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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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, 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.
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.