Jeonbuk Motors v Incheon, Sunday 4th April

Saturday morning and I thought that it was about time that I headed down to Jeonju to see Lee Dong Gook and his team Jeonbuk Motors play at their home ground. The Jeonbuk match wasn’t until the Sunday afternoon but I decided to make a weekend of it and have a look around Jeonju whilst I was there. After the previous weeks trek on the subway to Incheon it was a pleasure to get back on the KTX and travel the 230km to Jeonju in comfort and in not much longer than it had taken me to reach the suburbs of Seoul.

The train was 42,000 won each way for first class which works out at about fifty quid return for a two hour journey to Iksan and then a thirty minute trip on the regional commuter train to Jeonju. Not too bad I thought for a last minute booking. I’m starting to get the hang of buying tickets now and just used the ticket machine rather than joining the queue at the ticket office. The journey was pleasant enough again, I like the way that the ticket collectors bow as they enter and leave the carriages, although I’m not so impressed with the people pushing the trolleys with the drinks and food. They seem to regard it as a time trial in trying to go from one end of the carriage to the other without stopping or catching the eye of the passengers.

The view from the window was mainly of the Korean countryside, although I suppose that’s what you’d expect in Korea. The Canadian Rockies would have been a bit of a turn-up. A lot of the villages reminded me of Bulgaria or Kazakhstan, single storey buildings, lots of mud and with coloured plastic roofs, the sort of houses that didn’t look as if they would take more than a week to put up, even if you had spent the first six days of the week waiting for the builders to arrive.

When I got to Iksan I changed trains onto a smaller commuter train. The interesting thing about this one was that the seats rotated so that you could face whatever direction you fancied. I don’t just mean that the seat back could be moved, but the entire two seat unit rotated 180 degrees. I was sat next to a bloke who was returning home for a wedding and he quizzed me about the UK and what I was doing in Korea. He did seem a little surprised when I told him that I was making the trip from Seoul to see Lee Dong Gook play for Jeonbuk. I thought to myself that it was fortunate that I wasn’t making this trip to see a third division game, he’d probably have nervously moved seats and swiveled it to face away from me.

On arrival at Jeonju I came out of the station and looked for the bus stop mentioned in my guidebook, but couldn’t see it. I did see a sign for the Hanok Village though, four and a half kilometres away. The Hanok village is a place with traditional Korean single storey housing, a few temples and a bit of an attraction for tourists. It’s supposed to be one of the best examples in Korea. Four and a half kilometres isn’t much and as I only had a small backpack with me I decided just to walk it. It was an extremely sunny day and the road was long and straight, with small shops, bars and cafes lining the route.

Not quite Champions League

After about half an hour I saw a football stadium. I was pretty sure that it wasn’t Jeonbuk’s ground as I’d read that they played in an out of town stadium built for the 2002 World Cup, but I thought that it might have been one used by the team from Jeonju that plays in the division below, the National League. As I tend to do, I went and had a look around. As I approached the ground I heard a whistle and a bit of shouting so assumed that there must be a game going on inside. I couldn’t see any turnstiles or gates open, but there was a door that opened when I tried it. I wandered down a corridor and past a kitchen where the staff were shouting at each other and I could smell something cooking that was reminiscent of school dinners. Further up the corridor I could see daylight and hoping that it would lead to the pitch I headed for that. It was the pitch and there was what looked like a training game going on between teams in green and orange bibs. Trying to look like someone who was supposed to be there, I quietly took a seat in the main stand and watched.

The standard was very poor, so I doubted that it was proper players training, more like a bunch of mates having booked the pitch for a kickaround. There weren’t any linesman and the ref seemed very strict with his offside decisions, possibly to keep the score respectable but more likely because he rarely moved from the centre circle. The players were fairly equally split between those wearing shorts and those in tracky bottoms, although I wouldn’t have been surprised if one or two were wearing jeans. Oddly and despite the heat, a lot of them were wearing gloves. It was a good natured game, with plenty of laughter when someone managed an air shot or missed an easy opportunity. After about twenty minutes I left them to it, leaving via the main entrance this time and avoiding having to walk past the kitchen again just in case the arguments between the cooks had escalated into something involving meat cleavers. I resumed my walk toward the Hanok village although I hadn’t seen another sign since I left the station.

Possibly the reason that I hadn’t seen any signs for the Hanok village was that I was lost. After about another hour and an encounter with a couple of giggling teenage girls who seemed to find it amazing that someone would choose to walk to the village from wherever we were I admitted defeat and got a taxi. Wise move as after a good ninety minutes walk I must have been further away from it than the original four and a half kilometres. It was interesting enough, to the extent that a village of single storey houses can be, but I soon headed into town via a market with lots of dried fish to find a hotel.

Just like Peterlee

As I walked through the market, I got a plenty of attention with people saying hello to me and asking where I was from. One bloke came up to me, stroked the hairs on my arm and laughed. I felt like a dog with a flat head from too much patting, but they were all friendly enough. Kids greeted me with a kind of sing song that they seemed to have learned off by heart…

“Hello, how are you? My name is Kim, pleased to meet you, goodbye”

All of it trotted out before I could get a word in edgeways. I think Westerners must be a lot scarcer in Jeonju than they are in the big city. I found a hotel that set me back about twenty quid. It had free juice in the fridge and a vibrating bed that I couldn’t work out how to turn on.

