Archive for October, 2011

Cheongju Jikji v Cheonan, Saturday 22nd October 2011, 2pm

October 31, 2011

This weekend saw the final round of fixtures for the third division Challengers League and so Jen and I got the bus from Dong Seoul to Cheongju for the game between Cheongju Jikji and Cheonan. It’s a journey that is only supposed to take ninety minutes but a combination of heavy traffic and plenty of accidents meant that we were on the bus for an hour longer than planned.

Fortunately we had allowed sufficient time and after taking a short taxi ride from the bus terminal we were at the Cheongju Stadium a good half an hour before kick-off. The ground is part of a complex that includes a basketball arena that is home to a women’s team, KB Stars, and a baseball park. I’ve no idea who plays there though. As there is rarely any beer for sale inside the stadiums in the third division I picked up a six pack of Hite from a convenience store across the road. The beer was in Hanwha Eagles branded cans. It has to be good for you if the baseball teams are endorsing it. I suppose that it makes it an official sports drink. Probably even isotonic or something.

There was no charge to get into the ground which is normal at this level but we were given a ticket each that was probably for a raffle. Cheongju Stadium is a fairly typical bowl, built in the mid-sixties and with the almost regulation running track. It was smartened up a bit a few years ago apparently and there is now a roof all the way around, although if it rained you would probably have to sit quite close to the back to get any benefit.

Cheongju stadium

Cheongju were in blue with the visitors in orange. Cheonan had brought a solitary fan with them and he had the end to our right all to himself. He had a drum to keep himself occupied and he kept up his chanting for most of the game. It was quite a heroic effort really and he was far more impressive than  the hundred and fifty or so home fans who seemed content to just sit and quietly chat to each other.

"I'll support you ever more..."

Cheongju took the lead in the sixth minute when a nice passing move was sidefooted home from close range. It was like a five-a-side goal, where the defence and keeper are drawn to the ball and someone finishes it off from the edge of the ‘D’.

The home side were well on top for the opening twenty minutes, with Cheonan frequently trying and failing to play them offside. It was quite a surprise therefore when the visitors equalised after one of their strikers headed home a cross from the right. It seemed a fair reward for the effort that their lone drummer was putting in.

Cheongju were back in front again just before half time though with a header from near the penalty spot. The lad who scored it must do it every week as he didn’t bother celebrating his goal.

The home fans - they didn't celebrate much either.

At half time there was a presentation to the ball boys, probably in recognition of their efforts over the season in retrieving balls from the far corners of empty stands. I went for a piss only to find a couple of the players in adjoining urinals. That rarely happens to me at The Riverside.

In the second half it was pretty much one-way traffic. Cheongju were awarded a penalty for handball early on and a lad who had just come on as a sub sent the keeper the wrong way to increase the lead to three-one.


Cheonju got a couple more goals in the space of a minute or so a quarter of an hour from the end. I missed them both unfortunately, as the effects of the six pack of  Hanwha Hite had kicked in and I’d gone for another piss. There weren’t any footballers there that time.

Five-one was the final score. I was surprised to see that the Cheonan fans didn’t acknowledge their single fan at the end. He’d kept up his support throughout the game and didn’t even get a wave from the players, never mind the customary bow. I think if I’d been the Cheonan manager I’d have called him down from the stand and brought him on as a substitute for the last ten minutes.

The win meant that Cheongju Jikji finished the season in fourth place in their eight team group with Cheonan ending up two places and twenty points behind them in sixth.

Samsung Thunders v LG Sakers, Sunday 16th October 2011, 2pm

October 28, 2011

As the football and baseball seasons draw to a close, basketball takes up a bit of the slack. Jen was busy at some conference thing so I had a walk down to the Jamsil Gymnasium by myself to see Samsung Thunders play the team from Changwon, LG Sakers.

There wasn’t a queue at the ticket office, so I ignored the granny touts and ended up with a seven thousand won seat in the third tier. Jamsil Gymnasium is small enough with its thirteen thousand capacity to give you a reasonable view from just about anywhere.

There’s been a change in the regulations for this season and each team is only allowed one foreigner rather than the two that they had last year. It seems a bit of an odd thing to do as the teams were still only permitted to have one non-Korean on court at a time last year, so limiting teams to one foreigner won’t give home-grown players any more opportunities, it just means that the single foreigner is expected to play the full forty minutes. I suppose it reduces the wage bill.

It means though that when selecting your overseas player you need someone who can play the entire game. Last season I’d enjoyed watching Nigel Dixon turning out as one of the Samsung imports, but ‘Big Jelly’ was never going to be the sort of player that would suit the new rules and he’s moved on somewhere new.

The overseas player at Samsung this season is Peter John Ramos, a Puerto Rican bloke who is 7’3″ tall.

