FC Seoul v Suwon Bluewings, Wednesday 28th July 2010, 8pm

The Korean League Cup had reached its semi final stage and my local team Seoul FC were still in it with a home tie against Suwon Bluewings. Jeonbuk were in the other semi and as they are also still in the FA cup, Champions League and in contention for the league, it could turn out to be quite some season for Lee Dong Gook’s team.

The 8pm kick off meant that if I got away from work reasonably promptly then it was quite possible for me to get there in time for the kick off.

The issue of what time to leave work is an interesting one over here. The culture is for people to be seen to be working long hours and whilst the official finishing time is 6pm, almost everyone is still at their desks a lot later. I tend to leave at about quarter past six, the fifteen minutes being my nod towards the Korean way. Thats a bit like the Pennine Way but with musical bogs rather than peat ones. On the rare occasion when I’ve still been in the office after seven, very few other people have left for home and it is more usual for them to be still at their desks beyond 9pm. Mind you, the productivity isn’t great. Once you consider the cigarette breaks, the trip to the canteen and the surfing of the internet, there isn’t much time left for meaningful work. But the important thing in corporate Korea is to be seen to be there.

I’m lucky. I dont have to play that game. I’m not a long term staff man and when this project finishes I’ll just move on like The Littlest Hobo. Albeit hopefully with fewer fleas. For those keen to advance their careers though, the way forward is long days with little time available for families or League Cup semi finals.

I’ve actually no idea how important a trophy the league cup is seen as over here. In recent years the English version has had a bit of a resurgence as the demanding owners of the big four seek some silverware in return for their investment. As a Boro fan, it’s obviously a big deal. If you discount the Anglo-Scottish Cup where we beat those well known Highlanders Fulham in the mid seventies, it’s the only thing we have ever won. I remember listening on the radio to us losing to Man City in the semis thirty odd years ago and the home semi final against Liverpool in 1998 where we overturned a first leg deficit in the first few minutes is probably the best atmosphere the Riverside has ever seen.

Marco Branca - As debuts go, that was some debut...

I wasn’t expecting anything like that at the Seoul v Suwon game, despite it being a derby of sorts. There isnt the same passionfor football here beyond the small number of hardcore fans.

Anyway, I got out of work as quickly as I could and got the subway up to the stadium. Early evening is probably the worst time to travel on the tube here as the trains are packed full of commuters looking to get home. It’s hard to imagine anywhere being warmer than the Seoul streets in July, except perhaps for the Seoul streets in August, but the subway in the evening manages to crank the temperature up another notch or two.

I’ve recently come to the conclusion that the best place to be in Korea in the summer is in a cave. I’d visited one last Sunday after my trip over to Gangneung for the Jeonbuk match and it was fantastic to walk into a place where the temperature suddenly dropped thirty degrees or so. It was like stepping out of a sauna and into a fridge. I’d got a couple of buses from Gangneung to the Hwanseon Cave and then had a bit of a trek up to the entrance.

This was one of the buses that I took.

I did cheat a little by using the monorail for part of the way, but even so, it was still a decent uphill walk. What was interesting though, was the way in which the temperature changed in the space of a couple of yards around the entrance to the cave. If you took a step forward, it got cold, take a step back and the air was noticably hotter. I couldn’t resist bobbing backwards and forwards, hot,cold,hot,cold. I couldn’t do it for long because people started staring and pointing so I settled for cold and went inside.

To be honest there wasn’t much to see inside the cave. There was a walkway of over a kilometre, but no real notable features. I’ve seen much more interesting rock formations in other caves I’ve been to, but that didn’t matter. It was cold and that was enough. Every now and again a section of the cave would be given a name for no good reason, `Valley of Hell’ or `Palace of Dreams’ or something and a perfectly normal rock would have a sign telling you that it looked like a lion or a dragon. They didn’t really though. One rock was supposed to resemble the Virgin Mary. All I can say is that it’s no wonder she couldn’t get laid.

As I approached the exit I slowed down, eager to prolong my time in the cold and damp tunnel, but all too quickly I was back outside in the warm air. Quite why subways cant be modelled on caves is something I’ve been wondering a lot since then. In fact, quite how people were ever enticed out of caves into apartments in the first place has been weighing heavily on my mind too.

