Philip Barker

Three months ago, Japan’s 2011 FIFA World Cup winning women’s team were the first to carry the Olympic Torch on Japanese soil when it began its domestic journey back in March.

Next month both women and men’s sides will taste Olympic action even before the cauldron is officially lit.

There had been no women’s football when Tokyo last hosted the Olympics but although the men did not win a medal, it could be said that the 1964 tournament represented the big breakthrough for the sport in Japan.

The attendances for football were second only to athletics and FIFA saluted "an extremely good result for amateur football".

Yet it was a time when some senior figures in the Olympic Movement expressed serious doubts about its place in the Games.

In a letter to to Japanese International Olympic Committee (IOC) member Ryotaro Azuma, IOC chancellor Otto Mayer had confided: "In Rome, it was considered that the Games were too gigantic and that they should be shortened.

"In my personal opinion, there are two sports which are entirely professional and which should be dropped and those are cycling and football."

In June 1963, FIFA representatives took part in a meeting between the IOC and International Federations held in Lausanne. "If football is excluded from the programme at forthcoming Olympic Games, FIFA  would organise a World Cup for amateur teams," FIFA said.

The first qualification round did nothing to ease fears about the status of some players.

The football tournament at the 1964 Olympic Games in Tokyo was won by Hungary ©Getty Images
The football tournament at the 1964 Olympic Games in Tokyo was won by Hungary ©Getty Images

In Europe, the first qualifying round threw together East and West Germany. It was less than two years since the Berlin Wall had been built.

In the Olympic World, IOC President had taken great pride in seeing the two Germanies march under a single unified German flag, in much the same way that North and South Korea did in 2018.

This was also a time when East German authorities were lobbying for sporting independence.

The first leg was played at the Ernst Thalmann stadium in Karl Marx Stadt (now Chemnitz) on a Sunday afternoon in September, and 50,000 paid the admission price of 2.5 ostmarks to watch.

Almost 10 years before a rather better known meeting at the 1974 FIFA World Cup, the East Germans took what proved to be a decisive 3-0 lead. Although the visiting team had thrown flowers to the crowd, there had been no exchanging of jerseys and off the field, the players were kept apart, in what could be described as ideological "social distancing".

The West Germans commented wryly that East "had played professional football in places", a compliment with a double meaning.

A week later in Hanover, West Germany won 2-1 but it was not enough.

The East Germans went on a tour of the Far East and suitably refreshed, beat The Netherlands and Soviet Union in subsequent qualifiers to book their spot at Tokyo 1964.

Elsewhere Britain’s team were amongst the few that could be considered genuine amateurs. They were predominantly drawn from players in the Isthmian and Athenian Leagues, with Scottish and Irish amateurs also added.

Even so, they beat Iceland 6-0 in Reykjavik and 4-0 at Wimbledon’s Plough Lane to set up a second-round tie against Greece.

Football has been a mainstay of the Olympic programme - but there were once discussions over its place at the Games ©Getty Images
Football has been a mainstay of the Olympic programme - but there were once discussions over its place at the Games ©Getty Images

Britain had a narrow 2-1 advantage after the first leg at Stamford Bridge. The Greeks won 4-1 Athens, but were rumoured to have fielded professionals.

The Hellenic Olympic Committee announced: "We no longer recognise the team of the Greek Football Association as representing Greece in the Olympic Games."

Football Association secretary Denis Follows called for the British team to be reinstated to no avail.

FIFA News recorded that "for internal reasons, a decision by the Government prevented Greece from playing the concluding matches".

The last round of qualification matches against Czechoslovakia was never played.

In South America, the continental tournament to find two representatives took place in May 1964, but a terrible tragedy overshadowed the match between Peru and Argentina in Lima.

The Peruvians had a late goal disallowed, which sparked an invasion of the pitch. Police fired tear gas.

The Associated Press reported "spectators tried to leave the stadium before they got hurt. People ran to the gates and were crushed by those trying to get out."

The official death toll is 328, but it may have been greater. A week of national mourning was declared.

Argentina and Brazil had led the qualification group table at the time of the disaster and both took their places in the draw for the final tournament, made in August at the Chateau de Vidy in Lausanne.

The East Germans were drawn to open the tournament against Romania.

North and South Korea had also qualified. There had been attempts to persuade them to compete as a unified team in the same way as Germany but negotiations came to nothing.