That's him, in the blue.

It turns out that Ramos is one of the twenty tallest players ever to play in the NBA. He didn’t play very much in America, possibly because his height looks to be the only thing he has going for him. He’s got a really straight back and doesn’t look as if he’d be flexible enough to bend down and tie his own laces. He seemed a fairly stroppy sort of fella too, sounding off regularly at teammates, refs and anyone else in earshot.

The foreigner for the visiting team, LG Sakers, was Olumide Oyedeji. His name seemed familiar and when I later googled him it turned out that he’d played a season for Orlando Magic nine years ago. I used to go to Florida with my kids quite frequently in those days. I’d take them individually as they each liked doing different things. My daughter was happy for us to ride rollercoasters from the parks opening until closing time, whereas with my son I’d go bass fishing, play a bit of golf or we’d crash go-karts into walls or occasionally each other.

I think that's Bruce Grobbelaar sat behind us.

The one common interest though that both kids had was that they liked to go along and watch Orlando Magic. Olumedeji only played twenty-odd games in his season in Florida and as I can’t be arsed to check the dates of his matches against my holidays, I’ve no way of knowing if I’ve actually seen him play in the NBA. Still, I did recognise his name even if I doubt I could pronounce it.

Olumide Oyedeji - probably Ollie to his mates.

Samsung, wearing the standard corporate Chelsea blue gear, took an early lead and by the end of a one-sided first quarter had extended it to 29-14. I’d been hoping for a closer game, but it looked like it was going to be a rout. Sakers, in white, improved a bit as time went on though and by the time we got to the end of the second quarter they had reduced the deficit to a more respectable eight points.

Two points for Samsung.

You get a twelve minute break at half time and most of it was taken up by a performance from the boy band Shinee. They were very popular, generating near hysteria from the crowd, mostly from the girls. A fair proportion of those watching seemed far more interested in Shinee than they had been in the basketball and were more than happy to delay their trips to the refreshment kiosks until after the dancing had finished and the third quarter was about to start.


LG continued their comeback after the break and at one point reduced the gap to four points before finishing the third quarter 58-52 down. I was rooting for the visitors by this time, as much to see a close game as anything else. The score in the final quarter ebbed and flowed until LG finally drew level with four minutes to go. They went on to take the lead with just ninety seconds left. Four of the Thunders players on the court had four fouls against their names and it looked likely that LG would go on to clinch the game.

I moved down to the second tier at half-time, behind one of the baskets.

Ten seconds later Olumide Oyedeji was fouled out, harshly in my opinion, and that should really have given the home side a reprieve. They didn’t take their chance though and with the Nigerian player cheering on his team from the sidelines, LG managed to extend their lead before eventually running out the clock for an 81-74 victory.

Seongnam v Suwon Bluewings, Saturday 15th October 2011, 2pm

October 24, 2011
I hadn’t been to a Korean football game for almost a fortnight as I’d had to go to Oman for a couple of meetings. It was an interesting enough visit with plenty of wild camels, goats and dogs wandering about but being in a construction camp five hours drive into the desert isn’t really the way that I’d prefer to spend too much of my life. 

You don't see many of those wandering around in Seoul.

Fortunately I got back to Seoul in sufficient time to be able to go to the FA Cup Final between Seongnam and Suwon. Seongnam, who won last season’s Asian Champions League are having quite a poor season and have been out of play-off contention for a while. Suwon are faring a bit better and are still in this season’s ACL and looking good for no worse than a third or fourth place finish in the K-League.

I arrived at Seongnam in plenty of time and was in the ground a good hour before the scheduled two o’clock kick-off. I went for a seat in the West stand as that’s the one with the best roof. The sky had been overcast all morning and I was expecting rain before too long.

The Suwon fans had been allocated the South stand to my right. That stand holds a couple of thousand people and  there were already three hundred or so visiting supporters in there when I arrived. I was fairly confident that the visitors would fill it by kick-off time despite the poor weather. Suwon are one of the better supported teams in Korea and they probably took close on two thousand all the way down to Busan on the south coast for last year’s final.

I wasn’t so confident about the turnout from the Seongnam fans though, despite the final being played at their stadium. I’ve been to games at Tancheon before where they probably haven’t had more than about fifteen hundred people in the ground in total, including a fair percentage of schoolkids on freebies.

It didn't seem like Cup Final weather.

Ten minutes after I took my seat the rain started and a few minutes later the running track was submerged. I was curious to see how the pitch would hold up as it had been so poor last season that it didn’t seem to ever last any longer than six weeks at a time before it needed re-laying. The way the rain was coming down it wouldn’t have surprised me to see large sections of turf being washed away.

