Archive for September, 2010

Gwangju Sangmu v Incheon United, Sunday 12th September 2010, 3.10pm

September 30, 2010

On Sunday I got the opportunity to visit another of the World Cup stadiums. One of the hiking groups that I’m in were walking along the coast from Buan to Gyeokpo on the Saturday, so it seemed a good opportunity to combine that hike with a trip to nearby Gwangju and the Guus Hiddink Stadium the following day.

Buan is in the south west of Korea and with the hike setting off at 11.15am, Jen and I got the bus from Seoul at 7.50am. The weather was pretty bad for most of the journey, with heavy rain until we got close to Buan. The bus was about fifteen minutes late arriving and when we got off at the terminal there wasn’t anyone around who resembled a hiker. If it had been raining in Buan we would probably have forgotten all about the hike. The weather was fine though and with the route following the coastline meaning that we were unlikely to get lost we took a taxi to the sea wall starting point of the nineteen kilometre trail.

We had a bit of luck when we got there as I recognised a girl who I’d walked with before and we soon caught up with the other seven members of the hiking group. The first 6km or so followed the beach where we saw families digging for something, possibly clams, maybe some sort of razorfish. I’ve no idea what they were doing to be honest, they could have been burying their grannies for all I knew. I saw a few of those flying fish that jump out of the water, some of them quite close to the shore. There were also plenty of locals in the water, all of them overdressed, as is the way it’s done in Korea, some of them to the extent that they were wearing tee shirts, jeans and trainers.

The second stage of the trail took us up into the woods where we passed a lot of army outposts and huts, providing coastline defences and training opportunities. It started to rain around this time. It was a hot day though and with the humidity I wasn’t convinced that I’d be any drier if I put my waterproofs on.

The final third of the hike was on roads, mainly due to us getting lost, and by the time we arrived at Gyeokpo beach, I was pretty much soaked through. I wasn’t as wet as two days earlier though. I’ve recently started playing five a side out here and we had played our first match that week in the rain that accompanied the hurricane. By the end of the game there were pools of water all over the pitch.

We left the rest of the hiking group at the bus station and checked into a hotel by the beach. It was a hundred thousand won for a room with a sea view and a balcony. It was probably the best room in the hotel, on the top floor with the window coming down to floor level and then taking up virtually the whole wall that faced the sea.

Our hotel.

After calling into a restaurant for a variety of seafood including some small ’cut in half’ crabs in a stew that I probably expended more calories trying to extract the meat from than I took in from eating them, we headed back to the hotel. In the foyer they had an umbrella stand that was well stocked with fireworks. I don’t know how the various guides allocate stars to hotels but if I was doing it then a bucket full of fireworks in reception would be enough to guarantee an extra star or two.

We bought four of them for a total of ten thousand won and set them off reasonably responsibly on the beach. By reasonably responsibly I mean that we stuck them in the sand.

Can of beer to responsibly douse stray sparks.

We did light a couple at once, which I believe the Firework Code frowns upon, but that was nothing compared to the way the Koreans let them off. Adults and children alike all just held them at arms length and fired them one handed down the beach.

And this is how the locals do it.

The next day we got a local bus to Buan and then a slightly less local bus to Gwangju. By the time I’d had some bulgogi for lunch there wasn’t really much time for any sightseeing which was a shame. Gwangju is famous for a massacre of protesters demonstrating against the military government in 1980 and there is a cemetery and museum that I was quite keen to see. I did have time for a haircut though, notable for the look of horror on the hairdressers face as she shaved it down to the requested three millimetres.

We got to the stadium about an hour before kick off and it was an impressive sight with curved roofs on each of the two stands along the sides of the pitch. Not for the first time I regretted that my camera was incapable of taking wide angled photographs. The stadium had been renamed after the World Cup to honour Guus Hiddink’s achievement in taking the team to the semi-finals. One of the games that it staged was the Spain v South Korea quarter final that the Koreans won on penalties after a goalless draw. I suspect that might have been the last time that the stadium was full.

My new favourite stadium

We got a couple of tickets for seven thousand won apiece and made our way into one of the stands with a curvy roof. If we’d wanted, we could have sat in the media section, complete with little tables, but it was a bit windy so we went down to the lower tier instead and sat in what looked like a VIP section. I’d had a look for somewhere selling beer but couldn’t see anything, although I can’t have been that desperate as there was still time to nip back outside and pick up a couple of cans if I’d wanted.

Whilst the stadium still looked in decent nick, the pitch was poor, with a lot of bare patches.Gwangju Sangmu, the home side, are actually the army team. They have been playing in the K League since 2003 when the Korean footballing authorities decided that they would like all of the former World Cup stadiums to be occupied and in a move that strikes me as a little insensitive, moved the army team into the city where the massacre by the military had taken place twenty three years earlier.

The team is made up of professional footballers who have had their careers interrupted by compulsory military service. All men over here have to serve at least twenty-one months in one of the armed services. From what I can see the only exception seems to be Olympic gold medal winners and the team that reached the semi final of the World Cup in 2002. Lee Dong Gook was left out of that squad by Hiddink who perceived him as being a little on the lazy side and he ended up playing for Gwangju Sangmu whilst doing his national service between 2003 and 2005. I wonder how often he cursed his former national manager as he got out of bed at 6am to march up and down the parade ground.

You might remember Kim Jung Woo from this summer’s World Cup. He was the lad who saluted during the South Korean national anthem. Well he was playing, no doubt regretting that they had been knocked out at the last sixteen stage. Two more wins and he could have given up wearing khaki for good.

The away team were Incheon. I’ve seen them a couple of times already this season and they are struggling a bit. In fact, going into this game they hadn’t won in the league for ten games, a run that stretched back to the end of May. Mind you, Gwangju Sangmu were on an even worse run, it was early May since they had picked up three points. So, what do you reckon, nailed on draw?

