2 Times AFC Champions League winner hosted Junpiter Futbol to an enlightening & memorable Learning Trip
Full bloom cherry blossom welcomed us in Japan as we embarked on another enlightening Learning Trip to Saitama, one of the most populous cities in Japan. 2 times AFC Champions League and numerous domestic football
Full bloom cherry blossom welcomed us in Japan as we embarked on another enlightening Learning Trip to Saitama, one of the most populous cities in Japan. 2 times AFC Champions League and numerous domestic football awards winner Urawa Reds hosted Junpiter Futbol and showed us the city of football.
Saitama, also popularly known as the “Football City”, is one of the top cities with the highest All-Japan High School football titles! In another word, this city produced some of the best talented footballers in the history of Japanese youth football!
In the city of football, it is not difficult to get embraced by the football culture. The moment we arrived in Urawa Misono train station, we are greeted by the famous Captain Tsubasa drawings on the wall as well as on the glass panels. And when you get out of the train station, a huge signage “2002 FIFA World Cup” was shown right above the building indicating the rich history of the city and the Stadium involved in the 2002 FIFA World Cup co-hosted by both Republic of Korea and Japan.
Urawa Reds’ game fixtures & special event details can be seen on the train.
Captain Tsubasa & Team welcoming football fans at Urawa Misono train station
Urawa Reds’ red banners all over the premises leading up to Stadium
Well, as soon as the football mood got into us, we set off on a 30 minutes of walk to Saitama Stadium 2002. Throughout the entire half an hour walk, the premises such as gates, fences and pillars were all decorated with Urawa Reds’ red banners. Although it was supposed to be a chilly walk in the evening’s orange, everywhere looked Red instead.
At the end of the long walk, we have finally arrived at a huge make-shift entrance arch “Welcome to Reds Wonderland” – we have arrived at the Stadium. We wasted no time by finding a seat among the crowd at the pre-match activity area and started our feasting!
Selection of the available F&B was much more than what we had expected. Apart from the usual, hotdog buns and sandwiches, vendors were selling coffees, teas, sausages, noodles, KFC chickens and various Japanese snacks. However, this was one particular dish which we would like to highlight, it’s the braised pork belly bun! A very chinese cuisine-like braised pork wrapped in a bun (扣肉包) but this Japanese verison enhanced the consuming sensation with the cripsy noodles. And what more could you asked for if you had a beer on the other hand to go along with this bun!
Welcome to Reds Wonderland!
One of the best pre-match dishes we have ever eaten!
(Matchday Photo: ©J.LEAGUE/ Provided by J.League for this Junpiter Futbol’s article)
We actually arrived at the Stadium 2 hours prior and the outside of the Stadium was already packed with Urawa Reds supporters. Ironically, while all the home team supporters were busy munching away at the mouth of the Stadium’s entrance, hundreds of opponents’ supporters (Yokohama F-Marinos) were orderly in queue moving into the Stadium. We reckon all of the Marinos fans were preserving their energy for the match!
Match kicked off at local time 7.30pm. It was the first ever Friday match for Urawa Reds this season. According to reliable source, the inclusion of Friday into the standard J.League weekend matches are done so that the Japanese football fans can get to watch and enjoy more domestic football matches for 3 days instead of just 2. Judging from their Friday’s attendance, this move seems to be encouraging. It is so lucky to be a Japanese football fan in this instance.
The next morning, we were invited to Redsland, Urawa Reds’ Youth Academy training centre, also the venue of the Club House to understand how the Academy was run.
Urawa Reds’ Academy training ground is located at the bottom of the small hill top behind Redsland
A map/visual of the current and future Redsland.
Directional signage at Redsland, left or right?
First of all, Redsland is not exactly located at one of the most convenient locations as it’s situated deep in the country side where it was vastly populated with residential houses. And surprisingly, after taking a good 10-15mins walk over a small hill top from the main Clubhouse, you will see a huge open piece of green made up of 6 football pitches, 4 futsal courts, a mini football and some mini gardens! As expected, the voices of the players and ball kickings were the first to ensure us that we have arrived at the right place.
So as the Academy ground is situated right at the foot of a hill, there will be times, probably once or twice a year, where it will be totally flooded out due to the monsoon and everything will have to be re-turfed. Judging from what we have seen at the Academy, every inch of the ground looks perfect and professional. And all these great developments and works are certainly the effort of a well organised team in Urawa Reds.
The Team Development Department of Urawa Reds’ consists of 4 main groups – the Top Team, Ladies, Scouting and Academy department. For Academy in particular, it is further classified to Junior Under 10-12, Junior Youth Under 13-15 and Youth Under 16-18. The youth players train on average 5 times a week in the evening. Apart from the evening football training, nutritious meals are also prepared for the Junior Youth and Youth players after training.
Youth players training at Redsland
Japan International/SF Freiburg Womens’ Naomoto Hikaru has her own mini garden in Redsland
Since last season, more than 10 players from the Academy have progressed to the first team, and many have even went on to play in Europe and subsequently the World Cup. Interestingly, some of the futsal pitches at Redsland are actually built using the transfer fees from some of the players’ move to Europe. Among them are Hannover 96’s Genki Haraguchi and Takahiro Sekine from Ingolstadt 04. Even SC Freiburg Women’s team Naomoto Hikaru has her own mini garden at Redsland too!
It seems like we went to the Redsland on the most perfect day. Every single age group was having its training under the watchful eyes of the coaches. The more senior players were put through paces on some tactical drills while the younger ones were perfecting their basic short and long passes. That morning was also the time where each and every age group would have their team photo taken. We were glad that we were there to witness that moment.
Although Redsland has been in operation since 2005, the venue is set to continue to expand with an aspiration to be the next huge sports and entertainment arena in Japan.
After an insightful visit to the Redsland, we were ushered to the first team training ground, Ohara Soccer Ground, which is nearly another good 30 minutes away by car, to observe how the Urawa Reds first team players train. In addition, one of the highlights of this trip, we are going to conduct an exclusive interview with Japan International Tomoaki Makino…..
To be continued.