Chunnam Dragons v Sanju Sangmu, Saturday 23rd April 2011, 5pm

For my football fix last weekend I thought I’d head down to Gwangyang to watch Chunnam Dragons take on the army team Sangju Sangmu. It’s a fair distance from Seoul, 329km, and the easiest way seemed to be the direct bus from Dong Seoul.

The bus terminal  was pretty crowded and as I hadn’t bothered to pre-book my ticket I did wonder if I was going to struggle to get the bus I wanted. It was okay though and I got a seat on the 10.30am luxury service to Donggwangyang, as that’s the terminal in Gwangyang that’s nearest to the stadium. I took the opportunity to catch up on my sleep for a lot of the journey and four hours and twenty minutes after leaving Seoul I was there.

I had two hours to spare before kick-off and as the stadium was marked on the map that I’d picked up from Tourist Information, I thought I’d see if I could walk there. There was a basic flaw in my plan, however. The maps that most of the Tourist Offices give away in Korea aren’t drawn to scale. There seems to be a desire to include as many landmarks as possible, without giving too much consideration to geographical accuracy. If you imagine a map of the Lake District with Edinburgh shown just behind Skiddaw, and with Ireland looking close enough to reach on a pedalo, you wouldn’t be too far away. Until you tried to get there, that is.

By the time I’d messed about trying to reconcile what I could see with what was shown on the map I’d already used an hour up. I spotted the floodlights in the distance but it looked as if I’d either have to walk in a different direction to cross a river or else I’d be walking alongside a dual carriageway with no path. I took a taxi.

It's over there.

The taxi journey wasn’t without its difficulties either. You’d think that even if two people speak very little of each others language, but one of them had a map and was able to point at the only football stadium in town, then that would be enough. But no, it was as if the driver had never seen a map before and seemed convinced that the drawing of the ground was actually the local steelworks. Eventually he got it and ten minutes later we were there. If he did take the most direct route then I’m glad that I didn’t walk it.

Gwangyang Stadium - The steelworks looks very similar apparently.

It was seven thousand won to get in and you could sit anywhere you fancied. The only player that I recognised was the Chunnam goalie and captain, the former national team keeper Lee Woon Jae. It seemed a bit of a surprise when he turned up at Chunnam this season rather than taking a coaching role somewhere, but the move seems to have given him a new lease of life. Both teams had begun the season well, with ten points from their first six games. It was an especially impressive start for the army team who were still unbeaten after their relocation fron Gwangju to Sangju.

We had a bit of confusion before kick-off when the national anthem was played. Everyone traditionally turns to face the Korean flag but unfortunately you couldn’t see it from where I was sat in the East Stand as it was above us and behind the press box. Those who knew of its location turned in the approximate direction, other non-regulars made do with facing the large screen in the hope that the flag might appear there.

So where's the flag?

 The crowd had barely re-orientated themselves and sat down before Sangju continued their good start to the season by going ahead with a goal from Kim Jung Woo after three minutes.

This cross led to the goal.

Both sides settled down a bit after that with a lot of Chunnam’s best moves coming when  Brazilian Weslley and Columbian Javier Reina were involved. Weslley  had a decent chance just before half time but the Sangju keeper managed it block it with his legs.

After the interval I noticed these two fellas combining a bit of childcare with knocking back the soju. Let’s hope they remembered that the kid was in the box when it was time to go.

Family day out.

A Chunnam equaliser always seemed on the cards in the second half, but it just didn’t come and the army team held on for a victory that moved them up into third place. I got a taxi back to the bus terminal and then a bus to Suncheon where I intended to do some hiking the next day.

View from the North-West corner.

For those of you keeping up with the progress of Lee Dong Gook, Jeonbuk won 2-1 away at Daejeon, but he didn’t score. The win kept Jeonbuk in contention in second place, ahead of Sangju on goal difference.

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