In 1994, the city of Kobe reached an agreement with Kawasaki Steel, the parent company, to move the club to Kobe and compete for a spot in the professional J. League as Vissel Kobe. Vissel is a combination of the words "victory" and "vessel", a nod to Kobe's history as a port city. (Owing to its importance to the city of Kobe, Kawasaki Heavy Industries, parent company of former team patron Kawasaki Steel, remains a Vissel Kobe sponsor. Kawasaki Steel was eventually sold off to become part of JFE Holdings.)
Vissel Kobe began play in 1995 in the Japan Football League, a league below J. League and the supermarket chain Daiei was slated to the club's primary investor. However, the economic downturn following Great Hanshin earthquake forced Daiei to pull out and the city of Kobe would be responsible for operating the club.
Despite finishing 2nd in JFL in 1996, Vissel was promoted to the J. League (the champions, Honda F.C., refused to abandon their corporate ownership and become a professional club) and began play in the top division of Japanese football in 1997. However, due to mismanagement, including the inability to secure investors and sponsors, Vissel has never been a contender for the league title. In December, 2003, mounting financial losses forced the club to file for bankruptcy protection.
Vissel finished 13th in the league in 2004, the same position as the previous year, and finished 18th and last place, resulting in automatic relegation from J. League Division 1, or J1, to J2. During the two-year span, Vissel has had five different head coaches. 2006 will be Vissel's first season in J2 after nine years in the top division of soccer in Japan. They finished 3rd in the 2006 season and are promoted to J1 after beating Avispa Fukuoka in the promotion/relegation play-offs.