No. As far as Planet Football is concerned, almost everything about World Cup 2002 is ground-breaking. The first truly global sports event of the 21st century is the first in any century to be hosted by two separate countries (though Belgium and Holland, joint hosts of Euro 2000, provided a European warm-up for the concept). It's the first time the game's four-yearly carnival has ventured beyond its two hotbeds of Europe and the Americas, and the first to be located in unfamiliar territory for all but the most adventurous of travellers.
Unfamiliar, perhaps, but not totally uncharted. Japan and South Korea have each staged an Olympic Games, and both emerged with credit. The 1964 Games in Tokyo were the first to embrace a global television audience via satellite. I can remember the words and melody that opened each grainy-pictured transmission as clearly as an early Beatles song: "Good morning, Tokyo! Happy to be seeing you!" All right, it may be more Yoko than John, but it gave you the feeling of being part of the world, and not just an island.
The five Olympiads that followed Tokyo, until Seoul 1988, were disfigured by political boycotts, international terrorism, or both. Although Seoul is best remembered now for the disgrace of Ben Johnson and the subsequent exposure of the scale of drug abuse in world athletics, at least the world's best athletes turned up.
What Tokyo and Seoul both lacked, however, was an international fan-base, without which no sporting event is complete. Tokyo pre-dated the age of affordable jet travel, while Seoul lacked a true Olympic pedigree. By and large, the locals attended only those events in which their country had a medal chance, while the rest of the sports-loving world took the view that a month in South Korea was a trip too far.
I cannot believe the same thing will happen at World Cup 2002, however the current world crisis plays out. In the 13 years since Seoul, the Far East has become vastly more user-friendly to visitors – football fans included. Difficulties remain, but the sheer drawing power of world football will guarantee large crowds, and both countries appear determined to embrace them.
How many football fans are expected?
Early estimates are that more than half a million will make the journey – up to 10,000 of them from England. Of these, the vast majority will opt for safety in numbers and book their two weeks (or three or even four, if coach Sven Goran Eriksson can keep working his magic) through the official Fifa ticket agency and one of the British-based travel agencies (see box below) specialising in the region.
Where will the teams be playing?
At this stage, only the two host nations know where they will be playing their first-round games. No one else knows until the draw takes place precisely where they will end up: it will not be known until 1 December, when the 32 teams will be split into eight groups – four in each country. For the opening round, 16 teams will play all their games in Korea, the other 16 in Japan. The second round and final stages are split between the two countries, and who plays who where depends on results. The final takes place in Japan (and, to make sure both countries have an equal number of games, the third-place play-off is in Korea).
So I shouldn't buy tickets for England games until 1 December?
You can't, because no one (officially) knows where our boys will be playing. If you take a blind guess at a particular venue, you could find you'll end up with a few games of the Tunisia vs Costa Rica level. Nothing wrong with that, if you are an internationalist, keen to see some interesting places and enjoy a few games. However, it's been hinted that "special arrangements" might be made for England's notoriously troublesome followers. As in Italia '90, when they were initially exiled to Sardinia, there is talk of England being based off-shore once again – this time on Korea's holiday island of Jeju. As you will see in the accompanying guide, that would be a joyous experience, but whether Fifa will attempt to pull off another conjuring trick at the official draw – as they did 12 years ago – is dubious. The other point is that if you book to go to Korea, and guess correctly, you'll be able to get a flight much more cheaply now than from December.
Are they expecting much trouble?
If hooliganism does rear its head, the law-abiding Koreans are considering the intriguing tactic of selecting women only for the police front line, to disarm the thugs by charm. If that doesn't work, it should be remembered that all of them will be highly trained in the martial arts.
How do I get there?
Two good agencies are Creative Tours (020-7495 1775; www.jaltour.co.uk), an offshoot of Japan Airlines, and the Korean specialist Daeyoung Travel of New Malden, Surrey (020-8336 0733). Korean Air offers a flight to Tokyo for £749. You can stop over in Seoul in either direction for an extra payment of £110 per stop. For travel within Korea, the airline is aiming to have a flat fare of £25 per domestic flight. Peter Grimes of Quest Travel (0870 442 3507) suggests taking advantage of the BA/Qantas deal announced today to fly to Tokyo, take the ferry to Korea then continue to Sydney, New Zealand and South America for a total of £779, plus the ferry fare between the two countries.
By Christmas, the first World Cup travel brochures will be on the shelves, with basic two-week packages expected to cost around £2,000.
Where will I stay?
The organisers have a booking system for hotels ( www.fifa-hotels.com). Also, South Korea is operating a brilliant website, www.worldinn.com (or 0082 2555 5555 if you prefer the human voice), which enables you to reserve rooms in one of the 10,000 listed budget hotels, inns, and home-stays (in which you live with a family, like b&b) – all of them within easy reach of World Cup venues. The site also includes essential tourist info, history and culture, internal transport, events and festivals, shopping and restaurants.
