January 27, 2007: What a wondrous, reassuring event each year -- the release of the new fixture list.
It is a sign that life will soon be returning to normal, with football dominating the weekends and every other day of the week for that matter.
There is hope and optimisim and promise at the start of the new season for all teams. The dead wood has been cleared out, new heroes have arrived, the new manager is just the man we need for success, the old manager will have learned from his experience...yes, everyone is starting from the same line, and this year is going to belong to us.
Well, for a couple of weeks at least.
The fixtures for 2007 were released on Thursday and all eyes immediately turned to the opening day. After that I always look for Boxing Day (old habits die hard), before remembering the J.League chooses to play through the hot and humid summer months and waste all this glorious football weather we have now -- crisp and sunny, and no baseball to compete with in the media. Anyway, that's another story.
March 3 is when the new campaign gets under way, and when the winter business behind the scenes is finally put to the test on the pitch.
The pick of the opening day fixtures is Frontale-Antlers at Todoroki. It will be an awkward test for the new-look Antlers, as they try to reassert themselves under new Brazilian management. Let's face it, Frontale away is about as tough as it gets, and no one looks forward to playing them, even at home.
FC Tokyo fans can expect a roller-coaster season with the attack-minded, Spanish-influenced Hiromi Hara back in charge, but much will depend on the fitness of new signing Paulo Wanchope, the much-travelled, injury-plagued striker from Costa Rica. The Gasmen entertain Sanfrecce and will be satisfied with nothing less than three points.
Yokohama F Marinos manager Hiroshi Hayano will be trying to exorcise the ghosts of Kofu at Nissan Stadium, as he was in charge of Reysol when Ventforet sent them tumbling down into J2 two seasons ago with Bare's six-goal salvo at Hitachidai, where even the rock Tsuchiya was powerless to prevent the rout.
Niigata's Orange Army face a long trek to Oita for the first game, whereas S-Pulse's Orange Army will welcome J1 returnees Vissel Kobe -- Yoshito and all -- to Nihondaira.
J1 champions Reds are at home to J2 champions Yokohama FC, whose big signings Kubo and Oku can expect a warm welcome from the generous Saitama masses, while Gamba's powerful attack will be hoping to plunder a few goals against a fragile-looking Omiya team, especially with Tsuchiya gone to Verdy.
On March 4 it's newly promoted Reysol at home to a rejuvenated Jubilo, and Nagoya at home to JEF. It could have been worse for JEF, though -- they could have been playing Grampus at home.