Nara is a city and prefecture known more for its giant Buddha statues and historical sites than for its sporting prowess. Like many in the Kansai region, Nara residents have tended to look towards the two Osaka clubs, Cerezo and Gamba, to get their footballing fix. Yet this could all be about to change thanks to Nara Club’s meteoric rise through the Japanese football pyramid. A journey that started off in the amateur prefectural leagues now sees them just one rung away from Japan’s professional divisions.

They are already able to attract crowds of over 3000 for the biggest games and a debut season in the JFL saw the club narrowly miss out on promotion to J3 at the first attempt. With the beginnings of a professional set up being put into place under the stewardship of head coach, Atsushi Nakamura, it is surely only a matter of time before the club’s lofty ambitions are met.

I arranged to speak to the Nara Club fan leader, Yoshihiro Ikoma, and one of his deputies, Masaya Fukumori, after a home game with promotion rivals Azul Claro Numazu. Despite a one-nil defeat ending all hope of them reaching J3 this season they seemed in good spirits. I got the impression they were already more than happy with a comfortable top half finish following their inaugural season in the top tier of Japanese non-league football, and that promotion this year would have been an unexpected bonus.

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*This article was commisioned by JSoccer Magazine and also featured on IBWM