In Japan, instead of the more expensive option of a western-style hotel, seek out a ryokan in any town or city: Japan has 80,000 of them. This is, literally, a room at the inn – but usually a room of simple and singular beauty. The floor is made of thick Tatami (rice-straw) matting, on which no shoes are permitted, the furniture consists of a single low table, the doors are sliding screens, the bathroom is communal, and in the evening a maid lays out a backache-curing futon on the mat. The cost of this uniquely Oriental experience can be as low as £35 a night. For £15-£20 a night, there are also lots of family-run, B&B-style minshukus where you can eat with a family.
How will I fill in the time between matches?
Even if England are eliminated in the first round, three games over a period of 14 days still leaves a lot of free time for exploring, and there are rich rewards awaiting those with a sense of adventure and a bit of extra spending money. Nearly all the 20 World Cup venues are within easy reach of fine beaches, vibrant cities, and scenic national parks and wildernesses.
How do I get around?
Internal travel by train or air, once you get the hang of it, is clean, fast, and infinitely more reliable than in Britain. In Korea, where the cost of living is around half the UK's, it's also remarkably cheap. You can take a high-speed train from one end of the country to the other for £30. Should England progress to the later rounds, the hydrofoil across the Sea of Japan between the two countries takes three and a half hours, and costs £60; the slower overnight ferry is £25.
It's well known that public transport and accommodation costs in Japan are among the highest in the world, but there are ways of minimising the pain. Travellers intending to venture beyond their World Cup city limits should order a Japan Rail Pass before they leave home. Costing about £160 for seven days of unlimited travel (14 and 21-day passes are available too), these are designed for sight-seeing visitors, and vastly reduce the cost of getting around.
There are similar economies to be made with accommodation.
How do i pay my bill in the morning?
Not with a fat wad of yen these days. A common misconception about Japan is that your western credit cards are either discouraged or not accepted at all. This was once the case, but no longer. Although the yen in its folding form still reigns supreme, the great majority of tourist-oriented businesses can cope with plastic, and there are plenty of "hole in the wall" cash machines. In rural areas, the answer is to carry a combination of yen, traveller's cheques (in US dollars, rather than sterling) and a credit card.
I'm venturing into a strange part of the world, speaking only the language of football. should I worry?
Naturally, in a part of the world where even the basic alphabet is indecipherable, and where even the largest cities (in South Korea) are transcribed in two or three different ways many impediments remain in the way of a trouble-free visit. And between now and the opening ceremony, look out for six months of scare stories in the British tabloids about exorbitant charges; possible nerve-gas attacks in the Tokyo subway; ticket fraud; uncompromising riot police; inedible whale meat; the lack of a decent pint of bitter, and the unbearably hot and humid conditions Our Lads will have to endure.
No doubt there will be a grain of truth in some of this (except the one about the weather, which will be mostly mild and sometimes wet). But most of it will be tosh. Japan and South Korea, football's new frontier lands, feel honoured to be chosen, and each wants to outdo the other by making its half of the World Cup the bigger splash. Wherever England are drawn, all lovers of the game with sufficient resources and an open mind should swallow their doubts and join them.
Just the ticket
Match tickets have been on sale since February this year, and it is perfectly possible to apply now, even before the draw. FIFA has guaranteed that the ticket prices won't change between now and the start of the tournament.
This is how the procedure works:
You can order two types of tickets: Venue Specific (VSTs) or Team Specific (TSTs). Each type comes in three categories, based on the quality of seating, sight-lines and so on.
TSTs are available in blocks of three to seven. If your application is successful, three gives you entry to your team's first round matches; four includes the Round of 16; five the quarter-final, and so on.
All prices are in US dollars (because they want to standardise the price and there is no parity between the yen and the South Korean won), and range between $198 (£135) for a block of three "cheap" seats to $2,448 (£1,671) for a block of seven of the most expensive seats.
If your team is knocked out before you have used up your allocation, you'll receive a refund of the face value of the unused ticket(s), less a 10 per cent handling fee.
A proportion of tickets will also be available to members of the England Travel Club, the official supporters' association.
Application forms can be downloaded from FIFA's World Cup ticket website ( www.fifa-tickets.com), or from the Japan and South Korean national tourist agencies. Applicants will be notified within three weeks as to whether they've been successful. Or you can book through the official 2002 FIFA World Cup ticketing bureau for the UK, run by Byrom plc (tel: 0870 124 2002; www.fifa-tickets.com.)
Anyone, no matter where they live, can apply for TSTs. In other words, you don't have to live in Denmark to follow the Danish team, but if demand outstrips supply, Denmark-based applicants will be given priority.
VSTs vary in price according to the number of games being played at a particular venue, but don't include the semi-finals or final. Three cheap seats at Busan or Sapporo, for example, which are each staging three first-round games, will cost $180 (£123), while three in Kobe or Seogwipo, which host two first-round matches and one in the Round of 16, cost $220 (£150).
From next Friday (16 November), it will also be possible to apply for just one match. So, if your number comes up, you could choose just the opening match in Seoul, from $60 (£41) for a cheap seat to $150 (£103) for a posh one.