Velaphi relishing Japanese challenge

Tando Velaphi is enjoying his time in Japan and is determined to win a starting spot with his J1 League club Shonan Bellmare.

Velaphi left Melbourne City in January to join the Japanese side.

The 28-year old goalkeeper has yet to make a first-team appearance in the league for his new club

Velaphi, whose mother is Japanese, said he has settled in well.

“Its awesome,” he told FourFourTwo.  

“I’ve been here a few times on holiday so in terms of that stuff and the way people do things I’ve been exposed before. I’m really enjoying my time here. I haven’t got time to see my family yet.

“But that side of things is really good and the football is even better. I’m really enjoying the club here, they’ve made me feel very welcome and I’m starting to fit in with the team slowly but surely.

“I speak a little bit of Japanese. I’m more better at understanding it. It takes a bit of time with the speaking but I’ve been here six or seven weeks now and I’m slowly getting back into it.

“My mum keeps hounding me about working on my Japanese but it’s getting there.”

Shonan Bellmare are a relatively young club – they were founded in 1968 – and are based in Hiratsuka.

In recent years they have bounced between the J1 and J2 Leagues, securing promotion back to the top flight in 2013 before being relegating the following season.

Shonan Bellmare were promoted after winning the J2 League in 2014 and they finished eighth in the premier division last year.

“They’re a relatively small club with regards to the J-League but they’re a team that really punches above its weight,” Velaphi explains.

“Last year they got promoted from the J2 and they finished eighth which is really good. We’ve got a lot of young players and our style of football, they call it the Shonan style, which is they’ve got a bit of a trademark and brand about the way they play football and go about things.

“Very much they’ve got an identity here in the city and everyone gets a buzz at the games. It’s only a small stadium – about 17,000 – but it was sold out for the first game.

“It’s a great place to be, it’s on the coast and not too far from Tokyo. It’s a great club, the facilities are great and I think most teams in the J-League have top-class facilities.”

So far this season Shonan Bellmare has had one win and one draw from the first two matches, placing it in 14th place in the 18-team competition. Velaphi is competing with Yuji Kajikawa and Tomohiko Murayama for the number one jumper.

“With myself obviously I want to play but sometimes you have to bide your time a little bit,” he said.

“The coaches have been great with their communication to say look you’re new to this whole football over here, the language and goalkeepers are a pretty important part of that sort of stuff.

“I feel like I’ve been training well, I played a lot in the pre-season it’s just a matter of adapting to exactly how they want things done. I’m very eager to play and it’s obviously disappointing not to start, you always want to play.

“But I’m in a good place and I’m learning each day. I’m looking forward to setting foot on the park soon.”

Velaphi said it his club’s goal not just to stay up this season.

“Every season is different in terms of the league and all the teams are so strong,” he said.

“You see some times they can win the championship two years before and then get relegated into the J2. There’s probably about five or six teams in the J2 worthy of playing in the J1.

“It’s very competitive and every year you can’t predict it. We want to aim for the title, that’s everyone’s ambition. If we can just keep steadily progressing our style of football, there’s no reason why we can’t achieve great things and beat the top teams.”

Originally from Perth, Velaphi has made more than 100 A-League appearances for Perth Glory, Brisbane Roar, Melbourne Victory and Melbourne City.

The keeper said his move to Japan was a combination of the right place at the right time.

“I really enjoyed my time at Melbourne City and I’m very thankful for letting me take up this opportunity,” he said.

“It was the right place at the right time. It’s not very often that foreign goalkeepers go over to Japan. I came off a pretty strong season the past year and people saw that I wasn’t playing and thought maybe he wants to try something new.

“With my mum being Japanese and having a bit of interest in the J-League on a personal level, it all came together. Sometimes things like click and it felt like the right move. I didn’t really think twice about it when it came up.

“It all kind happened within a few days, it was pretty sudden. I was really keen to make the move.”