Archive for May, 2011

Gwangju Gwangsan v Jeonju EM, Saturday 28th May 2011, 3pm

May 31, 2011

For this weekend’s trip Jen and I caught the Friday night KTX to Gwangju. It took us two hours and forty minutes to get there which coincidentally turned out to be just the right amount of time needed for us to work our way through a couple of bottles of screw-top Australian red. I’d like to think that someone took that into consideration when building the rail network.

We stayed in a motel next to the Gwangju Songjeong Station. It was only 30,000 won, which might explain why the decoration in the room consisted of a Titanic poster (sadly from the film and not the actual launching of the ship) and a Hite calendar featuring half nudey girls.

It wasn't far to walk though.

Next day we had a bit of time to spare before the third division game between Gwangju Gwangsan and Jeonju EM. Gwangju is a city that seems to be at the heart of any protest going and the Jeil High School had an exhibition showing how its students had stood up to the occupying Japanese on a fairly regular basis in the run up to World War II. It was quite a strange collection of stuff with photos of kids getting their heads cracked with sticks sitting alongside pictures of each year’s football or martial arts team. One corner, which seemed particularly out of place, was dedicated to basketball and baseball trophies. Nevertheless it was an interesting way to pass an hour or so.

This was outside.

After lunch we had a walk along the river, where the shops seemed to come in batches. There would be a whole street knocking out wedding dresses, followed by a hundred yards of tool hire shops. I think I liked the street of pet shops best, with some quite odd looking dogs in their windows.

It's just as well the warmer weather has arrived.

The opportunity to tap on the glass and attract the attention of the puppies occupied me for longer than it really should have and by the time we got a taxi to Honam University for the football we were cutting it a little fine. The game had already kicked off as we arrived, with Gwangju in an all blue strip that looked like it had faded in the sun. Jeonju EM wore their white away kit.

Gwangju in blue, Jeonju in white.

It was a pleasant place to watch a game in the sunshine. We took up a position along the side opposite the dug-outs. It was raised about eight feet so there was a decent view of the artificial pitch. A minute or two after we arrived a bloke appeared with a couple of plastic chairs for us. Fortunately the attendance was below twenty so there were enough seats left to accommodate latecomers like ourselves.

More first half action.

Twenty minutes in, Gwangju took the lead through their number thirteen. I don’t know his name and although it seems harsh, it doesn’t matter. He flicked the ball upwards and then volleyed home from over twenty yards. It was one of those shots that hung in the air but you knew from the moment that he struck it that the keeper wouldn’t be getting anywhere near it.

The view from the other corner.

It was quite a tight game with both defences seeming to have the measure of their opponents. The keepers looked confident and for a long time it appeared likely that the one goal would be enough to clinch the victory. Fifteen minutes from time though, Jeonju got a penalty which was confidently put away.

1 - 1.

The game opened up in the last quarter of an hour as both teams went for the winner. The Gwangju keeper made a couple of very good saves from close range shots, whilst one of his team mates rattled the crossbar at the other end. A draw was about right in the end in what had been an evenly matched contest.

There were more officials than fans.

We caught a taxi back into town for a night that eventually ended up in a coffee shop that had the gimmick of having about a dozen cats running around wild. Jen reckons that there are other places doing a similar thing, some with dogs, so I’ll look forward to seeking more of them out. Hopefully there might be one somewhere with pigs or horses wandering around between the tables. Don’t worry, I’ll take my camera next time.

For those of you with an interest in higher division football and/or Lee Dong Gook, Jeonbuk won 3-2 away at Daejeon with two goals from the Lion King. Jeonbuk regained pole position from Pohang whilst Lee Dong Gook’s brace took him to twelve goals from sixteen appearances in all competitions this season.

LG Twins v Doosan Bears, Wednesday 25th May 2011, 6.30pm

May 29, 2011

I’d originally been thinking about going to the football as FC Seoul were playing Japanese club Kashima Antlers in the Champions League. I’d been at their last game against Japanese opposition and the away end had been pretty lively with plenty of singing and a couple of dozen flares. My plan for this one had been to go in with the visitors and hope that the atmosphere would be similar. However, when I came out of work I just couldn’t be arsed dashing about and riding the subway during rush hour.

LG Twins were playing Doosan Bears though and that was a lot easier to get to. I could even watch the beginning of the game on the telly whilst I had my tea. Radhames Liz was the starting pitcher for LG and he rattled through the first load of Doosan batsmen in about five minutes. He looks the part and so he should, having started quite a few times in Major League Baseball in the US

Radhames Liz - LG Twins

The opening pitcher for the Bears, Kim Sun Woo started off ok too and by the time I left my apartment at about ten to seven the game was already well into the second innings.

Kim Sun Woo - Doosan Bears

It usually takes about three quarters of an hour to walk to the Jamsil stadium, depending on how long you get held up for when crossing the roads. There must have been a fair bit of traffic this time as it was quarter to eight before I arrived there. It was still quite busy outside even though the game was already seventy five minutes old.

Jamsil Stadium

Police were ticketing cars that were parked on the pavement, fried chicken sellers were trying to get rid of stock that must have been a couple of hours old at best and the touts were still looking to offload whatever seats they had left.

I was offered an 8,000 won seat in the main stand for 10,000 won. I knocked it back though as I didn’t want to have to walk around to the other side of the stadium and then look for that seat. I paid 7,000 won at the ticket office for a seat in the outfield and went straight in at the gate nearby.

