Archive for April, 2011

Goyang KB V Yongin City, Saturday 16th April 2011, 7pm

April 29, 2011

This was another Seoul based day, with some walking in the morning and a football game in the evening. Jen and I went back to the Achasan and Yongmasan mountains that we’d hiked up the previous week, but started at the other end this time for a bit of variation. Actually I’m not really sure what constitutes a mountain, these are only 287m and 348m high respectively so probably hill is a better description.

We were able to retrace our route from a week earlier, starting at Gwangnaru subway on Line 5 and walking through a park, then alongside the two thousand year old wall for a while. The route was even busier than the previous week with a number of hiking groups and most of Seoul’s pensioners out for a stroll.

I think some of them had been walking the route before the wall was built.

We passed the ice cakee man at the top of Achasan again and then pressed on to Yongmasan. The views of the city were a whole lot better than the previous week when the yellow dust had obscured all but the closest landmarks.

Instead of dropping down towards Yongmasan subway we took an alternative route towards, I think, Mungusan. It was difficult to see where the route was leading as it descended quite steeply. Some of the sections required the use of ropes and handrails and it was a lot more awkward way down than the more popular trail that we’d came up had been.

My office is out there somewhere.

We’d walked a lot quicker than the week before and despite covering a greater distance we were off the hill less than three hours after setting out. The extra time that we had in hand was quite useful as getting to Goyang is probably more of a trek than the hiking had been. Once we’d got onto Line 3 we had thirty stops to sit through until we reached Daehwa, the station right at the end of the line. It took us about an hour and a half in total and we arrived with just over an hour to spare before the 7pm kick-off.

Goyang’s stadium is pretty close to the subway and as we’d spotted it soon after coming out of the exit we had time for something to eat before the game. We popped into a place that was more like a café than a restaurant and got some of those steamed dumplings. I hadn’t realized that you could get Kimchi flavour mandu and having tried some I’d say that I prefer them. They are just that little bit spicier than the regular ones. The total bill only came to five thousand won which made me feel as if I should have been wearing a stocking over my head.

Goyang Stadium

It continued to be a cheap night out as the football was free to get in. When we passed through the entrance we were asked to add our names and phone numbers to a list. I assumed that it was some sort of visitor’s book or maybe an attempt to build up a marketing database. I was wrong though. It was the list of people who would provide the half-time entertainment on the pitch. With that in mind I thought I’d better warm up with a bit of target practice nearby.

"Gareth, why didn't you blast it, dear?"

I failed to get the ball through any of the holes, but was given bottles of shampoo and conditioner as a consolation prize. I tend to find that conditioner isn’t strictly necessary for me these days.

The stadium was very impressive. It was far too impressive for a team at National League level though. When you only get crowds of around two hundred people then a forty two thousand capacity ground seems a touch excessive.  Yongin provided eight of the total attendance. Fewer away fans than players but more than the substitutes seems to be a reasonable yardstick at this level.

Five eighths of the Yongin hardcore.

The generous hospitality continued and we were given a football and then had our photograph taken by the official Goyang bloke with a Polaroid camera. I struggle to understand why the crowds are so low really. It seemed ideal for keeping the kids amused.  A bloke can bring his kids for a free evening out, get their photo taken, let them run amok with a free football amongst the empty stands whilst he watches the match and then return home with a bag of assorted hair products to keep the missus sweet. Why wouldn’t you?

It was a fairly cagey first half, although that might have been expected with this being a game between the top two teams in the division, both of them unbeaten so far this season. Neither keeper had a shot to save and it was scoreless at the interval.

The view from our seats.

Mind you, when I say that neither keeper had a shot to save that may not be completely true. I missed the last ten minutes of the half due to making my way around to the other side of the ground after Jen got the phone call summoning me for the half time entertainment. I’d hoped that it would be penalties as even allowing for me wearing normal shoes rather than trainers I’d have been reasonably confident about not making an arse of myself. It wasn’t though. The challenge that we would face would be to try and score from the centre circle without the ball bouncing on the way in to the net.

"Did you definitely sign the medical disclaimer?"

I was asked a couple of questions beforehand, including my age, which seemed to impress the crowd. Possibly they admired the self-delusion of the old bloke. If only they knew that I’d have been just as unlikely to have scored whilst in my prime. The best I can say for my effort is that I didn’t fall over and it won yet another consolation prize. A pair of white sports socks this time.