Incheon, who have a pretty decent travelling support normally, had brought about thirty fans with them.

Incheon fans

 At the opposite end of the stadium, the Gwangju ’ultras’ consisted of six sorry looking kids, although with the benefit of a couple of loudhailers they did make a bit of noise. It isn’t often that a team has more players than fans. Actually, they had more substitutes than fans. Bless.

Look very closely behind the goal and you can see the Gwangju fans.

It didn’t take Incheon long to go ahead. Their Brazilian striker Bruno Correa robbed a Gwangju defender and squared for Young Byong Soo to tap home from close range. The thirty Incheon fans, sensing their first win since before the World Cup break celebrated with a song using The Beatles tune ’I Will’.

The Army side fired in a couple of long range scuds from outside the box but apart from that didn’t really threaten for the rest of the half. At half time we were treated to an eleven a side game between some young kids on a coned off pitch that was smaller than the one I’d played five a side on two days earlier. In classic schoolboy fashion all twenty outfield players chased the ball around the pitch, although if they had spread out a bit it probably wouldn’t have looked a whole lot different. One was so small that his bib came down to his ankles. Still, I suppose it will stop him getting rusks on his football shirt.

Their parents trebled the attendance.

In the second half Incheon had a couple of chances to put the result beyond doubt. Substitute Nam Joon Jae looked as if he might have been brought down as he shaped to shoot  and then in the last couple of minutes they hit the bar after taking the ball off a Gwangju defender who for some reason was dribbling along his own six yard box. A court martial offence worse than shooting General Melchett’s pigeon.

As I’m sure you suspected would happen, the missed chances came back to haunt Incheon in injury time. Park Won Hong, who had only been on the pitch for a couple of minutes, headed home for Gwangju after a scramble in the box to enable both teams to preserve their records of not having won since May. I checked later and the official crowd was given as 1,318. I’d have guessed at half of that at the most. Perhaps that’s what happens when you put the army team in a town with a reason not to be too keen on the military.

Meanwhile, back in the world where teams do occasionally win a match, Jeonbuk got beat 3-1 at home by Gangwon. Lee Dong Gook played the entire game but didn’t score. Still, at least he wouldn’t be doing sentry duty afterwards like the Gwangju players. The result left Jeonbuk in fourth place, six points behind leaders Jeju United.

South Korea v Iran, Tuesday 7th September 2010, 8pm

September 28, 2010

 It was international week, although that hadn’t stopped a full domestic programme from going ahead the weekend before. Iran were the visitors for a friendly and since the game was being held at FC Seoul’s Sangam Stadium with an eight o’clock kick off I thought I might as well go along and watch it.

You can buy tickets for South Korea  international games at one of the banks here which makes life a bit easier. Or at least it would be if I’d got the name of the bank right. I spent a good ten minutes of my lunch hour trying to explain to the bewildered staff of the NH Bank that I’d like a ticket for a football game before someone directed me to the Hana Bank instead. I spent another ten minutes there waiting for the woman who spoke English to become available only for her to tell me that they don‘t sell the tickets on the day of the game. Oh well, I’ll know better for the next game.

I got the subway up to the stadium straight from work and arrived at ten past seven. There were plenty of touts hanging about around the exits and the first one offered me a ten thousand won ticket for thirty thousand. As I still had plenty of time to visit the ticket office and buy a ticket at face value, I didn’t really see the point in paying three times the going rate. The next tout also wanted thirty thousand won but he was selling a fifty thousand won ticket. That made a bit more sense so I bought it off him and saved myself a bit of time and money. I managed to resist the invitations to buy a set of the light-up devil horns that are so popular over here though.

My seat was in one of the main stands and I was given a free Korea scarf as I went in. I hadn’t had my tea so I bought a 6“ pizza and a couple of beers. The beers were ok but whoever made the pizza had curiously decided that they could improve upon the classic recipe by replacing the cheese with sweet potato.

There weren’t too many people in the stadium with half an hour to go before kickoff, although that was also the case in the last Korea international I’d been to and on that occasion the Suwon stadium filled up considerably throughout the first half.

They've got one too.

My seat wasn’t ideal, a bit too close to the pitch and near to the corner flag, but I thought I’d stick it out and maybe move at half time. Before kick off there was a marching display on the pitch from people who I assume were wearing Korean national dress. That set me thinking that it would be a bit more entertaining if international matches were played between teams in national dress. France in their berets, with a string of onions around their necks, Germany could wear lederhosen and those little hats with the feather in, Iran could dress up as Ayatollahs, the Scots could wear their kilts and the Welsh, well, perhaps something woollen.

I'd go for the short sleeved version.

Rather than wearing flowing robes, Iran were actually dressed more like a pub team with cheap looking kits that gave the impression that they had been washed a few too many times. They didn’t have the usual international match details embroidered on their chests as South Korea did. In fact, they didn’t even have their own names on the back of the shirts. They were as physical as a pub team too and didn’t give South Korea much of a chance to play the pretty, pacey football that their manager aspires to.

Mind you, faced with Lee Young Pyo, I’d have got a bit physical too, at one point he juggled with the ball in front of the covering defender. You wouldn’t have got away with doing that in the fourth division of the Teesborough League.

Iran’s physical approach paid off though when Osasuna midfielder Masoud Shojaei managed to clip one over the keeper in the 34th minute. His reward was to be subbed even before he had finished celebrating.


The setback didn’t seem to discourage the Korea fans  and they continued to get behind their team. There were probably a dozen drummers in the front row behind the goal, leading the chants and keeping the noise level up. They actually played their instruments with a bit of rhythm too, so it wasn’t the soul sapping racket that you get in England when someone takes a drum to the match.

Twelve drummers drumming.