It was packed inside, as you would expect when the two teams who share the stadium play each other and it was a struggle to find a seat. I wasn’t that bothered though and just found a spot where I could lean against the barrier at the top of the stand.

There's usually space for a picnic though.

In the time that it had taken me to walk from Yeoksam, the game had moved into the third innings and LG were leading 3-2. That wasn’t much of a surprise, they have been having a much better season than the Bears who haven’t been able to find anything like the form they had last season.

Jamsil Stadium outfield.

Doosan levelled it in the fourth before conceding another two runs to fall behind again by the end of that innings. Both pitchers were starting to look tired, having thrown about a hundred balls apiece. The Bears lad got the hook first, followed shortly afterwards by Radhames Liz.

It always looked like LG would go on to seal the victory though, they managed sixteen hits to Doosan’s five and in the sixth innings they added another couple of runs to move out of reach at 7-3. Strange, that sort of score doesn’t seem anything unusual. When it happened at the Asan Citizen against Seoul Martyrs game at the weekend it was quite another story.

LG Twins fans enjoying themselves.

I moved to an empty seat for the last half hour, as a lot of the Doosan Bears fans had seen enough. The game finished at ten and by quarter to eleven I was back in my apartment. Seoul had won the Champions League game that I’d decided not to bother with, but as there had been a pretty low attendance I think I probably made the right choice to give it a miss in favour of the baseball.

Kia Tigers v Hanwha Eagles, Sunday May 22nd 2011, 5pm

May 26, 2011

After the match between Asan Citizen and Seoul Martyrs I caught the slow train to Gunsan. It wasn’t quite as slow as the subway journey that I’d taken earlier in the day but I still spent over two hours looking out of the window at rice fields whilst the train stopped at every one-ox village on the way.

Jen had been to a baby shower in Seoul that afternoon, astonishingly preferring it to watching a third division game in the rain. She set off to Gunsan once it was finished though and I met her at the bus terminal. We asked a taxi driver to just take us to where it was busy and he dropped us off at an area not too far from the coast and with a few bars and restaurants. It was all still fairly quiet for a Saturday night though.

Next morning we went for a walk around Wolmyeong Park. There are a few miles of different trails, some of which will take you up to the tops of smallish hills, none of them bigger than about 150m.

Wolmyeong Park

There were plenty of large carp in the lake that we fed chocolate to and on the way up to one of the hilltops I had a go on some of the exercise equipment. It didn’t look as professionally made as the stuff I’ve seen elsewhere in Seoul, but looking on the positive side I doubt that it weighed as much.

It's heavier than it looks.

As it got towards mid-afternoon we got a taxi to Gunsan Baseball Stadium, thinking that it wouldn’t do any harm getting there early. If you are going to drink beer in the sunshine, there’s no reason why you can’t start before the match does. When we arrived, we were a little surprised to discover how crowded the area around the stadium was despite there still being two hours to the first pitch.

The teams had recently arrived and a lot of people were taking the opportunity to get their shirts signed.

He seems a popular lad.

Kia Tigers play most of their games further south in Gwangju, but stage nine matches in Gunsan over the season. It’s a smaller stadium and obviously a big deal to the locals when the baseball comes to town. Jen went to get the beers whilst I joined the queue at the ticket office. It took me half an hour to reach the front, where I was able to get 8,000 won tickets that allowed us to sit anywhere apart from a small covered section directly behind the plate.

Still two hours before the game started.

Despite the mayhem outside, it was still fairly quiet inside the stadium at half past three, although lots of the seats had already been reserved by people for their friends who were yet to arrive. A block of maybe twenty seats next to where we sat were marked as taken with tubes of Pringles or other snacks. By the time the game started there were very few empty seats and people were sitting in the aisles and standing at the back.

And not just people.

Kia seemed the team most likely to score although neither side broke their duck until the fifth innings. Hanwha starter Yang Hoon got the hook soon after conceding a couple of runs but unfortunately for the Eagles it quickly got worse with his replacement being hit for another four runs in the few minutes he was on the field.

Hanwha pitching to Kia, with the home fans in the background.

Yoon Seok Min fared better for the Tigers and by the time he was withdrawn in the sixth innings without having conceded a run the game was won.

Yoon Seok Min about to pitch for Kia Tigers.

We left not long after seven o’clock as we had a train to catch. The Tigers sent the locals home happy a little later with an eventual 13-1 victory. Next week we’ll be seeing Kia at their other ‘home’ stadium in Gwangju where they will be taking on Lotte Giants, the team whose fans blow up supermarket carrier bags and wear them as hats. Really.

Asan Citizen v Seoul Martyrs, Saturday 21st May 2011, 3pm

May 26, 2011

7-3. That’s not  a result that you see very often and it’s what my Mam would describe as ‘playing shotty in’. It’s the type of scoreline that makes you think of a kick about with your mates. Particularly with those mates who aren’t really keen on staying back in defence. Or those who have never played football before. If you hear of that result in an organised match, you’d think it would have had to have been a schools game, probably between under eights where they all chase after the ball like, well, seven year olds playing football.

But, it’s not necessarily always that way. There’s Real Madrid 7 Eintracht Frankfurt 3. The 1960 European Cup Final at Hampden Park that’s recognised as one of the best games ever. It was a bit before my time but my mate John Green was there as a boy and I don’t remember him ever describing watching Puskas, Di Stefano and Gento playing in a game of ‘shotty in’.

