By Stephen Byrne
The Fifa World Cup begins in Brazil on 12th June and we will be looking at Rovers’ connections with all participating countries.
Having played in 19(+3) League games for Rovers in 1982-83, scoring ten goals, Graham Withey joined the Japanese club Seiko on a six-week loan from Coventry City in October 1984. He is the only former Rovers player to play in Japan.
Withey was a team-mate at Seiko of the Dutch international René van de Kerkhof and later he was twice relegated with Cardiff City.
In only his second substitute appearance for Rovers, the striker had scored with his first touch from David Williams’ pass and added a second goal as Rovers defeated Wigan Athletic 4-0 at Eastville; it was the first occasion that a Rovers substitute had scored twice in a League fixture.
Hapless Wigan conceded two more to Withey, who was recovering from an ankle injury, as Rovers won the return fixture 5-0 at Springfield Park in February 1983.
In recent years, a number of Japanese players have enjoyed footballing careers on these shores, but this was not always the case. As in so many Asian countries, the sport was introduced by a variety of expatriates, who brought their love of sport to distant countries.
The Kobe Regatta and Athletic Club, founded as early as September 1870 by Dr Alexander Sim, brought a range of sports to Japan, though the first football club was Tokyo Shukyu-dan, established in 1917.
By the same year, 1917, the national side was sufficiently organised to play its first fixture, a 5-0 defeat in Tokyo against China and it took part in the 1936 Berlin Olympics, winning one game there when they shocked European football’s expectations by defeating Sweden 3-2.
Since then, the Japanese side has been one of Asia’s more successful nations, qualifying for four consecutive World Cup Finals tournaments and co-hosting with South Korea the 2002 competition.
In addition, they have won the Asian Cup a record four times, in 1992, 2000, 2004 and 2011 and were runners-up in the 2001 FIFA Confederations Cup.
Recent seasons have seen a number of top Japanese players appearing in European football, the first few now plying their trade in the English Premier League.
Shinji Kagawa, at Manchester United, who was born in March 1989, is viewed by many as a forerunner of a large Japanese influx into English football, though no one has yet reached League Two.
A former Borussia Dortmund player, he became the first Asian to register a Premier League hat-trick, when he scored three of United’s four goals against Norwich City in March 2013 and helped the Red Devils to the Premier League title for 2012-13.
Several opponents have tried their arm in Japanese football. Mark Bowen, for one, played for Wigan Athletic against Rovers in a 1-1 draw at Springfield Park in September 1999 and had been with Shimizu S-Pulse between March and September 1997.
Jeroen Boere (1967-2007), who played twice for Southend United against Rovers in 1997-98, played for Omiya Ardila the following season, scoring nine goals in just eleven matches in the Japanese Second Division.
His footballing career was ended when he lost an eye in a knife incident in a Japanese bar in May 1999; he had been eating dinner with his wife in the Roppongi district when they were attacked by two unknown assailants.
Jeroen Boere moved to Spain in 2004 to work in real estate, but died in Marbella at the age of just thirty-nine.
Kim Grant, who played for Luton Town, Charlton Athletic and Millwall in League games against Rovers, as well as appearing for Yeovil Town against Rovers in the Football League Trophy, was with Shonan Bellmere in 2005.
Gordon Milne, who played in both Liverpool’s games against Rovers in 1961-62, was manager of Nagoya Grampus Eight from 1994, the club for whom Gary Lineker was to sign.
Gerry Peyton, who played nine times against Rovers in goal for Fulham between 1976 and 1982, was later coach at Jubilo Iwata from 1995 to 1997 and spent the 1997-98 season as coach to Vissel Kobe.
Steve Perryman played for Brentford against Rovers on three occasions in the late 1980s and later worked in Japan.
Most recently, Port Vale included Ryan Burge in their side when they opposed Rovers in League Two in November 2012, Tom Pope’s hat-trick leading to Rovers’ 4-0 defeat. On account of his step-mother being Japanese, Burge had spent 2009 in Japan, where he played for Machida Zelvia.
Charlie Preedy (1900-78), an Indian-born goalkeeper who appeared in 39 League fixtures for Rovers during the 1933-34 campaign, also played for Arsenal in the 1930 FA Cup Final. His family had worked extensively in British ambassadorial circles in the Far East and, as a consequence, his mother Helen Florence Lyne (1867-1941) was born in Japan.