The second half was more of the same, plenty of chances but without anyone ever really troubling the keeper and at the final whistle both sides had preserved their unbeaten records in a goalless draw. Yongin remained top of the table whilst Goyang slipped to fourth.

Goyang almost snatch a late winner.

Meanwhile for those of you keeping up with the Lion King, Jeonbuk had been playing Gangwon at home earlier in the day. Lee Dong Gook scored his fourth goal in seven games in a 6-1 victory to move them up into fifth place in the table, four points behind leaders Pohang.

LG Twins v Samsung Lions, Tuesday 12th April 2011, 6.30pm

April 21, 2011

Now that the baseball season is up and running again it was time for my first visit of the year to the Jamsil Stadium. It’s ideal for me really as it’s only three stops away on the subway and I can be there about fifteen minutes after leaving my apartment. I hadn’t paid much attention to which teams were playing because it doesn’t really matter and there’s a game on involving one of either Doosan Bears or LG Twins six nights a week.

There’s also a circus at the Jamsil Sports Complex at the moment. Not a proper one with animals but that Circque du Soleil thing where gymnasts who were almost good enough to get to the Olympics make a living by doing their trapeze stuff whilst dressed up as pixies. Jen and I had made plans to go and see it the following Sunday, so part of my reason for heading down to the baseball was to pick up the tickets and save us from having to queue when it was busy.

Well, it all went as smoothly as a perfectly executed triple salto and within ten minutes I had the circus tickets, a box of chicken wings and a twelve thousand won ticket that I’d paid a tout ten thousand won for. The ticket was actually for the main stand, but I fancied just sitting in the outfield area and the stewards were happy to let me in.

Someone forgot his blanket.

The game was about half an hour old by the time I’d got a couple of beers and selected a seat. It was just coming to the end of the second innings with LG Twins leading Samsung Lions by one run to nil and with both starting pitchers still in the game.

Shim Soo Chang was chucking them down for LG and he managed to avoid conceding any runs until the fourth innings when Park Seok Min smacked one to within about ten feet of me. The old blokes behind me who were dressed in suits and who would probably tell their wives that they had been working late at the office scrabbled for the ball like ten year olds.

Shim Soo Chang - LG Twins

The starting pitcher for Samsung, Ahn Ji Man, did pretty well too. I missed the run that he did concede before I’d arrived but he managed to strike out five of the opposition who struggled to get a bat anywhere near the ball.

Ahn Ji Man - Samsung Lions

Both teams turned to their relief pitchers after about six innings with the score still at one each. It worked better for Samsung though as they were able to score four runs in the seventh innings to take a 5-1 lead.

The fella in front of me was torn between watching the live action in front of him and the Doosan Bears game on his telly.

It is always better somewhere else.

As for other notable players, I’m pretty the Samsung number 35 was Ryan Garko who has done quite well in the US Major League in the past, making starting rosters and scoring plenty of home runs. I’m not certain though as his name was shown on the scoreboard in Korean and the announcement sounded as if the bloke with the mike had put his head in a bucket of water. By the end of the season hopefully I’ll recognise a few of these players by sight.

There weren’t any more runs after the seventh innings and the game finished at about quarter to ten with Samsung claiming a 5-1 victory.

Pocheon v Donggook University, Sunday 10th April 2011, 2pm

April 20, 2011

It’s FA Cup time in Korea. Actually it’s already the second round. I’d missed the previous ties last month as the opening round had been inconsiderately scheduled to coincide with my trip to the UK and so I was keen to take in a game this time. The Korean version is similar to the real FA Cup in that teams start at different stages. From what I can work out, nine of the third division teams get to take part, with eight of them entering at the first round stage and taking on teams from eight of Korea’s Universities.

The university sides are usually better than the K3 teams, perhaps because they tend to serve as academies for the professional clubs and it wasn’t much of a surprise to learn that seven of the eight first round ties were settled in favour of the students.

The exception to this was Pocheon who are a pretty decent third division team. They won the championship in 2009 and are currently top of the table. In the hope that they would continue their giant-killing in the second round I decided that I’d pop along to their game against Donggook University.

Pocheon is about thirty miles north-east of Seoul and there are a couple of options for getting there. You can take Subway Line 1 to Uijeongbo and then get a bus from somewhere nearby or you can get a bus straight there from Dong Seoul. I went for the latter option, mainly because Dong Seoul is easy for me to get to, but also because it removed the risk of me getting lost in Uijeongbo.

