J-League History Series

Goal has compiled a five-part series detailing the birth and growth of Japan's leading football competition, the J-League

Since its inaugural season in 1993, the J-League competition has lead the way in Asia. Not only did it gain domestic and regional interest, but the league has also become a springboard for a number of Asian players take part in Europe's top competition. Many J-League's alumni, ranging from Hidetoshi Nakata, Park Ji-sung, Keisuke Honda and Shinji Kagawa, have become popular figures worldwide.

The league is no stranger to fierce competition, with clubs rarely able to dominate for long stretches. Starting with Verdy Kawasaki, Yokohama Marinos, Jubilo Iwata, Urawa Reds, to Gamba Osaka. As the J-League continues to expand in order to fulfill the goals of its Hundred Year Vision, don’t be surprised if it becomes one of the best leagues in the world.

Our five-part History of J-League series is split into five sections for your reading pleasure:

Part One

In the first of Goal's five-part series on professional football in Japan, we look back on the origins of the J-League and the country's early success stories.

The J-League was founded in 1991, but officially opened for business in 1993. More than 20 years have passed since then, and the Japanese football movement has grown exponentially. The road to professionalism and to success, however, was long and full of hurdles.

Part Two

In the second of our five-part J-League History series, Goal looks back at Verdy's early success and the emergence of Brazilian legend Zico as a catalyst for growth.

Ten teams competed in the 1993 season. Besides the aforementioned Verdy, Marinos and Antlers, there were three more clubs from the Greater Tokyo area: JEF Ichihara, Urawa Reds, and Yokohama Flugels. Shizuoka prefecture had a great football tradition, and participated with Shimizu S-Pulse, the only team that wasn’t an offspring of a company club.

Part Three

The third part in our J-League History series touches on the J-League's late-90s struggles, the emergence of Kashima Antlers and Jubilo Iwata, and the downfall of Yokohama Flugels.

The years from 1996 to 2002 can be considered as those of “growth pains.” In fact in this period, and until the arrival of the World Cup in Asia in 2002, the J-League, like the rest of Japanese economy in the same period, experienced a slump.

Part Four

In the fourth of our five-part J-League History series, Goal reflects on Gamba Osaka and Urawa Reds' continental triumphs and the beginning of Japanese players' emergence in Europe.

By the turn of the century, Japanese football began to experience a phenomenon that is seeing its peak only now : a consistent emigration of the best Japanese talents to Europe.

Part Five

The final of our five-part series examines the recent years of the J-League, including tight competition for the J1 championship as well as progressive expansion throughout Japan.

The years from 2007 up to now were those of the final maturation of the Japanese game, and those of the consolidation of the J-League. Since 2004 attendance had stabilized, with an average of about 18,000-19,000 spectators for J1, and 6,000-7,000 for J2 - numbers that outdo several European Leagues.