Home Football Gary Lineker on the J-League: ‘It began with an earthquake and a 5-0 loss. And then things got worse’

Gary Lineker on the J-League: ‘It began with an earthquake and a 5-0 loss. And then things got worse’

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Japan's J-League: Gary Lineker's Experience

Gary Lineker Reflects on His J-League Experience: From Earthquakes to Personal Struggles

The inaugural season of Japan’s J-League kicked off in May 1993, featuring Lineker and other international stars recruited to promote the sport in the country.

My debut in the J-League for Nagoya Grampus Eight started with an earthquake that shook our entire hotel. To add to the unfortunate beginning, we suffered a 5-0 loss, and I didn’t even get a chance to play. Needless to say, it was far from an ideal start.

Unfortunately, my footballing journey in Japan didn’t improve much from there. However, even after 30 years, I still look back fondly on my time in Japan.

Although it feels like a lifetime ago, my move to Japan was an exciting adventure. It marked the launch of professional football in the country, and being a part of something new and different was extraordinary for any player, especially in a place with such unique approaches.

I only wish I could have played more during my time there, but there was nothing I could do about it. Witnessing the sport take off and grow right from the start was exhilarating, but it also marked the end of my playing career, albeit not in the way I had envisioned.

I first heard about the interest from Japan in March 1991 when Grampus Eight contacted my agent and Tottenham Hotspur. However, things didn’t progress until June, when I traveled to Tokyo with Spurs for a friendly match.

That visit initiated discussions that eventually led to an offer for a two-year contract to play in the new J-League. The league was a replacement for the previous amateur league composed of corporate teams. Grampus Eight, formerly known as Toyota Motors, continued to receive support from the company.

The timing was right for me as I had been contemplating my future. Approaching 31, I had always wanted to leave English football at its peak, and my plan was to retire when my contract with Spurs ended in 1993.

However, the opportunity to go to Japan seemed like a thrilling and unique way to conclude my career. I had a fascination with the country and wanted a safe environment for my family. Moreover, I didn’t want to experience a gradual decline in England, as I felt my abilities were waning. The prospect of playing in Japan appealed to me, and I believed I could still score goals and make a positive impact.

That was the plan, but unfortunately, things took an unexpected turn when I got injured. In addition, the news about my baby son George’s illness almost prevented us from going to Japan at all.

In football and life, things can change rapidly. In November 1991, I scored the goal against Poland that secured England’s qualification for Euro 92. Shortly after, I announced my retirement from international football following the tournament. The following week, Tottenham revealed that I would be leaving them in the summer of 1992.

At that time, I received offers to continue playing, including an invitation from my former England teammate Bryan Robson, who had just become the manager of Middlesbrough. However, I had to face reality and admit that I couldn’t continue playing. The Premier League or even the second tier would have been beyond my capabilities due to my toe injury.

Ultimately, my time in Japan was marred by frustration and injury. Nonetheless, it helped me transition and accept the end of my playing career. The gradual process of rehabilitation during my two years in Japan fueled my desire to embark on a new path.

When I returned to England in 1994, I was eager for a change. Having already started my media career by working for the BBC during the 1994 World Cup, I knew what awaited me next.

Japan has since witnessed remarkable progress in football. The J-League has expanded, with 28 teams now competing in two divisions. It continues to enjoy immense popularity among fans. Moreover, Japanese players have become sought-after talents worldwide, representing clubs across the globe and contributing to the national team’s success.

Looking back, I may not have directly contributed to Japan’s football achievements, but I still hold a deep connection to the country and its culture, as does my family. My son Harry was born there, and we still affectionately call him “Harry-chan,” a Japanese term of endearment.

Despite the challenges and setbacks, I cherish the memories of my time in Japan. Each step, from earthquakes to personal struggles, shaped my experiences and led me on a new journey beyond the pitch.

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SoccerFan88 June 9, 2023 - 4:02 am

Great read! Loved hearing about Lineker’s time in Japan and the challenges he faced. Must’ve been tough dealing with injuries and his son’s illness. Japan really embraced football, and it’s amazing to see how far their league has come. Kudos to Lineker for his contribution, and it’s heartwarming to hear about his connection with Japan even after all these years.

FootyLover22 June 9, 2023 - 4:02 am

Wow, Lineker’s J-League adventure started with an earthquake?! That’s crazy! And a 5-0 loss on top of that? Talk about a rough beginning. It’s sad that injuries cut his playing time short, but it’s inspiring to see his positive attitude and how he appreciates his time in Japan. Also, the growth of Japanese football since then is impressive. Great storytelling in this article!


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