Well, that’s it for this season. Nine months on from my first visit to the Sangam stadium to watch a rare home defeat for Seoul at the hands of Jeonbuk, I was returning for the final game of the campaign. Sadly Jeonbuk and Lee Dong Gook didn’t feature as their season had finished in the previous play-off round away at Jeju, so for those of you reading to keep up to date with the Boro’s best ever Korean striker, I suspect that he is away on his holidays by now. This game was the second leg of the play-off final with Seoul having managed to hold Jeju to a two all draw in the first leg four days earlier.
Normally I go to these games with Jen, but as the weather has turned decidedly colder over the last couple of weeks she didn’t fancy it. She’s from the deep south of America and I don’t think it ever drops below about eighty degrees farenheit over there. For those of you who need a bit of help with your geography, I think it’s the bit of America where True Blood is meant to be set and whilst there might be a vampire or two less in Jen’s town, I understand that the climate is similar to that of the tv show. In Seoul, during the summer when I’d have the sweat dripping off me within a minute of leaving my air-conditioned apartment, she would be debating how many jumpers to put on.
Last week we walked the final part of the Bukhansan Dullegil and to be fair, I did feel the cold a bit myself that day. There was a definite chill in the air that hadn’t been present earlier in the month when we’d walked the first two sections of the 45km circuit. Whereas normally I can just smell my breath, during that walk I could see it as well. The final stretch that we did was probably the most undulating so far though with plenty of steep sections to temporarily distract us from the cold.
We picked up the trail where we’d left it a fortnight earlier, somewhere after the Dullegil Trail Information Centre and we walked through the Seongbuk-gu area around to Seodamun-gu, finishing up at the Bulgwang subway station at the top of Line 6.
The route of the Dullegil follows the edge of the national park and generally gives views of the hills in one direction and Seoul to the other. We passed a few interesting sights, including a couple of temples. I’m a bit bored with temples, to be honest, they all seem very similar to me. However, one of them gave us the opportunity to look down on to some of the housing on the outskirts of the city where one of the properties had a golf course, or at least a green complete with hole and flag, in its back garden. I can’t see that fella being too popular with his neighbours. Still, it will give the monks something to watch between prayers.
As usual there was also plenty of outdoor exercise equipment near to the trail, along with a few badminton courts. One of the courts was hundred of yards away from the housing, high up in the woods. If it seemed an effort to get there for a knock-up, that was nothing compared to the measures that someone had gone to in actually building it. The available space hadn’t been sufficient and so the rock face had been cut away.
I’d like to think that in order for a couple of housewives to be able to spend an hour or so gently tapping a shuttlecock backwards and forwards, someone had lugged explosives up the mountainside and blasted away a few tonnes of granite. It reminded me of that stadium in Braga, Portugal, where similar measures had been employed. Although I suspect building that one will have needed a few more sticks of dynamite.
Overall, I’d recommend the Bukhansan Dullegil. The woodland paths make for a pleasant walk and the sections that stray on to roads and pavements took us into a few areas of the city that we probably wouldn’t have seen otherwise. The next section opens up in the New Year and I’m looking forward to having a wander around that as well.
Right, back to the football. I met up with Iain and James before the game outside the GS convenience store next to the stadium. Football tends to make me as thirsty as hiking does and so I got myself a can of Max from a woman selling them from a cart nearby. If drinking cans outside of a shop isn’t scruffy enough then drinking cans outside of a shop that you’ve bought from a street vendor probably takes it to the required level. It’s quite commonplace over here though and most of the corner shops will have a table or two outside of them just in case you don’t want to wait until you get home to drink your beer.
We had a bit of a chat about the forthcoming match and as they both know a lot more about Korean football than I do they filled me in on the politics of the game. I already knew that Seoul weren’t popular amongst Korean football supporters, mainly as a consequence of them gaining their place in the K League by taking over an existing team, Anyang, and after changing their name, relocating to the then-empty World Cup Stadium in Seoul. We’ve seen it in the UK with Wimbledon being stolen from their fans and being re-launched as MK Dons, so I could understand the depths of feeling against the new club.
It turns out though that Jeju has a similar story as well and after a few years of nomadic wandering around Seoul they relocated from Bucheon to the island of Jeju four years ago. That’s some move. I’d say we are looking at three hundred miles and either a ferry trip or a flight if you want to travel from Seoul to see them play. I’ve not been to Jeju yet, nor Bucheon for that matter, but I have seen a couple of the stadiums that Jeju had played in previously. They played at Mokdong for four years up to the turn of the century and a few months ago I found myself looking at their former ground whilst at the baseball.
Before that, they had spent four years at Dongdaemun Stadium. There’s not much left of this one these days after the ground was knocked down to make way for a park. For some unknown reason though, unknown to me anyway, a couple of the floodlights were retained.
So, where as most games involving Seoul are seen by the neutrals as a fairly straightforward battle of good v evil, this one was more a case of northern evil against southern evil. We went into the away end, just as I’d done on my last visit and lent our support to the baddies from out of town.
There was a decent turnout, or at least there was by the time everyone got in there. People were still arriving well into the second half, but that’s not unusual over here. A lot of the schools in Seoul had been selling half price tickets and this was reflected in a crowd of what must have eventually reached somewhere near the 45,000 mark.
The first half was pretty eventful. The highlight for me being when Seoul set off their fireworks behind the goal in celebration of a ‘goal’ that was then disallowed a few seconds later. In terms of real goals, Jeju got the first with a long-range shot that the Seoul keeper should have done a little better with.
It didn’t matter though as within a couple of minutes Seoul were awarded a dubious penalty which allowed them a second go at the fireworks.
The disputed spot kick infuriated the Jeju players and we got a couple of flare-ups afterwards, one of which had the referee, both linesman and one of the penalty box officials in the middle of it trying to restore calm whilst the other penalty box bloke loitered by himself on the half way line looking like a shy new kid in the school playground.
It remained level on aggregate at half time, although had it stayed that way Seoul would have won on ‘away goals’. The second half saw both sides pushing forward and Seoul got the winner from an Edilson header fifteen minutes from time. I’d been surprised to see him playing as when I’d been here a few weeks earlier it looked as though he was on his way back to Brazil with a season ending injury. There had been a centre-circle presentation to him on that occasion and the crowd had worn masks with his face on them. It was quite disconcerting leaving that game and being confronted by a crowd of ‘Edilsons’ coming the other way.
And so that was that. We got the music, the fireworks and the presentation of the trophy as the season finally ended. I’ve really enjoyed it, the football might not always have been top class and the stadiums were rarely even half full, but it’s given me an excuse to travel around the country with something as near as I’m likely to get to a sense of purpose. I’ve been to thirty odd games in the nine months since that first visit to the Sangam stadium back in March and it would have been a lot more if I hadn’t caught the baseball bug during the summer. Actually it would have been more if some of the games hadn’t been switched to different stadiums at the last minute without me knowing. Still, thats the way it works over here and its all part of the sense of it being different that keeps it interesting.
Next season starts in March and my plan is to carry on with more of the same. There are twenty odd teams that I haven’t paid a visit to yet, each hopefully with something interesting going on in their town. In the meantime, I’ll be filling the close season with a bit of hiking and some trips to the races and the basketball. Maybe even the odd game of badminton. It would be rude not to after the efforts they go to in building the courts.