This article was originally written in early 2019 for J-Soccer Magazine but due to a lack of issues last year it didn’t appear in Japan’s number one English language football publication until a few months ago. Since it’s release, a sufficient amount of time has passed so I feel its now ok to reproduce the contents of that article in it’s original form for those who maybe missed it!!
The name Gary Lineker will come to mind when most people think about the first British player to ply his trade in Japan. However, the former Nagoya Grampus, Tottenham, Barcelona, Everton and Leicester City striker actually came to the land of the rising sun seven years after the man in question here.
Admittedly, I had never heard of Steve ‘Pele’ Paterson till last year when my friend Scottish Neil recommended his autobiography ‘Confessions of a Highland Hero‘ saying he spent a small part of his career playing in the Japan Soccer League (or the JSL as many preferred to call it) which preceded the J. League. German coach Rudi Gutendorf was the man who signed Paterson in December 1983 for Yomiuri FC, later known as Verdy Kawasaki and known these days as Tokyo Verdy.
Gutendorf managed a staggering 41 sides in his career including 19 national teams and back in the mid-80’s he was seen as the man to help inject some interest in to a sport which was very much living in the shadows of baseball at that time. Paterson, along with a Croat named Vjeran Simunic, became the first European footballers to play in the JSL.
Paterson’s height and physique proved immediately advantageous and his goals from centre back helped Yomiuri FC win the league title as well as the Emperors Cup and the Xerox Super Cup. Paterson details the prestigious (his words, not mine!) 4-3 Kirin Cup win against Uruguay, when he scored two goals, as the highlight of his playing career.
Such success in that first season became something of a poisoned chalice the next season and Gutendorf was sacked following rumblings of discontent among the Japanese players who never took to his brusque and aggressive style of management. Paterson too was shown the door not long after that albeit with his contract paid off in a leather briefcase containing £30,000 in cash. The Japanese chapter of his life was sadly much shorter than I’d hoped for but it does offer some interesting insight into a different era of Japanese football compared to what we know now.
The non-football side of his Japanese experience includes what else was part of the deal to persuade him to move to Kawasaki. He was also the face of a JSL poster campaign to try and promote the beautiful game in Japan and he inevitably fell in love with a Japanese lady. The fact that she was still married (though estranged) made things very complicated back in an era when having another partner outside of marriage was very much frowned upon in Japan.
None of that is really part of the big picture here though as Paterson was a promising young talent at Manchester United in the late 70’s who seemed destined for bigger things but failed to keep control of his gambling and alcohol addictions for three decades. It doesn’t take a genius to guess what happened to the aforementioned cash pay-off from his Japanese club!
He also played in Hong Kong and Australia either side of his Japan jaunt before becoming a successful manager in the Highland League with Elgin City and Huntly, followed by Inverness Caledonian Thistle (where he was in charge when they knocked Celtic out of the Scottish Cup in 2000 resulting in the famous ‘Super Caley Go Ballistic Celtic Are Atrocious’ headline), then Aberdeen, Forres Mechanics and Peterhead.
- Other articles in JSoccer magazine issue #29 include a deep look at the history of FC Ryukyu, V-Varen Nagasaki peace jerseys, an interview with Cerezo Osaka’s Matej Jonjić, a look at all this season’s new kits, a feature on the ultimate J-stadium groundhopper and much, much more. It is available in print or as a PDF from jsoccer.com or you can mail firstname.lastname@example.org to get your copy and/or some back issues.
Bonus: Back in February, Tokyo Verdy had a small but perfectly formed pop-up shop in Shibuya Scramble Square which I popped over to see during a break at work. It was recommended by @J2KantoBites and featured retro shirts, history, merchandise and information on the J2 team (who I’ve never actually seen live in any game!) ahead of the season opener at the end of February.
Quite a good idea and something more clubs should do to spread the word and help “promote their brand” as is the often used phrase in modern times. My time was cut slightly shorter by going to investigate where the sound of Simply Red’s number one hit record ‘Fairground‘ was coming from! I won’t keep you hanging on the answer to that. It was playing on the sound system in the nearby chemist and got me ready for the roller-coaster ride of emotions that come with each new season!
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