Daejeon HNP v Gimhae and Hanwha Eagles v Doosan Bears, Saturday 5th June 5pm

This was quite a big weekend for the National League as it was the final day of the first half of their season. I know that doesn’t sound much like a big weekend, but it’s different over here. Instead of the fifteen teams just playing each other home and away for a twenty eight game season, they split it into two halves and the top two teams after the first fourteen games go into a four team play off with the top two teams from the second half of the season. I believe that if the same team wins both halves then they don’t bother with the play off.

So, going into the final weekend there were two teams level on points at the top of the table. Incheon Korail and Daejeon Hydro and Nuclear Power (try getting that on a scarf or in a chant). Daejeon had a slightly better goal difference so if Incheon were to take the title then they would have to better the Daejeon result by two goals. Both teams were at home and were expected to win. I’d already been to see Incheon Korail play, so I thought I’d lend my support to Daejeon.

An added benefit of going to Daejeon was that next door to their ground was the baseball stadium of the Hanwha Eagles and they had a game too, although in a poor bit of scheduling both games started at 5pm. Actually that wasn’t such a bad thing as the baseball games often go on for three and a half to four hours. This way I could watch the football, gate crashing their title celebrations and then nip into the baseball for the last hour and a half. Pretty perfect really and at the risk of giving the end away, that’s what I did.

Daejeon town centre

I got the KTX to Daejeon; it only takes fifty minutes and then booked into a hotel. Or a motel. Or a love motel as they are known. Intended for courting couples, they come complete with shakey beds, red light bulbs in a number of the sockets for that hooker and client fantasy role playing and a supply of condoms. I was by myself this weekend though so none of that stuff was much use to me. It did have a big telly, air conditioning and a computer in the room with free internet. And all for forty thousand won.

I expected the baseball to be busy and to save a bit of time after the football I bought my ticket for it in advance. 7,000 won for a general admission ticket.

 I paused at one of the old biddy stalls to get some beer and then made my way into Daejeon’s stadium. Again, there was no need for a ticket and I just turned left and walked upstairs to the centre of the main stand. I got talking to a Daejeon fan who was adamant that the President of Korea was sat in the VIP section in front of us. I pressed him as to whether he meant the President of the club, but no, definitely the President of Korea. I’d have thought he would have had more important stuff on his mind than the title prospects of Daejeon, but perhaps not.

As Koreans tend to do, the Daejeon fan quizzed me about England, generally in the form of what was the best of something. Who made the best football shirts, was it Umbro? What about universities? Was Cambridge better than Oxford? Rooney or Beckham? Ballantynes whisky versus Royal Salute? I couldn’t really grasp why he would care about it all, unless he was planning to spend his college years in the UK knocking back spirits and commenting upon the sartorial elegance of the footballers, but he was friendly enough. I decided to turn the tables a bit and discovered that the best Daejeon player was the number fourteen, Kim Yeong Nam.

After the presentations of the players to the President, the game got underway, Daejeon were wearing an all red Adidas kit reminiscent of the one the Boro used to wear around about thirty years ago. If I squinted a bit I could see the Hodgson, Proctor and Johnston out there. Gimhae were in white shirts with red shorts.

After seven minutes the Daejeon number ten scored with a tremendous strike from outside the box. Five minutes later ‘Best Player’ Kim Yeong Nam was brought down by the Gimhae keeper who caught him head high with a kick that would have brought him ‘Best Ninja’ status. Kim Yeong Nam recovered to take and score the penalty and after twelve minutes Incheon Korail already needed four goals in their game to deny Daejeon the title.

I was a little surprised at the low attendance for what was probably quite a big day in Daejeon’s history. There couldn’t have been more than two hundred people there and they didn’t make very much noise. I think Gimhae brought four fans with them, but with those two early goals there wasn’t a peep out of them.

I was hearing quite a lot of noise coming from the baseball though. It was a bit like those snooker games on the telly where they have two table divided by a screen. The noise from the crowd on the other table always seems to come at an inopportune moment, distracting you from the game that you are watching and making the one that you cant see sound more exciting.

The expected rout didn’t come though and although Daejeon showed plenty of urgency in the rest of the game, word must have come through that Incheon were only drawing one each and that they would need a further four goals to deprive Daejeon of the title. The last ten minutes were played out at a gentle pace with Daejeon keeping the ball and Gimhae who had nothing to play for happy to keep the score respectable.

At the final whistle Daejeon celebrated in the way that any team does.

They sang along to ‘We are the Champions’, sprayed each other with champagne, bobbed up and down behind a banner and they threw the President in the air. Well, maybe not everyone does the last one, but given the opportunity I think they should.

I stayed for a few minutes and then when it had quietened down, made my way towards the baseball. I’d timed it very well I reckon as the fifth innings had just finished and there were four more to go.

It was 6-5 to the home team Hanwha who were batting second. The place was pretty full, with lots of families and small children. An hour and a half later it was over with Hanwha winning 10-6 and not needing their ninth innings.

The Doosan fans didn’t seem too downhearted, making plenty of noise and at one point all holding sparklers in the air. I envied them. I wasn’t allowed sparklers as a kid after I’d once turned one around in my hand as it burnt downwards and I’d taken hold of the still red hot tip.

It's not fair. I want a sparkler.

As I left the stadium a Doosan Bears fan commented to me that they were struggling because they lacked a starting pitcher. I don’t know if he is injured or whether they actually don’t have one for one reason or another. I dare say I’ll find out at some point as I get more into it. I couldn’t find a bar that I liked the look of, most were either underground or a couple of storeys up and empty because the Koreans were still at the stage of the night where they were eating in restaurants rather than drinking in bars. It was a warm night and I wanted to be out in the open so I got a can from a convenience store and drank it at a table outside. As my daughter would say, “Scruffy as”, which I’ve only just realized is abbreviated from a slightly longer phrase. Appropriate though.

My hotel

Meanwhile Lee Dong Gook was continuing his recovery from injury as South Korea went down to a late goal in a 1-0 defeat to Spain.

North of the border, the other Koreans had caused a bit of a stir at the World Cup by naming a striker as their third keeper in an attempt to give themselves more attacking options. Unfortunately the lad in question will be limited to playing in goal, which should be a fun experience for him. A bit more fun than the experience that awaits whoever made the decision when they get home, I suspect.

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