After last weeks away win for Jeonbuk at Daejeon Citizen I thought I’d go along to see them again, this time at second from bottom Gangwon. Gangwon play over on the east coast and because of the mountain ranges between there and Seoul it isn’t really feasible to go by train. There isn’t a direct route and the journey would take about six and a half hours. Fortunately there is a fantastic bus network in Korea and so I decided to travel by road for a change.
There’s a silver lining to most things and the same mountains that were causing problems for the trains meant that I had a chance to combine a bit of walking with the match. The game didnt kick off until 7pm on the Saturday, so if I got up early enough I would be able to nip up a hill or two before the game. And thats what I did.
When my alarm went off at 5am, I felt like I’d just gone to bed. Which is probably because I had. Still, I’m not too bad at getting up early in the morning and by quarter to six I was at the subway. It wasn’t quite fully light at that time and in the area around my apartment there were still people who weren’t prepared to call it a night sat at the tables of the street vendors, finishing off their soju. The subway was surprisingly busy with a mixture of people who had finally decided to head for home mingling with those who were on their way out to work. There were plenty of people in hiking gear too, looking to get an early start on the hills before the crowds arrived.
My bus left from Dong Seoul Terminal at half past six for the two and a quarter hour journey to Jinbu. It was only 11,900 won, about six quid, and the bus was about half full. As we headed east the rain started to fall and I looked out of the bus window wondering about the wisdom of leaving my waterproof trousers at home. On the face of it, it did seem a little bit stupid. I was hiking up a 1500m high mountain in the middle of the rainy season, so I suppose waterproofs would be on most peoples lists of things to pack. Thing was though, the fact that I was doing a bigger mountain than normal and that I would have to carry not only my hiking stuff, but also all my gear for the rest of the weekend too, meant that I was trying to be ruthless in what I took with me. In the end I left them out and gambled that in the event of rain my normal trousers would dry out quickly in the heat.
I arrived at Jinbu at a quarter to nine. There were connecting buses to the start of the hiking trail at Sangwonsa in the Odaesan National Park, but they didnt leave for another hour. If I waited at the bus station for an hour, it would cut down the amount of time that I would have to get up and down the mountain and then make my way the thirty miles or so to Gangneung for the match. I decided to save the time and got a taxi. It took half an hours driving through the National Park to get there, with quite a significant height gain as we did so. In fact, the temple where I got out was at almost 500m, so my 1563m peak was made a whole lot easier at a stroke.
Apparently there was a big bell at Sangwonsa Temple, a thousand years old and pretty famous. I didnt see it though. Not that I was too bothered. I’d seen the bell at Suwon a couple of months ago and you were allowed to ring that one. Just looking at a bell didn’t seem anything like as much fun. I did see a couple of monks practising their baseball pitching. They weren’t too impressive either, spending more time running after the ball than successfully catching it. Perhaps they were dogs in a previous incarnation and had retained some of the characteristics.
I set off for Birobong peak at half past nine and reached the top, three kilometres away, two hours later. There was a temple halfway up where I stopped for a while and listened to the chanting. There were also a lot of tame stripey squirrels which were brave enough to eat peanut cookies from my hand. I don’t know if peanut cookies normally form part of their natural diet in the wild but they seemed to like them.
The path up the hillside was well maintained, but it got quite steep towards the summit. It didnt rain, but there was a constant moisture in the air that meant I was soaked through anyway. I dont think the waterproof trousers would have made any difference if I’d brought them, the humidity was such that I was as wet from sweat as from the dampness in the air.
Because of all the trees, there wasn’t much of a view on the way up and when I got to the top the mist meant that it was no better there. I posed for a photo at the top as this is possibly the highest mountain I’ve ever walked up, even if I did get a taxi for the first third of it.
After feeding some more cookies to the squirrels I moved on to the next peak, Sangwangbong (1493m), which was about forty minutes away along an overgrown path. The route dropped down a bit more than the sixty metre height difference, so I had a fair stint of uphill stuff to contend with again. After posing for another photo at the top I headed back down in a looped route that added up to about twelve or thirteen kilometres altogether, getting back to the Sangwonsa Temple where I’d started almost five hours earlier.
It must have been time for prayers as I couldn’t see the baseball monks anywhere. Although they could have been busy chasing cats or sniffing each others arses.
