Kashima Antlers is a professional soccer club in the J. League. They consider their home towns to be the 4 towns surrounding Kashima in Ibaraki prefecture. When the J. League started in 1993, Kashima was one of the league’s 10 original members. Their home stadium is the Kashima Soccer Stadium.
The team was originally founded in 1947 under the name Sumitomo Metal Industries Football, and in the beginning the team was based in Osaka prefecture. In 1975, they moved their base of operations from Osaka to Kashima in Ibaraki prefecture, and in 1985, they managed to promote to JSL’s first division, where they only managed to compete for 3 seasons. When they were accepted as J. League members in 1991, they were still in JSL’s second division.
Although there was criticism about Sumitomo Metal Industries entering the pro league as a second division tier club, they were still able to found an all-seat soccer stadium thanks to the support of the local government, and made the necessary preparation for the J. League’s opening match, including changing their name to the Kashima Antlers.
In addition, the club acquired former Brazil national superstar, Zico, who took charge of the fate of the club.
Zico, who wore the No. 10 jersey on the Brazilian national team in 3 FIFA World Cups, also played for Flamengo, and Italia’s Serie A’s Udinese, and was generally regarded a superstar in the world of soccer, but he had already reached the final stages of his career and during the J. League’s opening game, in 1993, he reached the age of 40.
While Zico was on Kashima, he not only acted as a player, but he was also in charge of instructing the team on the field, coming up strategies during matches and leading the charge. On top of that, he established discipline and order, taught the players what it means to be a true soccer player, and what it takes to become professionals. Thanks to his guidance, a local JSL 2nd division club, grew into a true powerhouse that later became one of Japan’s best teams.
On May 16, 1993, in the opening match of the J. League against Nagoya Grampus, who had Gary Lineker in their squad, Zico pulled off a hat trick and led the team to 5-0 victory. Even after that, his incredible performance made people doubt if he really is 40 years old. His contribution secured the team a victory in the 1st stage.
Zico retired in 1994, but the team still kept him as a technical advisor and made great use of his personal connections by hiring top class athletes, such as Brazil national team players Leonardo, Jorginho, Mazinho, Bebeto, and others.
Even after that, the club was infused with the Zico spirit and continued to leave exceptional results in the J. League. Out of the 3 major national titles (J. League, J. League Cup, Emperor’s Cup), they have earned 19 cups out of all the J. League clubs, and they hold the record for having the highest number of all the 3 titles.
On top of that, in 2000, they made history when they became the first team in the J. League to win all 3 cups in the same year. They stretched that record further, when they became the first team in J. League history to dominate all 3 events from 2007 to 2009.
Their incredible results also reached the international scene. In the 2016 FIFA Club World Cup, they became the first Asian club to advance to the final, where they went up against Real Madrid C.F. For a moment they were able to make a comeback, and fought hard into overtime with a 2-2 score.
Precisely because Kashima Antlers has been Japan’s most successful club, they have had Brazilian national team players like Leonardo, Bebeto, Jorginho, as well countless Japan national team’s main players in their squad, such as former FC Schalke 04 player Atsuto Uchida; 1. FC Koln player Yuya Osako; Getafe CF player Gaku Shibasaki.
As far as managers go, Zico’s close friend from the Brazil national team (Selecao), Toninho Cerezo, has also been in charge of the team. The team’s jerseys are red, and their supplier since 2002 has been Nike. Their jerseys have logos of sponsors like LIXIL, Yellow Hat, NIPPON STEEL & SUMITOMO METAL, Eyefulhome, and others.