No defence?

 Alex Ferguson was there too watching that game and he was to subsequently meet Mr Green in a pre-season friendly maybe a dozen years or so later. The future Man Utd boss was winding down his playing career and my mate was by that time captaining his home town team Buckie Thistle.

John told me that he took great delight in letting Fergie know he was there with the sort of tackle where any contact with the ball is purely incidental. Fergie, after a muttered “FFS big fella, lets just take it easy” had what was probably one of the quieter afternoons of his life after that. If he had spent the second half constantly looking at his watch, I doubt that it was for the purpose of encouraging the ref to add more time on.

This game though, as I imagine that you had already suspected, was more like the kick around between mates. Mates, that is who were small boys and not mates who turned out each week for Real Madrid. Still, it was worth the trip.

Actually, the trip itself was worth the trip. Most people when they go to Asan will go by train. Generally the fast KTX train, sometimes the slightly slower Saemaul or Mugunghwa trains. All of them are fine and will get you there from Seoul in anything from thirty five mins to maybe an hour and a quarter.

There is another way though. Line One of the subway lines extends to about eighty kilometres south of Seoul and finishes just beyond Asan.  I wasn’t in a rush and so I thought I’d give it a try. Five stops west from Yeoksam to Sandang on Line 2 were followed by ten stops south on Line 4 to Geumjeong. Both of those trains were pretty full but fortunately I got a seat fairly quickly.

At Geumjeong I switched to Line 1 and rode that for twenty three stops until I reached Asan. I’d had to change trains for some reason at Cheonan and it took me just over two and a half hours in total. The Line 1 train was pretty quiet though and I caught up with my reading and my sleep at different points in the journey. Plus, at 2,500 won, you would probably have to walk to get there any cheaper.

Seoul subway - Line 1

As I got a taxi to the Yishunsin stadium I passed the next station along the line, Baebang. It would probably have been better to have continued on to there rather than get off at Asan. In fact the following station, Onyang Oncheon, might have been better still.

I still had fifteen minutes to spare when I got to the ground and so I had a wander around before I went in. There was a little shop with a beer fridge outside of it, but unfortunately the fridge was padlocked and the girl behind the counter didn’t have a key. So, I’d be watching this one without the benefit of a drink or two.

Yishunsin Stadium

Asan’s ground is probably one of the biggest that I’ve been in over here. Not in terms of capacity but in surface area. As usual there was a running track around the pitch, but there was sufficient space between the track and the stands to add another six or eight lanes to it, should they ever want to bid for the Olympics.  The main quirk at this place was an actual grass pitch as most teams at this level play on an artificial surface.

It had taken me a while to find my way in and as I emerged at the side of the pitch I realised that I had arrived just as the players were taking the field. I was tempted for a moment to follow them onto the pitch and walk along the line shaking hands but it was starting to rain so I left them to it and took a seat in the only stand which had the benefit of a roof. Asan were in yellow shirts and black shorts, Seoul in red shirts and black shorts.

Seoul Martyrs

Now, as I’ve already given the score away, I don’t know if you need bother with the rest. Besides, with ten goals it’s going to go on a bit. But as I got photos of some of the goals I might as well tell you what went on.

Asan got their first goal a minute into the game with a soft glancing header that I believe is usually described as something that the keeper could have thrown his cap on. Well, this keeper didn’t have a cap, although the header was so slow that he would have had time to nip home and get one if he’d wanted and still have been able to keep the ball out of the net.

It might have been an idea for him to have picked up a goalie shirt whilst he was getting the cap as well. His yellow shirt clashed with the home team’s kit and so he was wearing a blue bib. A lot of the time I mistook him for steward or a ballboy. Usually, it has to be said, whenever the other team had a shot at goal.

He's tall for a ballboy.

Half an hour in and there was still just the one goal in it. That was all about to change though and the award of a penalty to the Martyrs opened the floodgates. It had to be taken twice due to encroachment before Seoul got their equaliser.

They stayed out of the box for the second attempt.

Seoul’s goal didn’t really do them any favours as it just seemed to piss the home team off and by half time Asan were four one up.

A cross from the left brought Asan’s second goal. Everyone, including the keeper left the ball and it arrived at the back post where the loitering striker was able to stamp the ball home with his studs in the nonchalant manner of someone casually vandalising a cucumber frame.

The third came from a counter-attack where Asan found themselves with two men over. A shot from ten yards out was palmed up into the air by the keeper and it landed behind him and just over the line.

Right on half time Asan got another free-kick near the corner flag. Once again everyone left the ball alone and this time it went straight in.

Oh dear.

The second half started just as badly for the Martyrs as they conceded their fifth goal within a minute or two of the restart. I think the couple of players who had occasionally been hanging back in defence for Seoul had forgotten that they had changed ends and the Asan strikers had an easy enough task in walking the ball in.

There was better news five minutes later as Seoul pulled one back. The lad who scored even grabbed the ball afterwards and sprinted back to the centre-circle, bless him.

With twenty minutes left, Seoul got another one to make it 5-3. I’ve no idea if it was a shot or a cross and I suspect the player didn’t either. Whatever, it sailed over the head of the Asan keeper who may have been texting on his mobile and landed in the net.

The comeback was short lived though and Asan added a couple more in the closing minutes to extend their lead to 7-3.

