Archive for March, 2011

Jeonbuk Motors v Chunnam Dragons, Sunday 6th March 2011, 3pm

March 9, 2011


After kicking off the 2011 season with a visit to third division Seoul United, I thought I’d take in Jeonbuk’s first league game the following day, at home to Chunnam Dragons. 

Jen and I got the KTX from Yongsan on the Saturday evening, getting off at Iksan and then taking a taxi to Jeonju. You can get a connecting train to Jeonju, but as  the taxi only takes about twenty minutes it wasn’t really worth sitting around waiting for the train.

Finding a hotel was a bit more difficult though and the first two that we tried were full. We got sorted before long though and sixty thousand won got us a room with a large bathtub in the middle of it and a circular bed.  Oddly though, there wasn’t a key or any sort of code to lock the door so when we went out we just had to hope that no-one would want to steal either the bed or the bath.

Next morning we had a bit of spare time before the game so we went along to the Jeonju National Museum. It was a pleasant enough place to spend an hour or so, the grounds had some re-built tombs that would have benefited from a few bones scattered around in them whilst the main building housed the usual assortment of cracked pottery and Bronze Age ash trays.

You weren't allowed in.

What did impress me though was that on the floor of one of the rooms was a map of the region that was maybe about five metres by three metres. It was a large enough scale to enable us to pick out landmarks like the football stadiums. It made me think that I’d like to see a map of the whole country like that, maybe even slightly larger in scale for those of us whose eyesight is starting to deteriorate. Even better, I’d like to see one of the world, perhaps housed in something as big as a few football pitches. I’d happily spend a day looking at the UK,  following the route of the A19 and looking out for places that I’d been. It’s the sort of place that would make an ideal theme park in my opinion, Mapworld or Mapland. Old blokes could be dropped off by their wives and collected in the evening after spending a day pointing out motorway junctions to each other.

Jeonju National Museum

We had some bulgogi for lunch at a restaurant near to the museum and then got a taxi to the World Cup Stadium. Jen must have got the pronunciation spot-on as the driver knew what she was talking about first time. I generally have to mangle the name and try saying it in about a dozen different ways before I get lucky and it’s recognised.

We got to the stadium with about three-quarters of an hour to go before kick-off and bought ten thousand Won tickets for the North Stand which is the bit behind the goal for home fans. There was a decent turnout, maybe eight or ten thousand, with the East Stand Lower looking fuller than normal and with enough soldiers in there to declare Martial Law if they were that way inclined.

East Stand

Jeonbuk has a new slogan for this season, Green Shouting 2011. I’m not really sure why they bothered, but it was emblazoned around the ground and the subject of a large banner hung from the East Stand.

That bloke looks familiar.

Lee Dong Gook started for Jeonbuk, with new signing Jeong Seong Hoon alongside him, whilst Chinese midfielder Huang Bowen also made his league debut. Luiz Henrique missed out though and together with Krunoslav Lovrek, had to settle for a place on the bench.

The main point of interest in the Chunnam team was their goalie and captain, Lee Woon Jae. I’d watched the thirty seven year old make his farewell appearance for the National team against Nigeria back in August when his final act before being substituted after less than half an hour was to pick the ball out of the back of the net. He only played a couple of times after that for Suwon before losing his place and then rarely even appeared on the bench. It was a bit of a surprise to me therefore when I read that rather than move into coaching he had signed for Chunnam Dragons.

Lee Woon Jae

Jeonbuk had a new goalie too, Yeom Dong Gyun, who had been signed from today’s opponents during the close season. I try not to prematurely judge a new player, but he looked crap in the warm-up. My doubts were confirmed when after about twenty minutes he didn’t even bother diving for a low shot from Gong Young Sun which I’m sure that he could have stopped had he just stuck a foot out to his left. His new team mates stood and glared at him in disbelief, pretty much as the Boro defenders would do with Brad Jones whenever he decided that a goal-bound shot wasn’t worth getting his knees dirty for.

Neither team had many chances, Lee Dong Gook put a half volley wide from distance just before half time and whilst Jeonbuk had a few free-kicks within shooting distance, I don’t think Lee Woon Jae had a save to make all game.

Eninho hits the wall.

Jeonbuk pressed a bit more in the second half with the introduction of Luiz Henrique and  Krunoslav Lovrek adding a bit of urgency to their play. Lovrek and Eninho failed to hit the target though when really they should have been testing Lee Woon Jae’s ageing reflexes.

