Yanmar Diesel (pictured at the end of this post) won the Japanese Premier Division in 1971. Yanmar are the precursor to Cerezo Osaka who currently play in the J League 2 and in the late 60s and 70s had one of the most famous Japanese players of all time playing for them.
Kunishige Kamamoto was a centre forward and probably one of the most successful Asian players in the world in the 60s and 70s. His high point came in the 1968 Olympics when the Japanese were drawn against Spain, Brazil and Nigeria. They began the tournament with a very impressive 3-1 victory over the Nigerians, all three goals were scored by Kamamoto. They followed this up with a 1-1 draw with Brazil and finished the group with a goalless draw against the Spaniards that sent Japan into a quarter final with France.
The French had won a tough group including hosts Mexico yet this didn’t frighten the Japan side who ran out 3-1 winners! It was in the semi finals that the Japanese dream was to end. A 5-0 loss to eventual winners Hungary sent Japan into the bronze medal playoff against the Mexicans. In front of 40,000 people Japan emerged victorious with a 2-0 win. Kamamoto ended the competition as top scorer with 7 goals.
An extended trial at FC Saarbrucken in West Germany followed but Kamamoto decided that he preferred to stay in his job at Yanmar Diesel as an administrator rather than play professionally in Germany. Speaking in 1971 he said: “I am sure we will have professional football here within 10 years and maybe then I can earn a living as a coach or manager.” It was 20 years later (1992) that the professional J-League was set up and we’ve now seen players such as Inamoto and Nakata grace some of the best clubs and leagues in Europe. If Kamamoto was born in a different era maybe we’d have seen a lot more of him.