That's all folks.

After the tenth goal of the afternoon Seoul revised their tactics and shot direct from the re-start. The Asan goalie mustn’t have had a phone signal as he managed to see that one coming and gather the ball as the final whistle blew.

I shared a taxi back to the station with Seoul Martyrs fan, Simon, who watches them regularly and who assured me that they weren’t normally as bad as that. It was just as well really, as I suspect that he might have had to take a turn in goal otherwise.

I wasn’t complaining though. It had been an entertaining afternoon. The standard might not have been up to the famous Real Madrid-Eintracht Frankfurt game, but it had been better than a kids match involving under-eights. At times, anyway.

FC Seoul v Yongin City, Wednesday 18th May 2011, 7.30pm

May 24, 2011

It’s FA Cup time again with the sixteen K-League teams joining the remaining National League, Challengers League and University teams in the last thirty two. The draw is seeded, so each game features a top division club.

I hadn’t intended to go to a game as the Seoul match was the only one I could get to and I’ve been there enough times not to get too much of a buzz from watching their fringe players in a deserted stadium.

Someone at work decided that this would be a good opportunity for a ‘teambuilding’ session though and I would have felt more than a little bad-mannered turning down the invitation when they know how much of my spare time I spend going to football matches.

The good news was that we got out of work an hour early and by 6.30pm we were sat on benches outside the stadium drinking straight from litre bottles of Hite. That’s my kind of team-building activity. The tickets had been sorted in advance and some of the younger employees had been sent to the supermarket to buy the amount of supplies that would have been more appropriate for a month long trip.

Refreshments.

As kick-off time approached we found our seats in the East stand. There were a few hundred people there from my company, which is just as well as the attendance was a long way down on that of a league fixture. Yongin didn’t help much as they brought eight fans. Possibly the same eight that I’d seen in their recent away game at Goyang KB.

Unfortunately for Bob, his Mam had put his blue shirt in the wash.

As expected, Seoul had rested a few players. Edilson was out there on the pitch though, playing in the centre of defence and Dejan Damjanovic was on the bench in case it didn’t all go to plan. The first half was goalless and without much action. Yongin had a few chances but didn’t really look like scoring whilst Seoul never got out of second gear. Most of the fun came from watching the activities of the company ‘freshmen’ who appeared to have been practising their chants all week.

Stand up if you love your job.

I got the impression that a few of them had not been to a football game before and possibly wouldn’t be returning until the next team-building event, but they all knew the importance of appearing committed to the cause whilst their bosses were watching and they kept up the singing throughout the match.

 At half-time Seoul must have decided that it had been goalless for long enough and they brought on Dejan Damjanovic. It didn’t take him long to make an impact and once the first goal went in that was game over. Seoul added another three later in the second half making it a successful evening for all bar the Yongin Eight. It was just as well really as I dread to think how the freshmen would have taken it if Seoul had lost.

Everyone who had been good was given a balloon to take home.

After the game a few of us adjourned to the convenience store next to the stadium and continued our bonding over some more cans. There were a few shocks in the round with three National league teams progressing at the expense of their K-League opposition. Hopefully two of them will draw each other in the next round to ensure a lower division representative in the last eight.

Pohang Steelers v Jeonbuk Motors, Sunday 15th May 2011, 3pm

May 19, 2011

It’s been six weeks since I’ve seen Jeonbuk play. A combination of games in the lower divisions, visits to new stadiums in the K-League and a few hiking trips has made it difficult to fit one of their games in. I hadn’t been to the Pohang Steel Yard for a match before though and so this game seemed an ideal opportunity to catch up with the progress of Middlesbrough’s greatest ever Korean ex-player, Lee Dong Gook.

Jeonbuk had lost three-one away at Seoul when I last saw them. Since then though they had done pretty well, with an unbeaten run in the league and they were now topping the table with nineteen points from their opening nine fixtures. Perhaps I’m a jinx.

Lee Dong Gook has been doing pretty well too, going into this game with nine goals from twelve appearances in all competitions. To make things a little more interesting, today’s opponents Pohang Steelers are second to Jeonbuk in the league table and are Lee Dong Gook’s former club and home town. He made his debut for Pohang in 1998 and with the exception of a loan spell in Germany and his time doing National Service, he played here until signing for the Boro eight years later.

Jen and I had been staying in the Palgongsan Provincial Park the night before after having done a bit of hiking and so getting to Pohang wasn’t as difficult as it would have been had we been travelling from Seoul. We got a taxi into Daegu and then a bus to Pohang. The buses ran approximately every ten minutes according to the bloke at the terminal and ours took about an hour and a quarter. It was a lot quicker and more convenient than the train, where the only one that would have got us to Pohang in time for the match left at nine in the morning and wound its way around the countryside for two hours.

As it was, we got to Pohang just before noon. After a quick lunch of gimbap and kimchi mandu we had a wander along to the Jukdo Market.

Jukdo Market

It’s mainly fish with lots of them still alive in tanks. I reckon that I’ve probably been to zoos with less livestock in my time. I thought these octopuses were pretty well trained not to run off. We did see some smaller ones trying to leap out of the bowl of water that they were in.

Remarkably well behaved.

As well as the seafood there was the odd butchers shop, including one with a fridge full of dog on the pavement outside. I’ve not really noticed dog meat very often, although there are plenty of restaurants that serve it, often specialising in a combination of dog and duck. I do wonder what Koreans would think if they saw a ‘Dog and Duck’ pub sign in the UK and whether they would be disappointed at having to settle of a bag of crisps to eat.