At the final whistle we didn’t wait for the bowing but cleared off sharpish instead to make sure of being able to get a taxi to the station at Iksan. Our driver filled us in on the scores from the other games and speculated upon how costly the military call up of Jeonbuk’s regular keeper would be to their chances this season. There’s a long way to go yet though  and I’d expect Jeonbuk to finish the season somewhere near the top.

Seoul United v Jeonju EM, Saturday 5th March 2011, 3pm

March 9, 2011

Eventually. A game of football. It’s a new season and I could forget about diversionary activities such as ice hockey or basketball and get back to watching some proper sport. I had a few options for the first day as there were four K-League games including a first ever match for new team Gwangju and an opening game in a new town for the re-located army team Sangju Sangmu. In the end though I decided to stay in Seoul and I went to the Nowon Madeul Stadium to watch Seoul United take on Jeonju EM in the third division, or Challengers League as it has now been re-branded.

Seoul United seem to move about a bit more than most teams. They were founder members of the K3 division in 2007 and the Nowon Madeul Stadium already appears to be their third ground. Initially they played in the Olympic Stadium at Jamsil, which with a capacity of over seventy thousand was probably a little on the large side. Last season I turned up at the eighteen thousand seater Hyochang Stadium to see them play Youngkwang, but in a none too rare mix up over the kick-off time I ended up watching a University game there  instead. This season Seoul United will be turning out at the Nowon Madeul Stadium in front of a maximum of three and a half thousand people. If the trend continues they will be staging home games inside someone’s house within a couple of years.

There is a subway station called Nowon and another one a stop further along called Madeul. I got out at the latter and when I got into a taxi I was driven back past Nowon. So, my advice is just get off at Nowon. If you come out of Exit 6 of the subway, then you are heading in the right direction. Just to make life that bit easier for you as well, I can also reveal that the taxi driver pronounced it in four parts as “Mad-Ell-Stad-Ium“.

He dropped me outside of the gate to the park where I was pleased to see the Jeonju EM bus. I’m never overly confident that these lower league games will take place as listed and so the presence of at least one of the teams added a degree of reassurance.

When you see this, you're there.

There was a game already underway on the artificial pitch, but as the players were wearing a variety of different strips, tee-shirts, tracksuits and jeans I was reasonably confident that I hadn’t got the kick-off time wrong again. I talked to one of the stewards for a while, a young lad who having asked me where I was from surprised me by not only mentioning Downing and Tuncay, but by having a pretty good understanding of their respective merits.

As I still had half an hour to go before the start I went for a walk around the ground. There was only the one stand, with the other three sides being fenced off. When I got to the far side of the pitch I noticed a platform that would allow me to watch the game with the main stand and the mountains behind it as a backdrop.

Just before kick-off.

Prior to kick-off Seoul were booting footballs into the crowd. One of the players came over to the platform with a ball for me. A very generous gesture, but I was heading off to Jeonju straight after the game and didn’t want to spend the rest of the weekend bouncing a football like a bored ten year old. I let the bloke next to me have it instead.

Seoul were wearing a Newcastle strip which straight away endeared me to their sky-blue clad opponents, Jeonju EM. I could have tried to imagine Seoul as Notts County instead I suppose, but I’ve got bad memories of that place too.  Specifically, a John Chiedozie goal knocking us out of the 5th round of the FA Cup in 1984 during which a fellow Boro fan scaled one of the Meadow Lane floodlights and pissed on our heads. I’ve had better days.

Despite the lack of chances, there was plenty of effort.

Not a lot happened for the first half hour or so. There wasn’t a single shot on target or a corner. Jeonju broke the deadlock after thirty five minutes though when their centre forward dinked it over the keeper after chasing a punt from deep.

Jeonju EM celebrate the opening goal.

Seoul tried to hit back and had a few chances before half-time that they should have scored from but somehow contrived to put wide or blaze over the bar. At the interval I had a wander around to the main stand, so that I could watch the second half from there. I didn’t notice any Jeonju EM fans amongst the hundred and fifty or so people present, but there was a Seoul fan with a drum and one or two wearing replica shirts. About ten of them sang through most of the second half and they were rewarded just after the hour when their team equalised.


Seoul Utd should really have gone onto win the game, but they couldn’t take any of the chances that they made in the final twenty minutes and it finished up at one each. I hopped on the first bus I saw after leaving the ground and fortunately it passed Gongneung station after about five minutes. As I had no idea where I was I thought it sensible to get off the bus and take the subway instead. I doubt I’ll be back at the Nowon Madeul Stadium anytime soon but should they continue their downsizing policy I’ll try and get along to a game in what might be a broom cupboard in a year or so.

