Archive for November, 2010

Jeonbuk Motors v Gyeongnam, Saturday 20th November 2010, 3pm

November 27, 2010

This match marked the start of the play-offs in the K-League. For those not familiar with the format the league isn’t decided by the final placings, of course not, that’s far too simple. Instead we have an extra three weeks tagged onto the end of the season where the top six sides battle it out for the championship. I’m fine with that as it gives me the chance to watch a bit more football, although if I were a player or a fan of the team that had topped the table then I might just feel a little differently.

Jeonbuk finished third in the league and so this entitled them to a home tie against the sixth placed team, Gyeongnam. The winners of that game will play the winners of the fourth against fifth clash between Ulsan and Seongnam. Whoever comes out on top in that match will be given the a Champions League spot and an away tie at second placed Jeju United. The victorious team in that contest will then play table toppers Seoul over two legs for the title. Seoul and Jeju have already been awarded Champions League places for finishing first and second, as has Suwon Bluewings as a reward for winning the FA Cup.

The trip to Jeonju for the first of the play-off fixtures was looking as if it might be a bit more eventful than my usual jaunt to a game as I was traveling down with three lads from a messageboard I use. They’ve all been here in Korea for a bit longer than me and so know their stuff where local football is concerned.

 The plan was that we would have a few beers on the KTX from Yongsan to Iksan and then meet up with another four lads at the stadium in a sort of  post-season piss up. I always think traveling on a train to a football match and talking bollocks with like minded people over a few cans is one of life’s pleasures and it’s something I don’t do often enough these days.

My son Tom and I went down to Peterborough on the train last season to watch the Boro and we were fortunate enough to get a table opposite a couple of other Boro fans. The journey flew by as despite never having met before we were able to share memories of past games, European trips and of players long gone. In an added bonus that day, we got to re-live standing on the terrace behind the goal too.

Peterborough away, a rare return to the terraces.

The journey to Iksan was very similar in that we were able to get a table for four on the train where we passed a very pleasant couple of hours accumulating empty cans whilst talking football. Once there, we restocked with beer at a convenience store outside the station and then got a taxi for the twenty minute drive to the ground.

Jeonju World Cup Stadium is actually about halfway between Iksan and Jeonju stations, so it makes sense to just get the cab from Iksan, rather than changing trains there, travelling on to Jeonju and then getting in a taxi. I wish I’d known that earlier in the season when I’d ruled out being able to attend a Jeonbuk Sunday evening game because there wasn’t a connecting train from Jeonju that would have got me back to Seoul that night. Still, that’s one of the advantages of traveling with people who know what they are doing.

Iksan Station, on the way to a previous game.

One of the good things about Jeonbuk is the selection of food and drink stalls outside the stadium. Or at least it normally is, it seems that most of them have gone now that the weather has got colder, but we did manage to get a bit of chicken on a stick and a few bottles of makgeolli. The chicken tasted like it may very well have been on the stick since the busier days of the summer, but the makgeolli went down well, as it always does. We made our way into the ground and got some more beer before taking our seats in the East Stand.

The Jolly Boys' Outing

The East Stand was fairly full, or at least it was in the lower tier where we were. There weren’t too many people in the rest of the stadium though. A few Gyeongnam fans to our left, possibly a couple of bus-loads, with maybe five or six hundred Jeonbuk fans to our right.

Jeonbuk fans

Lee Dong Gook was captaining Jeonbuk, who started strongly, taking the lead after ten minutes through Cho Sung Hwan. The action was secondary to the drinking and talking though, as it tends to be for a fair number of people at Korean football games.

I've been at games where this would have doubled the crowd.

By the time the second half got underway I couldn’t really tell you very much about the detail of the game, apart from Jeonbuk were still winning. Not that you tend to get a lot of detail in these write-ups anyway. I can remember that the fried chicken seemed ok, but you should probably assume that it was more as a consequence of the cans of Hite than take it as any endorsement of the catering. At least the chicken had bones in it. I’d had some chicken at Seoul’s stadium recently where the manufacturer had gone to the trouble to mould what were effectively chicken nuggets into a variety of shapes such as wings and legs. I don’t know why they bothered. If I’ve decided that I’m going to eat reconstituted and bleached mechanically recovered chicken eyelids, I don’t need to be kidded that I’m eating actual limbs of a whole chicken, albeit one that has been very cleverly bred not to have any bones in it.

A few months ago I was in quite a badly lit basement bar and I ordered what looked, from the picture, to be chicken pieces, hopefully breast and perhaps in a sweet and sour sauce. Fortunately someone came out from the kitchen to query my order and to check that I really did want a plate of chicken feet. Which I didn’t.

Chicken feet, best served in dimly lit bars.

Anyway, by the time I’d had enough chicken wings Eninho had got a second goal for the home team to seal the victory and book Jeonbuk’s place in the next round of the play-offs. They seem to be coming back into form after their late season wobble and it wouldn’t surprise me if they progress a bit further.

The ref checks his watch.

We made our way outside after the game and by borrowing a couple of barriers from the car park had a kick around in the shadow of the World Cup Stadium whilst the rest of the crowd headed for home.

Rumours of a new K4 Division.

With the impromptu game of four-a-side finished, we ended up in Jeonju for the night where I recall eating in one of those barbecue restaurants before sloping off to bed early. There’s a limit to how long I can drink these days and ten hours is pretty much as good as it gets. I’ve no idea what the next game I’ll get to will be, it depends really on whether Seongnam progress in the play-offs which would enable me to get to the first leg of the final. I’ll definitely be at the second leg of the final though in Seoul, which will bring the season to a conclusion and which should give me another opportunity to eat fake chicken legs.

Samcheok v Gyeongju Citizen, Saturday 13th November 2010, 2pm

November 18, 2010

I haven’t seen very much of the third division whilst I’ve been here which surprises me a bit. If I’d had to forecast at the start of the season what I’d get up to I’d have thought my trips to matches would have been fairly equally spread amongst the divisions. But it hasn’t worked out that way and whilst I’ve been to almost all of the top division stadiums I’ve only managed to get to a single K3 game so far.

I had an opportunity to double my tally for the season last Saturday though as it was the first leg of the K3 Play-off final, with Samcheok hosting Gyeongju Citizen. Samcheok is quite a trek from Seoul and I remembered it from spending an hour or so there a few months ago when I changed buses on the way to the Hwanseon Cave.