To ensure that the chants were being maintained the scoreboard had an innovative little feature, a graphic that showed sound levels. If your view of the pitch was obscured you would know whenever Park Ji Sung had the ball just by watching that graphic. Or you could just listen for the high-pitched screams I suppose. He is an absolute superstar here, you only have to mention that you are from England and the Korean you are talking to will invariably mention his name within thirty seconds. The scoreboard also showed the temperature and the humidity. That last one was probably a stat too far, even for me.

It felt warmer.

At half time the Koreans were applauded off the pitch despite the scoreline. I like that. The fans were determined to support their team regardless. I’ve been at Middlesbrough games where we’ve been booed off even when we’ve been winning. Some of the players even get booed before kick off by some of the fans. It’s a different mentality and I know which I prefer.

The Iranian fans were pretty good too. I hadn’t noticed them until they scored, but there were about a hundred of them, tucked away up in the corner at the other end. From a distance they looked to be doing that same sort of protesting that you see them doing in Tehran on the telly every now and then. Perhaps they had heard that George Bush was doing the half time raffle.

My mind wandered a bit at that point and I started thinking how good it would be if Roy Keane got a job as the Iran manager. He just seems so right for the job.

Take that you c***.

The second half was a bit patchy, interrupted by ten substitutions and a series of injuries to the Iranians that helped to run out the clock. At one point they had two players go down simultaneously in different areas of the pitch. The kids with the stretcher didn’t know which way to run. Eventually they managed to see the game out for the one goal victory, sparking celebrations from their fans that stopped just short of machine guns being fired in the air amidst polite applause from the Koreans.

Down with this sort of thing.

The next international here is against Japan, a rivalry that has a fair bit of history to it. That one should have a full stadium and even higher noise levels on the scoreboard.

Doosan Bears v Kia Tigers, Sunday 5th September, 5.30pm

September 16, 2010

I find it very difficult not to watch live sport if the opportunity is there. Apart from it being an enjoyable way to spend some time, I’m always convinced that if I don‘t go I’ll miss something worthwhile. You know,  like the Boro scoring eight. I was halfway up Great Gable when we did that. Actually, just us scoring these days would probably do me. 

May 2008, as we were beating Man City 8-1. Hard to believe really.

 This baseball game was something that I’d had no intention of going to see up until a few seconds before I leapt off the subway. I’d been returning from a trip to Jeonju where I’d watched Jeonbuk beat Pohang Steelers the day before and the subway route from the bus station back to my apartment goes past the Jamsil baseball stadium. 

Whilst I suspected that there might be a game on I didn’t know for certain as it’s the stage in the season where previously cancelled games are squeezed in here and there and so it was quite possible that the Doosan Bears and the LG Twins could both had been given an away fixture that afternoon. 

I was also quite tired. I’d got through a fair few beers before, during and after the match, followed by a morning spent sightseeing in Jeonju and then four hours stuck in traffic on the bus. If anything, I was looking forward to a bit of a lie down. 

We’d been wandering around the old Hanok village area in Jeonju that morning, marvelling at the recently erected ’historical’ features, a lot of which were revealed to be replicas when you read the small print on the signs nearby. We’d seen a Taesil, which was a stone structure which had once contained the umbilical cord of King Yejong. It didn‘t any more though because, as the accompanying sign pointed out, the pot containing His Majesty’s surgical waste had been stolen in 1928 by the occupying Japanese army, possibly to keep their loose change in. 

Not the King's umbilical cord.

 Then we saw a replica of the building that had once housed the Sillok, a multi-volume book set that recorded daily life in the royal court in the fifteenth century. This too, we were informed, had been destroyed by the Japanese, this time in 1592, no doubt because they were out of toilet paper and couldn’t be bothered to nip down to the 7-Eleven. 

Not a load of rare old books.

 Around the corner were a load of copies of paintings of the various Korean monarchs. No prizes for guessing who had used the originals for sledging down hills on snowy days. 

Apparently it's his head that's the funny shape, not the hat.

 One thing that had survived intact in the Hanok Village was a tree that was reputed to be six hundred years old. I can only presume that the Japanese didn’t realise its significance at any point or else they would no doubt have whittled it down to a pair of chopsticks. 

So, after all of that I had plans for a quiet evening. The schedule changed though as the train drew into the Sports Complex subway station and I saw the KIA Tigers fans get up from their seats and head towards the door. Initially I didn‘t give it much of a thought, then I wondered if I should go as well. I began to think that I was missing out on something and by the time the train had come to a standstill I was stood at the door too. 

Even as I walked towards the stadium, I was still weighing it up. On one hand, I was worn out and had been on my way home. Not only that, but it was an end of season game where the result wasn’t likely to affect anyones play-off position. In its favour, it was live sport, it was a sunny evening and I could get a box of those weird shaped chicken wings from the Burger King stand for my tea. The chicken wings swung it and I picked up a ticket from a tout for a couple of thousand won below face value and headed in. 

Did I mention that we'd had a typhoon?

 Sometimes I do stuff because I can, rather than because I really want to do it. It’s a bit like when you eat a whole packet of chocolate chip cookies just because you have them in the house and even though you aren’t remotely hungry. Still, enough of the inner turmoil and more about the match. 

It was Doosan Bears against KIA Tigers. They are both reasonable teams. Doosan are looking as if they will finish third in the table, whilst KIA will probably finish fifth, just outside of the play-off positions. There was a decent crowd too, certainly a lot more people than there were at the LG Twins v Nexen game I’d been to at this stadium the previous week. 


Doosan looked to be starting the game a bit more positively, with one of the Tigers getting out after three strikes in successive balls. It happened again shortly afterwards although I wasn’t too surprised as the lad who was swinging at fresh air had a batting average of about 0.1. 