The buses go from Dong Seoul every twenty minutes or so and cost six thousand won. What you might not get though is the opportunity to see your bus driver fighting over a parking space with one of his colleagues. I guess I’m just lucky like that. It looked like they were going to limit the dispute to shouting at each other,  but when a couple of other drivers intervened it gave them the opportunity to throw some punches without fear of it getting too far out of hand.

Dong Seoul Bus Terminal

The journey to Pocheon takes an hour, but I decided to get there a couple of hours before the 2pm kick-off so that I could have a look around. I discovered that Pocheon doesn’t really have too many attractions for tourists. Or for locals if we’re honest. There’s the Korea National Arboretum nearby, but that’s closed on Sundays. I’d spotted a market by the river as I arrived in town though and so I thought I’d go and have a walk around that.

Pocheon Market

It was pretty good. There was the usual assortment of stalls selling stuff that I wasn’t too interested in such as clothes and power tools, but there were also plenty of people selling fruit, vegetables, meat and fish.

Some ice might be a good idea.

Best of all though was the livestock. When I was a kid I would go to Stockton Market with my Mam and Dad on a Saturday morning. Whilst my Mam would do the actual shopping, my Dad and I would follow the same route each week, visiting the stall that had a horse tethered to it, then the stall that sold puppies, rabbits and budgies before finishing up in the indoor market to visit the butcher where the dead rabbits would be hanging by their feet from ceiling hooks. I’m sure if there had been a zoo nearby we would probably have gone there now and again instead, but there wasn’t.

I didn’t see any horses at Pocheon but there were plenty of puppies, rabbits, chickens and ducks. I think the dogs were for sale as pets, although they did look to be the type that would grow to be a fair size and you don’t see many of those being walked in the parks over here.

Kennel Club registered apparently.

Conveniently, I’d spotted some floodlights as I’d approached the market so finding the stadium was quite easy. If you come out of the bus station, cross over the river and follow the road/river in the direction of Seoul you’ll be there in about fifteen minutes. It’s part of a sports complex with a big indoor arena that was hosting a badminton tournament whilst I was there.

Pocheon’s ground is fairly typical of those in the Korean lower leagues. Or at least those where the Mayor hasn’t decided for one reason or another that what his one horse town needs for their football team that doesn’t have any fans is a stadium suitable for hosting the Olympic games. This ground would be suitable for athletics with its running track and sandpit, but at least it is a sensible size. There is a uncovered bowl of seating all the way around the pitch and track, with a main stand along most of one side. Only the centre of the main stand is covered and that looked to be reserved for people more important than me. There’s a nice view from the main stand too, with trees and hills providing the backdrop to the action.

Main stand before kick-off.

I suspect that the indoor badminton was probably drawing more spectators than the football as there were only a handful of people in the ground when I arrived. Not only was it free to get in, but a Pocheon official gave me a complimentary cup of coffee as I took my seat. That sort of gesture isn’t uncommon in the lower leagues where they really do seem grateful to anyone who turns up. Maybe the people in the covered section of the stand got a chocolate biscuit with theirs.

By the time the game kicked off, a couple of hundred people had taken their seats. Most of them seemed to be parents of the players or the mascots. Pocheon had hit upon the cunning wheeze of having twenty two mascots, which when combined with all their friends and relatives, probably doubled the attendance.

The teams and half the crowd line up.

The mascots were drawn from a local kids team and in addition to the twenty two who had accompanied the players onto the pitch we also had a few substitute mascots further swelling the crowd. Maybe there had been problems in the past with some of the first twenty two managing to injure themselves between the tunnel and the pitch. Regardless, they seemed to be enjoying themselves and most of them made a point of saying hello to me.

Donggook University on the attack.

Donggook University, who had knocked out the third division side Jeonju EM in the previous round, were in grey with the home team Pocheon in red shirts and black shorts. There was a fairly niggling start to the game with Pocheon doing their best to leave a foot in on the students at every opportunity. Well you would, wouldn’t you? It’s payback for all the times you’ve stood behind one in the paper shop whilst he buys a packet of cigarette papers and a pot noodle with a debit card.

The heavy tackling didn’t seem to have the hoped for effect and Donggook opened the scoring after fifteen minutes when their number ten tapped in a cross at the back post. He looked a decent player and was involved in most of his team’s best moves. I missed the goal unfortunately as the bloke dishing out the free coffee was blocking my view as he handed drinks to the latecomers. Fortunately Pocheon has a big screen for showing replays. A technological advance that my own club Middlesbrough has yet to embrace despite spending over a decade in the Premier League and having reached a UEFA Cup Final. We don’t have free coffee either.

