2002 was the year English football went east. Beckham vanquished Argentina, Heskey saw off the Danes, and Michael Owen briefly raised hopes of a semi-final before Seaman flailed, England wilted and 10,000 fans were left with cans of Asahi and a view of Mount Fuji to console them on the train back to Tokyo. Not that the traffic was entirely one way. Junichi Inamoto had signed for Arsenal’s merchandising department (East Asia section) a year before the World Cup got underway, goalkeeper Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi was an occasional, and largely erratic, presence in the Portsmouth goal, and a young forward called Yoisuke Suzuki was about to make his debut for Whitley Bay in the Northern League.
While it’s a simple matter to trace the career trajectories of both Inamoto and Kawaguchi, Newcastle University student Suzuki has proved far more difficult to pin down (it hardly helps that his name is about as remarkable in Japanese as John Smith is in English). He first appeared in the Whitley Bay line up as a substitute in a goalless draw at Bedlington Terriers on April 6th 2002. “He’s over here for a year learning English. He’s a strong lad and isn’t easy to knock off the ball. He’s got a good touch in front of goal, but sometimes we have a language problem,” Bay boss Andy Gowens told the local press. Suzuki made another substitute appearance in a 1-1 draw with Durham City, before starting in defeats at Consett and Newcastle Blue Star.
Suzuki’s greatest moment in a blue and white shirt was still to come. Replacing current Bay manager Ian Chandler – a former professional with Barnsley, Stockport County and Aldershot Town – during the late stages of a home game with Peterlee Newtown, he scored his one and only goal for the club to round off a 4-0 win. “Rob Livermore’s curling free kick from the right was met beautifully by Suzuki,” said the club’s official match report. “Yosuke Suzuki leapt high above the Peterlee defence to head home his first goal for the club, much to the delight of his team mates and the Bay fans,” the Whitley Bay News Guardian wrote the next day.
A non-playing member of the travelling party as Bay lifted the FA Vase with a a 1-0 win over Tiptree United three weeks before England played their first game in Japan, Peterlee marked Suzuki’s final appearance in the world’s second oldest football league. In the intervening years Whitley Bay have won three more Vases and a Northern League title. What became of Yoisuke Suzuki is anybody’s guess.