Here is an article that I wrote about JEF United for the spring edition of the New Gateway:
Home team JEF United Ichihara Chiba is kicking off its 16th season as a first-division club in the Japan league (J. League). The team holds the record for being the only team to maintain its first-division position. There is no doubt that 2008 will be a turning point. Croatian Josip Kuze, who has had experience as manager of Gamba Osaka, is set to take over as the new manager of the club. Though many key players left since the end of last season, younger players now have the opportunity to shine. Make sure to catch them on the pitch.
Thousands of supporters clad in Rastafarian colors will trek through Soga station to Fukuda Denshi Arena (Fuku-ari) to cheer on their local heroes. The arena hosts 18,500 seats and opened as recently as October 2005. Unlike many of the massive soccer stadiums built to host the Korea-Japan World Cup in 2002, this arena was scaled to match the number of JEF soccer fans and J. League matches. Not only do soccer supports enjoy the easy accessibility of Fuku-ari, they most importantly appreciate the closeness to the pitch. In 2007, the stadium was recognized for its architectural excellence and was given the “Good Design Award” from the Japan Industrial Design Promotion Organization. It’s not just the fans who enjoy being close to the players. The players are grateful for the proximity. Homegrown JEF defender Mitsuki Ichihara (no. 13) explains that he appreciates being able to see the fans up close and “feels a great rush when (he hears) the roar of the supporters during games.” Midfielder Koki Yonekura (no. 22), another Chiba-born former high school star, says he loves playing at Fuku-ari because he feels close to the fans.To him “it doesn’t matter what language people are cheering in, the team appreciates everyone’s support.”