I saw the next goal, which was an equaliser for Pocheon a few minutes later. The student keeper had obviously been up all night building pyramids out of empty beer cans and he fumbled a cross allowing a Pocheon striker to turn the ball into the net.


There were a few more chances in the remainder of the first half, some of which had the Mothers of the mascots shrieking as if Take That had turned up in their underwear and taken over the coffee dispensing duties. Neither team was able to finish well enough though and as the teams trooped off at the interval it was still one goal each.

In the second half Donggook University had six or seven decent chances but failed to take any of them. With extra time and perhaps penalties looming Pocheon managed to get the ball in the net only for it to be ruled out for offside. The mascot kids were still celebrating a minute or so later, oblivious to it having been disallowed. Fortunately for them Pocheon then managed to score twice in injury time to clinch the game.

Third round here we come.

The goals sparked even more excitement amongst the kids who by this stage were chanting “Chicken, Chicken“ at their coach who apparently had somewhat recklessly promised to buy fried chicken for the entire thirty or so squad if Pocheon won.

The Pocheon players seemed as happy with the result as the mascots and the local KFC owner  were. Perhaps they were getting chicken too. The 3-1 win putting them into the draw for the third round and the opportunity to take on one of the K-League teams in a few weeks time.

Nexen Heroes v Lotte Giants, Saturday 9th April 2011, 5pm

April 18, 2011

One of the things that I’ve decided to do more of this year is to visit places in Seoul. When the time comes to leave Korea it would be a shame if I’d spent so much time traveling around the rest of the country that I hadn’t seen very much of the city that I had lived in. With that in mind, I’ve been eyeing up a few of the various mountains within the city. Some of them, like Bukhansan, are pretty well known, but there are plenty of less familiar ones as well.

On Saturday Jen and I went for a walk up a couple of the hills that are over in the East of the city, Achasan and Yongmasan. They aren’t particularly high at 287m and 348m respectively, but combined with a trip to the Mokdong baseball stadium for the visit of Lotte Giants it made for a decent day out.

We got the subway to Yongmasan on Line 7 and it was easy enough to find the park that the trail to the top starts from. There was a football match going on in the park that was probably a school game, as the players all looked to be about sixteen. It was well organised though for a game at that level with the ref and his linesmen all dressed in regulation fluorescent kit. The pitch was in the shadow of the hill, with some quite Braga-esque cliff faces providing a very pleasant backdrop.

Not much space for a grandstand.

We watched the game for a few minutes before pushing on further up the trail. Just around the corner is a man-made waterfall that I read somewhere is the biggest one around. I can’t remember if it is the biggest one in Asia or just the biggest in that end of the park. Sorry. Anyway it wasn’t turned on so the effect was somewhat less impressive than it might have been.

Fake waterfall.

The views of Seoul weren’t a great deal better than the turned-off waterfall. It was a muggy day and there was a fair amount of that yellow dust hanging over the city. The path was busy though, Yongmasan is quite a popular place at this time of year, mainly I think, because of some of the purple flowers that line the trail.

We got to the top easily enough, although I wouldn’t like to have tried to find somewhere to sit down. There were dozens of people up there, picnicking, exercising on the equipment provided or taking photos of each other. We went for the latter option, although the bloke who took the photo managed to give me the sort of flat top to my head that would be ideal for resting a beer on.

There is a whole city somewhere behind us.

 I was tempted to have a go on the giant hula hoop, but I suspect that it involves a fair bit of skill.

Korean style Hula Hooping

It was about another hour’s walk to Achasan where there was a burial mound at the top that looked so new that I reckon the relatives will still have  had their black ties on. A bit further along was an old fortress wall that I grudgingly accepted might just be reasonably original. There was also a bloke selling ‘ice cakee’ which looks and tastes just like ice cream but has the benefit of a much better name.

Achasanseong - A two thousand year old fortress wall.

By the time we got down from Achasan and found Gwangnaru subway station we had spent three and a half hours wandering around. It’s an enjoyable route and our plan is to return and walk it in the reverse direction but with the addition of another hill that should extend the walk by another hour or two.