There was no doubt to the contents of this fridge though, with at least three large dogs in various states of dismemberment. Some limbs were skinned, others left with the skin on. I’d read that some Koreans can get a bit arsey about foreigners taking photos of dog meat, but nobody gave me a second glance.

Dog meat.

There were also some penis fish. I can’t imagine buying any of those either as I would feel as if I were letting the side down if I took a knife and fork to one of them. I did take a photo though, wondering if it would get me any nearer the top of the ‘fish porn’ searches in Google.

Penis fish

We took a taxi to the Steelyard, which I think is a great name for a football ground and bought 10,000 won tickets that you could use for any part of the ground apart from the South stand which was reserved for the Jeonbuk supporters. We chose the West stand, mainly in the hope that we wouldn’t have the sun in our eyes. There was only one gate open and we had to queue for a couple of minutes before getting in.

There weren’t many empty seats along the side and we ended up near the corner flag, quite close to the back. It was still a good view though, as the lack of a running track and the steep gradient in the stands meant that we were pretty near to the pitch. It’s probably the best designed of all the football stadiums that I’ve been to in Korea, appropriately sized with a 25,000 capacity and with a roof all of the way around. There was a section on the other side of the ground that was fully occupied by soldiers. They seemed to clap and cheer in time with each other, so perhaps it’s something that they cover in basic training.

East stand

Jeonbuk, who were in their usual green shirts, started the stronger of the two teams, with Pohang in their Dennis the Menace kit looking a little nervous on the ball. The visitors had left their two Brazillians, Eninho and Luiz Henrique on the bench. Lovrek started on the left side of midfield and Lee Dong Gook was up front on his own. He came close to scoring after quarter of an hour, curling a shot just beyond the top corner after a one-two on the edge of the box with Lovrek.

Five minutes later, the Lion King missed a far easier chance when he wellied the ball over the bar from a few yards out. It must have felt as if he was back at The Riverside.

Pohang Steelers on the attack.

The missed chances were forgotten a few minutes before half-time though as Lee Dong Gook got his tenth goal of the season when his shot from way out took a massive deflection and left the keeper with no chance. A minute before the break Jeonbuk doubled their lead when Park Won Jae volleyed home from the edge of the box, also against his former club and in his home town.

At half-time we had a wheel of fortune game where a bloke won a car. There had been a similar prize at the Chunnam Dragons match a couple of weeks ago and on both occasions I wondered how the relatively low gate receipts could justify that kind of prize.

That's right, drive it straight across the pitch.

My daughter and I were in the audience for the recording of the real Wheel of Fortune show a couple of years ago. We were in LA and thought that it might be quite interesting to visit a TV studio. I don’t think we got on the telly as we looked to have been carefully placed in the section where the less photogenic members of the audience sit. Still, it was something different.

Lee Dong Gook didn’t reappear at the start of the second half, having been replaced by big lunk Jeong Seong Hoon. I can only assume that he had picked up an injury as it was a bit early to regard the game as being in the bag and to look ahead to the next one.

West stand

Sure enough, fifteen minutes in, Pohang pulled a goal back with a free header at a corner. Jeonbuk’s task was made even harder a few minutes later when Jung Hoon picked up his second yellow of the afternoon. Perhaps him only having two names makes the refs more inclined to book him.

The home fans were really getting behind their team at this point and with the stadium around two-thirds full there was a decent atmosphere. It got a whole lot better as well when Pohang substitute Adriano Chuva equalised and then celebrated by donning a single white glove.

The momentum was all with Pohang by this time, with Chuva and former Northampton, Shrewsbury and Hamilton Academicals striker Derek Asamoah causing plenty of problems. Fifteen minutes from the end Pohang were awarded a penalty and Chuva converted it to give the home team a three-two victory.

3 - 2.

The win took Pohang back to the top of the table, dropping Jeonbuk down into second place two points behind. I’ve seen Jeonbuk three times this season and they have lost each of those games. As those are their only league defeats I think my theory that I may be a jinx could well have something in it.

We got a taxi to the train station where we were entertained by a row between a bloke on a mobility scooter, a pair of identically dressed female twins in their fifties and a fella who looked a little worse for wear. The Police Station was only thirty yards away and the drama was enough for them to come and break it up by taking the easier option of nicking the bloke who could walk. The twins followed as he was led away, haranguing him from a safe distance.

Don't mess with The Twins.

A slow train then took us to Daegu, followed by a much quicker one back to Seoul.

Palgongsan hiking, Saturday 14th May 2011.

May 19, 2011

At the weekend Jen and I visited Palgongsan Provincial Park. We were going to watch Jeonbuk play away at Pohang Steelers on the Sunday and thought that if we took the train south on the Friday night after work, we’d be able to get a day’s hiking in on the Saturday.

It all went very well. The 8.30pm KTX from Seoul got us into Daegu just over an hour and a half later and we then got a taxi for the twenty kilometre drive to Palgongsan. We had been planning on staying in the Hot Springs Spa but they had no rooms for the Saturday night. Instead we ended up in the Ivvy Motel just around the corner. That’s right, Ivvy with two vees.

