Tickets for Sanfrecce’s final home game of the 2012 season against Cerezo Osaka were sold out well in advance. Some dedicated supporters started lining up at Big Arch Stadium from 7pm the night before the match to get an a place in the unreserved stands, hoping to see the home team clinch its first J league championship.
It must have been a very cold night, but worth it as Sanfrecce dominated Cerezo, winning 4-1. After a few tense moments while the team, the 31,249 supporters in the stadium, those gathered in front of screens around the city, and watching at home awaited the result of the game between 2nd place Vegalata Sendai and Albirex Niigata. Sendai went down 1-0, ensuring that Sanfrecce took the title.
It was the biggest crowd by far since 1994. At that time, the J League season was split into two halves with the winners of each half playing for the championship; Sanfrecce won the first stage, but failed to win the championship playoffs against Kashima Antlers. That was back in the “J League boom” years when average attendances at Hiroshima matches were 17,191.
It is just 4 years since Sanfrecce pulled themselves back into the top division, after a year in J2. During their season in J2 attendances dropped to below 11,000. After returning to J1 crowds of around 15,000 returned. In 2010 they were runners up in the J League Cup (Nabisco Cup) and took part in the group stage of the Asia Champions League. The 2011 season, however, saw average attendance drop to just over 13,000, but this year has seen Hiroshima get excited about football once more and at Big Arch crowds broke new records, finally surpassing those of 1994.
The video below is in Japanese, but shows the goals and on pitch celebrations from last Saturday. You can also see the players making speeches to the crowd and get an idea of the passion and emotion in the stadium.
Twitter and Facebook were flooded with congratulations and tweets of delight. Purple-shirted fans toasted their team’s success around the city center, and department stores ran special victory sales. This video shows the 1000 or so people gathered in front of the big screen at the Pacela shopping center when the title was decided; though the response is rather polite.
There is still one more game to go in the J League season, Sanfrecce facing Vissel Kobe away on December 1. Just a few days later, they will be hoping to beat Auckland City FC in Yokohama, in the first game in the FIFA Club World Cup, to go on to contend for a semi-final spot by beating Egyptian team Al Ahly. If they make it over these two hurdles they will face Corinthians in the semi-finals. The other teams in the competition are Ulsan Hyundai from Korea, Mexico’s Monterrey and English Premier League team Chelsea.
Sanfrecce have been a whirlwind of activity since their win on Saturday, however. They were up until 3am after the match, and by this morning had appeared on TV a total of 20 times. Hopefully they will be able to refocus and put off the hardcore celebrations until their season closes.
Details of a Sanfrecce victory parade are to be announced.