Urawa Reds' predecessor was the “Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Soccer Club” which was established in 1950. They joined the league from the beginning of the Japan Soccer League (JSL) in 1965 and led the Japanese football scene along with companies such as Furukawa Denko (Currently Jeff United Chiba) and Hitachi (Currently Kashiwa Reysol) that have been leaders in Japan.
In 1990, the club changed its name to “Mitsubishi Motors Corporation Soccer Club” as they transferred the team to previous subsidiary Mitsubishi Motors Corporation. During the time when Japan’s professional football league, J. League was established, they explored opportunities to join the league from Tokyo where their headquarters existed. However, the talk with the self-governing body did not come to an agreement. In the meantime, Urawa-Shi from Saitama prefecture (Currently Saitama-shi Urawa-Ku) was looking for a professional football team and as they started to negotiate, their visions matched up which lead to the start of “Urawa Red Diamonds.” That’s how the history of Urawa Reds began as one of the 10 organizations (so-called Original 10) which were part of the start of J. League.
However, at the beginning, it was a difficult time for Urawa. In the inaugural season of the J. League which operated with two stages, they finished last in both stages They were also last placed in the 1994 season and was defeated early in the Emperor’s Cup, J. League Yamazaki Nabisco Cup (Currently J. League YBC Levain Cup) which led to the team being labelled as the team that always finishes in the lower half of the table.
On the other side, even when the team suffered in the standings, the home stadium located in Urawa-shi always filled up with enthusiastic supporters with overpowering cheers attracting people within and from outside. As football was a popular sport among school students in this area, the locals were devoted in the sport and felt a strong connection to their “hometown” professional sports club which showed in their supporting attitude towards the Urawa Reds.
However, even with the high expectation from the locals, Urawa Reds continued to float around the middle of the standings in the 90s. In the 1995 season, they finished fourth in the final table which was the highest finish in club history. Masahiro Fukuda, who was the ace striker of the team finished as the first ever Japanese leading scorer. Following that season, the Reds remained in the middle of the table and in the 1999 season, they faced a crisis that led them to the demotion to J2 which was planned to start from the following season. In the last week of the NICOS stage (2nd stage), even though the Reds defeated the Sanfrecce Hiroshima with an extra time golden goal, they were not able to overcome other teams in goal differences and ended up with the shameful title as the first ever J. League club to be demoted to the 2nd league along with Bellmare Hiratsuka (Currently Shonan Bellmare).
In the following season in 2000, they defeated Sagan Tosu in the last game of the J2 season with an extra time golden goal and finished in second place to return to the J1 in one year. Then in 2002 season, after naming former Japan national team manager and Dutchman Hans Ooft as the leader of the squad, the results took a turn.
Ooft enforced the basics of strategy and discipline among the players. He also brought in new blood to the club by using younger players effectively and moved forward with reforming the club by putting constant development at the forefront. As a result, in 2003 season, they won the first ever club title in the Yamazaki Nabisco Cup. Ooft left the club after the season, but the records continued to improve with the hiring of former German national team defender and former player of the Reds in Guido Buchwald. In the 2004 season, they won the J. League 2nd stage for the first time and also clinched the Emperor’s Cup in 2005/06 season. Reds also took home the long cherished J. League title in the 2006 season as well.
In the 2007 season, the Reds won the AFC Championship League led by German manager Holger Osieck who came in after Buchwald. In the J. League, they were defeated by last placed Yokohama FC in the last game of the season and allowed Kashima Antlers to take the title and was not able to secure back-to-back championships. Historically talking, this was the peak of Urawa Reds in their historical timeline.
In 2008 season, the front office and field staff did not go eye to eye and after two games they decided to cut ties with Osieck and looked to revamp, but the team never got back on track and ended up without a title for the first time in 5 years. For 2009 and 2010 seasons, the Reds hired German manager Volker Finke, but the results did not fare well as they ended up in the middle of the standings in J. League and had an early exit in the cup tournaments. The feeling of another downturn was starting to come up in people`s mind.
Then in 2011 season, they turned to former player and Dutchman Zeljko Petrovic as their next manager but he was not able to pile up wins in the first half of the season, and they ended up taking part in the relegation race. After all, they were able to stay alive in the final game of the season and escaped the worst case scenario but needing another drastic change, they brought in former Sanfrecce Hiroshima manager Mihailo Petrovic to lead the way.
In the first training camp after his hire, Petrovic lectured the players that showed self-conceited attitude.
“What happens if everybody did what they want. Have you guys forgotten what happened last year (Fought for the race to remain in J1 during the 2011 season)? Everybody here should know by now what may happen if we’re all not on the same page and work towards that. We are currently on the edge of the cliff. If we step back 1 metre, we’re gonna fall. We need to bring 100% concentration every day towards what we need to work on. That’s the duty of wearing an Urawa jersey."
Shiz years have passed since achieving the J1 title in 2006. For attendance, in the four seasons from 1996-1999, two years in 2001, 2002, and also in the seven years from 2006-12, they held the top numbers in J. League for 13 years and has also led the league in sales. However, the record on the field did not compare to that and compared to Kashima which has numerous titles in their history, the word “invincible” did not fit their state. That’s when Petrovic came along as the shot in the arm. The club, determined to bring a change, made the jump to become a presence to fight for the J. League year in and year out, and their manager brought in an original strategy that fits their unique team to make a splash in the Japanese football world.
After finishing 3rd in the 2012 season, they moved on to the ACL in the 2013 season for the first time in 5 years. Although they ended the challenge to take on the best in Asia during the group stages, in the following 2014 season they fought the league title till the last game until they lost out to Gamba Osaka and finished in 2nd place. Two-stage season format returned for the first time in 11 years in the 2015 season and they won the 1st stage but was stopped by Gamba Osaka once again in the semi-finals of the J. League Championship and also took the defeat in the Emperor’s cup in the semi-finals.
In 2016 season, Urawa were in lead for each competition and ended up becoming champions for the first time in 13 years for the J.League YBC Levain Cup. In the J. League, they finished 3rd in the 1st stage and became the winners of the 2nd stage for a total of 74 points which was their highest total in team history. Even though they moved on to the J. League Championship game, away goals hurt them and they lost the league title to the Kashima Antlers.
Although the team was able to fight for the title constantly under manager Petrovic, the only title they were able to achieve was the YBC Levain Cup in the 2016 season. As they always fell short of glory, people within and outside were labelling them as “weak in crunch time,” and as a reaction, they used a more aggressive style which resulted in the team losing balance. As the losses started to pile, the team decided to sack Petrovic during the middle of the season to refocus once again.
As coach Takafumi Hori took over as a manager, he attacked the problem of the defensive formation and gradually improved the team and progressed in the ACL. Although they lost the quarter-final one at Kawasaki, 1-3, they were able to come back and take Game 2 at home with a 4-1 victory and moved to the semi-finals. In the semi-finals against Shanghai SIPG F.C., they were able to escape the first game on a 1-1 draw and won the 2nd game 1-0 to move on to the finals for the first time since 2007 season. For the finals, they played against Saudi Arabian professional club Al-Hilal FC and finished game 1 in a 1-1 draw and then won game 2, 1-0 at home in Saitama Stadium 2002. They captured the Asian title for the first time in 10 years.
Urawa Reds became the first J. League club to capture the Asian title for the 2nd time. However, they have not won the J. League title since 2006 season and remain a one-time champion as they ended up in 7th place this year which was their worst finish in the last five years. A club that is known to have the most supporters domestically needs to answer to that support, and a bounce back from the following season is expected.