On Sunday I got the opportunity to visit another of the World Cup stadiums. One of the hiking groups that I’m in were walking along the coast from Buan to Gyeokpo on the Saturday, so it seemed a good opportunity to combine that hike with a trip to nearby Gwangju and the Guus Hiddink Stadium the following day.
Buan is in the south west of Korea and with the hike setting off at 11.15am, Jen and I got the bus from Seoul at 7.50am. The weather was pretty bad for most of the journey, with heavy rain until we got close to Buan. The bus was about fifteen minutes late arriving and when we got off at the terminal there wasn’t anyone around who resembled a hiker. If it had been raining in Buan we would probably have forgotten all about the hike. The weather was fine though and with the route following the coastline meaning that we were unlikely to get lost we took a taxi to the sea wall starting point of the nineteen kilometre trail.
We had a bit of luck when we got there as I recognised a girl who I’d walked with before and we soon caught up with the other seven members of the hiking group. The first 6km or so followed the beach where we saw families digging for something, possibly clams, maybe some sort of razorfish. I’ve no idea what they were doing to be honest, they could have been burying their grannies for all I knew. I saw a few of those flying fish that jump out of the water, some of them quite close to the shore. There were also plenty of locals in the water, all of them overdressed, as is the way it’s done in Korea, some of them to the extent that they were wearing tee shirts, jeans and trainers.
The second stage of the trail took us up into the woods where we passed a lot of army outposts and huts, providing coastline defences and training opportunities. It started to rain around this time. It was a hot day though and with the humidity I wasn’t convinced that I’d be any drier if I put my waterproofs on.
The final third of the hike was on roads, mainly due to us getting lost, and by the time we arrived at Gyeokpo beach, I was pretty much soaked through. I wasn’t as wet as two days earlier though. I’ve recently started playing five a side out here and we had played our first match that week in the rain that accompanied the hurricane. By the end of the game there were pools of water all over the pitch.
We left the rest of the hiking group at the bus station and checked into a hotel by the beach. It was a hundred thousand won for a room with a sea view and a balcony. It was probably the best room in the hotel, on the top floor with the window coming down to floor level and then taking up virtually the whole wall that faced the sea.
After calling into a restaurant for a variety of seafood including some small ’cut in half’ crabs in a stew that I probably expended more calories trying to extract the meat from than I took in from eating them, we headed back to the hotel. In the foyer they had an umbrella stand that was well stocked with fireworks. I don’t know how the various guides allocate stars to hotels but if I was doing it then a bucket full of fireworks in reception would be enough to guarantee an extra star or two.
We bought four of them for a total of ten thousand won and set them off reasonably responsibly on the beach. By reasonably responsibly I mean that we stuck them in the sand.
We did light a couple at once, which I believe the Firework Code frowns upon, but that was nothing compared to the way the Koreans let them off. Adults and children alike all just held them at arms length and fired them one handed down the beach.
The next day we got a local bus to Buan and then a slightly less local bus to Gwangju. By the time I’d had some bulgogi for lunch there wasn’t really much time for any sightseeing which was a shame. Gwangju is famous for a massacre of protesters demonstrating against the military government in 1980 and there is a cemetery and museum that I was quite keen to see. I did have time for a haircut though, notable for the look of horror on the hairdressers face as she shaved it down to the requested three millimetres.
We got to the stadium about an hour before kick off and it was an impressive sight with curved roofs on each of the two stands along the sides of the pitch. Not for the first time I regretted that my camera was incapable of taking wide angled photographs. The stadium had been renamed after the World Cup to honour Guus Hiddink’s achievement in taking the team to the semi-finals. One of the games that it staged was the Spain v South Korea quarter final that the Koreans won on penalties after a goalless draw. I suspect that might have been the last time that the stadium was full.