Hwanseon Cave

But, you have to be somewhere, and whilst a four and a half hour journey each way to watch two poor teams contest a match where I had little interest in the outcome seems a bit of an odd way to spend a day, it does have its plus points.

Apart from enjoying watching live football, I quite like the traveling. The buses are comfortable with wide single seats and I tend to alternate between reading a book and looking at some fantastic scenery. This journey went through the mountains, where I saw plenty of graves in the hillsides and as I got close to Samcheok, which is on the east coast of Korea, I had some decent views of the sea.

As we drove along the seafront I did think that maybe I should have made this a weekend trip and seen a bit more of the area, but I’d already arranged to do a bit of hiking with Jen the next day. We’d walked the first fifteen kilometres of the Bukhansan Dullegil the week before and I was looking forward to doing the next fifteen or so. Actually, I’ll fill you in on how the hike went now and then get back to the football. I think these things read a bit better if they finish off with the match.

So, on the previous week’s hike we had ended up north of Sangbangjong, where the path turns to the east in the direction of Gangbuk-gu.

Bukhansan Dullegil

Our plan for the second leg had been to get the 704 bus from Gupabal subway station back to where we had left the trail and then hike through the valley towards Gangbuk –gu. We would then carry on beyond the Information Centre until we found a convenient point to leave the trail having done somewhere around fifteen kilometres.  This would mean that we could complete the 44km trail on a third visit. Unfortunately plenty of other hikers had the same plan and the buses all seemed too full to even bother trying to get into them. We took a taxi instead and beat the crowds.

It was fortunate that we did get there before the buses as when we passed the Park Ranger Post we were stopped and told it was reservations only to go beyond that point. Again we were in luck as that day’s quota hadn’t been reached and we were given a slip of paper and waived through. Fifty yards up the road we reached another checkpoint, this time manned by a couple of soldiers complete with tin hats. They seemed content to let the Rangers do all the work and didn’t even come out of their sentry hut.

Some of the peaks that we saw from the valley were spectacular, with rocks on the top that looked likely to fall if given the slightest touch. Perhaps that was why we couldn’t see anyone on those hills.

Bukhansan rocks.

As far as wildlife went, we didnt see much. There were plenty of signs telling us of the various species that lived in the area, but all that we spotted were a couple of dogs that weren’t very wild at all.

Bukhansan wildlife

The section of the trail where entrance was restricted was a very pleasant walk, with far fewer hikers than we’d seen on the rest of the trail. The woods were close to a couple of military bases and it looks as if they had used the area for training. We passed a watchtower and a small parade ground and at one point along the route there were anti-tank defences.

Anti-tank defences. Or something.

Once we got to the other side of the valley the route skirted the edges of the city. Whilst I’m happier being up in the hills this did have its advantages, mainly that I could forget about the roll of gimbap that I’d packed for lunch and get something a little better. We went into a restaurant that specialised in mutton and had barbecued lamb chops instead. I can’t think of a single hike I’ve ever done that wouldnt have been improved by stumbling across a restaurant that allows you to barbecue lamb chops at lunchtime.

We did pass a few other restaurants along the route, quite a few of them having signs outside informing passers-by that they specialised in the combination of dog and duck. As The Dog and Duck is quite a popular name for a pub in the UK, I was amused by the prospect of a Korean visitor to the UK seeing the pub sign and popping in for some familiar food.

In the afternoon we walked on for about another three hours, passing a cemetery dedicated to the victims of the 19th April 1960 massacre of protesters by soldiers.

April 19th Cemetery

We couldn‘t get into the cemetery from the trail, but there was an observation point that gave us a good view of it from up on the hillside. I’m not quite sure exactly where we left the trail later in the day, but hopefully we will manage to find our way back to complete the final section.

Right, back to the football. I’d left the Seoul Express Bus Terminal at half past nine in the morning and I didn’t get to Samcheok until ten to two in the afternoon. The bus had about ten passengers on it to start with, but then dropped most of them off at Donghae, which is a town just along the coast from Samcheok and as it has a beach and a harbour it looks like somewhere worth visiting. Mind you, after four hours on a bus, even  places like Billingham start to look like they are tourist hotspots.

As we approached Samcheok I spotted the football ground on the outskirts of the town. A little further along the route I also noticed a banner advertising the game. The good news was that I’d got the date right. However I hadn’t been quite so precise with my understanding of the kick-off time. I was under the impression that it was a three o’clock start, whilst the banner had it down as 2pm. As it was already ten to two and I wasn’t yet at the bus terminal that wasn’t the best development.

It worked out ok though. When I got off the bus I was fortunate enough to get into a taxi whose driver knew where the football stadium was and I arrived at the ground a couple of minutes after kick-off.

Samcheok Football Stadium

It was free to get in and you just sat where you liked. Mind you, as the total attendance in the fifteen thousand capacity stadium was no more than about one hundred and fifty people, it wasn’t a fixture where much stewarding was required.

One of the teams was wearing a red strip, the other was in white. I had no idea which team was which and as the half went on I didn’t really get any wiser. I think that I was sat with the Samcheok fans, although as they weren’t wearing any colours and with most of them seeming to cheer everything that was going on regardless of who did it, I couldn’t be absolutely certain.

The chants were led by a bloke with a drum who appeared to have brought a class or two of schoolkids with him.As he banged the drum they would chant each players name in turn. Occasionally he would vary the routine by giving the drum a rest and by hitting an iron railing with a saucepan instead.

Samcheok supporters.

The stadium was quite typical of older Korean grounds. It was oval shaped, with a running track and with a small covered stand along part of one side. The remainder of the oval was uncovered terracing. Where it did differ from other places was the playing surface. It was grass, which isn’t too unusual, but it was yellow grass, which tends to be a bit rarer. Particularly as we are only a few weeks past an uncommonly lengthy rainy season.

Maybe a little watering might be an idea.

It was a fairly typical first leg, with both sides not wanting to give too much away. There were a few running personal battles between the players which were making the play a bit niggly and the number nine for the white team was spoken to a couple of times for not disguising the sly digs at his marker a bit more professionally.