The rain continued  for twenty minutes or so before easing off half an hour before kick-off. The roof around three quarters of the stadium doesn’t really cover more than the back few rows so it was no surprise that most seats remained empty until the sun came out.

Suwon have a couple of  different groups of fans, the bog standard ‘Grandbleu’ and the slightly more ultra ‘Highland Este’. The latter group mark off their own area with tape, a bit like arsey campers at Glastonbury. Their hardcore image was spoilt a little though when they started waving balloons around like apprentice Morris Dancers.

They've been known to terrorise opposition fans by popping a balloon.

Suwon were in their all-white change strip whilst Seongnam wore their usual Watford gear. It was the visitors who started the better of the two teams and they wasted a couple of good chances in the first few minutes. Seongnam probably edged the first half though and had a decent opportunity with a long-range shot that was tipped over the bar by the Suwon keeper.

Despite Seongnam looking the better team Suwon had the best chance of the half when they had a goal disallowed for offside after thirty minutes. It looked ok to me but the linesman had his flag up straight away.

If you half close your eyes it could be Watford v Leeds.

At the interval we were treated to a performance by girl band Sistar. There was a buzz of excitement in the West stand that was far greater than anything the football had produced and it wouldn’t surprise me if some of the teenagers in the crowd were only there to see their idols lip-synch their way through their latest hit. It was probably just as well that the microphones weren’t switched on as mid-way through Sistar’s performance the rain started to fall heavily once more.

The Room Salon beckons.

Whilst the subs warmed up on what looked more like a river than a running track I kept glancing across to the baseball stadium next door. There was an amateur game going on that the players seemed desperate to finish but in the end the rain was too much for them. To make it worse for the players, they had to pull the covers over the bases themselves.

I'd have done a 'Tevez'.

The second half remained goalless until fifteen minutes from time when a glancing header from a corner put Seongnam a goal up. Suwon tried to come back into it but they couldn’t come up with that little bit of magic necessary to break down the Seongnam defence. In the final moments, Suwon had a player sent off for going ape-shit at the extra official behind the goal when a penalty appeal was turned down.

The winning goal.

It was a shame that the penalty appeal was turned down. Half an hour of extra time might have meant that I wouldn’t have got drenched on the way back to the subway. The win not only took the FA Cup to Seongnam but it meant that they qualified for next season’s Champions League too.

Jeonbuk Motors v Sangju Sangmu, Monday 3rd October, 3pm

October 19, 2011

There are plenty of public holidays in Korea and National Foundation Day gave me an opportunity to go to another football game. Jen and I had been down in Mokpo for the weekend and on the way back up to Seoul we broke our KTX journey at Iksan to watch Jeonbuk take on the army team, Sangju Sangmu.

We’d seen Jeonbuk play the previous weekend in Jeju, a game in which Lee Dong Gook had been dropped to the bench to keep him fresh for the mid-week Champions League quarter-final against Cerezo Osaka. It was a decision that had paid off as he scored four times in a 6-1 victory over the Japanese visitors.

The goals earned the Lion King an unexpected recall to the national team, sixteen months on from his last appearance and thirteen years after his first. It was a surprise as he’d been informed by the new team manager after the last World Cup that his style of play wouldn’t fit in with the pacey football that they were hoping to play from then on.

He's even on the posters.

We got a taxi from Iksan to the World Cup stadium and so that the sun wouldn’t be in our eyes we decided to sit in the West Stand. Just like at the Boro it’s the priciest part of the ground. If you are going to go upmarket you might as well do it properly and so we bought twenty thousand won tickets for somewhere called the ‘Special Zone’. I was unsure what to expect and wondered whether ‘Special Zone’ actually meant something like ‘Obstructed View’.

It was a sunny day so I had a couple of beers at a table in the concourse and watched the locals heating up their dried squid before we went to find our seats.

It seems a lot more popular with kids than I'd expect it to be.

The ‘Special Zone’ turned out to be a section that had probably been press seating during the World Cup, complete with tables in front of the seats. Once we’d sat down a waitress brought us a box of fried chicken and then a few minutes later she returned with a couple of beers. Occasionally I get nostalgic for the days of standing on the terraces but I think that is as much a lament for my lost youth as anything. Standing in the Holgate as a kid was great, but there wasn’t any beer, never mind a table to stand my cans on. I don‘t ever remember a waitress fighting her way through the crush to bring me a box of fried chicken either.

The view from the Special Zone

With no Champions League game on the horizon Lee Dong Gook had kept his place in the starting line-up, where he was joined by Brazilians Eninho and Luiz Henrique. I had a feeling that the Jeonbuk line-up would be far too strong for Sangju Sangmu. The army team’s early season form had vanished and they had now slid down into the bottom three. To make matters worse, half their squad had finished their twenty-one months military service a week earlier and returned to their regular clubs whilst the next intake of footballing squaddies wouldnt arrive until the close season.