Still, I survived the hot subway journey to the match and got to the World Cup Stadium about twenty minutes before kick off. I was meeting a fellow Teessider, Alan, and to save a bit of time he had already sorted the tickets out for behind the goal in the main Seoul section.

There was a reasonable crowd by Korean standards, perhaps ten to fifteen thousand, helped by a decent turnout from local rivals Suwon, although I suppose that you could say that was a low turnout when you consider that it was a semi final.

One of the things that caught my attention was the number of officials. In addition to the referee and his linesmen, we had a couple of those goal line fellas too. I don’t think I’ve been to a live game where this experiment has been going on before, so I kept my eye on them. They were dressed the same as the other officials, unlike the ones I saw on the telly wearing tracky bottoms at a Europa League game last season. Just as an aside, how weird is that? UEFA’s second most prestigious club football competition named after a Middlesbrough Parmo House. We’ll be seeing the top four qualify for the Club Bongo League next. I know this will appear as total gibberish to any of you who aren’t from Teesside, although if it helps I suspect that it’s probably just as incomprehensible to a lot of the people from Teesside too.   

The extra officials didn’t have flags and didn’t appear to be connected by microphone to the ref. Probably just as well really, there are a few refs that I’m sure hear too many voices in their heads to begin with, so I doubt an extra couple would be particularly welcome. The goal line blokes didn’t do a lot. If someone went down in the box, they didnt make any signal whatsover. Not even to confirm to the ref that it was a fair challenge. An hour had gone before I saw one give a bit of guidance over whether it was a goal kick or a corner. They looked a bit lost really. I’d have given them flags and allowed them to point theatrically for corners and goal kicks, just to let them feel involved. All they seemed to do was write the bookings and the substitutions down. There weren’t many yellow cards, but with each team using the full League Cup allocation of five substitutes, it kept them a bit busier than they would have been. The fourth official, or the sixth official as I suppose he must be now, was very involved though. He stood by the edge of the pitch all the way through, shouting instructions like a Dad at a kids game and at any free kick near him he would intervene to ensure that the defending team were the full ten yards back.

The other thing I noticed were the vuvuzelas. At Gangwon last week there were two blokes with horns in the Jeonbuk end. Blowing horns that is, not wearing them on their heads. Although after ten minutes of listening to the horn blowing it wouldn’t have surprised me if each of them did have a couple sprouting from their skulls. Ive come to the conclusion that two horns are fine on a cow but are maddening at a football match. It just doesn’t work. They aren’t blown to lead a chant like an air horn would be, they are just blown to draw attention to the prick blowing them and to annoy anyone within ten yards. At South Africa it worked because the thousands of horns conbined to create a humming sound that small numbers of horns just cant do.

Seoul seemed to be encouraging the use of the vuvuzelas, selling them at the ground and then every now and then, usually at a Suwon set piece, the big screen would display a message exorting the faithful to blow their horns. It worked pretty well however, not by South African standards, but with enough horns to create a bit of racket and to fire up the rest of the crowd.

Dejan Damjanovic opened the scoring for Seoul in the second half, prompting official fireworks to be set off behind the goal almost before the ball had hit the back of the net. The Seoul fans then let off fireworks of their own, some of them those repeater types that send a new one up every two or three seconds. I love the smell of fireworks, I’d make them compulsory at all matches.

The lead didnt last long and within fifteen minutes Suwon had scored twice and looked to be heading towards the final before an equaliser from Lee Seung Ryal eight minutes from time set off a second wave of Seoul fireworks and took the game to extra time. Another goal apiece from Damjanovic and Lee Seung Ryal finished Suwon off and with the flares supplementing the fireworks, Seoul were through to the final.

In the other tie Jeonbuk beat Gyeongnam 2-1, with Lee Dong Gook getting the opener, his fifteenth goal of the season. A better record in the group stages earned Jeonbuk the right to stage the final on Wednesday 25th August. A shame really because if it had been in Seoul I would have been able to get to it. Whilst I’m usually the first to leave the office, I’d have to be sneaking out mid afternoon to get to that one.

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