At half time I nipped outside and after being given a free coffee I bought a hot dog in a bun that had been inserted onto a stick and then deep fried. It tasted as bad as you would expect it to. I decided I would watch the second half from the other side of the covered stand and so I made my way past the main entrance. I was surprised to see eleven brand new bikes lined up by the front door, hopefully they would be the prize for the winning team. I’m sure that they would be a lot more use than a medal. Back in the nineteen seventies I can remember the winners of the League Cup getting a tankard each rather than a medal, but a bike would be even better, although I’m not sure about the practicalities of doling them out from the Royal Box and then having to manhandle them back down the Wembley steps again. It would make the lap of honour that bit quicker though.

Bikes outside the main entrance.

As I took my seat for the second half I noticed that I was now sat with the other set of fans. I was fairly sure that this lot were supporting Gyeongju, who by now I had concluded were the team in white. Gyeongju is a town from a lot further down the coast. I was there a couple of months ago with Jen, after we had been to a barbecue out in the countryside nearby. It has some old tombs in a park that looks like teletubbyland and every second shop sells nothing but barley bread.


The Gyeongju fans were as noisy as the Samcheok ones that I’d sat near in the first half. There were probably about thirty of them, although I did wonder if they had been expecting more when I saw the supplies that they had brought with them. Even though we were into the second half they still had cases of food and drink unopened. They looked a lot rougher than their Samcheok counterparts. Perhaps it’s a harder life in tellytubbyland. One of them, who I’ll call Tinky Winky, was leading the chanting. He didn’t have a drum or a saucepan, which is probably just as well, as judging from his looks I suspected that he was prone to smacking himself in the chops with a saucepan rather than banging it on the railings.

Gyeongju supporters

They had a chant that might have been “Gyeongju“, but it actually sounded more like “Dog Dirt“. I really hope that it was one of their players names.

Both sides had their chances, although I dont really remember either keeper making a save of note and the game finished up at 0-0.

View from the other side.

By this time I’d made a circuit of the terracing and ended up back where I’d started. In addition to the usual bowing I was treated to a salute from the Samcheok players.


After the players had left the pitch most people wandered down onto the yellow grass for a raffle where just about everyone seemed to win a scarf, ball or a bike.

Everyone's a winner.

After a while I left them to it and walked back into town. It took me about half an hour to reach the bus terminal and ten minutes after that I was on my way back to Seoul.

Suwon Bluewings v Jeonbuk Motors, Sunday 7th November 2010, 3pm

November 14, 2010

This week saw the final round of matches in the K-League and I made my way down to Suwon for the visit of Jeonbuk. With it being an afternoon kick-off I did think about setting off early and doing a circuit of the fortress wall that surrounds the old city. I’d walked it in a clockwise direction before Suwon’s game against Daejeon Citizen earlier in the season and thought it would be interesting to see it from an anti-clockwise perspective.

I didn’t bother in the end though. I’d been hiking with Jen the day before and we had finished up later on in one of those barbecue restaurants where you cook your own food. This one was slightly different though as in addition to the pieces of meat, you also got an assortment of shellfish, fresh from the aquarium. I made a bit of an error in putting some of the more explosive ones straight onto the grill rather than keeping them in their loosely wrapped foil, but injuries were minimal. Apart from to the shellfish, of course, but they gave their lives in a good cause.

The hiking was interesting. Or it was to me. You will have to make your own mind up. I’d read about a new trail that had opened in the Bukhansan National Park and that circles around the main peaks and goes through some of the small villages, across some newly installed skywalks and along paths that had been closed to the public for over thirty years. The entire Dullegil circuit presently consists of 44km and we thought it would be ideal for getting around on three separate days out. For the first of these we set off from Bulgwang subway station and walked clockwise in the direction of Yangju-si.

This is the map, although we didn't bother with one.

During the fifteen kilometres that we walked we saw exactly what we had expected to as we moved from wandering though small groups of houses to heading up into the hills where we often looked down upon Seoul.

Somewhere along the route.

We occasionally passed graves and for those wishing to delay their eventual burial, exercise areas, including at one point a couple of badminton courts deep in the woods.

The exercise machines proved popular with the senior citizens.

If I had a criticism of the route it would be that some of  it was along the pavement next to a particularly busy road. It’s a shame that these sections couldn’t have been replaced  by a trail, maybe a hundred yards or so away from the traffic. The route was also very busy at certain points, some groups of hikers seemed to have upwards of  fifty or sixty people in them.

Another quiet day in the countryside.

We stumbled across some sort of gathering in the yard of what might have been a restaurant. I’m a bit vaguer than normal because I didn’t really know what was going on. However what I can say is that it involved a couple of women in tradition dress and a whole pig wrapped in not so traditional polythene. It reminded me of a party that I’d once ended up at in Loftus after an afternoon on the drink and so we sensibly kept our distance.

Not too bad a bacon sandwich.

It’s a popular season for hiking at the moment as it’s the time of year when the leaves change colour and drop off the trees. It’s a big deal here, with different regions touting themselves as the perfect place to see the multi-coloured foliage. The Tourist Office even publishes tables showing the dates when the views will be at their most spectacular for each park. Back home we just call it Autumn. There was the odd bit of wildlife about and we saw a squirrel and one of those little chipmunk things, but didn’t manage to spot any bears or wolves.

Dead leaves. Whoopy do.

Anyway, the cumulative effects of the hike and the subsequent beers that accompanied the explosive clams meant that I didn’t get around to walking around the Suwon Fortress Wall. I’m getting better at making my way to Suwon though and in a rare feat of co-ordination I took the subway to Sadang and then got off it to transfer to a bus that dropped me right outside of the Bluewings Stadium.

I still had a couple of hours to go before kick-off and so decided to get some lunch. There was a chinese restaurant nearby that looked like the sort of place that would have photos on its menu so I went in there. It did have some very small pictures of the food but unfortunately they were no help at all as I couldn’t recognise what any of them were. They were quite expensive as well compared to the items that didn’t have photos alongside them so I suspected that they were the set meals. I didn’t really want to order dinner for five people, and so I just pointed at one of the cheaper menu entries and hoped that I had actually selected some food rather than chosen from a list of delivery charges to various destinations. One of the staff was then given the task of  repeating the same Korean phrase over and over again, possibly in the belief that I spoke Korean but was just being stubborn in not answering. I hoped that she was querying my order rather than informing me that my trousers were on fire.