Next up was Nexen Heroes against Lotte Giants at the Mokdong stadium over in the West of the city. Gwangnaru and Mokdong are both on Line 5 of the subway but unfortunately they are twenty six stops apart. The carriage was crowded but we eventually got seats and arrived at the stadium with around half an hour to spare. There were a lot of food sellers outside and as I’d only had the ice cakee since breakfast  I was keen to get something to eat. It was all fried chicken though and that can be a bit of a gamble at the baseball. Some of the vendors were selling it in pizza style boxes which would raise my hopes before I’d discover that it was actually just more chicken.

We didn’t have much better luck in getting one of the good seats near the plate where you sit at a table. They were all sold out. In the end we just got the fifteen thousand won general admission tickets and found ourselves a pair of seats to the left of the action. With no pizza available we eventually settled for a box of fried chicken that seemed just that bit too soft to me. Perhaps it was undercooked or possibly it had just been too long in the box. Either way, the one piece that we each had was probably one too many.

The Nexen Bullpen raring to go.

The beer was ok though. They had draft that they had pre-poured into unlabeled litre plastic bottles. It’s the sort of thing that my daughter would probably describe as ‘scruffy’ had she seen it, but it went down very nicely.

The baseball season is only a week old and this was the first game we had been to since October.  I struggled a bit to remember a lot of what I’d learnt last year and so tended to concentrate on enjoying sitting in the sun with the beer.  The cheerleaders were of interest though and the bloke who tries to get the crowd singing had a new coat. I doubt he will be wearing that in a month or two when its a bit warmer.

Nice coat.

Each team is allowed two foreign players and one of them, Nexen’s Cory Aldridge, was fielding just in front of us. I looked him up on the internet and he has had a couple of short spells in the American Major League. He played a handful of games and from what I can work out the highlight was that on one occasion he managed to hit the ball far enough to be able to run to third base. Although I don’t know if he got all the way to third base in one go or whether he had to gradually make his way there.

Cory Aldridge - Nexen Heroes

I’m going to try and identify some of the more notable players this year and focusing on the foreigners seems like an easy place to start. We didn’t stay until the end of the game though as after a couple of hours it had turned cold and we’d had enough. Six innings was sufficent for the first game of the season, particularly after the hiking and lack of edible food.

As often happens, it all got a bit more lively after we had left. Nexen extended their lead from a narrow 5-4 to a much more emphatic 12-6 final score with Cory Aldridge surpassing his MLB achievement by scoring his team’s only home run.

Seongnam Ilhwa Chumna v Busan I’Park, Sunday 3rd April 2011, 5.15pm

April 10, 2011

I like walking to the match. When I was a kid we would often walk from Norton to Ayresome Park, mainly because if we did have enough money for the bus fare it seemed a shame to waste it on taking the bus when you could buy a chip butty with it instead.

Going to a game was quite a cheap day out in those days, even more so when we would get in for free as a reward for selling Golden Goal tickets outside the stadium. You needed to sell fifty of them to get a complimentary ticket and it wasn’t too difficult. A penny and a half commission on each sale meant that we would invariably buy more chips on the way home too.

Happy days.

On the days when walking seemed like too much effort we would try to hitch a lift as we walked alongside the A19. Traffic must have been a bit less hectic back in the late seventies as it hardly seems possible that a car would be able to stop on that stretch of road these days. I once hitched to a home game from Mickleton in Teesdale where we had a caravan. That took quite a while as I had to walk through both Barnard Castle and Darlington to resume my quest for a lift at the right end of the town. I think it was about eleven o’clock at night before I got back to the caravan site.

That 'star jumper' probably won't have helped with the hitching.

I was actually back up that way a couple of weeks ago as my son and I were fishing at Grassholme Reservoir. It was an enjoyable afternoon out but the fishing was too easy. The water must have just been re-stocked as we were pulling out a trout every ten minutes or so. In the end we switched from powerbait to worms just to try to delay reaching the catch limit.

It was easier than shooting them in a barrel.

I’ve walked to the Riverside Stadium a few times too. I follow the same route as I did going to Ayresome Park thirty years ago as far as the Newport Bridge, although the prison wasn’t there in those days. It takes about an hour and a half of walking time but as I tend to call into the bookies and a pub or two on the way, I’ll usually set off about three hours before kick-off.

