After failing to see a game at Bucheon the previous day, I was keen to belatedly start my Korean season with a match somewhere. There were a couple of options, but the most appealing was the K-League clash between Daegu and FC Seoul.
As you might have guessed, it wasn’t the teams or the quality of the football that attracted me, although it was likely to be of a better standard than that of the small kids kicking around on the Bucheon practice pitch that had been the full extent of my football the day before. No, it was the chance to see a game in Daegu’s World Cup stadium.
I’d been to watch Daegu play before, but on that occasion they had turned out in the old Civil Stadium whilst their World Cup ground was being tarted up for the 2011 World Athletics Championships. I’d watched a couple of days of that competition too, so I had actually been in the World Cup stadium. However, as good as watching Blanka Vlasic in her gym knickers is, I hadn’t actually seen a football match there.
I caught the 10.10am KTX from Seoul, arriving at Dongdaegu station just after noon. It hadn’t been the best of journeys with the woman behind yapping into her phone all journey and the bloke in front closing the blinds so that I couldn’t see out of the window. It was cold in Daegu with a sea air smell in the area around the station. As Daegu is miles from the coast I presumed that it must have come from a factory somewhere.
Daegu has some quite nice districts, but the area around the train station isn’t one of them. I looked in vain for somewhere to eat and very nearly had to resort to popping into Dunkin’ Donuts. The poster in the window brought me to my senses though.
If they can mess up ice-creams with salt, then I couldn’t really trust them with anything else. I gave up on lunch and just got the subway to the nearest stop for the stadium, Grand Park. On coming out of the station, there was a free shuttle coach waiting to take fans to the ground. A nice touch, I thought, particularly as it was absolutely freezing and a twenty minute walk in the wind wasn’t that appealing.
On arriving at the stadium, there was still an hour and a half to go before kick-off. I browsed the various stalls and was given free water, tissues, an orange marker pen and a couple of face packs made from soju. Luckily I didn’t mistake the later items for some sort of consumable soju gel.
None of the stuff that I’d been given was edible, so I paid five thousand won for a box of fried chicken. It wasn’t really any more edible than the marker pen would have been. It was colder than the surroundings and I couldn’t be entirely certain that it hadn’t been left over from the previous season. Maybe a Salty Caramella might have been worth a try after all.
After ditching the chicken I bought my ticket, shelling out twelve thousand won for a seat in the West Stand. Don’t know why really, as it was about eight thousand to sit in the East. It’s still only about seven quid though, which compares favourably with the fifty quid that I paid at the recent Real Betis v Getafe game. The prices at K-League games, in fact Korean sport in general, mean that very few people are priced out. You can watch baseball or basketball for around four quid, National League and Challengers League football games are generally free and last time I went to Seoul Racetrack it cost me thirty pence to get in.
There weren’t many people inside the stadium as I took my seat around the half-way line. What struck me was just how brown the pitch was. Do you remember your first ever football match? For most people, the greenness of the pitch is something that sticks in their memory. It wouldn’t though if your first game had been this one. I don’t know if the pitch had been covered up or whether frost had killed off the grass, but it looked more suitable for growing potatoes than playing football.
At quarter past two the Seoul fans made their entrance. I could hear them before I could see them as they had a few drums with them. They marched from the back of their section to their seats with flares blazing and drums, er, drumming. Small children nearby were waving at them in awe, (or possibly recognition if they were family) and the local plod quickly took up a new position that bit closer.
The couple of hundred Daegu fans behind the other goal were pretty impressive too, keeping the support going despite the cold and the rain. I was a little surprised to see the crowd announced as twenty-one thousand. Sixteen thousand of them must have gone home as soon as they had stocked up with marker pens and soju facepacks.
I had a coffee to warm me up as I watched the Daegu team being announced on the big screen. I was pleased to see that their three Brazilians were playing. It would be just like watching the Boro in ’97 with Juninho, Emerson and Branco. Although you wouldn’t want Branco anywhere near a stadium that sold fried chicken, not if you had any ambitions of being able to find a pair of shorts to fit him.
I realised that I’d got it wrong though after the thirtieth or so player was announced. What we were getting was a run through of the entire Daegu staff, including an assortment of big bosses, goalkeeping coaches and even a couple of old biddies who snip the weeds from the nearby grass verges and take them home for soup. Only one of the Brazilians, Matheus, had made the team. I wasn’t surprised, Emerson and Branco would have been back in Brazil if it had ever been this cold in the Boro.
After the cheerleaders had done their stuff we were given a rousing speech from the Daegu big boss. I didn’t understand much but I imagine he chose not to dwell on the brown grass, four month old cold chicken or the local tendency to confuse ice-cream with fish and chips. When he’d finished, we got a firework display which left a haze of smoke over the pitch and gave me an insight into what my life will be like when I’ve developed cataracts.
The players emerged in full-length padded coats. I, meanwhile, was sat shivering in a thin jacket regretting that I could ever have thought Spring had arrived. The latest forecast is that it will be here at the end of March, with Summer then starting two days later. Four seasons, my arse.
Under their heavily insulated jackets, FC Seoul were in their usual AC Milan kit, whilst Daegu were in blue. Smurf blue for those of you who like a little less vagueness. I noticed that Lee Jin Ho was wearing red gloves and reflected that he was just a white beard short of being dressed as Papa Smurf. It’s not often a mascot gets a game.
Thirteen minutes in Yong Kang cracked one into the top corner to put the home side a goal up and spark wild celebrations with their bench and new Brazilian manager.
At half time I had a hot chocolate and then some ramyeon to try and warm up. A lot of people were leaving, presumably because of the cold. Seoul had a goal disallowed after fifty seven minutes before Molina finally equalised on the break just after the hour.
The rain got a bit heavier as the second half went on and whilst I doubt the players were too pleased, hopefully it will help the potato crop. Seoul looked the more likely of the teams to snatch a victory and went close when hitting the post ten minutes from time. That was enough for me though and not much longer after that I nipped away early. I didn’t want to risk dying of exposure due to not being able to get a taxi. Luckily one stopped straightaway and I was back at Dongdaegu station not long after the game had finished. No one else scored in my absence, with a one all draw being a reasonably fair result.