Last month, the Japanese J-League celebrated its 27 years of top-flight professional football in Japan. It’s hard to believe that it was a generation ago that the first J-League 1 fixture between Yokohama Marinos and Verdy Kawasaki was staged in the national stadium of Tokyo to tremendous fanfare.
There’s no doubt that the formation of the J-League has been hugely beneficial in improving the Japanese national soccer team. In the 1980s the Japanese national team slumped well down the world rankings after winning an Olympic bronze medal at the 1968 Games in Mexico. At the time, the Japan Soccer League (JSL) consisted mainly of amateur and semi-professional teams. However, the clubs were poorly funded and stadia were also inadequate for developing young players. It was only then that JFA.jp took the decision to launch their very own professional league.
The J-League is indebted to its early influx of foreign stars
Initially, the J-League would consist of eight teams from the JSL First Division, one lucky entrant from the JSL Second Division and Shimizu S-Pulse – a brand-new club formed solely for the launch of the J-League. One of the main ways that J-League teams sought to improve the profile of the league was to sign overseas stars. England international striker Gary Lineker signed a lucrative deal to play for Nagoya Grampus Eight, while Brazilian icons such as Dunga, Zico and Jorginho all flew to the Land of the Rising Sun for a final payday. It was akin to what the Major League Soccer (MLS) has achieved in the US, with the likes of David Beckham, Kaka and Wayne Rooney putting the MLS firmly on the map.
Wind the clock forward to the present day and the J-League is Asia’s premier soccer spectacle. With J-League stadium capacities of up to 72,370 and average attendances nationwide of 20,750 last year, you could argue that it’s as well supported as the English Championship today.
The J-League has become ingrained in Japanese culture in the last couple of decades. That’s why soccer-related video games have become such a popular pastime in Japan. The likes of Winning Eleven, Pro Evolution Soccer and even FIFA have resonated hugely in Japan. Even the online casinos that cater for Japanese players, including 21.com and Vera and John, offer soccer slot titles to spin and play. NetEnt is one of the main software suppliers for Japan-friendly sites listed on CasinoWings.com, and 21.com listed as a partner of the Swedish developer which supplies the popular Super Striker game, with its two types of scatters.
Japanese FA looking to do the same with elite women’s soccer too
According to SportsProMedia.com the Japanese FA are keen to transform women’s soccer in the same way from 2021. Plans for Japan’s first professional women’s soccer league have been unveiled, which is set to be known as the Women Empowerment League (WE-League). It’s likely to be a ten-team league in 2021/22, although there is scope for expansion in the years ahead.
No promotion from the current amateur top tier, the Nadeshiko League, is permitted at present, but that could soon change if demand requires. It’s all part of Japan’s plans to stage the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup, with a thriving professional domestic league likely to be looked upon favorably.