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Guard of honour - Always have respect Vol.115

21 December 2022

Guard of honour - Always have respect Vol.115

This may be among the most beautiful moments out of the more than 1,000 J. League matches, from J1 to J3, played this season. That is how I felt while watching the entrance ceremony prior to the J2 League match between FC Machida Zelvia and Ventforet Kofu on 19 October at Machida GION Stadium in Machida City, Tokyo.

Normally, in J. League matches, both teams enter together with the four referees leading the way, but in this match the referees entered first, followed by the Machida players in their long bench coats, who lined up on both sides of the entry way, as if to welcome the bride and groom at a wedding.

As I waited in anticipation to see what would happen next, the music stopped, and an announcement was made.

“We would like to congratulate Ventforet Kofu, the supporters of Ventforet Kofu, and everyone involved with Ventforet Kofu for winning the Emperor's Cup JFA 102nd Japan Football Championship.”

“FC Machida Zelvia would like to pay homage to the Emperor’s Cup winners Ventforet Kofu. In honour of their victory, let's welcome the Ventforet Kofu players with a big round of applause. Ladies and gentlemen, please give a big hand!”

The music started to play again and the Kofu players in their white uniforms entered in single file, led by NOZAWA Hideyuki, who captained the team in this match. The Machida players greeted their opponents with applause, and despite the modest turnout on a chilly Wednesday night, the crowd also enthusiastically applauded the visiting players.

The Kofu players entered with a smile while some seemed flattered at times. Kofu goalkeeper KAWATA Kohei, the hero of the Emperor's Cup final, gave high-fives to his opponents and appeared content as Machida goalkeeper FUKUI Koki patted him on the shoulder. Brazilian striker Willian LIRA made his way onto the pitch as he bowed lightly towards the Machida players, as if he were a Japanese person.

Such congratulatory ceremonies held by the opposing team seem to be a common occurrence in Europe. It is known as the “guard of honour” and sometimes takes place even between arch-rivals. FC Barcelona players celebrating Real Madrid winning the title. Manchester United players applauding Chelsea. These are some of the beautiful scenes from the end of the season that have been passed down through the generations.

In Japan, Shimizu S-Pulse and Sagan Tosu congratulated Kawasaki Frontale after they won the J1 title in 2020 and 2021, but this was the first time an Emperor's Cup-winning team was recognised for their achievements.

Just three days before this match, on Sunday 16 October, Kofu played the Emperor's Cup final against Sanfrecce Hiroshima, who were on the third place in the J1 table. The match was tied 1-1 after playing through 120 minutes including extra time, and Kofu claimed their first Emperor's Cup title with a 5-4 victory in a penalty shoot-out. Kofu had lost seven in a row in the J2 League and were ranked 18th out of 22 teams before this match. However, they put up an impressive performance that made us forget the difference between J1 and J2, especially how Kofu scored the opening goal from a well-executed corner kick in the 26th minute of the first half. The success of Kofu must have greatly inspired the J2 clubs. The emotional pre-match ceremony on the 19th, which Machida organised with the cooperation of their players, may have been carried out not only to congratulate Kofu, but also to express their gratitude towards them.

Of course, the match itself was a completely different story. After conceding the opener in the closing stages of the first half, Machida, led by OTA Shusuke, attacked ferociously in the second half, and equalised with a goal by JONG Tae-se in the 85th minute. However, Kofu demonstrated their pride as the “Cup-winners” when Lira headed in the winning goal during additional time to give them their first victory in two months.

This was the final home match of the season for Machida and a ceremony was held after the match to thank the supporters. Despite losing the match, the team received resounding applause from the crowd. Perhaps it was in response to the genuine spirit of respect displayed by Machida Zelvia on this day, in which the supporters felt a sense of pride that went beyond wins, losses, and league standings.

Written by OSUMI Yoshiyuki (Football Journalist)

*This article was originally posted on the Japan Football Association Newsletter, “JFAnews,” November 2022 edition.

Japan Football Association Newsletter “JFAnews”

The Japan Football Association Newsletter “JFAnews” contains all the information on the Japan National Team, and all the events hosted by the JFA. Tournament results and team information throughout the nation are also available. The official monthly magazine is a must read for coaches, referees, and all members of the football family.

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