Opinion

Aussie Asia Legends: Josh Kennedy - 'Perfect as a person, striker'

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Of all the Australians who have headed to Asian leagues over the years, none are as affectionately remembered as Josh Kennedy at Nagoya Grampus in Japan.

Indeed, there can be few Australians anywhere held in such high regard by fans of a former club. 

There was something special between the Socceroo and supporters. 

A visit to watch Nagoya when Kennedy was there from 2009 to 2014 demonstrated this.

When you see foreign players in Asian stadiums, it is not uncommon to see an occasional flag of the player’s home nation.

Yet at Nagoya there were dozens of Australian flags (and even a couple from the player's home state of Victoria) waved in one section of the crowd as well as a fan tifo that displayed the same symbol.

It was all down to the tall striker and his goalscoring heroics that delivered a long-awaited first - and to date only - title. 

He scored 17 goals that season under Dragan Stojkovic (“he is a coach’s dream” Stojkovic told me when I visited the city just weeks ahead of the title win) and 19 the year after.

All in all, Kennedy - who arrived in Japan in 2009 after almost a decade in Germany -  scored 64 goals in 133 J.League games.

It was a seriously fine return but there was more to his popularity than merely putting the ball in the net.

It was his obvious love for the club and the way the striker carried himself off the pitch.

It was no surprise that he is still thought of very well.     

“His great achievements in Nagoya - top scorer two seasons in a row, J.League champion and scorer of many fine goals, is something we will never forget,” Kazane Kuwahara, one of Nagoya’s leading fans and purchasers of dozens of Australian flags on a visit down under, told The World Game

“We all think that he is part of our family, not a foreigner but part of us. Two years ago, after retirement, he visited our game on his holiday. Before the game, the club organised a reunion with fans. We waved lots of Aussie flags, chanted his song, and welcomed him just like when he was playing for Nagoya.” 

Kennedy, of course, had his own song sung to the tune of ‘She’s a Genius’ from Australia’s very own JET.

“For this awesome guy from Australia, we, the fans of Nagoya Grampus started to chant ‘He is the Jesus oh oh oh oh oh oh oh! Go Joshua Kennedy oh oh oh oh oh oh oh’.

"Every time we shouted  ’Come on Joshua!’ and clapped our hands, he replied to us by clapping his hands too. There was a strong bond between him and us.” 

Kennedy won over the fans from the very beginning, a home debut against Kyoto Sanga. 

“It did not take even a while to make all the fans understand what a great striker he was. This is still one of the most sensational debuts in the history of Nagoya Grampus’ foreign strikers.” 

In the following season, the title came to the Aichi club with a Kennedy-inspired win over Omiya Ardija providing the catalyst. 

“That season we won the championship for the first time in our history. The main cause of this achievement was a run of victories during the summer. We went top during this period and never fell to second. This game was the beginning of this consecutive wins.

The game itself was a tough one but we managed to win thanks to Josh Kennedy’s fine header!” 

It was just one of many.

“He is a legend. When he left we all felt so sad because he was so perfect both as a person and, of course, as a striker. 

He left in 2014, when he had serious pain in his back and could not play games. So we knew the contract would not be extended.

When the news was released, all the fans felt so sad, but at the same time, felt so much thankful for his achievements and contributions to the club. 

“We all wished him a bright future.”