My son Tom is visiting me at the moment. It’s not the best time of year for a holiday in Korea with the rainy season having dragged on for longer than is usual and with the dry days being hot enough to make you want to dodge from one air-conditioned building to another. Still, you have to be somewhere and I understand that the weather in Teesside isn’t too clever at the moment either.
Like me, he is happy enough to watch football in most conditions and so we decided to take in Suwon City’s game with Mokpo in the National League. For those that don’t know, the National League is the second of the three divisions. Suwon City are actually the reigning champions, defending their title because there is currently no promotion and relegation. There is speculation that the match-fixing scandal will change this and that from next season it will be four-up and four-down between the top two divisions. That strikes me as an unneccessarily large step for what are currently leagues of sixteen and fourteen teams respectively. It will be interesting to see what happens if one of the clubs owned by a large corporation ends up in the bottom four. I’d expect that some West Ham style cheating from the Korean FA will take place to allow the status quo to be maintained.
It took us quite a while to work out where Suwon City play their games. Googling them or looking on various websites gives different venues. According to the source, they either play at the Suwon Civil Stadium, or the nearby Kyunngi-Seat stadium, or the practice pitch next to the Suwon Big Bird World Cup Stadium. In the end we gambled on the practice pitch but we got Jen to write down the names of the other grounds in Korean just in case we had to made a tour of Suwon by taxi.
We took the subway to Sadang and then the 7001 bus to Suwon. Tom seemed to have charmed a couple of old biddies on the way there in a way that I never seem to these days. Perhaps I’m too old for them
Getting the bus is far quicker than doing the whole journey by tube and there is a stop right next to the Bluewings stadium. We stayed on board though and went a bit further into town in search of some air-conditioned lunch. Tom didn’t seem too keen on still-wriggling squid legs or a few silkworm pupae, so we had a pizza and then wandered back up towards the Big Bird stadium. There were signs along the road that appeared to date from the 2002 World Cup. Korea is developing at such a pace that I was surprised to see them and I doubt that they will still be there in five years time.
We had a look around the outside of the Suwon World Cup Stadium. Tom was pretty impressed by the open-air exercise equipment, speculating that it would be quickly weighed in for scrap value in the UK. The practice pitch is shown on the maps of the area near the main stadium and so it wasn’t too difficult to find. There was a single stand, a running track and a couple of tents for the players to get changed in.
The players were led out a good fifteen minutes before the kick-off time. They have to be, there is that much for them to do these days. They were presented to some old bloke out of the crowd, they posed for photos with the mascots, kicked footballs in to the stand and as has become compulsory stood with one hand in the air and made a solemn promise only to take bribes if it’s definitely worth their while.
There were probably two hundred or so people in the stand including what looked like a couple of kid’s football teams. It’s a free afternoon out after all, albeit one without air-conditioning.
Suwon were in red and blue stripes with red shorts whilst Mokpo wore blue shirts and white shorts. The Mokpo players looked a lot taller overall than their Suwon counterparts. Away keeper Cho Sang Won must have been at least 6’4“ and he had a couple of ugly looking centre halves of a similar height in front of him. I doubted that Suwon would have much joy at set pieces.
I was wrong of course. Twenty odd minutes in a Suwon corner was flicked on and then scrambled home from about three yards. The Mokpo coach was sat a few feet away from us in the stand and he wasn’t too pleased.
The football in general was quite poor with players going to ground easily, misplaced passes and little movement off the ball. There were plenty of niggling fouls too that disrupted any flow that might have developed.
At the interval the subs warmed up on the pitch and it looked as if each side had nine or ten of them, which seems a little excessive to me. Although I’ve no idea how much, if anything, players at this level earn. If you aren’t paying them anything then I don’t suppose it costs much more to have an extra few bodies on the bench.
In the second half we got more of the same, the highlight being a well deserved equaliser from Mokpo’s Hong Deok Jong. The Suwon goalie got his fingers to the shot from the edge of the box but it was too well placed to keep out.
The game finished one each with the point not being enough to move Mokpo off the foot of the table whilst Suwon remained on course for the end of season play-offs.