I resigned myself to receiving a bowl of plain rice at best, or if things went particularly badly wrong, maybe some raw kidney garnished with chicken eyeballs. The chef even came out of the kitchen to gawp at the foreigner, which left me in no doubt that I must have ordered the first lark’s tongue omelette that he had cooked in a decade.

When it arrived though, I was in luck. I’d got a spicy noodle soup with bits of seafood in, a few mussels, some octopus legs, that sort of thing. Very nice it was too. Not too many lark’s tongues or chicken’s eyeballs at all.

I was meeting some people before the game so I got a few cans of that Japanese beer in the silver tins and made my way up to the stadium to wait for them. They’ve got a few sculptures on the grass on the way in and a toilet block in the shape of a football.

Just in case you didn't believe me.

I found a table outside of a cafe and drank my beer whilst I watched the crowd turning up. There’s a stage about a hundred yards away from the cafe and a band that were due to perform after the match were setting up and playing the odd number. It was quite a pleasant way to while away a bit of time.

The stage is behind those people.

I’d been there for close to an hour when the lads I was meeting turned up and by that time I’d worked my way through the Japanese beer and had replenished my stocks with Cass from the cafe. I knew them from a football messageboard, but it was the first time I’d met them in real life and the plan was for them to record a brief chat with me to use on a podcast that they do. I wasn’t wholly convinced about the wisdom of this as they seem to know their stuff about Korean football and I found it hard to imagine what I could possibly say that would prove either interesting or informative to their listeners. I just turn up at games, wander about aimlessly with a can in my hand and then drift off home at the end hopefully after managing to establish which team was which. I briefly provided a segment on Spanish football for an American podcast a few years ago and just about killed that show off after three weeks. Still, I consoled myself with the thought that as it’s quite new they probably don’t have many listeners anyway, so I wouldn’t be wasting too many people’s time.

We recorded about four minutes of gibberish, which will no doubt sound like they selected a bloke to interview without first enquiring if he knew what football was, before going into the ground. I thought that I might as well just go into the Suwon end with them. Suwon has the liveliest fans I’ve seen over here, so I’d be able to stand all game, plus in the convoluted play-off permutations I was hoping that Jeonbuk would lose and be overtaken by Seongnam so that one of the midweek games would be in Seoul and not Jeonbuk.

I picked up a couple more beers and joined in as if I’d been a Suwon fan all my life. I suppose a perfect result would have been a high scoring win for the home team, with Lee Dong Gook rattling home a few for Jeonbuk. As expected the Suwon fans were pretty good and led by a band at the front plus blokes with megaphones, they really got behind their team.

Suwon supporters.

Their team though, was a lot less impressive. Eninho opened the scoring for Jeonbuk from a free kick early on and Lee Dong Gook soon added a second. Luiz Henrique made it three nil before half time.

Eninho finds the gap in the Suwon wall for the opener.

It didn’t really seem to bother the Suwon fans though and in a way I could see why. They had recovered from a terrible start to the season which had brought about the sacking of their manager, Korean legend Cha Bum Kun. It’s a great name, but how much better would it have been if his parents had given him the name Daf instead of Bum. Whilst Suwon hadn’t made the play-offs they had won the FA Cup a fortnight or so earlier and qualified for the Champions League. This game then was meaningless and just a chance for the fans to have a bit of fun before packing away their gear for the winter. As the second half started they unfurled a giant surfer over our heads that obscured the view of the pitch entirely. Probably for the best, I think, and anyway, it meant I didn’t miss anything as I nipped up onto the concourse for some more beer.

A good time to nip to the bar.

Jeonbuk added a fourth in the second half, before Suwon finally got a consolation goal. Lee Dong Gook then rounded things off with his second of the afternoon and Jeonbuk’s fifth.

1-5, final score.

It all gets a bit blurry after that. I know I got some more beer from that cafe near the stage before we went to a restaurant,where I remember topping my glass up from the pitchers on the tables but had to be told the following day that I’d had chicken to eat. This was followed by a spell watching the band on that stage near the cafe where in addition to yet more Cass I mixed things up a bit with a bottle of Soju. Eventually the tiredness from the previous days hiking must have taken its toll though and I headed off home, falling asleep on the bus and having to be woken by the driver when it stopped at Sadang. If he had let me sleep I may very well have ended up back at the stadium an hour after leaving.

Elsewhere Seoul got the win they required to top the table, with Jeju finishing second and Jeonbuk in third. Ulsan, Seongnam and Gyeongnam filled the other three play-off places.

The K-League has a week off before the play-offs begin so next week I’ll probably pop along to see the first leg of the third division play-off final at Samcheok. I’ve been there before and it does strike me as a place where a whole pig wrapped in polythene wouldn’t attract a second glance.

Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma v FC Seoul, Wednesday 3rd November 2010, 7.30pm

November 10, 2010

On Wednesday I went along to Seongnam in the hope that they would get at least a draw against Seoul and help Jeju to finish top of the table. I wouldn’t normally care who finishes top but I’ve got a weekend booked to Jeju that coincides with the date of the play-off final. If Seoul overtake Jeju at the top then Seoul will be hosting the game instead whilst I’ll be three hundred miles south watching a match on telly that’s taking place about five miles from where I live.

It doesn’t take me long to get to Seongnam, in fact I even had time to nip back to my apartment after work and pick up a coat, hat and gloves. It’s pretty cold at this time of year and so my usual work attire of a short-sleeved shirt wouldn’t have been much use. I know short-sleeved shirts aren’t particularly stylish, but it was ridiculously hot in the summer. Besides, they take a lot less ironing than a normal shirt, although with winter approaching I’ll soon be able to get away with my usual approach of wearing my shirts unironed, underneath a jumper.

The north east corner

I arrived at the ground well before kick off, bought a nine thousand won ticket for the east stand and got a couple of beers, although I wasn’t wholly convinced that chilled Cass was the most appropriate drink with the temperature dropping rapidly. Seongnam’s forward from Montenegro, Dzenan Radoncic was wearing tights and gloves as if the cold was a bit of a shock to him, although I wouldn’t have thought that the winters were much milder in his home country.

