Jen and I had arrived early at the Yesan Sports Complex for the Challengers League fixture between Yesan United and Icheon Citizen. I’d been there a couple of years ago but on that occasion I hadn’t noticed that there was another pitch across the car park from the main Yesan Stadium.
What made it even better was that there was a match taking place on it. We wandered over and discovered that the game between Yesan Old Boys and Taean Old Boys was part of a five team tournament that also included teams from Dangjin, Hongseong and Seosan.
One of the banners around the edge of the pitch mentioned that it was a competition for over thirties, forties and fifties. Today’s fixtures were for over–fifties.
I reckon that most of the players looked a bit younger than their years, maybe in their forties, with the odd box-to-box midfielder who probably still had difficulty in getting someone to give up a seat for him on the bus. There were also one or two less than mobile defenders who were well into their fifties, probably even their sixties.
We sat down on the terracing that ran the length of one side of the pitch and watched for a while. The standard was similar to what you’d expect in a game played by old blokes on a hot day. There was lots of passing and not much movement, a bit like the Boro in the latter stages of last season really. One or two mistimed tackles made it look a bit more physical than it was, but on the whole people contented themselves with just closing down the opposition player with the ball until he moved it on to someone else.
The pitch would have been fine for the Yesan United Challengers League game and the stand more than appropriate for the crowd sizes at that level. In fact there were probably more people watching these games as they waited for their team’s turn than you get at a lot of the third division matches.
I read recently that since the 2002 World Cup the number of public pitches has increased from 97 to 649. I’d suspect that this pitch is one of the new ones and if it has made it easier for local leagues to spring up, especially when it extends as far as the over-fifties, then that’s got to be commended.
That first game finished not long after we arrived and so we stayed to watch some of the tie between Dangjin Old Boys and Hongseong Old Boys. One of the players in the tent below us tried to tempt me into having a game. He obviously hadn’t realised that I was under-age. He assured me that they had plenty of kit but I doubted that they would have had a pair of size twelve boots and so I was able to graciously decline.
It’s strange really. Whilst I was watching all I saw were stiff old blokes, good at passing and retaining possession but unlikely to be able to coax their legs into making a run. I regard fifty as being pretty old for a footballer but don’t tend to apply the rule to myself. In my head, I’m no different to when I was a kid, but just temporarily out of condition, nothing that a few weeks training wouldn’t put right. I’ve had the same opinion for the last thirty years.
I played in a five a side league in Seoul when I first came out here but gave it up after that one season. Most of the players were more than twenty years younger than me and whilst I don’t mind being slow in a friendly game with my mates, I felt a bit guilty at letting people down in a competitive situation. I wonder if that was it for me. Perhaps I should have taken the opportunity for a first and last game for Dangjin.
As it got towards kick-off time in the Yesan United game Jen and I left them to it and made our way over to the main stadium.