Samsung Thunders v KCC Egis, Saturday 26th February 2011, 3pm

March 7, 2011

It’s getting towards the start of the football season again with just a week to go until the first round of K-League fixtures. I’d been hoping for a pre-season friendly this weekend but unfortunately didn’t notice one listed anywhere.

Samsung Thunders were at home though and so I thought I might as well watch some basketball. Jamsil gymnasium is about three quarters of an hours walk from my apartment and with the weather having got a bit milder recently I had a wander along.

It was fairly busy outside with a long queue at the ticket office. I saw an old granny tout being moved on by a policeman before finding an even older one who was clutching on to a handful of tickets as if they were Embassy cigarette coupons. I suspect that reference ages me, but when I was a kid one of my Nannas always had a stack of them. She often seemed to have something new in the house, a china dog or a set of drinks coasters, and all of it seemed to have either been won at the bingo or bought with Embassy coupons.

Granny touts outside of the Jamsil Gymnasium

The granny tout and I didn‘t manage the communication very well. Establishing that I wanted one ticket was straightforward enough, but determining the price seemed beyond us. In the end I just opened my wallet and let her pluck one thousand won notes from it until she was happy. I ended up paying 6,000 won for a ticket that had a face value of 3,500 but I wasn’t going to argue with that, particularly as the ticket office queue didn’t seem to be getting any shorter.

I think my ticket was for the second tier, but I decided that I’d watch from a bit higher up where there were plenty of empty seats. I found a spot along the side of the court, close to one of the big screens. The temperature was roasting. It was like being inside a sauna. There rarely seems to be any middle ground in these places, it’s either far too hot or far too cold. Mind you, most of the Koreans around me had kept their coats on. I don‘t know how they managed.

View from the upper tier.

 Both the first two quarters were fairly tight, Samsung edging the first 28-25 and then increasing their lead to 51-43 by the half time interval. The main point of interest was the KCC Egis centre Ha Seung Jin who, depending on your source of information, is either 7’3“ or 7’4“. I don‘t suppose that extra inch makes a lot of difference as to how often he cracks his head when going through a door.

He's the one wearing '0'

Mr. Ha has played in the NBA for Portland and even if he ’only’ measures 7’3“ he is still one of  the tallest twenty players ever to play in the NBA. He is also the only Korean to have played at that level too, which I suspect will make him a bit of a superstar in his home country. He towered over the diminutive Thunders centre, Nigel Dixon, who at a mere 6’9“ could be described as a relative shortarse.

Big Jin v Big Jelly

At half time we had a bit of music with some miming and dancing from a woman who looked older than the granny who had sold me my ticket. It is rare for any Korean women under the age of eighty to have grey hair, so she was either exceptionally daring in doing without the hair dye or was extremely agile for her age. Maybe a bit of both.

Zimmer Frame just out of shot.

Samsung edged the third quarter as well to increase their lead to 77-66. The attendence was announced at 9,700 which seemed about right, with the hall being two-thirds full.

And we'll finish with 'One for the boys'.

The final quarter followed the pattern of the previous three with Samsung outscoring KCC by another three points to run out the winners by 100-86. Whilst the final score was convincing, each quarter had been close and there hadn’t really been a spell where the game had felt one-sided. I enjoyed the battle between Ha Seung Jin and the not-so ’Big Jelly’ and it would be nice to see a repeat in the play-offs.

High1 v Anyang Halla, Sunday 20th February 2011, 12.30pm

March 7, 2011

After watching the same two teams play each other in Anyang the previous day, we thought we might as well watch the return fixture in Goyang. This was the final game of the regular season and whilst Anyang Halla had the play-offs to look forward to, this would be it for another seven months for the High1 players.

Goyang is a city to the north of Seoul and it involved a fair trip along Line 3 to Wondang subway station. I had my doubts as to whether a taxi driver would be aware that Goyang had an ice hockey team as most of them seem not to know of the existence of football clubs. Fortunately we struck lucky and the driver that eventually stopped for us knew of the ice rink. As it happened we could probably have walked it if we had known where we were. If you come out of the subway and then start walking in the busier looking direction, you can turn left after two or three hundred yards and in less than ten minutes you’ll be there.

There is a football pitch next to the rink. I think that Goyang’s third division team will probably play on it. There was actually a game going on whilst we were there, between teams wearing Barcelona and Liverpool kits. They had famous players names on the back of the shirts, although I must have missed the news of Lampard’s move to Anfield.