The game was fairly open with both teams looking to get forward at every opportunity before Seoul opened the scoring after about ten minutes with a scrappy goal. Bollocks. It got better though when Seongnam equalised a few minutes later. I was actually out of my seat celebrating for the first time at a Korean football match. It’s so much better when you care about the result, whatever the reason. I know that I won’t ever develop the same feelings for a Korean team that I have for the Boro, so maybe what I need to do is introduce a reason to care, perhaps with a big enough bet on the result to give the match that element of tension.

First half action.

My joy at the equaliser didn’t last long though as Seoul regained their lead just before the half hour. Double bollocks. They managed to stay ahead until the interval when despite having to drink them with my gloves on, I got another couple of beers from the chiller cabinet.

With it being half time I’m going to break off from the football to tell you about my most recent haircut. The actual clipping itself was just as you might have expected it to be, but afterwards the barber produced the sort of attachment that you see at garage forecourts for vacuuming the interior of cars and he gave my freshly cropped bonce a thorough hoovering. I’ve been to this barbers two or three times before and not had this particular treat. Perhaps they save it for regular customers and I’ve now been deemed worthy of the special attention. Whatever, I’d highly recommend it as a way of getting rid of the rogue clippings that a dusting with a brush or towel might miss and I’m sure it would work pretty well at getting rid of an infestation of head lice too.

Whilst I’m away from the subject of football I’m going to get on to the Olsen twins again, so to speak. A gratuitous photo in my last match report certainly seems to have increased the traffic to the blog. So much so, that I’m going to do it again. As I’ve never met Mary-Kate and Ashley, I don’t have any photos that I’ve taken myself, so I’ll have to ’borrow’ one from the internet. Not that it will be difficult, it looks as if there are one or two of them out there.

Olsen twins in a topless car

Mind you, it isn’t people mixing up the Olsen twins with the LG Twins that brings most visitors here, no, it’s people looking for bears. I know, you would think they would just try the woods. I’d like to believe that it was people searching for the bears that live in Jirisan National Park or the bear that sometimes appears at British Sea Power gigs, but I don’t really think it is. I think its more likely that people arrive here looking for big gay beardy blokes in checky shirts, only to come across a selection of relief pitchers for the Doosan Bears instead. Make your own joke up there, I’ve given you enough permutations.

Well, it’s a broad church here so if your interest is in bears, I’m happy to oblige. We can start with a shot of the British Sea Power Bear, Ursine Ultra, that I also found on the internet. And without any clothes on.

Nude bear

We can go back to the football now. The second half was just as end to end as the first had been with Seongnam pushing for an equaliser in front of their relatively small crowd. I’d been here a couple of weeks earlier for the Champions League semi final and the east and north stands had been fairly full that night. This game was played out in front of an almost empty stadium though. There were a few hundred visiting supporters who made plenty of noise, but I reckon the total attendance was probably no more than a couple of thousand people.

FC Seoul fans.

The Seoul manager, Nelo Vingada, didn’t seem too happy, despite his team hanging onto their lead. I can’t help but look at him and think of Alf Garnett. Stick a West Ham scarf around his neck and he would be a dead ringer.

FC Seoul manager Nelo Vingada

With Alf’s exhortations ringing in their ears, Seoul managed to hang on for the victory, a win which took them a point clear of Jeju at the top of the table with just one match left to play. The defeat for Seongnam prevented them from overtaking Jeonbuk, who remained in third place despite losing to Busan. That meant that I was likely to miss the final three play-off games if the placings remained unchanged. I had been hoping that Seongnam could pip Jeonbuk to gain themselves a home midweek tie in the battle between the third to sixth placed clubs. Without that though, it’s beginning to look as if the football season could be over a little earlier than expected for me and you’ll have a quieter winter to look forward too.  Still, I’ll no doubt be able to find a picture of a couple of bears indulging in a bit of snowballing or the Olsen twins in their stockings to keep the interest levels up.

FC Seoul v Busan I’Park, Sunday 31st October 2010, 2pm

November 4, 2010

It’s getting towards the end of the season, with only a week or so remaining in the battle for the play-off positions. I probably wouldn’t have bothered with this game normally as I’ve seen Seoul play at home a couple of times already and I’ve also been to their Sangam stadium to watch the national team twice. However, I’ve got a bit of a vested interest these days in how Seoul get on. The battle to finish top of the league and earn direct entry and home advantage in the play-off final on the 5th of December is a two horse race between Seoul and Jeju United. I’ve already got flights to Jeju booked for that weekend and the last thing I want to happen is for Seoul to pip them to the top spot and for me to miss the final game of the season because it’s taking place in Seoul whilst I’m in Jeju.

With that in mind, Jen and I went along to cheer on their opponents, Busan, in the hope that Seoul would drop some points. We’d travelled back from Cheonan that morning where we’d been to a Halloween party the night before at one of the universities there. Cheonan is about eighty kilometres south of Seoul and whilst it’s actually possibly to get there on one of the far-reaching subway lines, we went on the bus instead. It goes direct rather than stopping at each of the thirty odd subway stations between my apartment and Cheonan and so even with the heavy traffic it was still a little quicker.

I forgot to take any photos in Cheonan, so here's one I found on the internet.

We found a hotel close to the bus terminal in Cheonan and checked in. Mind you ’checking in’ makes it sound a lot more involved than it really is. You ask the price of a room for the night or the hour, depending upon your plans. Someone tells you the price though a small hole in a window and you then exchange cash for a key. No credit card swipe, no forms to fill in, they don’t even ask what your name is. You usually get given a little pack with the key that contains a toothbrush, a condom and a razor. The room was fifty thousand won (twenty eight quid), which seemed reasonable enough to us but was a bit too expensive for the four American lads that we spoke to outside. They told us that they had been tipped off that rooms were available in Cheonan for twenty thousand won. As all four were probably sleeping in the same room that would work out at less than three quid a head. Good value if you can find it, although deciding which one would have a shave, which one would clean his teeth and how the other two would make use of the condom could no doubt cause a few arguments amongst them.

As with the previous weekend, our room was unremarkable by Korean standards, the only feature of note being a mirror that filled the entire wall that the bed was positioned against. This gave me a bit of a shock the following morning when I awoke to the sight of a middle aged bloke with a shaven head staring straight back at me from about a foot away. For a brief moment I wondered just how drunk I’d got at the party the night before.

