Located at the foot of Mt. Fuji, the Yamanashi outfit have overcome a lack of titles to create deep bonds with the surrounding community.
When the J.League opened in 1993, Ventforet were playing in the Japan Football League’s second division, known then as the country’s third tier. After promotion, they struggled for five years in the semi-professional league, until they joined nine other teams to form the J.League’s second division in 1999.
Perhaps more interesting than the club’s results on the pitch are their results in the stands and the surrounding community. In Ventforet’s first season, home games saw average attendance stagnate at below 1,500 per match.
The club then invested a seemingly endless amount of energy into ‘recruiting’ new supporters through events involving the local populace. Despite the lack of astounding results on the pitch, the number of fans grew exponentially.
The team’s first three seasons were nightmarish, with last-place finishes from 1999 through 2001. Their results and attendance approved; an average of 7,000 fans per game saw Ventforet achieve their first promotion in 2005, and the following season that number rocketed to 12,000.
They earned their trip in dramatic fashion: after two unexpected victories against top clubs in J2, Ventforet clinched third place and and a spot in the Promotion-Relegation Playoff against Kashiwa Reysol, who had finished in 16th place in the J1.
Despite winning the first leg 2-1 at home, Ventforet entered the second game as underdogs. In the match at Kashiwa Stadium, however, Brazilian striker Bare set a tremendous record by scoring six goals. His ‘double hat-trick’ gave his team a 6-2 victory and 8-3 aggregate result; more than enough to achieve their first-ever promotion.
Since then, despite a lack of titles and two relegations (followed by as many promotions), Ventforet’s average number of spectators has never dropped below 10,000, making the club a role model for other small clubs hoping to compete in Japan’s top flight. The club signed Indonesian star Irfan Bachdim before the 2014 season, potentially making him the first Southeast Asian player to participate in the J1.
Brazilian attacker Marcelo Baron Polanczyk was a key player of Ventforet’s 1998 JFL season, scoring 31 goals in 29 appearances in addition to 10 goals from four Emperor’s Cup games. After spending five seasons playing in J1, he returned to the club for most of the 2004 season.
Midfielder and defender Katsuya Ishihara has for over a decade been a mainstay in the team’s lineup, beginning in his 2001 rookie season when he played in 30 games. He contributed greatly to their 2005 promotion run and was named captain in 2007.
Another Brazilian striker, Davi, had a slow 2011 but redeemed himself the following season with 32 goals in 36 games on the way to helping Ventforet cruise to the 2011 J2 title.
The team’s most famous Japanese player may currently be Mike Havenaar, whose 194-centimetre height - and very productive two seasons in Yamanashi - earned him a transfer to Vitesse and a regular spot in Alberto Zaccheroni’s Japan squad.
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