Seongnam’s stadium is alongside the Tancheon River and Jen and I had talked previously about walking along it from Seoul to Bundang. We’d actually intended doing it in earlier this year but missed a fork in the river and ended up in Gwacheon instead. Now that we knew where to bear left it seemed a good idea to combine the walk with going to Seongnam’s game with Busan I’Park.

It takes about forty minutes to reach the Tancheon from my apartment in Yeoksam, the best bit of that journey being when you can look down on what appear to be quite large carp underneath the bridge near Sports Complex. They just seem to sit on the bottom of the shallow water with their noses pointing upstream.

You have to look closely, but there are fish there.

Once we had successfully negotiated the fork in the river we found ourselves walking along the course of a marathon. The runners were at around the twenty mile stage, but most of them looked as if they were likely to finish. We stopped for a while to eat the Blackwell’s midget pork pies that I’d brought to Seoul on my return from the UK the week before. It was quite a strange feeling eating something from my local butcher’s six thousand miles from where it was made. Blackwell’s is pretty good, but when I was a kid we’d get our pork pies from London’s who had a shop a little further down the High Street. It might be just nostalgia, but I think they were better. London’s must have been closed for over twenty years now I’d have thought. It became an undertakers for a while where I imagine that the meat hooks came in handy and it’s currently a photographers studio where there is probably less of a use for them.

There weren't too many runners.

Whilst I’m on the pork pie theme I’ll just mention that whilst on a flight with my daughter a few years ago I needed to go to the toilet just as the drinks trollies were being wheeled down the aisle.

“Do you want me to get you something?” she asked.

“Yes please” I replied, “I’ll have a pork pie and a Magnum.”

She asked as well, bless her. Apparently they had none left.

Anyway back to the walk along the Tancheon. It’s actually not quite as picturesque as the walk to Gwacheon that we ended up doing a few weeks earlier by mistake. We saw a few fishermen but not a lot of wildlife.

They would have been better off fishing from that earlier bridge.

What we did see though were dozens of small dogs being carried or occasionally walked by their owners. Pug crosses seem to be quite popular, although perhaps I just notice them more as my daughter has a pug.

I know, I know.

We saw one that looked like it had been crossed with a chicken. A Chug, perhaps.

Definitely a pug's head, but with a chicken's tail feathers.

Another was half pug, half dragon I think. Possibly a Drug.

A pug's tail this time, but a fire-breathing mouth.

We reached Seongnam’s ground after about four hours walking and had probably done around ten miles. We still had a couple of hours to go until kick-off though so we pressed on a little further before stopping for something to eat and drink a couple of miles beyond the stadium. When we returned at 5pm there were large queues at the ticket office and it took us fifteen minutes to buy our nine thousand won tickets.

It seemed as if the entire crowd was in the queue.

Once inside it was a pleasant surprise to discover that the game hadn’t yet begun. I doubt that the start was delayed specifically for us, but it would have been a shame if we had missed the kick-off after setting off more than six hours in advance.

The game was ok, Seongnam were dressed up as Watford, whilst Busan were wearing Poland strips. The playing surface was poor though. Every time a player made contact with the ball sand would spray upwards from the pitch. My suspicion is that the Moonie-owned club has been holding too many mass weddings on the pitch.

A chance that came to nothing.

The East Stand was quite full and I’d have estimated the total crowd at about two thousand.  Seongnam were missing Dzenan Radoncic who might have made a difference in a goalless first half. Cho Dong Cheon broke the deadlock a few minutes after the interval to put the home side a goal up and it was quickly followed by another from Hong Chul a couple of minutes later.

This wasn't one of the goals.

And that was it, a two-nil home win that lifted Seongnam up to tenth and left Busan one place off the bottom. We decided that it was probably wise to take the subway back to Seoul.

FC Seoul v Jeonbuk Motors, Saturday 2nd April 2011, 5pm

April 8, 2011

I’d been on holiday in the UK for a couple of weeks at the back end of March so this was my first game of Korean football since watching Jeonbuk lose at home to Chunnam Dragons a month earlier. The day had started a little bit earlier than I’d hoped though. I’d been doing some hiking the day before in Seoraksan National Park and my hotel room was so warm that I’d needed to leave a window open. Unfortunately there was a monastery right next door and at three in the morning one of the monks had started with that rhythmic banging noise created by hitting a wooden object with a stick.

Why don't they all just quietly light candles like this one?

The racket went on for a couple of hours before he went off to do whatever it is that monks do when they aren’t disturbing their neighbours and I finally got back off to sleep. I took a taxi into Sokcho later in the morning and then caught the ten thirty bus to Seoul.