The answer, incidentally, is not very. I’d had a few cans and a bottle of wine but slowed the pace down with a couple of  Cuban cigars. I’d taken the cigars to assist with lighting the roman candles but in the end they weren’t needed due to the Firework Code being different over here. Or maybe it’s not applicable to the Chinese fireworks that Jen had bought. Perhaps it’s a translation issue. It may well be that if you type ’Use a taper and light fireworks one at a time at arm’s length then stand well back’ into something like Babelfish it comes out as ’Dip the end of the firework in the fire as if it’s a marshmallow and then wave it around a bit before pointing it vaguely skywards or in the direction of a security guard who has wandered over to see how imminently the campus is likely to be burnt down’.

This is how you do it over here.

The party had quite an American feel to it. Mainly, I suspect,  because the people there apart from me were all Americans. But that aside, the lanterns were made from pumpkins rather than turnips and we had something called Smores to eat. For those of you from the right side of the Atlantic, a Smore is made by heating a marshmallow in the fire (as if it were a firework), either on the end of a toasting fork or on a straightened wire coat hanger, depending on the poshness of the party you are at. The marshmallow is then eaten between two biscuits with a bit of chocolate added to it. We cheated apparently, by using biscuits already coated in chocolate.

I'm not sure if that's a firework being lit or a marshmallow being toasted.

If I remember rightly, I’m sure the Firework Code mentions dogs as well, possibly something about not letting them hold sparklers if they are under five years of age, I think. We didn’t have any sparklers unfortunately, but there were a couple of dogs there, both of which seemed to quite enjoy the whole occasion. Although the availability of sausages and chocolate biscuits might have had more to do with that than the roman candles. One of the dogs was a cross between a beagle and a pomeranian. Normally if anyone has a beagle, or even half a beagle, then that will set me off reminiscing about the one I had as a kid. Coincidentally, it had already happened that morning, as when taking a break from cycling along the Han River, I got talking to a Korean bloke who was walking a dog that he described as ’half beagle and half hush puppy’.

I didn't get a photo of the beagle/hush puppy cross, so here's a picture of the Han River instead.

It turns out that his dog used to do exactly the same things that mine did, legging it at every opportunity and supplementing a fairly bland diet with stuff that had a bit of a kick to it. I’m mainly thinking of electrical wires and rose bushes here. We spent a pleasant ten minutes chatting before I got back on my bike and left him to his dog walking. I feel as if I’m digressing more than normal here, but I’m just going to take it a little further before I bring it back in the direction of the football game.  I haven’t lost sight of it. Honest. On another of my brief bike ride pauses that morning I’d watched a few minutes of a baseball game alongside the river. It seems an ideal sport for unfit old blokes, most of whom were smoking whilst waiting their turn to bat or to be called up as a relief pitcher. Now that I find that my cigars aren’t necessary for lighting fireworks any more I might just have to take up playing baseball instead.

Saturday morning baseball next to the Han.

Right, back to the Halloween party. Or more specifically to the half beagle, half pomeranian dog that wasn’t allowed sparklers at the Halloween party. I’ve got a bit of reminiscing about the non-beagle side of his breeding too, although it’s reminiscing about someone reminiscing rather than a direct memory of my own. In fact, as the pomeranian in question belonged to my Grandad, it might actually be me reminiscing about my Mam reminiscing about what my Grandad had told her. I’m going to google ’reminiscing’ now to see if I’ve mentioned it enough times to bring this site up on the front page for nostalgia seekers. It will make a change to get some visitors who are searching for something other than the Olsen twins. They no doubt get a little bemused when their search directs them to this blog and to the LG Twins instead

However, I like to think that there’s something here for everyone and since this match report is all over the place anyway, it’s as good a week as any to slip in a picture of Mary-Kate and Ashley.

Olsen twins 2010 - A very popular search.

Anyway, back to the reminiscing and when my Granda was a kid, somewhere between the beginning of the twenty century and the start of the First World War, he had a dog. A pomeranian, to be more precise, although I’d be disappointed if you hadn’t guessed that for yourself by this point. It was a white pomeranian called Snowy and in the days when kids in the north-east of England didn’t have much apart from ricketts and a hacking cough, the dog was his pride and joy.

Snowy probably looked a bit like this. Initially, anyway.

Unfortunately Snowy passed away at some point, perhaps after catching my Granda’s cough. I don’t know for certain as that wasn’t part of the story. However, what happened next was passed down the generations. My Great Grandad, who apparently wasn’t one for the usual guff about dogs having gone to live on a farm, had Snowy skinned and made into a fireside rug. Yes, really. Not a very big rug I imagine, but a rug nevertheless. I’m now beginning to wonder if whenever they caught a mouse they would have them flattened and recycled as a drinks coaster. I hope so. Perhaps the intention was that they  would sit on what was left of Snowy as they lit fireworks and toasted Smores. Again, I’m guessing. My Granda did tell my Mam that he would lie with his face on the new rug and cry his eyes out, although in the days before you could watch the likes of the Olsen twins on television, an evening spent sobbing in front of an open fire was probably a bit of a treat.

The half pomeranian at the Halloween party is unlikely to meet a similar fate I suspect, and at sometime after midnight, with the fire burning out, the marshmallows all smored and the security guard due back at any moment with reinforcements we got a taxi to our hotel in Cheonan town centre. The driver had a sat nav but he obviously knew the way as he had it tuned into the Blackburn v Chelsea game instead. A nice way to round off the evening.

So, it’s taken a while, but eventually, the Seoul v Busan game. As we were hoping for Seoul to get beat we paid twelve thousand won to sit in the away end. At one point I thought we might be the only people behind that goal, but a few more Busan fans filtered in and sat near the front. I think it was probably the lowest crowd I’ve seen at a game in that ground and despite the attendance being officially stated at 28,000, I reckon that there were probably more like 8-10,000 there.

Not so many there.

Seoul took an early lead and then doubled it shortly after. It was a bit disappointing as Busan had looked fairly lively to start with. The visitors managed to pull a goal back just before half time though to give me a bit of hope.

Busan fans celebrate their goal

During the interval we were treated to an impressive display from some ninja people who with a variety of  jumps and kicks managed to thoughtfully litter the entire left side of the pitch with debris from smashed wooden boards. If they had brought on a couple of beagles to chew the boards up they couldn’t have made much more of a mess.