We got a very large room for 50,000 won per night. All of the Love Motels in Korea are designed to help guests retain their anonymity by not requiring you to give any registration details, but this one took it to another level. If you have a car, you drive into your individual garage where you can lower the door behind you to avoid your car being seen. Then you climb the stairs to your room where you access it by feeding banknotes into a machine in the wall. There wasn’t even a key because I don’t think anyone is expected to leave the room until they check out. It was well equipped with two bathrooms, two large screen tellies and mirrors over the bed. There was even a beer in the fridge. Oddly though, there wasn’t a door on the toilet.

Next day we had breakfast at a table outside of a GS25 convenience store and then made our way up the trail.

I'm told it's what proper mountaineers eat.

There were a variety of routes and we decided to head for the 1,167m Dongbong peak. The trail was relatively quiet by Korean standards and a couple of hours later we were at the top. There were some decent views to what I think was the North.

Those people were having their lunch.

To the West there was the bizarre sight of a golf course set into the hillside. It really did seem such an odd place to build it. I’ve not played much golf, but random courses where you least expect them is something that might just inspire me to take it up.

Palgongsan Golf Course.

We didn’t really have much of a plan for where to go next and set off towards Gatbawi. There are a couple of quite famous Buddha statues there and so it seemed as good a place as any. The route was quite hard work though with lots of sections where you had to lower yourself down on a rope or by using the railings.

After a while we decided to head for Donghwasa Temple instead. One Buddha statue is as good as another as far as I’m concerned and the route looked to involve a bit less clambering about. We got lost part of the way down as we were using a trail that wasn’t marked on the maps, but after stumbling across a different temple we managed to find our way to Donghwasa.

Buddha statue at Donghwasa Temple.

Duck and pheasant seem to be the local speciality and we ended up having dinner that evening at a duck restaurant which hadn’t been open long. We were the only customers and were given a present of a toothbrush set each.

Next morning it was easy enough to flag a taxi down and get ourselves to the bus terminal for the journey to Pohang. We’ll probably look to stay in Palgongsan again when the World Athletics Championships take place in Daegu in September and combine another of the peaks with a trip to see Usain Bolt.

Sangju Sangmu v FC Seoul, Sunday 8th May, 3pm

May 18, 2011

Sangju Sangmu are a new team in the K-League this season. Well, sort of. They are the team made up of players doing their national service and played in the past as Gwangju Sangmu. Gwangju was a bit of an odd place to base an Army team in bearing in mind the history of the uprising and subsequent massacre in 1980 and unsurprisingly the military didn’t have a great deal of support at their old stadium. The move to Sangju seems to have given them a new lease of life though and although it’s early days the locals appear to be very happy to have K-League football in their town.

Jen and I got the bus from Dong Seoul at 11.30am, getting there just before two. Unusually we made a point of trying to sort out our return tickets before we left the bus station and it’s just as well that we did. There were no seats on any of the buses going to Seoul after half past three. With the stadium being about half an hour away from the bus station, that would have meant leaving the game as soon as it had kicked off. Eventually we managed to book seats on a 6.15pm bus to Ansan which is a town south-west of Seoul but on the subway network.

The walk to the stadium turned out to be forty minutes, so in reality we wouldn’t have even been able to stay for the kick-off if we’d been limited to the Seoul bus with empty seats. The highlight of the walk was passing a couple of blokes turning over the soil in their back garden by way of a plough that incorporated a bicycle wheel. Luckily I had my camera with me.

The horse had a day off.

Once we were at the stadium we were directed to the ticket office where a very helpful bloke explained that the tickets were five thousand won each or two for a billion. Buying a pair didn’t seem like much of a bargain.

Sangju Civic Stadium

When we got inside the Sangju Civic Stadium it became apparent that it was a pretty decent ground. Okay, it had a running track and only the main stand was covered, but with a fifteen thousand capacity it was small enough not to seem deserted and there was a pleasant mountain backdrop. I’d estimate that there were about six thousand fans there, with a couple of hundred having made the trip from Seoul.

View towards the main stand

Whilst I quite liked the Sangju stadium, I wasn’t too taken with the home team’s strip. Someone had decided that dressing them up as Sunderland would be a good idea and it never is. It’s disappointing that they haven’t thought of turning out in camouflage gear. Seoul had left their AC Milan kit behind to avoid a clash and were wearing their rather natty Man City away kit with the black and red diagonal stripe on a white shirt.

The game started badly for Edilson, Seoul’s Brazilian centre-half, who looked to have received a crafty shove in the back just as he went for a header. Not only did the push cause him to take the ball smack in his face but he also managed to pick up a yellow card for whining about it. I suspect that he probably forgot his grievances for a while a few minutes later though when his Montenegrin team-mate Dejan Damjanovic opened the scoring for Seoul.

Samgju hadn’t been beaten in the league coming into this game and they soon fought back to draw level. It was quite a fortunate equaliser, with Seoul’s Park Yong Ho heading a fairly tame cross into his own net.

Sangju attacking in the first half.

Seoul were probably the better team for most of the first half with Djeparov putting himself about and Molina playing a lot deeper than usual and down the left. Ten minutes before the break they restored their lead as the unmarked Damjanovic got his second of the game with a free header.

It was end to end stuff for the remainder of the half with Sangju having a goal disallowed for offside, a decision that looked a bit harsh to me and then Molina hitting the post for Seoul with the rebound bouncing just out of reach of Damjanovic.