It turned around in the fourth innings as KIA Tigers hit a couple of homers in quick succession, each was to the furthest part of the ground, just in front of the scoreboard and each one was worth two runs. It meant that by the end of the fourth, KIA had a 4-1 lead. 

Cheerleaders for the Doosan Bears.

 That was where I left it. I’d eaten the odd-shaped chicken wings for my tea and I’d seen about an hour and a quarter which on this occasion was enough. Besides, I probably had a couple of packets of chocolate chip cookies in the cupboard that had been there longer than could reasonably have been expected. 

And you know that whole thing about having to go to the match in case I missed something exciting? Well, I checked the score the next day and with two already out in the final Doosan innings, the Tigers were hanging on at 4-3. The Bears brought their pinch hitter on and he whacked a two-run homer for a last gasp 5-4 victory. 


Jeonbuk Motors v Pohang Steelers, Saturday 4th September 2010, 7pm

September 14, 2010

This was another late change of plan. Originally I was going to travel to Cheonan to watch their third division game with Chuncheon. The appeal of that one wasn’t so much the football but the fact that despite it looking as if it was about forty miles away, I could get there on the subway. Some of the lines have been extended way beyond the city and I quite fancied the idea of a subway ride that lasted for a couple of hours and ended up a long way out of Seoul and in the middle of nowhere.

The weather forecast was pretty bad though as a typhoon had arrived and was ripping off roofs and uprooting trees. I always think roofs should be spelt rooves, like with hoof and hooves. Perhaps it is. Anyway, Cheonan don’t have roofs or rooves on their stands to rip off, mainly because they don’t really have much in the way of stands, and for that reason I thought it might not be a lot of fun in poor weather.

Jen suggested that we go to Chuncheon instead. There wasn’t any football but there was a chicken eating festival, some fireworks and a high wire display. Well, I like chicken and fireworks and a high wire show during a typhoon has to be worth watching. So that’s where we went. Almost. We’d been to see an American comedian called Ted Alexandro the night before. He was pretty good with a nice laid back delivery. He wasn’t mean about anyone he shouldn’t have been mean about and he made me laugh. However it was a late night, culminating in tequilla and that meant it was after lunch before we got to the bus station the next day. When we went to the ticket counter, so many people were keen to see tightrope walking chickens letting off rockets that there wasn’t an available seat on a bus for nearly four hours.

Hmm, what to do? Jeonbuk had a game that evening and so we got a bus to Jeonju instead. At least we would have if there had been one. We ended up travelling to Iksan and then taking a half hour connection to Jeonju from there instead. Both of those buses went on time and so we got there about half past four.  We found a hotel which was very nice but a bit dull, with none of the little idiosyncrasies that I’ve come to expect from the Korean Love Motels. It did have ’his and hers’ computer terminals side by side in the room however, perfect for Korean couples on an illicit tryst to update their Facebook status with something like ’Kim Sang Mi is working late with Lee Chang Jae’.   I suppose the most notable feature of the place was that check-in wasn’t until 9pm and so with our tea time arrival we had to pay the afternoon quickie rate in addition to the overnight cost.

We took a taxi to the World-uh Cup Stadium and bought tickets for behind the goal with the Jeonbuk fans. It was the usual formation for the home team with a couple of defensive midfielders and three more attacking players supporting lone striker Lee Dong Gook.

Jeonbuk, in green, had the best of the early play against Pohang, who were wearing a Dennis The Menace style kit. Lee Dong Gook shot just past the post in the opening minutes after a good burst into the box from wide. A lot of the pitch had been relaid after the criticism of the surface for the recent League Cup Final here. Both penalty areas and most of the centre of the pitch was new and it looked to be a lot more solid than the replacement turf that I’d seen midweek at Seongnam.

Brazilian midfielder Luiz Henrique was still missing but his fellow countryman Eninho was having a great game. He fired over the bar from distance after about twenty minutes and then broke into the box and forced a good save from the keeper, getting his shot off despite the chasing defender being all over him. If he had gone down he might very well have got a penalty.

A couple of minutes later he should definitely have got a penalty as he cut in from the right. He was fouled outside of the box and the ref played the advantage only for him to be brought down a couple of yards inside the penalty area. The ref bottled it though and to the fury of the Jeonbuk players gave a free kick for the original offence.

Pohang suffered a bit of a setback after half an hour as Kim Hyung Il was sent off for hacking at Jeonbuk’s Kim Hyung Bum. It was one of those fouls that fell somewhere between a yellow and a red. As he had already been booked the ref was spared that difficult decision and settled for giving him a second yellow that he couldnt complain about.

When Lee Dong Gook put one over the bar after a bit of Vidukaesque juggling with his back to goal it looked as if it would be scoreless at half time. A minute before the interval though, Eninho twisted his way past a defender and was pulled down. It didn’t look a lot more blatant than the previous two appeals, but cumulatively the three together meant that the ref wasn’t going to look the other way again. The Brazilian took it himself and drove the ball home high to the keeper’s left to give Jeonbuk the lead at the break.

At half time Jen happened to mention that when she had lived in Jeonju ten years ago she used to go and watch Jeonbuk. They played at a different stadium in those pre-World Cup days and wore different colours. Mind you, in a rare case of continuity they’ve had their current name since 1994, which is a long time by K-League standards.

As a little half time interlude I’m going to tell you about fan death. Not supporters being struck by typhoon dislodged roofs or rooves, but the Korean belief that if you go to sleep in a room with an electric fan turned on and you don’t have adequate ventilation, then you are in serious danger of not waking up.

They have a few explanations as to why this happens, ranging from the fan using all the oxygen itself, to the fan creating a vortex where no oxygen exists, to hypothermia and even the fan chopping up the oxygen molecules. Fans in Korea are sold with a timer on them and come with instructions recommending its use just in case you accidentally fall asleep with the fan on.