Goyang seemed to have a much more low-key set up than their opponents. There was a smaller crowd than the previous days game at Anyang and it was free to get in. It seemed much colder inside than the previous day too. They really should run the ice hockey season through the summer rather than winter as there are days in July when I’d happily pay a fortune to sit in a building with a sub-zero temperature. They wouldn’t even need to be any ice hockey for me to watch either, I’d be content just sat in the cold watching that ice-flattening tractor drive around.

High1 are in black, Anyang Halla in white.

The game was a bit more violent than the one the previous day, although a lot of the penalties looked to be for technical offences that I was unaware of.  I should really have a bit better knowledge of the rules than I do as I watched quite a few games of ice hockey when I was a kid. My local team Billingham Bombers were reasonably successful and I had a friend who played for the junior team, the Bullets. He still plays now actually, not for the junior Billingham team, that would be a bit unfair, but for an over-forties team in Canada. I think he had a couple of teeth knocked out only a month or so ago.

Without the zoom.

The game went to form again with Anyang winning five-three to give themselves a lift for the play-offs whilst High1 finished off their season with a post-match photo session where a succession of fans made their way down on to the ice to be snapped with the players. I doubt I’ll make any of the play-off games, but I’ll probably be back when the football season finishes.

Anyang Halla v High1, Saturday 19th February 2011, 6pm

March 3, 2011

When I was at the Anyang KGC basketball game a month earlier I’d noticed some posters for the Anyang ice hockey team, Anyang Halla. The ice rink is next door to the basketball arena and so when I got home I made a bit of an effort to look them up on the internet and find out something about them.

It turns out that they are one of two Korean ice hockey teams that play in the Asian League against teams from Japan and China. I’ve no idea if there is a Korean domestic league though or whether Anyang Halla and High1 from Goyang are the only ice hockey teams in Korea.

I also discovered that the ice hockey season runs from September to February, with play-off games following in March. This, then, was an end of season game between the two Korean teams in the league. Anyang were already assured of their place in the play-offs and looked likely to finish fourth whilst High1 were too far down the table to be able to qualify.

Jen and I had looked up the Anyang Sports Complex on Google Maps and were able to work out that Line Four’s Pyeongchon  was the nearest subway station and from there it turned out to be a ten minute taxi ride. There were quite a few people hanging around outside and with half an hour still to go before the start there was a lengthy queue for tickets.

Anyang Ice Rink.

We got a couple of seven thousand Won tickets and headed inside. It’s a pity that we didn’t get there a bit earlier as a disabled ice hockey game was just drawing to a close as we arrived. It isn’t a sport that I’d even known existed so it would have been interesting to have seen the game.

We got there just a bit too late to see the game.

Anyang Halla play in quite a small venue with maybe half a dozen rows of seats around three sides of the rink making up the capacity of about two thousand. A sizeable proportion of those inside seemed to be American or Canadian and most of them seemed compelled to make as much noise as possible. One bloke behind us was making random sounds as if he felt the need to reassure those in front of him that he was still there but without wanting to use any actual words. Another to my left kept shouting “Icing“ to no-one in particular and for what seemed like no good reason.

Anyang are in the blue shirts.

There wasn’t any beer for sale inside but we’d been tipped off about this before we went in so had brought our own. It was so cold though that I think brandy would have been a better option. I haven’t really seen enough ice hockey to be able to comment on the standard of the players. I went to see the LA Kings play an NHL game a couple of years ago when I was in Los Angeles and that was a bit more enjoyable with a bigger crowd and better fights amongst the players. But so it should be, those are players competing at the highest level.

LA Kings v Detroit Redwings, October 2008.

We left during the final period with the score at two each as we were going to dinner with one of Jen’s friends. When I checked later it turned out that Anyang had scored a couple more goals late on for a four-two victory.

Whilst watching Anyang was an interesting way to spend an evening, it’s a sport that I probably wouldn’t bother with too much when it overlaps with the football season.

Songnisan hiking, 12th February 2011

March 3, 2011

With the weather starting to warm up a little bit I thought I’d better get some more hiking in. I’d been away to Malaysia with Jen for the Lunar New Year and had probably eaten and drank more than was good for me. Not all of the food was particularly healthy either and the nearest that I got to a piece of fruit was buying it to feed to the monkeys.

I didn't have any cigars with me, so had to give him fruit.

I got to ride an elephant too, so there was the odd bit of physical exertion.

It's as uncomfortable as it looks.

However, good as all that was, if you want to be fit to walk up hills, then you have to walk up hills. So, I set my alarm for daft o’clock and by 5.45am I was on the subway. Half an hour later I was at Dong Seoul Bus Terminal where I discovered that the first bus to Songnisan didn’t leave until 7.30am. I could have had an extra hour in bed if I’d been a bit more organised. Whatever. I bought my ticket for sixteen thousand Won and loitered in a nearby coffee shop for an hour.

