The name ‘Antlers’ is derived from the city of Kashima, which literally translates to ‘Deer Island’. The club crest not only resembles deer antlers but it also reflects the image of rose thorn as it is the official flower of Ibaraki, the home prefecture of the club. Deer are amiable animals and are viewed in some religions as spiritual messengers. In fact, Kashima Shrine, one of the most famous shrines in Japan and located in close proximity to the club headquarters, have kept and raised deer for more than 1,300 years as spiritual symbol. Deer are affectionate animals but are also known for their courageous character as they battle each other head to head with lethal antlers.
The population of Kashima city is a mere 60,000 and for that reason club has also adopted the surrounding cities of Itako, Kamisu, Namekata and Hokota as its official hometown. The combined population of five cities is 280,000. Antlers home games are played at Kashima Soccer Stadium, one of the 2002 FIFA World Cup venues with capacity of 40,000. In 2011, Kashima and surrounding regions were devastated by the Great East Japan Earthquake. The club was forced to suspend all team activities for 2 weeks and Kashima Soccer Stadium was unable to host any of the scheduled games for three months due to heavy structural damage. The stadium suffered the biggest damages out of all professional sports arenas in the country as a direct consequence of the earthquake. During the 2 week shutdown players actively took part in support operations for disaster victims in the local area.
The club was founded in 1947 as Sumitomo Metal Industries Football Club in Osaka and in 1975 moved to Kashima Town in Ibaraki Prefecture after renaming the club to Sumitomo Metal Industries Football Group. In the formative years the team mostly competed in the second division of the semi-professional Japan Soccer League and only had a brief spell in the first division towards the second half of the 1980s. Despite lack of experience in the top flight newly reformed Kashima Antlers was selected as one of the founding members of the fully professional J.League in 1993 owing to the unrivalled cutting-edge football stadium. Led by Brazilian legend Zico the club managed to win the first stage of the two staged competition in the inaugural season. The professionalism brought by Zico along with his skills nurtured Japanese players at the club and numerous Brazilian players and staff have had positive impact on the club ever since. As of January 2014 the club has won a record 16 major domestic titles. In 2000 Kashima became the first and only club in the country to achieve the Treble by claiming all three major titles: J.League Division 1, League Cup and Emperor’s Cup in the same year. Furthermore, in 2009, the club accomplished an unprecedented feat of winning three consecutive J.League titles.
Antlers boast a glorious history and aside from Zico various world class players have contributed to the club’s success. The likes of Jorginho and Leonardo regularly played for Brazil in the 90s and both players managed to lift the prestigious Jules Rimet trophy for their country. Another former Brazil international Bismarck who had already established himself in J.League before joining Antlers contributed to the aforementioned Treble. Influx of foreign talent also had positive influence on the development of domestic players. Goalkeeper Hitoshi Sogahata, defender Yutaka Akita, midfielders Koji Nakata and Mitsuo Ogasawara, and strikers Takayuki Suzuki and Atsushi Yanagisawa were all selected for Japan at the 2002 FIFA World Cup. In fact, Antlers provided the most number of players for Japan national team at the tournament. Since 1994, Brazilian managers have been in charge of the team. Highly-respected former Brazil international Toninho Cerezo managed the team from 2000 to 2005 and is currently enjoying a second stint at the club. Paulo Autuori, 2005 FIFA Club World Cup winner, was in charge in 2006, and Oswaldo Oliveira had a successful reign between 2007 and 2011.