I’m not one to live dangerously, so if I’m using my fan rather than the air conditioning, I tend to leave a window open. Not too far, just enough for a psychopathic axe murderer to force his way in whilst I’m asleep. And that’s enough Korean culture for the time being, the teams are on their way back out.

Mind you, it looked as if Jeonbuk had been sat with the electric fan on in the dressing room during half time as they didn’t look too lively at the restart and a cross from the right was  easily converted by Jung Hong Jeon for the equaliser. This warranted a change of tactics from the home team and the Croatian Krunoslav Lovrek was brought on to partner Lee Dong Gook up front. It worked pretty quickly too, with the Lion King running onto a through ball on the hour and calmly finishing for Jeonbuk to regain the lead.

It got better for Jeonbuk a few minutes later when Eninho got his second of the game after some nice build up play. That should really have been it, but Jeonbuk never really looked comfortable. They had Choi Chul Soon sent off with quarter of an hour to go and that gave Pohang a bit of encouragement. The visitors pulled a goal back in the last ten minutes through Lee Jin Ho and then in the closing stages Kim Min Sik made a very good save to deny Pohang an equaliser.

There was a nice touch at the final whistle when one of the Pohang players, Shin Kwang Hoon came down to the Jeonbuk end to bow to the supporters. He had recently returned to Pohang after a couple of years on loan with Jeonbuk and he got a warm reception.

The win kept Jeonbuk firmly in a play-off spot and just  three points behind leaders Jeju United with nine games remaining.

Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma v Suwon Bluewings, Wednesday 1st September 2010, 7.30pm

September 8, 2010

When I was at Seongman for the Jeonbuk game the previous Saturday I’d noticed a couple of banners advertising future matches that I hadn’t been aware of. I couldn’t identify the opponents but it was enough for me to check a few details out when I got home. The first game (this one) turned out to be a K-League game against Suwon, brought forward because of Champions League commitments. The second game, a fortnight later, was the first leg of the Champions League Quarter Final, also against Suwon. So with the second leg to follow, that will be three games between the same two teams in a three-week spell. 

Seongnam is easy for me to get to. I left work at a quarter past six and forty minutes later I was at the Yatap subway station. The stop before Yatap is Moran, which is well-known in Seoul for the market that sells both live and cooked dogs. I’ve not been and had a look yet, possibly because they don’t have a football team, but at some point I’m sure I’ll get off the subway there and have a nose around. I won’t be eating any dog meat whilst I’m here though. 

I like to think that I’m quite adventurous with food, which surprises me as I was a picky eater as a kid. In those days I would insist upon eating exactly the same thing for tea every single day until at what must have been approximately yearly intervals I would suddenly tire of it and  move on to something new. I could never predict when a change in habit was coming either which would infuriate my Dad as he had by that time began buying whatever I was eating in bulk. My choices, in no particular order of preference or sequence,  ranged from the fairly normal hot dogs, to pilchards on toast, then a tin of ravioli and for one memorable year or so, date sandwiches. This, as the name suggests, consisted of about half a packet of compressed dates between two slices of Mothers Pride. No butter, though, that would just be odd. I work with a few Omanis these days and they eat a lot of dates. I’ve yet to see any of them put a few between two slices of bread though. 

Not surprisingly, I couldn't find any pictures of Date Sandwiches.

 I eat a lot more varied diet these days.  I’ve already had the silkworm pupa out here and am looking forward to trying the still wriggling baby octopus legs. I’m pretty sure that I once ate half a cat  in Spain too, despite it being described as rabbit on the menu. Dog, though, is a step too far for me. 

I’ve always had dogs whenever my circumstances allowed it. There’s a couple of them living in my house in the UK now, although it’s my daughter who looks after them as I’m never there these days. One of the best things about going home is taking them for a walk in the same fields where I’ve walked with my other dogs over the last forty years. 

When I was about six we got a beagle. We’d been to Hutton Rudby, looked at some puppies and then when I came downstairs on Christmas morning one of them was in the kitchen. Joker wasn’t a very good dog though, if he ever got out of the garden he would run for miles whilst we chased after him. When he couldn’t get out of the garden he would eat the rose trees, yelping as the thorns dug into his mouth, but still not stopping. He was a  bit inbred and he had regular fits  but I regarded him as my dog and I loved him. Especially when he would put his head out of the car window so that his ears could flap in the wind. 

Me and my dog, 1972.

There have been plenty of others between Joker and the present two and I’ve had a lot of pleasure out of all of them. So whilst I know there’s no moral difference between eating sheep and eating dogs, it’s not for me. At least, not until one of the current pair chews my shoes again. 

After my visit to Tancheon Stadium four days earlier I knew my way to the ground and so didn’t need to bother with a taxi this time. The ground is ten minutes walk from the subway, just over the river and it was a great view as I approached in the dusk. 

It's just like a proper photo...

It made me think that it might be possible to cycle down to a game here from my apartment in Yeoksam just by following the river. I might have to look into that and give it a go sometime when there’s a weekend fixture. 

On Saturday I went into the West Stand, so this time I thought I’d sit on the opposite side to get a different perspective. I paid nine thousand won, which is the same as the travelling Suwon fans behind the goal to my left paid. There were about two hundred and fifty of them, compared to the thirty or so Seongnam supporters doing the singing in the North Stand. There were maybe another thousand people in total in the ground. Of all the fans I’ve seen over here I think Suwon are the best. They seem to turn out in bigger numbers and are more vocal that any of the other teams. Fortunately for them they’ve now got something to shout about after a poor start in the league. They sacked their manager, Cha Bum Kun, earlier in the season and since then have put a good run of form together that looks like getting them a play-off spot. 

Suwon fans.

I don’t think I’ve mentioned how the League Championship is decided over here yet, possibly because its taken me a while to get to the bottom of it, but now is probably as good a time as any. 

