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Tokyo soccer club named after 'Captain Tsubasa' manga acquires 4 ex-stars, eyes J-League

Three of Nankatsu SC's new players and owner Yoichi Takahashi, second from left, attend the "2022 Kickoff Conference" in Tokyo's Katsushika Ward on March 14, 2022. The three new members are Yasuyuki Konno, left, Junichi Inamoto, second from right, and Masahiko Inoha, right. (Mainichi/Kazuo Yanagisawa)

TOKYO -- Featured in the legendary manga and anime series "Captain Tsubasa," which has been published and aired on TV internationally, "Nankatsu SC" may be the best-known fictional soccer club in the world. But a side by the same name really exists in the Japanese capital, and after adding four former national team members this season, it has its sights set on promotion to the J-League.

    Nankatsu SC, based in Tokyo's Katsushika Ward, is owned and run by "Captain Tsubasa" creator Yoichi Takahashi, 61. Though the team's name is well-known among manga fans, the real-life version is only in the Kanto region soccer league's first division, equivalent to the fifth tier below the top professional J1 league. Compared to the manga, the club still has a long way to go in terms of skill and broader name recognition.

    Yet, the club recently took a giant step toward getting into the J-League, which has three divisions, by acquiring four ex-national team players: Junichi Inamoto, 42, Yasuyuki Konno, 39, Masahiko Inoha, 36, and Kunimitsu Sekiguchi, 36.

    The "2022 Kickoff Conference" held in Katsushika Ward on March 14, during which the club announced the personnel moves and future ambitions, was attended by Takahashi, Ward Mayor Katsunori Aoki, and all the new players save Sekiguchi. Inamoto said enthusiastically, "I watched 'Captain Tsubasa' when I was a kid, and it was fun to see those players win without giving up until the end even in difficult situations. I was determined to play soccer hard because I watched them. I want Nankatsu SC to be a team like that this year."

    Introducing the side, Takahashi commented, "Though I can change things easily in a manga, it's difficult to make real matches happen the way I want. But all the more because of that, winning or losing and the excitement of all that mean a lot."

    Junichi Inamoto is seen in a Nankatsu SC uniform during a soccer match in March 2022. (Photo courtesy of the team)

    The real Nankatsu SC was founded as the Tokiwa Club in 1983, and was given its manga moniker when Takahashi took over in 2013. With its white uniform with aqua stripes -- using the same colors as in the manga -- the team is very much "the real thing" for Captain Tsubasa fans.

    Inamoto played in 82 matches for the Japanese national squad, and turned in a sparkling performance at the 2002 World Cup in Japan and South Korea, including scoring two goals. Konno represented Japan in 93 matches, Inoha in 21, and Sekiguchi in three.

    Tokyo's 23 wards have never been home to a J-League club. Nankatsu SC's goal is to become the first. Takahashi said, "I want them (new players) to display their real strength and raise the team's performance. Also, I hope they will contribute to other players by communicating their rich experiences."

    One of the club's sales points is the members' love for their home turf. Takahashi was born and raised in Katsushika Ward, and the club name comes from his alma mater Tokyo Metropolitan Minami Katsushika High School, often called "Nankatsu."

    Yasuyuki Konno, left, is seen in a Nankatsu SC uniform during a soccer match in March 2022. (Photo courtesy of the team)

    Team members regularly join litter pick-up drives and give special talks at schools in the area. They also hold junior soccer tournaments in collaboration with the Katsushika Ward Office. Ward libraries display the team's uniforms and trophies, and put on events where players read books aloud to children.

    Conditions to be promoted to the J-League's third division include having an about 5,000-seat stadium. Residents' understanding and support will be needed to get a stadium built in the ward. The ward office is considering building a stadium with an attached Captain Tsubasa museum.

    A 51-year-old ward resident who has been a fan for eight years said, "I began to support them because I was attracted by the Nankatsu SC name. I hope that the team will win its way to a promotion to the upper divisions, and that more fans will come along to cheer them together."

    (Japanese original by Kazuo Yanagisawa, Tokyo Bureau)

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    "Captain Tsubasa" is a soccer manga and anime series originally published in the popular weekly magazine "Shukan Shonen Jump" from 1981 to 1988. There are sequels including the "World Youth" and the "Road to 2002," with domestic sales for the entire series topping 70 million copies. The manga has also been published in about 20 countries and regions including Italy and Mexico.

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