WE League: Japan’s first professional women’s football league

“Japan Football Museum @ Ochanomizu” by *_* is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Last year in June 2020 the Japan Football Association announced that they were forming a new professional and top-flight women’s football league, named WE League. With WE standing for ‘Women’s Empowerment’.

The previous top-flight league, called the Nadeshiko League, was a semi-professional League and will now become the second division in the newly formed women’s football pyramid.

The WE League is set to start it’s inaugural season in the Autumn of 2021, with 11 teams forming part of the table. Similarly to a few other women’s football leagues across the world, such as the NWSL (US Women’s league), the WE League will have no relegation to the Nadeshiko league for at least the first couple for seasons. However, they may open up the Nadeshiko league to allow promotion to the WE League, to allow for an appropriate number of clubs in the league.

Each team in the WE League must have at least five players signed to a fully professional contract, which are also not subject to a salary cap.

The Teams

Last year various clubs applied to be in WE League, with 17 teams rumoured to have applied to join. It was announced in October 2020 that 11 clubs were successful in being the founding members of the WE League. Out of those 11 clubs, 8 of them are affiliated to J.League (Men’s football) clubs.

Nippon TV Tokyo Verdy Beleza

The club was founded in 1981 as Yomiuri SC Ladies Beleza. The name ‘Beleza’ is Portuguese for ‘beauty’. They are an affiliate to J.League 2 men’s side, Tokyo Verdy. The Verdy Beleza are a founding member of the league in 1989 and is the only Japanese women’s club to have never been relegated. They are also one of the most decorated women’s football teams in Japan. They have won a whopping 17 league titles, 14 Empress Cups, 7 League Cups and 2 Supercups.

In 1999, the club was transferred to Nippon TV and which meant that the club name was changed to NTV Beleza. In 2000, the team name was changed again to Nippon TV Beleza. In 2009, Nippon TV withdrew from management, but despite this the club name remains Nippon TV Beleza, due to the club signing a new contract of naming rights with Nippon TV.

Urawa Red Diamonds Ladies

Founded 23 years ago in 1998, for sponsorship reasons they are known as Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Urawa Reds Ladies. Unlike Verdy Ladies, Urawa Reds have only started to find success in the last 10/15 years. They won the Nadeshiko League 4 times, finished runners up in the league 3 times, finished runners up 5 times in the Empress Cup, runners up 3 times in the League Cup and runners up once in the Supercup. They did however win the Japan/Korea Championship League in 2010, with a 4-2 win over the then known Daekyo Kangaroos. This competition no longer exists, but during the 3 years that it ran, a Japanese side always won.

JEF United Chiba Ladies

Known by their full name, JEF United Ichihara Chiba Ladies, they were founded in 1992 and are affiliated to J.League 2 (men’s) side JEF United Chiba. They won the League Cup in 2017, after finishing runners up the year before. They also finished runners up in the Empress Cup in 2012.

Unlike some other women’s teams, JEF Ladies have worked their way up the leagues since they were founded, starting in the Kanto League before gaining promotion up the pyramid. They have had a spell in the second division after being relegated, but have remained in the top division of women’s football since 2009

Mynavi Sendai Ladies

Founded in 2012, their full name is Mynavi Vegalta Sendai Ladies and they are affiliated to J.League 1 side Vegalta Sendai. In their first season as a club, they earned promotion to the Nadeshiko League where they have remained since 2013. During their short time as a club, they are yet to win any silverware however, they did finish runners up in the league in 2015.

Omiya Ardija Ventus

Originally founded in 1996 as Jūmonji Junior & Senior High School Soccer Team. The team then went on to be known as FC Jumonji Ventus from 2014. For their inaugural season in the newly developed WE League, they have changed their name to Omiya Ardija Ventus. They are affiliated to J.League 2 side Omiya Ardija.

AS Saitama

Known by their full name Chifure AS Elfen Saitama, they were founded in 1991 and have been very much a yo-yo team, gaining promotion and relegation from various divisions. They have remained in the Nadeshiko League since 2017.

Stella Kanagawa

Founded in 2012, their full name is Nojima Stella Kanagawa Sagamihara. They were in the sixth tier of Japanese Football when they were founded and have gained promotion and acceptance to higher leagues. In the 2016 season, Stella Kanagawa finished first place in Division 2 and clinched the promotion to Division 1 for the first time in the teams history. They have remained in the top division since. They finished runners up in the Empress Cup in 2017.

Parceiro Ladies

Founded in 2000 under their original name Ohara Gakuen JaSRA Ladies SC. Since 2010 they changed their name AC Nagano Parceiro Ladies. Since their formation, they have spent time between the top two divisions, only gaining promotion to the Nadeshiko league in 2016. They are affiliated to J.League 3 side AC Nagano Parceiro

Albirex Niigata Ladies

Founded in 2002, they are affiliated with J.League 2 side Albirex Niigata. They started of in the Hokushinetsu League, before gaining promotion to the second division. In 2006 they were promoted to the Nadeshiko League, where they have remained since. They have been unsuccessful in claiming some silverware, but came close in 2011, 2013, 2015 and 2016, when they finished runners up in the Empress Cup.

INAC Kobe Leonessa

Founded in 2001, INAC stands for International Athletic Club while Leonessa means Lioness in Italian. In 2006 INAC Leonessa was promoted to the Nadeshiko League and have remained there ever since. In 2008, the team saw improvement, finishing runner-up in the Nadeshiko League and Empress Cup. In 2010, INAC achieved its first title as they beat Urawa Red Diamonds in the final of the Empress Cup through a penalty shootout. They then went and improved on this feat the following year, winning the double of the league and Empress Cup on what was the club’s 10th anniversary.

They have won the Empress Cup an impressive 6 times, won the League cup once in 2013 and won the Nadeshiko League Division 1 Title 3 times. They have also won the Japan/ Korea Women’s League Championship in 2012 and International Women’s Club Championship in 2013.

Sanfrecce Hiroshima Regina

Sanfrecce Hiroshima Regina are a completely new and formed team as of 2021. At present, little is known about the club, other than that they are an affiliate of J.League 1 side Sanfreece Hiroshima.

How to follow

There is still so much more information we are yet to know and find out about the league. There are some preseason friendlies which have been arranged in April and May for clubs.

Last year, games in the Nadeshiko League were available to watch for free and live in several countries including the UK on MyCujoo app. The app shows live games and full highlights of various smaller leagues across the world, from futsal tournaments, to regional leagues and college soccer for both male and female teams. I’ve not yet heard as to whether MyCujoo will be showing the games for the newly formed WE League or keeping footage for the Nadeshiko League as it becomes the second division. More on this as it follows

You can follow the WE Leagues English twitter at @WE_League_EN or if you are fluent in Japanese or don’t mind hitting translate, then you can follow the official twitter on @WE_League_JP

You can also follow the clubs twitters, although they are in Japanese (Can be translated):

@Ardija_VENTUS @albirexL @REDSLADIES @nojimastella @elfen_official @inac_kobe2001 @sanfrecceREGINA @mynavisendai @TokyoVerdySTAFF @NAGANO_PARCEIRO @jef_united

Published by Charlotte Patterson

25 | #SAFC and #OCSC | Football Enthusiast | Asian Football Writer for @footballCFB ⚽️

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