At the interval we were treated to a few songs from someone who looked as if he’d been at the peak of his career when the South Korean Army were busy fighting their war against the North rather than filling in their Saturdays with football games.

The half-time entertainment.

There wasn’t much in the way of refreshments, nor facilities and I had to go out of the stadium to use the toilet and to replenish my stock of beer. I think the ground is less than twenty years old so you’d think that inside toilets would have been something that the architect might have considered worth having.

When I was a kid, one of my Nannas had an outside toilet at her house in Sunderland and to a ten year old that was quite exciting. I’m over that sort of thing now though and after a few cans I’d rather stadiums had toilets that didn’t involve having to go out and then come back in again. Actually, that reminds me. I bought a house in the Bulgarian countryside a few years ago and that’s got an outside toilet too. Perhaps they are lot more common than I’d thought.

Trap 1 in Bulgaria.

I don’t know whether there were any threats of marches with heavy backpacks made in the Sangju dressing room at half time, but the team-talk had an immediate effect with an equaliser for the home side seconds after the restart as Choi Hyo Jin fired home from the edge of the box.

It stayed at two apiece until the seventy third minute when the Sangju captain, Kim Young Sam headed back over his advancing keeper, leaving Damjanavic to chase the ball into an empty net. It didn’t look to me as if the Seoul striker definitely got a touch, but when you’re on a hat trick you are going to claim it regardless.

Sangju weren’t giving up though and within a minute they were level again. Kim Jung Woo carved his way through the Seoul defence and got his captain off the hook for his earlier mistake with a very well taken goal.

Kim Jee Hyuk punches clear for Sangju

It wasn’t Kim Young Sam’s day though and eight minutes from the end he picked up a second yellow to cap a miserable afternoon. He’d had a really poor game when I saw the Army team at Chunnam a couple of weeks earlier too and I was beginning to wonder if he was keeping his place in the side due to his Dad being a Colonel or something.

There was a bit of a skirmish a couple of minutes later over Seoul not getting a penalty decision. I was disappointed that the squaddies in the home side didn’t all pile in like soldiers tend to do on a night out if one of their number is getting a bit of hassle. The stadium announcer managed to orchestrate some booing from the crowd though and that just about made up for it.

The game wasn’t over at three all and with two minutes remaining Seoul snatched a winner as substitute Hyun Young Min fired in a direct free kick from twenty five yards.

The winning goal.

Sangju finished the game with nine men as Yoon Yeo San picked up his team’s second red card of the afternoon in injury time. We got our bus to Ansan, which stopped at a few small towns on the way before arriving nearly four hours after setting off. With no idea where the subway was we ended up spending almost another hour in a taxi getting back to Seoul.

It was a decent trip though. Next time we’ll look to stay overnight and book our bus tickets in advance.

Busan Transport Corporation v Mokpo City, Friday 6th May 2011, 3pm

May 16, 2011

 

This trip was a bit last-minute, mainly because I’d thought that I would be at work. I’d known for a while that I’d be getting the day before off as Thursday was Children’s Day, a public holiday, but until the Wednesday night I’d expected to have to work the Friday as I had a couple of meetings lined up. As tends to be the way here my meetings were re-scheduled at the last minute to the Monday, causing me to cancel my plans for that day but freeing up the Friday instead. I don’t know why I told you all that because it’s not remotely relevant. Anyway, if you are still reading, the good news is that you don’t need to remember it.

I did think about going for a hike, but Jen and I had been for quite a long walk the day before. As neither of us have any parents in Korea who could have taken us to the zoo we celebrated Children’s Day by walking from the Han River towards Anyang and then back again instead. We walked for six hours and probably covered about fourteen miles. It meant that the following day I didn’t really fancy a trek up a hill.

Not the usual riverbank activities

It’s quite  an interesting walk with plenty of sporting activities going on by the water. We watched a few balls of a baseball game, where I suspect our presence put a bit of additional pressure on the players, and saw some speed skaters lapping a track. There were plenty of fish too, carp by the look of it and they often broke the surface of the water. It was a while before I realised that the frenzied activity was probably mating, so the photos that I took are actually fish porn. I’m curious to see if that phrase brings in any visitors to the blog via Google. There are some people with unusual interests out there you know.

Fish Porn

I had a look at the football fixtures and my options were limited to a couple of second division games. One of them was in Busan, which is over two hundred miles away from Seoul whilst the other one was in Gimhae, which is slightly closer but would have involved me going past it to Busan and then backtracking. The kick-offs were four hours apart so I could actually have gone to both games if I’d been so inclined, but that seemed like a bit too much effort and I settled for Busan Transport Corporation v Mokpo City.

I caught the 9.45am KTX from Seoul Station and by just before midday I was in Busan. There is a subway station just outside the rail station and as I was looking for an easy life I got myself a one day pass for 3,500 won.

With it being lunchtime I thought I’d make the most of being in a fishing port and I  paid a visit to the Jagalchi fish market.

Jagalchi Fish Market

There were a lot more boats in the harbour than last time I was here and a lot more outdoor stalls selling a mixture of live and filleted fish. I watched a bloke dealing with the eels for a while. He would just grab one from a bucket of water, pin its head to a board with an awl and then nick the skin at the top of the neck with his knife. Although with an eel it’s probably difficult to say where the neck is, they are pretty much all neck. He would then partially pull off the skin, rip out the guts and then remove the rest of the skin before slicing the head off.

