It was a moving experience to be at Ibaraki Stadium on Sunday when Consadole Sapporo were relegated to the second division.
Consadole had contributed to a very entertaining game, going in front on two occasions through Takafumi Ogura.
Kashima Antlers came back each time, with two smart finishes from Atsushi Yanagisawa, so the game went to extra time at 2-2.
Consadole, against all the odds, were still fighting bravely for their place in J1.
But a goal from young left-back Tatsuya Ishikawa on 102 minutes gave Antlers the 3-2 win and two points in their bid to catch Jubilo Iwata, while condemning Consadole to J2 with four J1 games remaining.
I will miss Consadole next season, as will the J.League's top flight in general.
Not only is the club the northernmost outpost of the J.League, thereby giving identity to Hokkaido, Consadole also have excellent fans.
Especially away from home, where their distinctive red and black colors always look impressive in the "away" fans end or section of the stadium.
After Sunday's game, the Antlers fans, not known for their generosity of spirit, even chanted "Consadole" as a tribute to the efforts of the visiting team in a long, hard season.
Consadole fans responded with a chorus of "Kashima Antlers" before pledging their loyalty to their own club with a booming and defiant "We are Sapporo, we are Sapporo!" (to the catchy tune of "Ooo-aah, Can-to-na").
This was a lovely moment, and why foreigners involved in the J.League frequently feel it is like stepping back in time because of the respect, family atmosphere and lack of violence between the rival fans.
Long may this continue!
Consadole had three diffrerent managers during the season, starting with Tetsuji Hashiratani, who was given a tough baptism in the managerial game.
They were also unlucky with injuries, notably to the bright and intelligent Koji Yamase.
But Consadole have bounced back before and can do it again. They joined the J.League in 1998 but lasted only one season in J1 before dropping to J2 in 1999 and 2000, winning the second division championship in 2000.
They were 11th in J1 last season thanks largely to the 24 goals of Brazilian Will, but could not find the same kind of firepower this time and suffered the consequences.
I wish Consadole--and their fantastic fans--a speedy return to J1.