There was no way that my son Tom could spend a fortnight in Korea and pass up the opportunity of seeing the Boro’s greatest ever Korean player, Lee Dong Gook. After all, he’d been there for half of the goals that the Lion King had scored for Middlesbrough. I, on the other hand, hadn’t seen either of them.
So, on a rainy Sunday morning, Tom, Jen and I caught the bus to Jeonju from Seoul Central City station to see the Jeonbuk v Seongnam game. Tom was pretty impressed with the luxury bus. I don’t think we have buses with a two and one seating configuration in the UK. Certainly I don’t remember ever travelling anywhere over there and having such a large reclinable seat.
He was also quite taken with the service station and the bowls of roast potatoes that you can buy there. I’ve grown accustomed to a lot of the things that he’s seeing for the first time so it’s quite nice to get the odd reminder of some of the differences.
We got to Jeonju at about two o’clock. As the match didn’t kick off for another five hours we had a wander around the Hanok Village. On the face of it, this is a bit of Jeonju’s history, a place where you can see the old fashioned single-storey houses that most folk lived in before apartment blocks took over. The reality though is that they are being constantly refurbished and upgraded. It’s only about eight months since Jen and I were last there and already since then there are a couple of new Italian restaurants, a Paris Baguette cafe and a few more art and craft places.
We followed up the Hanok Village visit with a wander along the market by the river. There wasn’t much in the way of livestock, a bucket or two of eels, but there were plenty of chicken carcasses displayed in the heat and attracting the flies. We watched a mouse scampering around the boxes of vegetables at one stall whilst the owner stretched out on a bench and caught up on her sleep.
With an hour to go to kick-off we caught a taxi up to the World Cup Stadium. It takes around fifteen minutes from Jeonju centre. After sorting the tickets for behind the goal we got some free beer at the Hite van. Again, I’ve got used to stuff like that but it’s not something Tom encounters too often in the UK.
We took our seats behind the goal where for the first time since the day before I was able to have a beer with my son whilst watching a football match. Why does it have to be like that? We used to go to rugby games a lot where drinking in your seat is seen as perfectly normal. At the cricket you’d be regarded as a bit odd if you didn’t have a drink in your hand. But football is different. Even once the game became fashionable after Euro 96 things still didn’t change.
Fortunately Lee Dong Gook was in the starting line up. It would have been a bit rough if Tom had travelled six thousand miles to see him warm the bench. There was no place for Luiz Henrique but Croatian striker Krunoslav Lovrek was starting on the left side of midfield. It didn’t take Jeonbuk long to take the lead, an own goal from Jeong Ho Jeong putting the home team ahead.
Twenty minutes into the second half Kim Dong Chan made it two with a well-taken finish after Lee Dong Gook had controlled the ball on the edge of the box and played him in. We cleared off five minutes before the final whistle in an attempt to get a taxi to Iksan station. It didn’t work though and we ended up having to walk for about fifteen minutes to the junction of the main road into Jeonju. We flagged one down before long though and got to the station with about ten minutes to spare before our train departed.
The win took Jeonbuk six points clear at the top of the table with eleven games to play whilst the defeat for last seasons Asian Champions League winners Seongnam dropped them to second from bottom.