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A History of Football in North and South Korea c.1910–2002

Development and Diffusion


Jong Sung Lee

For the Koreans, no sport has surpassed football in terms of its popularity and national importance, from the Japanese colonization era onwards. However, its importance has developed over time as a result of unusual and agonizing historical events, including the tragic split between North and South Korea.
This volume attempts to assess football’s changing political and cultural place in Korea over the course of the twentieth century, from the Japanese colonial period via the Korean War to the end of the Cold War. It analyses the development and diffusion of football in North and South Korea from the following angles: nationalism and regionalism, internationalism and globalism, patronage, and the Korean style of play.
It particularly concentrates on the social meanings of the North Korean «miracle» in the 1966 World Cup and of South Korea’s success in the 2002 tournament. The author shows that football in Korea has not only reflected changes in Korean society but helped to shape those changes.
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Over the course of the twentieth century, from the Japanese colonial period via the Korean War to the end of Cold War, Korea has been completely transformed. Football played a part in this process, especially when social and political transition influenced by internal and external pressures took place. Its role and its social and political significance have varied over the years as times and circumstances have changed. At different times, the Korean people have played or watched football for a number of reasons – because it offered a way of asserting independence, because it offered a vehicle for national or regional pride, because it offered economic advantages to employers and encouraged sociability in the workplace and elsewhere. However, it should not be neglected that many people in Korea have played or watched football for sheer pleasure and with great enthusiasm. Had the Koreans not taken to football it could not have functioned as an important cultural indicator of their experience over the past one hundred years, at first in a united but colonized country, later in an ideologically divided country split into two nation states.

Nationalism and Regionalism

Nationalism was a key factor in ensuring that football became the most historically significant sport in Korea. Under Japanese rule a strong connection was made between the practice of sport and nationalist sentiment as the Koreans began to resent their masters and, at the same time, came to realize that they should find ways of seeking independence....

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