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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.