The third tier Challengers League has quite an unusual format. There are two groups of nine and each team plays the other teams in its own group home and away. Halfway through those fixtures each team has a single game against each of the teams in the other group. I can only assume that it is done that way to reduce the number of fixtures. Each team plays a total of 23 games instead of the 34 matches that would be required in a standard eighteen team league.
Anyway, we are now in to the inter-group games and it‘s a chance to get a feel for the respective strengths of each group. Yesan United were third from bottom of Group B whilst the visitors, Icheon Citizen, were third from the top of Group A. Yesan United are a new team for this season. I’d been to this ground a couple of years ago to watch Yesan FC in the second tier National League, but they had folded at the end of that season. I doubt really very much though whether the few people of Yesan who watch football really care which division their team plays in as long as they have one.
Jen and I caught the Saemaul train from Yongsan to Yesan. The Saemaul train is the next one down from the KTX and has quite a spacious buffet car. It’s as well that it does really, as we got to the station too late to collect our pre-booked tickets and had to just jump on to our train moments before it left. All of the seats were sold out so we resorted to finding a space on the floor of the buffet car alongside the grannies and soldiers.
Eventually we were asked for our tickets and had to buy new standing ones. It’s a decent system though as the costs of your pre-booked ticket are refunded to the card that you used to make the booking and there aren’t any penalties for boarding a train without a ticket. I didn’t fancy sitting on the floor for an hour and a half though so booked us a two-person noraebang. This is a private booth with two reclining seats, two microphones and a karaoke machine loaded with K-pop. They didn’t look as if they had anything by The Jam so we didn’t bother with any singing and instead just relaxed in comfort for the rest of the journey. It was well worth it at five thousand won per thirty minutes.
On arrival at Yesan we had a quick lunch of dolsot bibimbap at a small cafe where the boast on the sign by our table was that they don’t re-serve left-overs to other customers. Really? That’s big of them. I was a little concerned that I couldn’t see any notices confirming that they usually washed their hands after going for a dump and that they only spat in your food if they were having an exceptionally bad day.
The Yesan stadium is some distance out of town so we took a taxi. We had a bit of time before kick-off which allowed us to watch an over-fifties tournament on the pitch across the car park before having a walk around the ground.
Like most third division games it was free to get in. They even offered us complimentary coffee. Mind you, last time I was here they gave me a sandwich, so maybe they are cutting back now that they are in the Challengers League. There weren’t too many people watching, in fact there were probably more at the over-fifties tournament across the car park. There were maybe a hundred people or so in the main stand with perhaps another twenty dotted around the rest of the ground. We had a couple of bigwigs sat in front of us, one of whom would shout “Shoot” whenever Yesan approached the Icheon penalty box. The other would then exhale an exasperated “Aiiishhh” when the shot inevitably ended up nearer to the corner flag than the back of the net.
Yesan were in all white whilst Icheon were in blue. As I’d expected, most of the early pressure came from the visitors but it took them half an hour to open the scoring. A stray shot ended up at the feet of Kim Tae Kwon eight yards out and he finished comfortably. The lead didn’t last long though and five minutes later Kim Tae Hoon weaved his way through an Icheon defence that kept backing off to equalise.
As we moved into the second half it was still a game that could have gone either way with each side adding another goal to make it two each. With twenty minutes remaining Icheon striker Na Gwang Hyun was brought down in the box. He invoked playground rules and took the penalty himself, placing it to the keeper’s right. The home goalie Kim Dong Woo guessed correctly though and palmed it away.
It was still level as we approached the final fifteen minutes, but eventually Icheon got the rewards that their superiority deserved. Centre half Kwon Hyuk Tae had stayed up after a corner and when the ball was played back into the box he headed home to put the visitors back in front. He looked miles offside to me, but got away with it.
That was the cue for Im Seong Ho to do his stuff for Icheon. He began by getting his head to a loose ball as it bobbed around the edge of the six yard box in a bout of head-tennis. The keeper had been chasing it around as if he was being teased by big kids tossing his iPhone between them just out of his reach. It was a relief when it was finally put it over the line.
Im then scored the goal of the game after a break down the right wing. He cut inside and fired home into the top corner. He wasn’t finished though and with three minutes remaining he brought the ball in from the left, took it to the byline and after drawing the defenders and keeper squared it to Lee Cheol Hui who tapped home from close range to make it six-two.
That was enough for Shoot and Aiisshh and they left before the end. You’ve got to beat that traffic.
Whilst I had expected Icheon to win, Yesan had made a decent game of it and the final score flattered the visitors a little. Neither team moved up or down in their respective groups.