Old blokes playing cards by the river

That evening I went into the town and watched Man Utd play Chelsea on the telly. The main interest for the Koreans was Park Ji Sung. The build up was all about him and the half time highlights consisted of showing his every touch and little else. It was as if he had taken on Chelsea single handed.

The next morning I went for a walk along the river. Every hundred yards or so there was gym equipment set up for passers by to use. Quite a clever idea I reckon, there must be loads of people who would never join a gym but who would be happy to have a play on stuff set up next to the river. I watched quite a few old folk have a bit of a work out on one of the machines and then walk on for a hundred yards and use a different one, perhaps with a break at a bench for a sit down and a chat. Add in a moan or two about how all this used to be fields and it’s circuit training for the elderly.

Old folks working out

I hadn’t had any breakfast so at about eleven nipped into a café for something to eat. Jeonju claims to be famous for its bibimbap, a rice based dish where you mix in a few veggies and then add a bit of spicy sauce and an egg. This one came with fourteen side dishes including beef in a sesame seed sauce, a couple of bowls of soup and various types of pickled vegetables and seaweed. Despite not speaking any English they showed me how to eat it, which bits to wrap in lettuce and which sauces to mix with which pickles. Then they charged me seven thousand won for it, which is about four quid. I can’t see how they could make much of a living at those prices.

I had a bit of time before the game and so wandered back to the Hanok village. There were a few bits that I’d missed the previous day as a consequence of having my map upside down. Once I’d got my bearings I went and had a look at a temple where they had the portraits of the formers Kings of Korea. There was a little write up about each one, ending with the lad who had the misfortune to be running the show when the Japanese invaded. That was the end of the monarchy and it seems that when the Japs were sent packing at the end of the Second World War, they didn’t bother to reinstate the monarchy. Just as well really, as there wasn’t enough room for many more portraits, although I’ve no idea if that figured much in their thinking.

Pair of Kings

Anyway, time for the match and I got a taxi to the stadium. Just as well really as it must have been a good ten miles out of town. As I walked around the stadium I spotted that Incheon had brought three coachloads of supporters with them, all of them appearing to be weighed down with banners, flags or drums including, I noticed later, their oddly worded banner ‘MEET YOU HALL! BOYS!’ I bought a ticket for the North Stand, which is the Jeonbuk singing end. It was six thousand won, with the most expensive West Stand being ten thousand won, half the price of Seoul FC.


The Jeonbuk fans were almost all wearing bright green shirts, often with a name on the back in English. I noticed a ‘Crazy Boy’’, an ‘Ultra Crazy Boy’, a ‘Greenholic’ and plenty with ‘Green Family’ on them. As kickoff approached we were entertained by previous Jeonbuk games on the big screen accompanied by an exuberant commentary that made Alistair Brownlee seem like Richard Dimbleby on state funeral duty.

The fun didn’t last for long though as Incheon took the lead after four minutes following a free kick from just outside of the box. Lee Dong Gook seemed popular with the crowd who were chanting his name. He was fouled a couple of times early on and then missed a good chance as he got on the end of a cross and put his shot wide from about a yard out. He was playing up front with a giant of a bloke who was absolutely useless. He wasn’t effective as a target man and he didn’t seem to have any real ball skills. If he had been wearing tracky bottoms he wouldn’t have looked out of place in the previous day’s game between the teams in the green and orange bibs. I wasn’t sure if it was just the two strikers in a 4-4-2 or if the left midfielder who often found himself alongside them was meant to be a third or if he was just too lazy to track back. After about half an hour the Jeonbuk keeper spilled a shot and Incheon followed up to make it two nil to the away team.

Green Army

Fortunately for Jeonbuk, they got straight back into it. Lee Dong Gook played his part by falling over the keeper after a corner and then prevented him from getting to his feet as the ball was lobbed into an unprotected net from outside of the box. Incheon were livid, whilst the Jeonbuk fans were torn between celebrating and laughing. A minute later and with Incheon still complaining Jeonbuk equalized as the ball fell to Lee Dong Gook about ten yards out and this time he contributed in more conventional style by picking his spot inside the near post. Jeonbuk could have gone in ahead at the break when the giant striker had an easy opportunity in injury time, but he chose to take a touch and his touch was crap. So, 2-2 it was at half time.

Lee Dong Gook celebrates the equaliser

In the second half I decided to watch from the upper tier. The stadium had four curvy stands which were joined at the lower tier but separate above that. It had been voted nicest looking stadium or something at the 2002 World Cup and you could see why. Eight years on it was starting to look at little shabby, with the seats getting a bit discoloured, but in a ‘MILF’ sort of way, it still had it.

After an hour the lanky striker got the hook to popular approval and then with fifteen minutes to go the Lion King latched on to a back pass, took it wide of the keeper and with two defenders closing in rolled it into the empty net  for the winner. At the final whistle I made a quick getaway so that I could grab a taxi, happy to miss the bowing as I knew I’d get enough of it on the train.

The win took Jeonbuk into fourth position, two points behind the leaders Ulsan, but with a game in hand.

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