Would you make a mess like that at home?

In the second half Busan pushed for an equaliser, but it just wouldn’t come. They had enough of the play but they rarely managed a shot on target. Seoul did their best to run out the clock with plenty of timewasting, although I did wonder how often the physio was being called on to the pitch to extract balsa wood splinters from a players arse rather than to assess a footballing injury.

Busan push for a second goal.

The home team wrapped it up with a third goal towards the end to make it increasingly likely that Jen and I will be at the pony races in Jeju on the final weekend of the season rather than the World Cup Stadium.

If you were wondering about Jeonbuk and Lee Dong Gook, they won. I actually saw a bit of their second half on the telly in our Cheonan hotel room. A 3-1 victory over Chunnam Dragons taking them into third place in the table. Lee Dong Gook was captaining the team, although he didn’t score himself this week. He was subbed with a few minutes remaining and the game safely in the bag.

Next match for me will be midweek at Seongnam, where I’ll be hoping that they will make a better effort at taking points off Seoul than Busan managed.

Busan I’Park v Suwon Bluewings, Sunday 24th October 2010, 4pm

November 1, 2010

At the weekend Jen and I went down to Busan for the Korean FA Cup Final. We’d had a bit of a choice to make as the first Korean Formula 1 Grand Prix was also taking place on the same day. In a way, I felt I should go and watch the motor racing. It’s a global event and with it being the first time that it had been staged in Korea, I suppose it’s a fairly historical occasion too.

Having said that, I went to Silverstone last year for the British Grand Prix and I wasn’t too impressed with it. Don’t get me wrong, I had a great time. I picked my son Tom up at a nearby railway station and then we spent the weekend camping about half an hours walk from the circuit. But it was the social side that I liked best. The race itself wasn’t particularly easy to follow live and I don’t think the weekend would have been any less enjoyable if we had just gone camping and watched the race on the telly.

The tents weren't too sturdy and the BBQ wouldn't light, but apart from that...

I think the main problem was that you don’t really get enough information when you are watching the race at the track. I was never really sure which car was leading and you miss most of the action by being limited to a single viewpoint. The cars are so loud that I needed to wear earplugs and that meant that I couldn’t hear any tannoy announcements or even have a conversation with Tom. The people in the know had hired little five-inch tellies so that they could stay up to-date with what was going on. I just thought that if you are going to watch it on a screen, you might as well choose a large one in a bar somewhere and avoid paying two hundred and fifty pounds for the privilege of being deafened.

That's Jensen Button. Probably. Although it could be his team mate.

So in the end we plumped for the football. There was a firework display in Busan on the Saturday night and that helped swing it too. It was probably a wise choice. Despite the tempting prospect early in the week of free tickets to the Grand Prix being dished out to foreigners, it seemed like a lot of people struggled to get into the circuit. I read that seats were just allocated on a first-come, first-served basis, which must be a little annoying if you were one of the early bookers who had shelled out a few hundred quid for a prime spot.

We set off for Busan on the Saturday morning on the KTX and less than three hours later we were there. We’d decided to try to stay somewhere near Gwangalli beach, so that we would be handy for the firework display that evening and so after a half hour taxi ride we wandered along the seafront looking for a room. The hotels in Busan seemed fairly dull compared to some of the others that I’ve seen over here. I’ve stayed at one which had four full size plastic horses above the door and  another that had fake palm trees on the roof. There was nothing like that in Busan though, or if there was we didn’t see it.

The first hotel we called into had a notice on the wall confirming that it was full. It had a restaurant though and so we stayed for lunch and something called dak galbi. Jen speaks very good Korean and so it usually means that when I’m with her I know what I’m going to get on my plate before it arrives. When I’m by myself it’s much more of a lottery as to what I’ll get given to eat. That’s not unique to Korea, by the way. When I was working in Spain I was once given a saucer of almonds instead of the anticipated steak and chips and on another occasion the cod I thought I had ordered turned out to be a pig’s foot.

None of those problems this time though and the dak galbi was even better than  normal as in addition to the usual chicken and cabbage in a spicy pepper sauce it also had prawns, mussels and bits of octopus in it. You cook it yourself in a big dish heated by a gas flame set into the table. It’s easy enough, all you have to do is move the stuff about now and then to stop it sticking to the pan. A bit like most things I eat apart from weetabix really.

This is a photo of dak galbi that I found on the internet.

We had a window seat in the restaurant and were able to watch the preparations for the fireworks which consisted mainly of someone filling as much of the narrow beach as possible with plastic chairs. Families were already staking their claims to spots on the pavements five hours before it started by putting down picnic blankets and making themselves at home. A group of monks wandered past our window at one point, some of them no more than young children. It seemed somewhat early in life to be making that sort of career choice, whilst a shaven head struck me as too much of  a commitment if you just did a bit of monking on a weekend as an alternative to joining the scouts.

Anyway, after the dak galbi we gave up on the prospect of a room with a sea view and moved one street back from the beach. There were plenty of hotels to pick from there and we tried one where we could see people stood on a rooftop terrace. It didn’t have any palm trees or plastic horses up there but we thought that it might come in handy for watching the display later on.

The hotel with the roof top viewing point had a room for us but by Korean standards it wasn’t too impressive. It had a circular bed, but when you’ve stayed in rooms that boast a dance floor with flashing lights, an overhead remote-controlled skylight or a coin operated condom vending machine on the wall, a bed without corners doesn’t really strike me as much to write home about. It was rock hard too, possibly because most Koreans usually prefer to sleep on the floor. I doubt the floor would have been any firmer than that mattress.

A little later we headed back out for the fireworks. Our plan was to meet some friends of Jen somewhere. It was all a little vague and in the end they didn’t make it. They were stuck at a different beach and by now the traffic was heavy enough to make moving around a pain in the arse. We were fine though, as we’d bagged a table at a beachside bar. There was a set fee for a table as the bar sought to make the most of one of the last busy nights of the season. For a hundred and fifty thousand won (eighty quid!!) we got a plate with four burgers on it, chips and a bit of salad. We also got two four pint pitchers of beer, three bottles of soju and a couple of soft drinks. It was the same standard deal whether you were sat at the table alone or if there were half a dozen of you.

One pitcher down, one to go.

