TWO of the biggest names in soccer passed through Asia this week. One of them was on business: Bobby Charlton, who works as roving ambassador to Japan's 2002 World Cup. The other one was returning to business: Former England captain and current J.League star Gary Lineker who played on Friday night for the first time since he was injured in June. A lesser-known but just as significant figure was leaving Asia after a three-month stint in the region: Top FIFA referee Martin Bodenham, who had been in Japan helping improve standards in the new professional league. All of them made it clear they share an extraordinary confidence in the future of Asian football. Add to that comments from FIFA President Dr Joao Havelange supporting an Asian bid for the 2002 World Cup, and it certainly was a ''good week'' for regional soccer. Charlton found himself almost speechless after talking to football-mad youngsters in Hong Kong. Charlton has been a longtime believer in the potential of Asian football - but he fell flat on his face when he asked some young footballers if they wanted to play professionally in Europe. ''They laughed,'' he said. ''But I told him it was not outrageous if you compare Hong Kong to other countries. ''Denmark are the European champions and have a population of only four million, while Uruguay won the World Cup twice with a population of two million. ''Nothing is impossible,'' said the former England and Manchester United midfielder. An English journalist, who had tea with injured Nagoya Grampus star Lineker, described as ''terrifying'' the continuing adoration that still surrounds the former England captain despite the fact he has missed more than threequarters of the season throughinjury. ''The hordes descended upon Lineker from behind every potted plant. ''A shirt cuff shot forward to be autographed - followed by drip mats, railway tickets, 10,000 yen notes.'' ''A businessman pushed in wielding a black-felt pen and six white Lacoste polo-shirts he just happened to be carrying,'' said the Daily Telegraph article. Lineker swears the hero-worship is worse than at any stage of his England career or during his brief stint at Barcelona. ''It's unbelievable how football's taken off. The TV figures for the J.League are enormous, better than baseball even and every game is sold out,'' he says. It goes without saying you would expect star treatment for someone like Lineker. . . but for a referee? ''In Japan you sign loads of autographs and the fans treat you like a bit of a pop idol,'' says 43-year-old FIFA referee Bodenham. ''That's not the case elsewhere, where you get much cheering about the parentage of the referee and things like that.'' Bodenham refereed two matches a week in the J.League while also working with local referees off the field in the classroom. ''I came with an open mind because I knew nothing about Asian football - I'd never been to Asia in my life - but I've been enthused by the whole operation. ''The organisation is good and the football is good,'' said Bodenham.