J-League Club Profile: Sanfrecce Hiroshima

After winning their first-ever league title in 2012, the Purple Archers continue in their quest to shift the J-League's balance of power from Kanto to western Japan.


Sanfrecce Hiroshima are one of the oldest football clubs in Japan, with origins dating back to 1938. In the pre-J.League era, then-Mazda SC won a record four Japan Soccer League Titles in a row  from 1965 to 1968.

As one of the original 10 J.League clubs, it wasn’t long until Sanfrecce clinched their first trophy by claiming the first stage of the 1994 season. However, they were defeated by Verdy Kawasaki in the championship final and would wait nearly 20 years to end the ensuing title drought.

The Hiroshima side are in fact the reigning J.League champions after winning their first title in 2012; first-year manager Hajime Moriyasu had also participated in their 1994 victory as a player. They successfully defended the title in 2013 after running neck-and-neck with fellow J.League co-founders Yokohama F. Marinos.

With the exception of a Xerox Cup victory in 2008, the years between 1994 and 2011 offered more downs than ups, with Sanfrecce finishing in fourth place in 2009 but otherwise failing to impress.

Since their inception, Sanfrecce have also reached six cup finals (five Emperor’s Cups and one Yamazaki Nabisco Cup), incredibly failing to win any of them. They did, however, claim their third Xerox Supercup in 2014 by defeating Marinos.

In 2002 and 2007, the club experienced the humiliation of relegation, thought in both cases they would earn promotion in just one year.

The seeds of the team that won the title in 2012 were actually planted in 2008, when they dominated the second division and captured the J2 championship outright. Sanfrecce have surged in popularity since then, thanks to many young players and their very theatrical goal-celebration that have become international hits on YouTube.

Today Sanfrecce are considered one of the top clubs in the J.League, and they represented Japan in the FIFA Club World Cup in 2012. Though they finished 5th, team captain Hisato Sato claimed the crown for top scorer with three goals.

Top Players
With 14 seasons of service for the club, midfielder Hajime Moriyasu gained favor with manager Hans Ooft and would later play under the Dutchman for the national team. After retiring at the end of the 2003 season Moriyasu would rejoin Sanfrecce as a coach, becoming manager in 2012 and leading his long-time club to their first-ever J.League title.

Moriyasu’s team-mate Takuya Takagi was known to fans as the ‘cannon of Asia’, with 27 goals in 44 games for Japan’s national team and more than one goal in every three of his 173 appearances for Sanfrecce/Mazda.

Known for his unusually strong shots and acrobatic goals, Tatsuhiko Kubo played over 200 matches for Sanfrecce and was a part of Japan’s 2000 Asian Cup-winning squad.

The first stage-winning 1994 squad included Czech international Ivan Hasek, who captained his country’s 1990 World Cup quarterfinalists. Hasek’s 19 goals in Sanfrecce’s 1994 first stage-winning season would remain a club record until 2012, when he was overtaken by Hisato Sato.

Tokyo native and current Southampton striker Tadanari Lee played two and a half seasons at Sanfrecce, but quickly became a fan favorite with his post-goal celebration of an archer releasing his arrow. His most famous rendition of this pose came in Doha after scoring a dramatic extra time half-volley to give Japan a 1-0 win over Australia in the 2011 Asian Cup final.

The current icon of Sanfrecce is unquestionably Hisato Sato, who is approaching 300 appearances for the Purple Archers and has scored more than 100 goals for them as well. The team captain was 2012’s J.League MVP as well as the golden boot winner.

Goalkeeper Shusaku Nishikawa, who missed just one game in four seasons for Sanfrecce, was instrumental in the club's two J-League titles. His consistency earned him a regular spot on Japan's national team as the first backup; he would play two out of three games in Japan's East Asian Cup-winning campaign in July 2013.


The multipurpose Hiroshima Big Arch was opened in 1992, memorably serving as the location of Japan’s first Asian Cup title over defending champions Saudi Arabia. Although the stadium seats 50,000, outdated facilities and poor sightlines have inspired club officials and supporters to start a petition for a new stadium to be built in the near future.

Colors and Uniform
Although Mazda SC had used blue as their primary color, Sanfrecce adopted purple upon joining the J-League. In addition to being considered a ‘noble’ color with close connections to the imperial family, the color had two advantages for league officials: it was not used by any other clubs, and the uniforms showed up well during broadcasts of night games.

In a famous 1995 incident, Sanfrecce players were forced to borrow replica uniforms from travelling supporters after the club only brought their away kits to a game against Yokohama Flugels, who wore white as their primary uniform.


Sanfrecce’s pair of mascots are Asiatic black bears, who are local to the region. Sancce, a combination of the English (thanks) and Italian (grazie) word for gratitude, was named as a tribute to supporters. His girlfriend, Frecce, took the stage in 2000.