It had been over three weeks since I’d been to a football match and with the K-League shut down for the World Cup, I thought I’d take the opportunity to go to another National League game. Most of the matches were taking place on the Friday night though and as I don’t finish work until after 6pm they are quite difficult to get to in time.
Not Yesan though, they had a more traditional Saturday three o’clock kick off and so that’s where I went. I had a bit of a mishap on the subway though where I got on the train going in the opposite direction. I didn’t realize until I’d traveled three stops out of my way and so I didn’t get to Yongsan railway station until 10am. There were plenty of trains to Yesan, but they were all booked solid for the next two hours. Fortunately you can buy a standing ticket and so that’s what I did. I paid 6,900 won (less than four quid) for a ticket on the 10.35am train, which got to Yesan an hour and three quarters later. It was quite a slow train, with plenty of stops, but it was direct so I wouldn’t have to change.
The train was starting from Yongsan station and so it was completely empty as it pulled into the platform. I noticed that it had a buffet carriage and so I got into that one, hoping there would be some unallocated seats in there. It was better than that though, as it had internet terminals, so I was able to sit at a computer and surf the net for the duration of the journey. It was just like being at work, but without the pesky interruptions for meetings or writing letters.
Anyway, in the hour and three quarters that I spent on the train I discovered that Yesan is famous for its apples and that Yesan FC, who are bottom of the National League, moved to Yesan two years ago. A move that was no doubt influenced by the prospect of all those apples. As I read about them I recognised their name and remembered that they were the team that I’d seen get beat at Incheon Korail on the opening day of the National League season.
Yesan turned out to be a quiet town, not really a place for tourists. In fact, it didn’t even get a mention in any of my guide books. Surprising really, particularly when they seem to make such a fuss about those apples. All of the shops appeared to be for practical things, like car maintenance, industrial equipment or trade places that sold stuff like light switches and sockets. I managed to get hold of a map from their town hall and discovered that I wasn’t too far from the football ground. I asked about hotels and was told by a girl with an extremely short skirt that showed off a pretty much perfect pair of legs they didn’t have any. Tourists all stayed at a spa town that you could get to in about twenty minutes in a taxi.
With plenty of time to spare I walked back into town and had a pizza for lunch before getting a taxi to the ground. The stadium didn’t look too busy. In fact, apart from a team bus outside there was no real sign that a match would be taking place. I walked through the main entrance and was stopped by a bloke at a desk. I was expecting him to tell me that I needed to buy a ticket from a kiosk on the other side of the ground. But, no, he had stopped me to hand me a paper bag with a sandwich and a carton of juice in. I thanked him whilst secretly wishing that I hadn’t just scoffed a whole pizza.
I took a left turn and went up some stairs, emerging as seems commonplace now, in the director’s box. I thought I’d adopt a lower profile at this game though and so I moved upwards a bit to a place more suitable for a lowlife with a couple of cans in his backpack. The stadium was oval shaped, with just the centre of the main stand above me having a roof. It had an artificial pitch inside a running track. Just before kick off club officials came up into the stand and shook hands with us. I have to say that they really seem to appreciate a bit of support here. Free admission, free food and a personal welcome from a club official. If I’d had my boots with me I’d have asked him if I could come on for the final twenty minutes.
In a further show of hospitality, both captains and the ref were presented with flowers before the start and then we all stood for the national anthem. Yesan, who were wearing an Italy strip last time I saw them, were dressed up as Chelsea today. Goyang, their opponents from the northern suburbs of Seoul were wearing white shirts with maroon shorts that looked like they had been washed a few times too often.
Within twenty seconds Goyang had taken the lead. The game was back underway again before the stadium clock had moved on from 15:00. As I settled back in my seat with a beer, I noticed how badly patched the artificial pitch was. It didn’t seem to affect the game though. To my left, just beyond the main stand were a small band of Yesan supporters, most of them with drums or tambourines. They kept the noise level up throughout the game. If there were any Goyang supporters in the crowd of maybe a hundred, I didn’t see them. Despite it being free to get in, there were quite a few people watching through the fence, having parked their cars on the road passing the stadium.
Goyang were the better team, playing some very clever through balls, whilst Yesan tried to play on the break but were fairly easily contained. There weren’t any more goals before the interval and at half time I went for a slash only to meet one of the Yesan players coming out of the toilets as I went in. You don’t often see that at the Boro.
Yesan missed a good chance in the opening minute of the second half before Goyang went straight up the other end and made it two nil. If Yesan had taken their chance, people would have praised their attitude in coming out for the second half fired up, the coaches half time team talk, even their professionalism in remembering to go for a piss. By conceding themselves a moment later though, they will have been branded sloppy and half asleep. It’s a small margin between failure and success.
And that was about it, as the game finished up two nil to Goyang. As I came down from my seat and left through the main entrance, both sets of players were getting on their respective buses. So probably no showers in the dressing rooms either.
I walked back into town and then got a taxi to Deoksan, the nearby spa town that I’d been advised was the place to stay. The taxi dropped me off at the hotel suggested by the girl at the Town Hall, but it turned out to be a resort hotel where you had to be a member. I walked down the road for ten minutes and checked into the Ducksan spa hotel. That’s not a spelling mistake by the way, not unless they also spelt it wrongly on the sign on their roof. It cost me eighty thousand won for the night, which is quite expensive by Korean prices. When I checked in they told me that the hot spring spa was on the second floor. I asked them if they sold swimming trunks and they gave me a bit of an odd look before advising me that you didn’t wear any.
Maybe I’ve led a sheltered life but that seemed a bit odd to me, lolloping about in the nudey in front of lots of other people, albeit blokes. Still, I thought I might as well give it a try. You put all your gear into a locker and then just moved about between pools of differing temperatures and saunas, hoping that your privates didn’t shrink too much with the extremes of temperature or even worse, start to twitch if your mind wandered back to the girl with the legs from the Town Hall. Some of the men in there were having a shave and you could even have a haircut if you wanted. It was ok for about half an hour but then it got a bit boring.
It’s all very well sweating out the impurities in a sauna, but all that lost fluid needs replacing and as the hotel didn’t seem to have a bar I wandered back up the road to where there were a few restaurants. The roadside had recently been planted with apple trees, perhaps to try and build upon the Yesan reputation for apples. I found a barbecue place that looked ok, but it was one of those without chairs and so I had to sit cross legged on the floor. I had the beef, but one beer was enough as I’m still not supple enough to get my legs under the table.
The next morning I decided against another sauna and got a taxi to Sudeoksa. It’s the oldest surviving original Buddhist temple in Korea, dating back about eight hundred years. I had a wander around before the coachloads of visitors got there and watched some monks chanting and praying.
I could have hiked to the top of Mount Sudeoksan, especially since the taxi had made it easier by dropping me about halfway up at the temple but decided not to bother and got a bus back to Yesan. It wound through all the little villages picking up people wherever they happened to be standing. There were lots of rice fields and people planting new crops. The bus driver watched out for my stop, told me when we had got there and then pointed out the right direction to walk. I booked a ticket for the train back to Seoul and went for some lunch. Since I was here I thought I’d better try one of their apples and bought an enormous one from a greengrocer for 1,500 won. That seemed a bit excessive; just wait until the trees at the side of the road start producing, that’ll cut the prices. I got the train back to Yongsan station, arriving back at ten to three.
Meanwhile, South Korea were taking on Belarus in their final warm up game before the World Cup squad was finalised. Lee Dong Gook was still with the squad of 26, but training by himself in an effort to show that he should be fit in time for their second game against Argentina.