The subway at the stadium didn’t seem as busy as normal, perhaps as a consequence of last season’s champions Seoul having made such a poor start to the season with just a single point from their first three games. I paid fourteen thousand won for a ticket in the East Stand, mainly because you get a better view of the cheerleaders from there. It seemed that most other people had the same idea as apart from a couple of thousand Seoul fans in the North Lower, the rest of the ground was virtually empty. There were about a hundred and fifty Jeonbuk fans behind the goal to my left and oddly enough , a few more Jeonbuk fans in the East Stand.

He looks a little out of place, perhaps he wanted a decent view of the cheerleaders too.

Lee Dong Gook, who had scored twice for Jeonbuk in their previous game, started as the lone striker, with Luiz Henrique and Eninho in support. The early chances all went Jeonbuk’s way with The Lion King missing one after ten minutes when he failed to make a clean contact with a cross before later having a shot from the edge of the box deflected for a corner.

Seoul were looking fairly solid though with Adilson generally taking care of things at the back. He’d had a change in his haircut from last season, perhaps to try and distance himself from the masks bearing his likeness that were handed out to fans. After about twenty minutes the home side took the lead when their new signing from Seongnam, Molina, played in Dejan Damjanovic who rolled the ball past the Jeonbuk goalie.


A minute later Molina doubled his team’s lead, notching his first K-League goal for Seoul by lobbing the advancing keeper with a well-taken finish. Seoul were well on top at this stage and with Djeparov firing a shot just wide could easily have finished the game off. The first half ended with Adilson finally picking up a booking for his dodgy haircut, although Jeonbuk failed to take advantage of the subsequent free-kick.


A team-mate ushers Adilson away from the ref and back to the barber.

I don’t remember the Seoul keeper having to make a save in the first half. Mind you, I don’t think the Jeonbuk goalie made one either. During the interval we were ’treated’ to a couple of songs from someone dressed up in a Disney Princess costume.

Time for a Bovril.

Jeonbuk were a bit more adventurous in the second half, bringing on Krunoslav Lovrek shortly after the break to partner Lee Dong Gook up front. It eventually paid dividends, with Middlesbrough’s greatest ever Korean player turning in a cross from the left to pull a goal back for his current club.

And then they nearly equalised.

We looked set for an interesting last ten minutes, or at least we did until Dejan Damjanovic restored his team’s two goal advantage by following up after his initial header was saved and putting the rebound away.

Soon to be 3-1.

All that was left was to marvel at the cheek of whoever decides the attendance figure. It was announced on the big screen as 27,406 whereas I’d have estimated the crowd to be somewhere between eight and ten thousand. The win moved Seoul up into eleventh place after four games of the season, whilst Jeonbuk dropped down to ninth.

Seoraksan Hiking, 1st April 2011

April 7, 2011

One of the things that I like about Korea is that I often get a day off work for what I see as no good reason. Last week, for example, we were all given Thursday off because it was the Company’s birthday. Perfect, don’t you think? Well no actually, perfect is when they give you the Friday off as well because it falls between two days when you are not at work. It’s known as a Sandwich Day.

With no sport to watch, I thought I’d use the two bonus days to do some hiking and I headed for Seoraksan National Park. Seoraksan is over in the North East of the country, not far from the border with North Korea and is home to the third highest mountain over here, the 1708m Daecheongbong. My plan was to tackle that one and spend a night in one of the shelters up in the hills.

I’d had a bit of a heavy evening on the Wednesday though and it was lunchtime before I got to the Express Bus Terminal. I caught the one o’clock bus to Sokcho and two and a half hours later I was at the seaside.


I did consider spending the night at Sokcho and having a proper look around but after half an hour of wandering around the beach area it seemed that the only entertainment was groups of teenagers throwing each other into the sea. There’s a limit to how long that can keep me amused and as half an hour exceeded it I decided to move on to the National Park instead. A fifteen minute taxi ride took me to the Mt. Seorak Tourist Hotel, which is the only hotel that is actually inside the National Park.

One of those rooms was mine.

The bloke on the front desk was extremely helpful as he explained that all of the trails from that end of the park that went anywhere near Daecheongbong were currently closed. This severely limited my options and as all I was left with were a few small hikes I decided to forget about overnight shelters and instead I booked in for two nights so that I could leave my backpack in the room the next day. I got an off-season rate of 65,000 won per night for a double room with a balcony and a view of the big hill opposite.