The difficulty now was that with four and a half hours to go until kick off there were no taxis to be seen and the next bus wasn’t due for a couple of hours. I stuck my thumb out and got two quick lifts that had me back at Jinbu bus station in not much more time than it had taken me to do the reverse journey in the taxi that morning. I hadn’t hitched for years, I used to do it all the time as a kid, Boro games, trips to the Lakes, back and forward to college in London and holidays in France, but it’s something you tend to grow out of. Still, if I can visit DVD rooms and fall off a bike at my age, I can stick out a thumb when I’m stranded in the middle of nowhere.
I got a bus from Jinbu to Gangneung and checked into a hotel across the road from the station. Unlike last weeks place, this one didnt have any horses above the door, but it was smart enough and with an hour to go to kick off I got a taxi to the ground.
Actually I got a taxi to just about every football ground in Gangneung. I’d taken the precaution of asking the lady in the Tourist Information Office to write down the name of the stadium in Korean for me as I didn’t want the same arse crackery as I’d had trying to get a taxi to the Seoul Martyrs ground a couple of weeks earlier. Unfortunately she had written down the name of a stadium that Gangwon had occasionally played at but, as you might have guessed, weren’t playing at that evening. Not to worry, the taxi driver told me that he knew where the other stadium was and he confidently took me to a couple of artificial pitches belonging to a school up in the hills on the outskirts of town. Now I’ve never seen Gangwon’s stadium before, but I was pretty sure that wasn’t it either. Third time lucky, he dropped me at the real place twenty minutes before kick off with a big grin and a generous reduction on the metered fare.
I got a six thousand won ticket for the Jeonbuk end, which was the South stand behind the goal. The stadium was bowl shaped, with a roof on the West stand only and with a running track around the pitch. There only seemed to be about four thousand people in the stadium, with Jeonbuk contributing perhaps about a hundred or so. Gangwon were in orange shirts with white shorts, Jeonbuk in their away strip of all white with green trim.
The pitch was heavily waterlogged, particularly towards the edges, and you could see the water splashing up as the players ran through the worst parts. The referee, possibly regretting leaving his waterproof trousers at home too, rarely strayed from the centre of the pitch. Perhaps he feared getting his boots wet, or even drowning.
Gangwon started the better of the two teams, missing a good chance in the first few minutes. Jeonbuk had left out Krunoslav Lovrek and were playing Lee Dong Gook up front by himself where he did well enough winning free kicks but it wasn’t a formation that looked like producing a goal.
Towards the end of the first half Kim Young Hoo scored a direct free kick for Gangwon from about thirty yards, rocketing it in off the underside of the bar. Not long after the restart for the second half, Lee Chang Hoon got Gangwon’s second when he finished well after cutting inside from the left.
Jeonbuk made a change a few minutes later, bringing on Krunoslav Lovrek and switching to 4-4-2. It almost paid immediate dividends as the Croat sub got clear on goal and tried to play in Luiz Henrique when it would have been easier to score. Lovrek was combining well with Lee Dong Gook who set him up for a shot that the keeper did well to turn around the post.
The breakthrough for Jeonbuk almost came after seventy three minutes when they had a goal disallowed for offside. It didnt matter though as a couple of minutes later Henrique played a great ball out to his fellow Brazilian Enhino, whose cross was tapped in by Lovrek. A few minutes later Jeonbuk got their equaliser, again courtesy of the two South Americans, Henrique letting the ball run through his legs to Enhino who took it himself this time.
Both sides were pushing for a late winner and each had plenty of chances, Gangwon failing to convert a couple of quick breaks and Lee Dong Gook having a volley blocked.
A minute or two into stoppage time both Jeonbuk strikers chased after a through ball and Lovrek got the final touch, scoring a winner that had seemed unimaginable just a quarter of an hour earlier. The hundred or so Jeonbuk fans celebrated their unlikely victory with the players at the end as the Gangwon fans filed out, no doubt muttering never to return.
I got a taxi back to my hotel, calling into a nearby cafe where my technique of just pointing at someones food and gesturing that I would have the same backfired as I got a bowl of what appeared to be raw kidney soup. I made do with the rice and kimchi that came with it.
Jeonbuk’s win moved them up to fourth place in the table. Leaders Jeju United maintaining their three point lead courtesy of a similar injury time 3-2 win at Incheon. With only four points separating the top six teams at the halfway stage in the league it is promising to be an interesting second half of the season.