The bus was just about empty and arrived at Songnisan National Park three and a half hours later. Songnisan isn’t one of the more popular hiking destinations and a couple of Korean lads even went to the trouble of asking me how I knew the place existed. That’s the beauty of the internet I suppose. On those brief occasions when you need a break from football message boards and porn, there’s plenty of information to be found on places to hike.

There is a small town just outside the gates of the National Park with a wide main street a few hundred yards long and then a couple of smaller streets running parallel with it. With it being February though, the place was deserted and most of the shops were closed.

Songnisan, not the busiest place.

I had been hoping to buy some gimbap or something, but there wasnt very much available in the way of food so I ended up with a fake snickers bar and a packet of chocolate chip cookies. There was a bloke selling chestnuts just outside the park gates so I got a bag of those as well. Inside the park was a little bit busier, mainly because there is a temple at Beopjusa that was attracting coachloads of pensioners. As I was passing I had a wander in myself and whilst the temple was pretty much the same as all the others in Korea, there was a big gold statue of someone or other. The biggest in Korea apparently.


The hike itself was tough going in places as the terrain seemed to alternate between ice where I would wear my crampons and rock where I’d have to take them off again. At one point when I wasn’t wearing them I slipped and with one leg either side of a steel railing post I was about 6“ away from having to accept that my procreation days were over. A few minutes later I stopped at a hillside cafe where I got some pajeon, which is pancake with bits of onion in. The first one that I ate had already been cooked when I got there. It was cut into pieces and seemed to be quite oily.

I should have eaten the chocolate chip cookies instead.

The next one was freshly cooked and was much better, I also had some soup with some small white wrinkly objects in it that I hoped were dumplings but suspected might have been testicles. I did wonder if they had been harvested from hikers who had slipped on the same bit of path as I had. I limited myself to a scrotums worth and left the rest.

The route that I was following took me to the Munjangdae peak, which is 1054m high.

Munjangdae from a distance.

At the top, the final section of rock would be just about inaccessible without the staircase that someone had kindly installed. There was also a fence around the peak, presumably to stop hikers being blown into the surrounding valleys. The views in all directions were good though and despite the cold I spent about twenty minutes at the peak.

The view from the top of Munjangdae.

I came down via a different route taking in the 1031m Munsubong peak on the way. The ground conditions were just as mixed and about halfway down I caught a crampon on a root and pitched myself over the edge of the path. Fortunately I only fell about six feet, rolling a couple of times before another path broke my fall. I couldn’t have fallen much further anyway at that spot but if I’d tripped at some of the other more exposed places then it could have been a whole lot worse. Maybe those railings aren’t such a bad idea after all.

Another view from the top.

I seem to be falling over a lot more frequently these days. Perhaps its an age thing. I haven’t fully recovered yet from a slip at the Paul McCartney concert that I went to in December when I ended up flat on my back whilst going down the stairs. I took a real whack from about three separate stairs, winding myself and for a moment wondering if I’d lost the feeling in my legs. My chest still hurts when I sneeze.

This was about halfway down.

Anyway, this fall wasn’t too bad with just a few bruises to go with the odd blister that I got from walking in crampons on rocky ground.

I got back down to the town and eventually found a hotel that was open. I’m sure the place is vibrant in the summer but out of season it was deserted. I might very well have been their only customer and to help heat the room up I had to resort to turning on the electric blanket.

There were more cars than staff and guests.

Going out for something to eat was equally difficult as the town seemed to be closed. Eventually I got some fried chicken in a place that seemed to be cooking box after box without anyone ever coming in to eat or collect it.  I left after a couple of beers and there must have been twenty odd full boxes lined up on the counter.

The next morning I planned to try a different peak, the 1055m Cheonhwangbong and I set off back into the National Park at about 8.30am. I passed a frozen waterfall early on and was about 2.4 km from the top when I snapped one of the straps on a crampon.

Impressive, eh?

I struggled on without the crampons for a few more hundred metres, alway conscious that getting down again is a bit harder in icy conditions than going up. A couple of stumbles later and I called it a day, wondering to myself how far you should go in packing spare gear. More than the one pair of crampons seems over the top but if one breaks and the paths are solid ice then you are going to struggle.

I managed to get back down again without too many slips and caught a bus around lunchtime back to Seoul, this time to the Express Bus Terminal. I’ll probably go back to Songnisan in the summer when the place will be a lot livelier and I can leave the crampons at home.