Has there ever been a more pointless merger than the one between Yokohama Marinos and Yokohama Flügels?
English speakers certainly seem to consider the merger irrelevant. It’s rare to see a non-Japanese outlet refer to the new entity by its full name – Yokohama F. Marinos.
But while Japanese football is not exactly sitting atop the upper echelons of the world game, the merger between Marinos and Flügels has global ramifications.
The Japanese have always had a certain way of doing business, and mergers are common practice between two companies struggling to make ends meet.
But when chief sponsors ANA and Sato Kogyo announced in 1998 that they could no longer foot the bills to run Yokohama Flügels, it triggered one of the most bizarre sagas in recent football history.
With an approach so casual it should bring tears to every self-respecting football fan, the Flügels management approached city rivals Marinos with an eye to merging.
This was music to the ears of the Marinos management, with the Nissan-backed outfit struggling for cash amidst a severe economic downturn.
The two clubs readily agreed to merge, and without consultating supporters, Marinos and Flügels fused into one in what was practically an overnight operation.
Only those present will know the full details of the scenes that followed, but it’s tempting to imagine those responsible for the merger announcing the deed with just a hint of a satisfied smile crossing their lips.
It would soon vanish.
If the misunderstanding of football culture from the men-in-suits was mind-boggling, then the public response was emphatic.
The rotten eggs routinely pelted at management of both clubs soon conveyed the message, while one hapless Flügels official was memorably – albeit illegally – struck on the head by a flying megaphone from the stands.
But having made their decision before the 1998 season had even come to a conclusion, there was no turning back. If there’s one thing that Japanese corporations struggle to do, it’s admit making a mistake.
History will show that Yokohama Flügels went on to win their last professional game. They lifted the Emperor’s Cup by beating Shimizu S-Pulse in an emotion-charged final at the National Stadium in Tokyo.
More importantly though, disgruntled Flügels fans refused to concede defeat.
Incensed by the clandestine merger, they simply formed their own club.
Yokohama FC now fly the flag for former Flügels fans, and they became the first ever fan-backed club to reach the Japanese top flight – spending a solitary season in J1 in 2007.
Veteran striker Kazu Miura just broke the record as the oldest goalscorer in J. League history while on the books at Yokohama FC.
The merger wasn’t exactly easy on Marinos fans either – who live with the stigma of one of the grubbiest moments in J. League history.
The Tricolore are likely to be in the news again over the coming months, with the club reputedly trying to lure prodigal son Shunsuke Nakamura back to Nissan Stadium.
It would be a shame if the European press overlooked the significance of the “F” in the F. Marinos name.
After all, while the merger added a seemingly superfluous letter to one club’s name, it also achieved something else of note.
It made Japanese fans realise that football should be influenced by fans – not by corporations.
In the current economic climate - with some European clubs struggling with spiralling wages bills and indebted to fly-by-night corporate sponsors - that may be a lesson well worth studying.
Copyright © Michael Tuckerman & Soccerphile.com
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