The burgers were rubbish. I think they came out of a tin. They reminded me of the ones I used to eat in Stockton High Street after a night out around town twenty-five years ago. The burgers in those days had so little meat in them that you could eat them without chewing. Quite handy I suppose if the evening had ended up with you having a few teeth knocked out.

Three and a half of the four burgers remained on the plate at the end of the night, although we made a decent effort with the chips and the beer. The fireworks were excellent and sitting outside a bar watching them was a whole lot more relaxing than being stuck in the crowd of people trying to find a place to stand on the beach or the road. I suppose we would probably have had a pretty good view from our hotel roof, but we’d have had to have sorted out our own beer and chips.

Quite a good finale.

After a night’s sleep that might as well have been spent on floor we woke up to Cup Final Morning. As you may have suspected it didn’t quite have the same sense of excitement that I remembered as a kid in the days when the whole morning was spent building up to the main event in the afternoon. I flicked through the television channels just in case there was a Korean version of It’s a Cup Final Knockout or Cup Final Mastermind, but if they have programmes like that over here I couldn’t find any of them.

We had a few hours to spare before the 4pm kick off and as it was raining we went along to the Busan Museum. The really old stuff like rocks made in to axeheads or chopping blocks was a bit dull, as were the slightly later bits of broken crockery, but I quite liked the more modern exhibits from the various Japanese occupations and the relatively recent Korean War.

After lunch we wandered around the nearby UN Cemetery. There was some event going on and the place had a few Korean veterans stood around and also a party of modern-day soldiers. Twenty two countries answered the UN call for military or medical assistance and most of them were represented in the cemetery. The Americans have a policy of repatriating their fallen and so had very few graves here despite having lost around forty thousand servicemen. In those days the British tended to bury people in the country where they died and so we were the largest contingent, with 885 of the 1,100 or so personnel who had died during the Korean War being buried within these grounds.

As you would expect, the cemetery was impeccably maintained and it was sobering to read the details on the headstones. Very often you would see a cluster of graves that all showed the same date of death. I wondered whether they died alongside each other. Some of them were still teenagers and possibly conscripts as it was at a time when we still had National Service.

With an hour to go to kick-off we left the cemetery and took at taxi to the Asiad Stadium. The traffic was fairly heavy and we arrived with about ten minutes to spare. There was a long queue at the entrance into the west stand and we still had tickets to buy before we could even join the line. In a stroke of luck we were offered tickets for free as we approached the ticket office by a couple of blokes who had a big wad of them to give away. We gratefully accepted two of them and ignoring the queue to our right, we turned left and fifty yards further along were able to walk straight through an entrance to the south stand.

Ten minutes before kick-off.

We were supposed to be meeting some Suwon supporters in that end of the stadium but one of them had suffered a bit of a mishap, falling three stories from an unguarded stairway and suffering serious multiple injuries. Thankfully he survived and is expected to make a full recovery. It’s incredible to think of the steps that people will take to avoid us.

The stadium was impressive. It was built for the Asian Games in 2002 and also hosted three World Cup matches that year. It’s too big, of course, for the attendances that Korean football matches get, even Cup Finals, so someone had come up with the clever idea of building temporary stands on the running track down one side of the pitch and behind one of the goals. Half a stadium within a stadium, if you like. It allowed the fans in those seats to get much closer to the action, although it did mean that the roof on the stadium offered them no protection from the elements. Whilst the temporary stands were just about full, there was plenty of space in the rest of the stadium and despite the attendance being announced as 31,000, I’d have estimated a less impressive 12,000 or so.

How clever is that?

Equally less impressive was the lack of beer on sale. I’d walked halfway around the entire concourse just before kickoff in search of a pint as visiting museums and cemeteries is thirsty work. Unfortunately I couldn’t find anywhere selling alcohol. Luckily I had an emergency stash of whisky that I had lugged up and down Jirisan a month earlier and had brought to Busan in case we had ended up watching the fireworks from the beach. I don’t really want to be carrying it around for the rest of my life, so I had a few nips of that instead.

Random photo of stuff happening.

I like watching cup finals. The games aren’t always classics but you know that the players will be up for it and its likely that tempers will fray a bit later on, particularly if one team is behind. I’ve seen the German and Spanish versions in the last couple of years and was at Wembley supporting the Boro against Chelsea in 97. We went behind after thirty seconds in that one, so we hadn’t even managed to sit down before our tempers frayed.

The Suwon fans around us were pretty good, keeping up the chanting for most of the game. They were rewarded with a goal midway through the first half, as Yeom Ki Hun scored from a well placed shot from outside of the box.

Suwon fans after the goal.

They celebrated the goal with a chorus of a song to the tune of Ob la di, ob la da. Despite it being something that sounds like McCartney had knocked up in about ten minutes, the lyrics were obviously a little difficult to remember for the Suwon fans and they had been replaced with the even simpler “Ohhh, ohhh, oh,  ohhh, ohhh oh.“

Another random action shot.

At half time it was still 1-0 and we were treated to a girl band miming one of their songs on the pitch. They appeared to forget that the microphones were just for show and made the error of trying to use them for addressing the crowd after the song. Perhaps, to avoid any confusion, they should have been given hairbrushes to mine with instead. Fortunately someone ran on to the pitch from the sidelines with a real microphone for them and after being warned not to try to brush their hair with it, the budding popstars were able to thank the crowd for supporting their album sales and delaying the inevitable day when they would have to look for jobs in room salons.

The second half was quite scrappy with both teams getting stuck in a bit more and Suwon in particular taking any opportunity to timewaste by exaggerating their injuries. The players squared up to each other a couple of times but it never really boiled over in the way that I’d hoped it would.

Suwon fans unveil their surfer.

There weren’t a great deal of chances and despite it being a fairly even game, Suwon’s solitary goal turned out to be enough to claim the trophy. We got the usual presentation ceremony with paper fired into the air and the now obligatory rendition of We Are The Champions.

Party time.

The win gave Suwon a place in the Champions League and we filed out before the lap of honour to catch our train back to Seoul. When I went into work the next day, no-one even knew that the Cup Final had taken place and the talk was all about the Grand Prix. The combination of crashes and cars sliding off the track in the rain seemed to have captured their imagination in a way that a domestic football game could never hope to. Next year I suspect a fair few of them will be heading down to the track and then wondering where to get hold of earplugs and little tellies.