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

 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.

1-0.

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.

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