The headless, skinless and gutless body was then thrown into a bowl where it continued to writhe around, with what seemed like no ill effects from what had gone on over the previous twenty seconds or so.

The bloke asked me if I wanted one, but I wasn‘t sure if it would be served raw. I was fine eating the still wriggling octopus legs a few months ago, but the eel was pink and bleeding. Plus it looked pretty mad about what had just gone on and I didn’t want it taking its temper out on me even if its teeth were five feet away in the scraps bucket.

This would probably have been more effective as a video.

I played it safe in the end and got a plate of prawns that were cooked at my table on a little camping style stove. With time moving on I then got back on the subway and travelled three stops further along the line to stop number 107, which is the nearest station to the Gudeok Stadium. I came out of exit three, turned left and in a few moments was able to see one of the floodlights. It’s about ten minutes walk.

Gudeok Stadium

It wasn’t readily apparent where you were supposed to get into the ground, but the main entrance was open and so I just wandered in through there. I emerged from under the main stand to find myself next to the pitch and after a bit of to-ing and fro-ing I was able to make my way up through the media section and then find a seat a bit higher up.

There was a bit of an odd sight in the front row of the stand where a life-size cut-out of one of the Busan fans, Charlie Robinson, gazed down onto the pitch. I know Charlie, having spent a very enjoyable day with him and a few others at a Jeonbuk game last year, and it was a little disconcerting to come face to face with his effigy.

"Stand up if you love Busan"

There weren‘t many fans in the stadium at this point, possibly only about a hundred and none of whom appeared to be supporting Mokpo. Maybe a few dozen additional replica fans might be just what the place needs to fill it up.

The teams lined up as usual before kick-off, Mokpo tried to pass themselves off as Man Utd whilst Busan were perhaps a little more realistic in their ambitions with a Brighton kit.

Brighton v Man Utd

When the teams turned around to face the Korean flag for the National Anthem, Busan instantly transformed themselves from Brighton to Chelsea. Their kit being totally devoid of stripes on the back meant for quite a confusing game. It was as if a combined Brighton and Chelsea XI has turned out, each player choosing to just wear the strip of their own club.

Chelsea v Man Utd

There wasn’t much of note happened in the first half, one of the Busan players, possibly Peter Ward, possibly Gianfranco Zola, had a shot saved after about half an hour, but it was mainly just forty five minutes of misplaced passes.

At half time I had a wander around to the other side of the ground, before spotting the real life Charlie who had been held up in traffic. Fortunately he didn’t stand near his replica, as I’m pretty sure that’s the sort of thing that upsets the space-time continuum.

Goalmouth action

As we spent most of the second half chatting there is even less detail than normal this time. I did see Peter Osgood put the home team ahead a few minutes into the second half with a shot that took what is usually described as a wicked deflection.  Alex Stepney in the Mokpo goal stood no chance and, wrongfooted, could only stand and watch the ball creep past him.

View from the main stand

That’s the way it ended up, with a one goal win for the home team. I caught the KTX back to Seoul and was back in the capital shortly after half past eight. If the football photos look better this week it’s because I delegated the job to Charlie’s young son. If I see him at a game again I’ll try and off-load the words too.

Doosan Bears v Samsung Lions, Thursday 28th April 2011, 6.30pm

May 15, 2011

This baseball really is too easy. I can leave work at normal time, decide if the weather is up to it, nip home to get changed, have my tea and I can still get to Jamsil for not too long after the opening pitch.

I missed the first twenty five minutes on Thursday, but when a game goes on for three to four hours it doesn’t make the slightest difference. In fact, if I‘d walked there rather than take the subway it might have worked out even better as I would have avoided the crowds and the queues.

As it was I got there just before seven and because there were so many people at the box office I paid one of the granny touts 15,000 won for an 8,000 won ticket. I’d probably have got it for below face value half an hour later and still been able to see two to three hours of baseball.

It was midway through the second innings when I took my seat close to the Samsung Lions fans and they were leading the Doosan Bears by a run to nil. The teams had met the previous evening and Samsung had come away with an eleven nil victory. Part of me would have quite liked to have seen a second successive humiliation for the home team just to see how the fans and players would have reacted.

Yoon Seong Hwan was pitching for Samsung and did okay, surviving into the fifth innings whilst only conceding a single run.

Yoon Song Hwan - Samsung Lions

The starter for the Doosan Bears, Lee Hyeon Seung, didn’t fare quite so well. He had already been hit for four runs when he was replaced in the third innings.

Lee Hyeon Seung - Doosan Bears

At that stage it looked as if we might have been on for a repeat of the previous night’s thrashing, but the Bears rallied to make a game of it. After six innings they had managed to get a couple of runs on the board to trail 4-2.

Samsung Lions Cheerleaders

Samsung put the game out of their reach though with runs in the seventh and eight innings to stretch their lead to 6-2. I kept an eye out for Samsung’s Ryan Garko but he looked a bit out of form and struggled to get his bat anywhere near the ball. The fans seemed to like him though and they sang his name whilst he swished his bat around more in the manner of a man trying to twat a fly with a Gazette than someone with any real belief that he might hit a baseball into the crowd.

Ryan Garko - Samsung Lions

I left at the start of the ninth. It was getting colder and I didn’t really fancy another beer. I caught the closing stages on the telly as I passed my local fried chicken place and watched Doosan pull one of the runs back. That was as much as they could manage though and at the close had to settle for a 6-3 defeat.