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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.