may now be competing more readily in the J League, and playing at the space-age 30,132 Home's Stadium, but the fans are still not happy about the change, and a good many still wear their old black and white striped kit when they attend the games. Japanese football has always been inextricably linked to business, but let this be a warning to us all. If some mega rich sheikh or oligarch comes in to buy up a famous and historic club over here, the very same thing could happen. Will we be seeing Newcastle United playing in pink? Or Man City playing in the green of Saudi Arabia? Only time - and money - will tell.

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