Despite disappointing performances at the 2006 World Cup Finals in Germany by the two leading national teams, professional football in East Asia has shown considerable progress in prowess, power and popularity over the past decade. Prior to the turn of the century, professional leagues were inaugurated in South Korea, Japan and China. Renowned European club sides have begun scouting the region and hiring young Asian professional players. FIFA even allowed the World Cup Finals to be played away in the Far East. When Japan and South Korea hosted the first ever World Cup finals on Asian soil in 2002, China joined these two traditional East Asian football powerhouses for her first appearance at the world’s most important single sport event. The unprecedented achievements of Asian football teams in the global football arena were only outplayed by their supporters’ zealous commitment and colourful display of national loyalty. The ‘Blue Heaven’, which Japan’s Ultra supporters sported in those stadiums in which their national team advanced to the round of the last sixteen, and the ‘Sea of
Red’ that flooded the streets of Korean cities every time the South Korean team performed on its way to the semi-finals, demonstrated to the watching world that love for football has become firmly rooted in East Asian societies. Talking to the Asian Football Confederation at its 50th anniversary, FIFA president Blatter flattered the regional representatives of football from the continent with the world’s largest population and highest economic growth rates that the ‘future of football is Asia’. Yet given that the modern game of football has been known to the Far East for more than a century, a first question this essay has to answer concerns the timing: why did interest in, and the profile of, professional football surge in East Asia at the end of the twentieth and turn of the twenty-first century? A second set of questions concerns the sustainability of the development: how likely will football turn out to remain as a cultural property in future Japan, Korea and China?