The fifteen teams in the league play each other home and away for a total of twenty-eight games. At the end of that the teams in the top six go into the play-offs. The higher up the table you finish though, the easier the play offs are. The first stage takes place a fortnight after the end of the season when on the Saturday the third placed team get home advantage against the sixth placed team. The following day it’s fourth at home to fifth. 

The winners of these two ties meet in midweek for the right to face the second placed team and also to determine the third Champions League spot. There are four Champions League places available. The top two in the table qualify automatically and the FA Cup winners get the fourth spot. 

The play off between the team that finished second and the winner of the 3rd/4th/5th and 6th teams takes place four days later, three weeks after the end of the season. I can’t decide whether I think the second placed team would benefit from their opponents playing their third game in a week or whether they would be rusty after their three-week lay-off. 

The winners of this game play the team that finished top of the table over two legs. The first game takes place in the midweek after the semi and then the second leg four days later, a month after the season ends.  I’m looking forward to seeing the play-off games, not least because it extends the season into December when we should get some real football weather. I expect to get to at least four out of the six games, possibly all six if Suwon, Seongnam and Seoul are involved and are at home for the midweek games. 

December seemed a long way off as this game started though, it was as if I was watching a football match in a sauna and my shirt was drenched in sweat just from the exertion of sitting motionless. Seongnam were in yellow shirts and black shorts whilst Suwon were in all blue. 

That's the main stand.

 Both sides seemed pretty cagey, perhaps not wanting to give too much away in the first of the three games. The pitch didn’t help though with some sections of new turf looking as if it had been rolled out just minutes before the match started. The turf quickly bunched up whenever it was trodden on, whilst the ruts elsewhere made control and passing a bit of a lottery. 

Former West Brom midfielder Kim Do Heon was putting himself about for Suwon against another of his former clubs. He had a long-range shot halfway through the first half that went just past the post and a few minutes later he popped up as the last man to get a vital block in. 

The Seongnan Ultras.

It was scoreless at the interval and there weren’t too many highlights on the big screen. Fortunately they also showed the best of the action from the previous game here, Seongnam’s one nil victory over Jeonbuk. It’s great that all the K-League stadiums seem to have the big screens. It puts the Boro to shame with our scoreboard that looks as if it was made in the days when I was still eating tinned ravioli every night for tea and uses the same technology as those 1970’s digital watches that had the red numbers on them. 

The Suwon fans began the second half well with both their large Che Guevara flags getting an airing. On the pitch though it was Seongnam who were on top with Radoncic blazing a chance over the bar and Cho Dong Keon having one disallowed for offside. A couple of players got booked for a flare up near me causing the bloke in front  of me to get a telling off from his young kid for giving the ref a bit of stick. 

"Pack it in Dad"

As the game moved in to the final twenty minutes Seognam missed their best chance to date with Cho Dong Keon squaring for the Columbian Molina who could only steer it past the post. Whilst most of the Seongnam fan chanted his name, the bloke who had just been told off threw some soju fuelled abuse his way and earned another lecture from his son. 


Suwon never looked out of the game though and in heavy rain Ha Tae Goon forced a good save from the Seongnam keeper. Towards the end Suwon were reduced to ten men as Yang Sang Min picked up a second yellow, for shirt pulling. He was a bit unlucky as he was having his own shirt pulled at the same time and had the Seongnam man not gone to ground as if he’d been tazered, the free kick might easily have gone the other way. 

Seongnam on the attack

Seongnam hit with woodwork in the final seconds, but a goalless draw seemed a fair result. Neither side seemed prepared to give anything away and I’m looking forward to the Champions League game between them  on the fifteenth of this month. The point was enough to take Seongnam to the top of the table on goal difference, with Suwon moving ahead of Busan and into seventh place, two points away from a play-off position. For those following the progress of Lee Dong Gook’s Jeonbuk, their lack of a midweek game saw them slip to fifth, three points behind the new leaders but with a game in hand.

LG Twins v Nexen Heroes, Tuesday 31st August 2010, 6.30pm

September 7, 2010


After turning up for a non-existent baseball game the previous Sunday, I carefully checked the fixtures for tonight’s match with a couple of different sources. Although, with Doosan Bears and LG Twins sharing the same stadium you would be very unlucky to get to Jamsil and find that there wasn’t a game taking place. 

Mind you, when I arrived at about seven o’clock at the Sports Complex subway station I was beginning to wonder if it was a case of deja-vu. The game had supposedly started half an hour earlier but I was  a little concerned to find the station deserted. I’ve often turned up whilst the game is in progress and there is usually a steady stream of latecomers. When a match lasts for about four hours, it’s not so important to be there for the start. Fortunately when I got to the top of the subway exit steps I could see the old biddies with the stalls selling beer, gimbap, seaweed and various forms of octopus and squid.  Jen was a bit late and so I got myself a can of beer and went to sort the tickets. I sometimes think the entire Korean economy is kept afloat by four-foot tall grannies with tight curly perms and one of them offered me a couple of outfield tickets for four thousand won apiece. An evening at a sporting event doesn’t come much cheaper than that, but with rain in the air I had to turn her down and I got two for the main stand from the ticket office at twice the price, still good value though at the equivalent of four quid a pop. 

We got inside at 7.25pm and the game wasn’t yet halfway through the second innings. We’d missed a few runs as the score was three each, but there were still another seven and a half innings to go. Plenty of time to relax with a few drinks as the moths fluttered about in the dusk. 

Whilst it might not have been deja-vu in terms of arriving at an empty stadium, it certainly was deja-vu in terms of the teams playing. I’d been here nine days previously to watch LG take on Nexen and it was the those two teams again this evening. That’s one of the drawbacks of an eight team league. I think the regular season fixtures were scheduled to have been finished by now and these games are the ones that had been due to take place earlier in the season but had been cancelled for one reason or another. 

