With just over a month until the new season begins, the powers-that-be at the J.League have finally released the full J2 fixture list for 2011, which promptly caused the meltdown of the club website. Anyways its 20 teams, 38 Matchdays, 16 home games at Ajinomoto Stadium for FC Tokyo, two at Kokuritsu and one at Komazawa, plus three group stage games at home in the Nabisc....oh, yeah, no Nabisco Cup for us this season. Apparently they've also released the J1 fixtures, but we don't care about that this year, do we?
A while ago League HQ teased us by announcing the fixtures for the first two matchdays, so we already knew that FC Tokyo will begin the season at home against Tosu on Saturday, March 5, before travelling to Okayama for Matchday 2 the following Saturday.
Now, the full fixtures are out, and, probably like you, the first thing I looked for were the derbies. The first of them comes in early May, on a national holiday, in the 10th game of the season, and it ends a group of three games that should give us an early-ish test of our mettle against other genuine promotion-chasers: away to Chiba and home to Sapporo, before we are the "visiting" team against The Spews (our fans will fill two-thirds of Aji Sta anyway).
The second derby comes at the end of October (either the 29th or 30th) in Matchday 33, by which time we will hopefully be close to wrapping-up promotion (cheeky!), and The Spews will probably be on their third manager of the season. Not that I'm counting chickens or anything..... So, while I don't really know my Giravanz's from my Vortis' or my Gainare's from my Roasso's, here are FC Tokyo's 2011 fixtures, month-by-month, with a little analysis on each: (all games Saturday unless noted)
5 Tosu (Home) - we beat them 2-0 in 1999 in our first ever J.League/J2 game.
12 Okayama (Away) - Who are ya? Who are ya? Where are ya? Where are ya? Oh, down near Hiroshima. P.S. I'm resisting the urge to make a joke about their "Fagiano" moniker here...
19 Gifu (A) - hooray! A team with an understandable name! FC Gifu, nice to meet ya!
27 (Sun) Tochigi (H) - oh, another one! Tochigi SC, like it, although I think they're trying a bit too hard with their crest...
3 (Sun) Kitakyushu (H) - this lot won one game in their first J.League season last year, scoring 20 goals in 36 games. If we lose this I'm jumping off the footbridge on the way back to Tobitakyu Station*.
9 Yokohama FC (A) - our first Kanto-area away game, and our first meeting with 57 year old King Kazu since 2007.
17 (Sun) Oita (H) - the tears will be flowing for Morishige and Takamatsu, and the 17 Trinita fans in the away end as well.
24 (Sun) Chiba (A) - a big game in more ways than one, as we'll get our first look at Chiba's new striker, Norwegian giant Tor Hogne Aarøy, at 204cm the world's tallest professional outfield player. This lot will be our main rivals for the title, I think, and I'm tipping them to go up with us.
30 Sapporo (H) - really looking forward to having another chance to boo The Fat Man.
8 (Sun) Toyama (H) - will be nice to see how Hiraide is getting on. He looks a right mess here.
14 Kusatsu (A) - last one in the onsen's a rotten egg!
21 Shonan (H) - no Emerson for Shonan this year, his replacement is a 19 year old striker named Lucas.
28 Kyoto (A) - we owe you pr!cks. Big time.
5 (Sun) Ehime (H - Komazawa) - the only other team with a football club's name. If it didn't say EFC on it, I'd quite like their crest... really enjoyed Komazawa last season, perhaps the club is expecting the fewest away fans to be from Ehime?
12 (Sun) Kumamoto (A) - our longest trip of the season; these improved from 14th in '09 to 7th last season.
19 (Sun) Tokushima (H) - Pocari Sweat FC have finished top half the past two seasons.
25 Mito (A) - this will be our first-ever league meeting, they joined J2 the year we went up (2000). A very do-able away trip.
2 Tottori (H) - the league new boys visit Aji Sta. This is the 19th game of the season...how many will the Tots have won to this point? Anyone think more than one?
9 Oita (A) - if you read Three Down, One Up? you know how
17 (Sun) Gifu (H) - a sensible name, and also the second-nicest crest of the other J2 clubs (although it is a bit busy).
24 (Sun) Kumamoto (H - Kokuritsu) - sometimes the fixture list throws up oddities: only five games in-between our two meetings. First of the usual two league games a season we play at the National.
30 Kitakyushu (A) - this stadium's capacity: 10,202. J.League minimum requirement: 10,000. Whew.
13 Kusatsu (H) - these have what I think is the nicest-looking, and most original club crest of the other 19 clubs, but despite this, they've never finished in the top half in their six seasons in J2. Strange.
21 (Sun) Tochigi (A) - give these guys credit, in just their second J2 season, they improved from 17th to 10th. Ricardo Lobo (16 goals in '10) is their main man, and they've also signed an Argy, Mariano Tripodi. Darkhorses these.
28 (Sun) Toyama (A) - were it not for Kitakyushu, these would've finished bottom last year.
10 Kyoto (H) - two weeks off to prepare for these. Unleash the hounds Okuma!
17 Ehime (A) - finally! Our first league game in Shikoku. (But no, I won't be going.)
25 (Sun) Yokohama FC (H - Kokuritsu) - Amazing fact of the year: their new Brazilian defensive midfielder, Fabinho, has Polydactylyism, and I don't know what else to say about that.....
2 (Sun) Tokushima (A) - we have to wait until September to go to Shikoku, then we go again two weeks later? Who puts this shit together? (But again, no, I won't be going. Although it would be a fun trip for my birthday weekend...)
16 (Sun) Okayama (H) - these have a mascot called Fagi-kun, which isn't funny at all, is it?
23 (Sun) Tosu (A) - alright, struggling to come up with stuff now... oh yeah, we beat them home and away in 1999.
(29 or 30) The Spews (H) - do I really need to say anything about this? I put the over/under on "fans" in the away end at 1,500.
6 (Sun) Shonan (A) - quite fancy another sunny Sunday afternoon in Hiratsuka.
12 Mito (H) - they've never come close to promotion in their 11 years in J2.
19 Tottori (A) - mind the camels, lads.
26 Chiba (H) - surely we'll have promotion wrapped-up by this time (Chickens. Counted.). But will they?
3 Sapporo (A) - we finish away from home again, then. Best beer in Japan from this city, middling football team, although they could be in the promotion race if their Brazilians do the business.
So there you have it. I'm pumped for March 5th already. Getting the fixture list this evening has completed my mood swing a full 180 degrees (yes, its only taken two months!), and just as Charles Barkley of the Original Dream Team said before the first game of the 1992 Olympics: “I don't know anything about Sagan Tosu, but I know they're in trouble.”
* - I will not actually do this