History of the J.League

Although football (soccer) has been popular in Japan for over 50 years, the country did not have a professional league prior to 1993. Football has been popular at the high school and university level since the 1920s or 1930s, but at the "shakaijin" (adult) level, it was not a particularly popular support in Japan prior to the mid-1960s. In 1960, however, Japan's national team invited Dettmar Crammer, from Duisburg, West Germany, to come to Japan and coach the national team. The country wanted to make a respectable showing at the Tokyo Olympics in 1964, and the team trained intensively from 1960 to 1963. Although the team put on a respectable performance, three years was not enough time to build a team, and Japan dropped out early in the competition. However, the tenacious efforts of Crammer and the national team eventually did pay off, as the team that Cranmer built went on to win a bronze medal at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City. Striker Kunishige Kamamoto scored 7 goals at the Mexico Olympics, and thus established himself as one of the "old men" of Japanese football.

Before he left, in 1964 Crammer suggested the establishment of a soccer league to strengthen the sport in Japan. Based on this suggestion, the semi-amateur Japan Soccer League (JSL) was formed, in 1965, with eight teams. This league deserves to be described as "semi-amateur" because, like many sports in Japan, it was supported by corporations as a form of publicity, and the players were company employees whose "real" job kept them busy only a few hours a day. The rest of the time, they were paid to train, practice and play matches. Many large Japanese companies, such as Nissan, Yamaha, Mitsubishi Motors, and Yomiuri Newspapers sponsored teams which went on to become founding members of the J.League.

However, so long as football remained a company-sponsored activity, its fan appeal remained limited. The boom that Japan's bronze-medal performance initiated gradually diminished. In 1987, Kenji Mori, then-chairman of the Japan Soccer League, first floated the idea of a fully-professional football league. In 1988, the JSL set up an action committee to discuss ways to revive interest the sport in Japan, and the following year, the committee recommended the establishment of a professional league. After nearly 2 years of planning, in January 1991, the Japan Football Association (JFA, the official international representative for Japan in FIFA), announced the basic structure of the new professional football league, to be known as the J.League. Under the plan, the top 10 teams in the JSL became founding members of the new JLeague. Other teams would be eligible for promotion based on their performance in the semi-amateur league, which continued to operate, but was renamed the Japan Football League (JFL).

On May 15, 1993, the very first J.League match in history kicked off in front of a crowd of 59,626 at Tokyo's National Stadium. The opening match was played between Verdy Kawasaki (formerly Yomiuri Verdy FC) and Yokohama Marinos (formerly Nissan Motor FC). In its initial year, the league had 10 teams. The strong popularity of the league and excellent grass-roots support for teams that remained in the JFL prompted the league to add teams repidly. The league grew to 12 teams in 1994, 14 teams in 1995, 16 teams in 1996, 17 teams in 1997 and 18 teams in 1998.

Unfortunately, this rate of growth was too rapid to be sustained. By 1998, several teams were in financial difficulty, and attendance was falling. To address the problems created by over-ambitious attempts at growth, the league was forced to restructure at the end of 1998. Under the new structure, the top division (J1) was reduced to 16 teams and a second division was established for those JFL teams whose size and financial backing was enough to make them viable professional teams, but which were not yet strong enough to be candidates for J1 entry. A promotion-relegation system was established, under which the top 2 teams from J2 receive promotion to J1 (assuming they can meet the financial and technical criteria), and the bottom two teams from J1 are relegated. At present, there are 12 teams in J2, but the league will accept new members to a maximum of 16, as lower-level clubs meet the financial and technical criteria for J2 membership.

Below J2, the JFL is still active, and includes semi-professional teams sponsored by companies, local civic groups, educational institutions and so forth. There are 12 teams in the JFL's "premier" division at present, as well as hundreds of club teams in the JFL's affiliated regional leagues. The top two teams in the JFL are eligible for promotion to J2 provided they have been in the premier section of the JFL for at least two years, and can meet the financial and technical criteria for J2.

The league continues to plan for future expansion, especially now that attendances have begun to rebound and interest in the sport is spreading to every corner of Japan. The first step in the continued expansion will come in 2005, when two teams from the JFL will be added to the J2 and two additional teams (in addition to those that win promotion that season) will join the J1. This will increase the number of teams in the top division to 18, while the J2 will remain at 12 teams.

In 2006 the league tentatively plans to add another team to J2, making the total for both divisions 31 and in 2007, a full reorganisation of the league is planned as, another JFL club advances to make the total 32, for both divisions. At this point, the league intends to set both J1 and J2 at 16 teams, and create a third division (J3) from the remaining JFL clubs. Promotion-relegation will be reorganised so that two teams advance and two teams are relegated at each level.

The conditions for membership in J1 and J2 are outlined below. The rules are intended to promote financially stable clubs with strong ties to their local community, while at the same time encouraging the development of football in Japan

1. Incorporation
Each club must be a registered corporation specializing in football. This condition is stipulated to ensure that each club provides a secure management base.

2. Hometown
Each club must designate a particular locality as its home town. It must cooperate in sports activities conducted in the area to grow as a club that takes part in activities in the community and promotes sports in the region.

3. Players and Coaching Licenses
First division teams must have at least 15 players who have concluded the standard professional contract approved by the Japan Football Association (JFA), while second division teams must have at least five such players. Coaches must also possess the appropriated coaching license approved by the JFA. Managers of top teams must posses the JFA's Grade S license, managers of satellite teams must possess a Grade B license or higher, and managers of U-18 (youth), U-15 (junior youth) and U-12 (junior) teams must possess a Grade C license or higher.

4. Team Structure
Each J1 club must have at least a satellite team, an U-18 team, an U-15 team and an U-12 team. Each J2 club must have at least a satellite team and an U-18 team. J2 clubs without an U-15 and/or U-12 team must organize soccer schools and conduct other activities targeting children of these age groups and organize these teams within three years of joining the J. League. When a J2 club is promoted to J1, the conditions for a J1 club will apply even if the J2 club has held J. League membership for less than three years.

5. Stadium Facilities
For both J1 and J2 clubs, stadiums must possess an evergreen natural grass field with, in principle, a size of 105 meters by 68 meters. The stadiums must also have floodlights of an average 1,500 lux or more. Stadiums for J1 clubs must hold 15,000 spectators or more. Stadiums for J2 clubs must hold 10,000 spectators or more.

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