Home fans.

It was quite handy in one way, as I could remember some of the players. The young lad who was the starting pitcher for LG Twins last time was still in the team, although Nexen had a different bloke opening for them. It’s quite strange now that I’ve got a bit of knowledge about whats going on, I’m watching the games differently to the way I did at the start of the season when I just drank my beer and waited for the ball to be hit into the crowd. It helps that Jen knows what she’s talking about, well, with baseball anyway, and she was able to talk me through the batting average statistic this time. It’s a bit like a batting average in cricket really, the higher the better and most seemed to be around the 0.2 to 0.3 area. 

As a beginner I do sometimes wonder if I’m focusing on completely the wrong aspects of the game though. I can remember when I started taking my son Tom to the Boro games as a small kid. He would always ask me on the way to the match who I thought would take the kick off to start the game. Not which team, but which player. Whilst I would try to point out to him that this was of little consequence, he never seemed too impressed that I either had no idea or invariably got it wrong. It tended to make him doubt the validity of anything else that I told him for the rest of the day. 

There was a very low crowd for the game, possibly explaining why the subway was so quiet. LG Twins had a couple of thousand fans but Nexen must have had little more than the players Mams and Dads as there couldn’t have been more than fifty of them in total, despite them being a Seoul based team. Nexen are currently second bottom of the league with no chance of making the play-offs, whilst I think sixth placed LG might still have a slim chance of finishing in the fifth place that prolongs their season. 

Away fans

As the empty beer cans accumulated  I concentrated less on the stats and more on the oddities. The players only have two minutes between innings so I was curious to see how rushed the catcher would be, particularly on those occasions where he was on one of the bases when his team’s batting innings ended. The answer isn’t very rushed at all. They tend to stroll back to the dugout as if they have all day and then slowly put on the protective shin, chest and head guards whilst the reserve catcher gets to go onto the grass and help the pitcher with his warm up. 

We nearly got hit by a ball at one point despite being in the upper tier. It bounced a couple of rows in front of us and made the small kid who got it very happy. Almost as happy as the grown man who had vaulted a fence a few moments earlier after the previous mis-hit into the crowd and beat the kids to the ball, which he then very carefully put into his briefcase. 


There wasn’t a lot more scoring with LG drawing level in the fifth innings in bizarre circumstances as the Nexen pitcher managed to send one down that went over the head of the catcher, allowing a player to get home from third as the ball was retrieved. It was still five apiece when in the seventh innings LG took the young kid off and brought in their relief pitcher. He didnt last long though as he was replaced at the start of the ninth, by which time the Twins had taken a 6-5 lead. The third pitcher lasted even less time than the second as with just the one batter out in the ninth he was replaced by the fourth Twins pitcher of the innings. The new lad managed to get the last two Heroes players out meaning that the Twins didn’t need to take their final innings. 

I’m looking forward to the playoffs where hopefully we’ll be back to full houses, players who don’t have their minds on their holidays and coaches who aren’t tempted to give every pitcher on the books a bit of game time.

SK Wyverns v KIA Tigers, Sunday 29th August 2010, 5pm

September 6, 2010

I didn’t really have high expectations for this game. The weather had been absolutely atrocious all morning and there were small rivers running down the street outside of my apartment. Incheon, where Sk Wyverns play, is quite a distance from central Seoul though and the weather forecast for there was slightly better.

I’d arranged to meet Jen there, plan A being that we would have a picnic on the grass whilst sitting in the sun watching a bit of baseball. Plan B, if needed, was that we would sit high in the stand drinking beer whilst watching the players dodge on and off the pitch between showers. Either option struck me as being a pleasant way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

It takes about an hour and a half to get to Munhak and when we arrived it was raining quite heavily. There were a lot of people milling about the entrance to the subway, mainly teenage girls and it turned out that they were attending a concert at the football stadium. I could hear the bands that were low down on the bill and it sounded like the stuff on Galaxy that my daughter tortures me with in the car when I’m home.

I had a wander up to the stadium and it was apparent that the game was off. There was nobody at all visible in the stands and the ticket office was closed. It had obviously been called off quite some time ago. There were plenty of food stalls around the subway entrance so it was on to Plan C. We had a corn dog each and I drank the emergency beers that I was carrying in case of situations like this. Corn dogs, for those who don’t know, are a hot dog that is pushed longways onto a stick and then encased completely in a bread roll. It then has a further layer of breadcrumbs or something on top of that so it resembles one of those hand grenades on a stick that the Germans used to use. The whole thing is deep fried. I know it sounds as if it’s Scottish but I think it’s actually an American snack

After we’d cleared off home I discovered that the website I’d used for the fixtures was wrong and whilst we’d been sat in the rain at Munhak, SK Wyverns had actually been playing a couple of hundred miles or so away in Busan against the Lotte Giants.  Next week I plan to go to the Olympic Stadium on the off-chance that Man Utd might be playing Liverpool when I get there. I’ll take some sandwiches too I think.

Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma v Jeonbuk Motors, Saturday 28th August 2010, 8pm

September 4, 2010

I’d made plans to go hiking on the day of this game but I slept in and was then discouraged by the weather from doing much else. At the moment it seems as if the rainy season is never ending. I try to only do interesting stuff on a weekend, but unfortunately ended up having to try and salvage something from the day with a trip to the big supermarket Homeplus for some shopping. I wouldn’t normally have mentioned it but I saw something on the way in that I thought you might like to know about. The Chuseok holiday is approaching and it’s quite a big deal over here. People get three days off work and they tend to go back to their home town to pay their respects to their dead ancestors.