We got a couple of tickets for seven thousand won apiece and made our way into one of the stands with a curvy roof. If we’d wanted, we could have sat in the media section, complete with little tables, but it was a bit windy so we went down to the lower tier instead and sat in what looked like a VIP section. I’d had a look for somewhere selling beer but couldn’t see anything, although I can’t have been that desperate as there was still time to nip back outside and pick up a couple of cans if I’d wanted.
Whilst the stadium still looked in decent nick, the pitch was poor, with a lot of bare patches.Gwangju Sangmu, the home side, are actually the army team. They have been playing in the K League since 2003 when the Korean footballing authorities decided that they would like all of the former World Cup stadiums to be occupied and in a move that strikes me as a little insensitive, moved the army team into the city where the massacre by the military had taken place twenty three years earlier.
The team is made up of professional footballers who have had their careers interrupted by compulsory military service. All men over here have to serve at least twenty-one months in one of the armed services. From what I can see the only exception seems to be Olympic gold medal winners and the team that reached the semi final of the World Cup in 2002. Lee Dong Gook was left out of that squad by Hiddink who perceived him as being a little on the lazy side and he ended up playing for Gwangju Sangmu whilst doing his national service between 2003 and 2005. I wonder how often he cursed his former national manager as he got out of bed at 6am to march up and down the parade ground.
You might remember Kim Jung Woo from this summer’s World Cup. He was the lad who saluted during the South Korean national anthem. Well he was playing, no doubt regretting that they had been knocked out at the last sixteen stage. Two more wins and he could have given up wearing khaki for good.
The away team were Incheon. I’ve seen them a couple of times already this season and they are struggling a bit. In fact, going into this game they hadn’t won in the league for ten games, a run that stretched back to the end of May. Mind you, Gwangju Sangmu were on an even worse run, it was early May since they had picked up three points. So, what do you reckon, nailed on draw?
Incheon, who have a pretty decent travelling support normally, had brought about thirty fans with them.
At the opposite end of the stadium, the Gwangju ’ultras’ consisted of six sorry looking kids, although with the benefit of a couple of loudhailers they did make a bit of noise. It isn’t often that a team has more players than fans. Actually, they had more substitutes than fans. Bless.
It didn’t take Incheon long to go ahead. Their Brazilian striker Bruno Correa robbed a Gwangju defender and squared for Young Byong Soo to tap home from close range. The thirty Incheon fans, sensing their first win since before the World Cup break celebrated with a song using The Beatles tune ’I Will’.
The Army side fired in a couple of long range scuds from outside the box but apart from that didn’t really threaten for the rest of the half. At half time we were treated to an eleven a side game between some young kids on a coned off pitch that was smaller than the one I’d played five a side on two days earlier. In classic schoolboy fashion all twenty outfield players chased the ball around the pitch, although if they had spread out a bit it probably wouldn’t have looked a whole lot different. One was so small that his bib came down to his ankles. Still, I suppose it will stop him getting rusks on his football shirt.
In the second half Incheon had a couple of chances to put the result beyond doubt. Substitute Nam Joon Jae looked as if he might have been brought down as he shaped to shoot and then in the last couple of minutes they hit the bar after taking the ball off a Gwangju defender who for some reason was dribbling along his own six yard box. A court martial offence worse than shooting General Melchett’s pigeon.
As I’m sure you suspected would happen, the missed chances came back to haunt Incheon in injury time. Park Won Hong, who had only been on the pitch for a couple of minutes, headed home for Gwangju after a scramble in the box to enable both teams to preserve their records of not having won since May. I checked later and the official crowd was given as 1,318. I’d have guessed at half of that at the most. Perhaps that’s what happens when you put the army team in a town with a reason not to be too keen on the military.
Meanwhile, back in the world where teams do occasionally win a match, Jeonbuk got beat 3-1 at home by Gangwon. Lee Dong Gook played the entire game but didn’t score. Still, at least he wouldn’t be doing sentry duty afterwards like the Gwangju players. The result left Jeonbuk in fourth place, six points behind leaders Jeju United.