In fact, the North Koreans never took part. Their entire Olympic team was withdrawn because of a suspension of six athletes who had competed in the unsanctioned 1963 Games of New Emerging Forces in Jakarta.

It meant that the true skill of North Korean footballers would surface at the 1966 World Cup. Pak Doo Ik scored their winner in a stunning performance against Italy. They reached the quarter-finals and gave Portugal an almighty scare before Eusebio inspired his team to a 5-3 win.

North Korea did not play at Tokyo 1964 and the world had to wait until 1966 to see their footballing talents ©Getty Images
North Korea did not play at Tokyo 1964 and the world had to wait until 1966 to see their footballing talents ©Getty Images

South Korea did play in Tokyo, but lost all three matches, conceding 20 goals in the process.

There was an awkward moment during Mexico’s 1-1 draw  against Iran at the Prince Chichibu stadium when a hole 30 centimetres long was discovered. The Japan Times reported that "embarrassed officials halted the game for five minutes while the hole was filled".

In 1963, Asia Magazine had suggested the tournament would "produce the first real signs of a shift in the balance of power to the Far East".

The Japanese had hired German coach Dettmar Cramer. "Japan is making a determined bid to popularise football, to make soccer as 'big time' as baseball. Also the idea is to make the national team world class and possibly the best in Asia by the time of the next Olympics," Cramer had said at his appointment in 1960.

Even so, his side was to a certain extent "under the radar".

The focus of the Japanese public was fixed on the judo stars and their all-conquering women’s volleyball team.

Japan were to have begun against Italy, but FIFA News recorded that "the Italian Olympic Committee renounced their intention to send a team to Tokyo".

It emerged that they had fielded professional players.

The remaining teams in a group of three were Ghana and Argentina, who drew 1-1 in the opening match.

"Perhaps overconfidence prevented an Argentinian victory," suggested Argentinian newspaper Clarin.

Japan now faced the Argentinians, who included players later to win the Copa Libertadores including Roberto Perfumo of Racing, who also played the 1966 and 1974 World Cups.

Japan twice came from behind before midfielder Aritatsu Ogi guided his shot home from close range eight minutes from time to make it 3-2.

"No one can explain it," was the headline in Clarin.

"The Japanese defeated our team, surpassing it in sporting spirit, physical condition and in all aspects of the game with an admirable exemplary ability to shoot at goal," wrote Argentinian journalist Diego Lucero.

Striker Ryuichi Sugayama said of coach Cramer: "As a trainer, he was fantastic but he was also engaging as a human being."

Japan's women's football team finished second at the 2015 World Cup ©Getty Images
Japan's women's football team finished second at the 2015 World Cup ©Getty Images

Japan lost to Ghana in their other group match but still qualified for the quarter-finals, where they were knocked out by Czechoslovakia.

Cramer’s influence on Japanese football endured. He suggested establishing a national league and was later described as the "Father of Japanese football".

The team for their part won bronze at the 1968 Mexico Olympics.

Years later Cramer, who had enjoyed great success with Bayern Munich, was inducted into the Japanese Football Association’s (JFA) Hall of Fame.

“After his arrival, he strengthened the sport in the country, trained other coaches, and laid the foundations for youth development," the JFA said.

The gold medal went to Hungary, inspired by Ferenc Bene. A few months earlier, he’d been part of the side which had reached the European Championship semi final, yet another example of the blurred lines between amateur and professional status.

Bene scored all the goals in Hungary’s 6-0 win over Morocco in front of over 65,000 in the National Stadium. Five of the eight quarter-finalists were from Eastern Europe.

The United Arab Republic (effectively Egypt) had drawn with Brazil en route to the knockout stages. They beat Ghana to reach the semi final, but had no answer to Bene, who scored four of Hungary's six goals.

The team designated officially in Olympic speak as "Germany” beat UAR in the bronze medal playoff. It was East Germany's first medal in a team sport.

The final was generally considered a disappointment, though another near capacity crowd saw Bene, who inevitably scored the late Hungarian winner against Czechoslovakia, prompting a headline in World Soccer magazine of "Hungarian Rhapsody is Tokyo Melody."

When the final figures for ticket sales were released FIFA were exultant. The organisation said 484,245 watched football. Only athletics had more spectators.

"It proves the great popularity of the Olympic football tournament and stresses the right of football to remain included in the programme of future Olympic Games," claimed FIFA News.