The hotel fella also pointed out that despite it being close to five o’clock I would still have time, if I was quick, to make my way to the Biryeong waterfall and back before it got dark. The trail took me through the woods for about two and a half kilometres, passing a couple of cafes that sold home-made wine. There was still a small amount of snow on the ground as I gained a little bit of height, but it wasn’t too difficult keeping my footing.  The waterfall was fairly unusual, long and thin, it would definitely be ‘white knuckle’ if it were a theme park log flume. As I followed the downward progress of individual leaves I did wonder whether some of the water molecules would eventually get more than one go on it and concluded that eventually they probably would. The best part of it all though was that there was no-one else there. The main entrance area to the park had still been pretty busy, particularly with school parties, but anyone who had wanted to visit this waterfall must have done so earlier in the day.


I sat around for about twenty minutes, enjoying being there without swarms of other hikers and then made my way back as the daylight faded. The hotel has a restaurant, so I had dolsot bibimbap for my tea before sitting out on the balcony.

The next morning I was up early as my plan was to make my way to the top of the 875m Ulsanbawi and I thought it would be a lot more enjoyable if I could do it before the crowds arrived. By just after seven I had passed the big Buddha statue and reached Sinheungha Temple where I paused for a quick look around. The monks must have still been in bed as the place was deserted.

Sinheungha Temple

A little further along I met four hikers who I presumed were on their way down after seeing the sunrise at the summit. They were the only people who I saw though apart from three blokes who were carrying stacks of boxes for the trailside cafes on their backs. Ulsanbawi is famous for being a bit of a slog with plenty of stairways providing easier access than would otherwise be available. It was fairly straightforward though and an hour and a half after setting off I was at the top.

Looking 'Northish' from the top of Ulsanbawi

The actual summit area was a bit of an anti-climax, being fairly small with the views to the West obscured by a tarpaulin barrier. The views to the other sides were ok though and again it was great to have the place to myself. I spent about half an hour at the top before making my way back down. The trail was a lot busier by that time with a few family groups and a couple of large school parties making their way up.

I paused for a cup of coffee by the side of the trail and watched as people trudged up one of the staircases that was visible from below.


Next I climbed to the top of Gwongeumseong fortress, which isn’t quite as impressive as it sounds as a cable car takes you to within fifty metres of the summit. Gwongeumseong fortress isn’t actually a fortress at all but a rock that could only be said to resemble a fortress if fortresses were actually made of stone and lacked any of the features that you would normally associate with them. I scrambled right to the very top, although no-one else did, probably because it was quite windy and I had to time my upward movements to coincide with the spells when the wind had dropped, Once there, I was able to sit by myself for twenty minutes looking down in to the valley with my hotel and the monastry in it and Ulsanbawi in the distance.

It's all down there.

In the afternoon I had a wander along to Geumgangul Cave. Most of the trails in that area were closed and I had to check with a Park Ranger to see how far along I would be allowed to go. The routes to Madeungryeong and the Cheondang Falls were both shut until mid-May leaving the cave as the only option.

The cave is the thing that looks like a hole.

The cave is positioned part of the way up a cliff face, but with plenty of staircases it is easily accessible. At the back of the cave there was a small temple and at the front of there was a woman dressed up in monk clothes talking loudly into her mobile phone.

Not the biggest temple I've been to.

As I hadn’t seen anyone else climbing the staircases I’d been looking forward to enjoying the solitude upon reaching the cave. I appreciate that expecting a monk to be observing a vow of silence is probably a bit too much to hope for these days, but yapping away non-stop into a mobile phone? FFS. If it had been me doing that in the temple at the bottom of the valley I’d have expected them to go all Ninja on me.


I was at the cave for about ten minutes and she didn’t even seem to pause for breath. You know that way in which Koreans sometimes drag out the “aaar” sound at the end of a word as if their Dad was a pirate and their Mam came from Somerset? Well, that was her.”Ten under paaarrr, hit by a caaarrr, boiled in taaarrr”. She would have been boiled in taaarrr if I’d had anything to do with it. Eventually I left her to her one-sided conversation and set off back down the trail, where my mood was lightened by watching a chipmunk eating it’s lunch.

I love my new zoom lens.

Back at the hotel I took advantage of the balcony again and as it got dark I sank a few beers beneath the mountains that I’d sat on top of earlier in the day.