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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.