If they have any live ancestors they usually give them a present and this years ’must have’ gift appears to be a Spam Box Set. You can get them in various sizes depending, I suppose, on the amount of respect you have for the intended receipient. Some of the more extravagant boxes include bottles of what I’m guessing is a suitable dressing for tinned chopped pork.

Happy Chuseok

After the excitement of a trip to the shops I took the forty minute ride on the subway to Seongnam’s ground. It’s actually the closest K-League stadium to me, so it’s a little surprising that it’s taken me six months to see my first game there. I wasn’t quite sure of the directions once I got out of the subway so I thought I’d take a taxi. The first three drivers that I tried appeared not to understand Tancheon Soccer Stadium, nor my mime of an exquisitely crafted chip into the top corner. When I got into taxi number four I realised why the others weren’t interested. We turned the first corner thirty yards away and I could see the stadium just ahead. It was no more than a ten minute walk.

The view on exiting the taxi.

I bought a ticket for the west stand for twelve thousand won on the basis that it had the biggest roof. The rain was still coming down and I wanted to be sure of staying dry. If I’d taken the option of joining the fans behind the goal then I could have got in for seven thousand won. The players were about to come out onto the pitch as I took my seat and a guard of honour was waiting for them, complete with balloons in the team colours.

Guard of Honour with balloons

The balloons were released as the players stood for the National Anthem and they floated a couple of hundred feet up into the air. Unfortunately the weight of the rain slowed the ascent of the balloons and then as they got wetter it caused them to drift back down again and litter the pitch. The ref had to stop proceedings at one point and enlist the help of a player to burst them.

Away they go, although not for long.

The stadium looked as if it used to be the classic multi purpose sports facility, with the pitch inside an athletics track, an open topped oval bowl and one big covered stand. A recent refurbishment though had added a roof to the rest of the oval and it had continued around to protect the people sitting in the lower tier of the main stand. It looked a bit odd and I think it would have been  better if the main stand had been left as it was. The roof on the lower section seemed to unnecessarily restrict the view, both of the sky and of the areas of the pitch that were obscured by the stanchions.

The main West Stand with the new lower tier roof and the Jeonbuk fans in the South Stand.

The pitch was in a terrible condition. Some areas were grassless and rutted as if someone had been tractor racing on them, other parts had been patched by new turf  that looked as if it had been freshly laid over the top of the existing surface. It cut and bunched up whenever anyone went within five yards of it.

Lee Dong Gook was captaining Jeonbuk. He was wearing a fluorescent orange armband reminiscent of the one I was given as part of a road safety campaign as a small child. If only I’d been able to see into the future all those years ago as I played football in the playground with the orange armband on my duffle coat, I could have imagined I was Lee Dong Gook rather than Georgie Best. He was wearing fluorescent orange boots too, something that would have would have been deemed akin to witchcraft if I’d turned up at Fredrick Nattrass Junior school wearing something similar in 1971.

Jeonbuk, in their white away strips,  played with their usual five man midfield formation,  Lee Yo Han and Sung Jong Hyun sitting deep and Eninho, Kang Seung Jo and Kim Hyung Bum supporting lone striker Lee Dong Gook. Seongnam, who were in yellow shirts and black shorts played a similar system with former Partizan Belgrade striker Dzenan Radoncic leading the line.

A Seongnam corner, attacking the South Stand.

Not a lot happened in the first fifteen minutes or so, Jeonbuk had a couple of long range shots, but I think both teams were struggling to adapt to the state of the pitch. There was plenty of support from the travelling fans, most of the three hundred or so that had made the trip were in their usual green shirts and they kept up the singing throughout. Seongnam had about fifty fans in the north stand, but they didn’t really make much of a contribution. There were perhaps a further thousand people in total shared between the east and west stands.

As the half went on Seognam seemed to be adjusting to the conditions better than Jeonbuk, who I felt were missing the influence of Luiz Henrique in midfield. The home side should have gone ahead after twenty six minutes when one of them broke from midfield like Alan Foggon used to do but then after a neat one-two put his shot over the bar in a finish that was more like Billy Woof. It was a temporary reprieve for Jeonbuk though as a couple of minutes later Radoncic took a pass on the edge of the box, turned well and put Seognam one up.


I missed the build up to the goal unfortunately as I was trying to see what television programme the bloke sat in front of me was watching on his mobile phone.

I think it was what the Koreans call 'Dramas' and we call 'Soaps'.

It should really have been 2-0 to Seongnam a few minutes later when all Kim Jin Yong had to do was square the ball to Radoncic, but he greedily had a shot. That was it for the first half apart from a yellow card for Jeonbuk midfielder Lee Yo Han when he slid in two footed and might easily have got a red.

At half time we were treated to the sight of the groundsman trying to repair the large patch of new turf near the tunnel whilst being hindered by fans or sponsors standing on it to take part in a competition to see who could hit a thirty yard pass nearest to a target. Quite why they couldn‘t have moved out of his way and shot from twenty seven yards instead wasn’t wholly apparent and the turf didnt look much better as the second half kicked off.

That'll help the new turf settle.

There were a few chances in the second half, Lee Dong Gook played a nice lobbed through ball for Kim Hyung Bum which brought a good save from the keeper and Radoncic nearly added to his first half goal with a shot from out side the area that Jeonbuk keeper Kim Min Sik managed to tip onto the inside of the post. The Columbian international Mauricio Molina had a decent opportunity for Seongnam only to put it wide when clear through on the keeper, causing him to welly the advertising hoarding behind the goal in frustration.

Seongnam attacking the North Stand end.

Jeonbuk, despite moving Sim Woo Yeon up into attack from central defence, never really looked like scoring and it remained 1-0. The Senognam fans in the north stand celebrated at the end by lighting a flare as they moved ahead of Jeonbuk and into second place in the table.

Celebration time.

The defeat meant that Jeonbuk slipped back down to fourth position, although they were within three points of new leaders Jeju United.