It looked as if a few of the visiting fans had disappeared as well. I’d watched Sangmu away at Chunnam earlier in the year and there had been a decent turnout. For this game though, there probably weren’t fifty travelling supporters in total. Mind you, there weren’t many home fans either. I’d estimate around three thousand altogether.

Perhaps they should conscript some fans too.

Jeonbuk had plenty of chances early on and I was surprised that Sangmu managed to hold on for almost half an hour before conceding. Lee Dong Gook continued where he’d left off the previous week as he opened the scoring by sidestepping a defender and placing the ball carefully into the far corner. He then  almost scored a second when he lobbed the stranded keeper only to see the ball bounce up onto the bar and back out again.

Jeonbuk celebrate the opening goal.

It all got a little bit harder for Sangmu a few minutes later when their captain, Kim Chi Gon, was sent off. I didn’t see what he did but it looked as if he might have given the ref a bit too much lip. He’ll probably have to tone that sort of thing down if he doesn’t want to spend the rest of his army career doing press-ups on the parade ground.

Bang on half time Jeonbuk doubled their lead when Lee Dong Gook laid it back to Lee Seung Hyun who scored from the edge of the box. It should really have been three straight after the break when Lee Dong Gook put the ball past the post after a nice through ball from Eninho.

That miss looked as if it might prove costly a few minutes later when Sangmu pulled a goal back. Jeonbuk had been streets ahead of the visitors and a two-one scoreline didn’t remotely reflect what had gone on.

The Sangmu goal seemed to spark a bit of unrest amongst the home supporters and a banner was unfurled behind the goal. I’ve no idea what it said but it caused three security blokes to run from the halfway line and demand that it be rolled back up. I’d like to think that they were complaining about not getting any fried chicken or beer.

Whatever it said, it didn't say it for very long.

Jeonbuk seemed to step up a gear at that stage with Lee Seung Hyun restoring their two goal advantage with a close range tap in and then Eninho heading his side into a four-one lead. In between those two efforts Lee Dong Gook hit the post as Sangmu struggled with their one man disadvantage.

A couple of minutes from time Lee Dong Gook got his second of the game and his twenty-third of the season. He missed another very good chance just before the final whistle too. So, two goals, two efforts hitting the woodwork and two really good chances missed. What was a good afternoon for him could really have been phenomenal. If four goals gets you a national team recall, who knows what six would have warranted?

Jen and I took a taxi back to Iksan where we conveniently found an abandoned sofa outside of the station that proved ideal for finishing off the day with another couple of cans.

One day all railway stations will have seating like this.

The win extended Jeonbuk’s lead at the top of the table to five points with just three games remaining.

Mokpo City v Cheonan City, Saturday 1st October 2011, 3pm

October 14, 2011

We are moving towards the end of the season now and in the second tier National League the battle for the play-off places is getting interesting. Not that the scramble for a top six position was of any relevance to this clash as Mokpo and Cheonan’s respective seasons had been over well before the league had taken its mid-season break. Mokpo went into this game third from bottom whilst Cheonan were only two places better off in the dizzy heights of tenth. As there is currently no promotion or relegation between the leagues in Korea there wasn’t therefore a great deal at stake.

Still, it was a chance for a weekend in a coastal town down south, so Jen and I made the three and a quarter hour KTX journey from Yongsan station on the Friday evening. We asked the cabbie to take us to where the hotels were and he dropped us off outside of a reasonable looking one near Peace Beach. We took a VIP room on the top floor for 120,000 won per night and it was very nice. It had a sea view and a large bed made of stone. Fortunately it also had an equally large bed with a conventional mattress for those of us who aren’t wholly convinced about the merits of sleeping on granite.

It was an Official Formula One Grand Prix Hotel, with a plaque outside to prove it. This wasn’t much to be proud of though as every hotel, restaurant, bar and coffee shop in town appeared to be similarly endorsed. The Korean F1 Grand Prix would be taking place in Mokpo a fortnight later and I suspected that everywhere would treble their prices, although I don’t imagine that the motor racing fraternity would be too impressed about paying a fortune to sleep on a bed with less ‘give’ than a pit straight wall.

It's official. Hamilton and Massa can fight over our room.

Over the course of the weekend we saw a few of Mokpo’s sights. If you take a stroll along the seafront there are a couple of large rocks that are supposed to look like blokes with old fashioned hats on. There was, as ever, some half-arsed fairy story about how the rocks came to be there. This is quite a common thing in Korea, making up legends about rocks based upon their supposed resemblance to anything from a dragon or a lion to a fridge freezer. Well maybe not kitchen appliances, but it’s only a matter of time. On the plus side however, it does stop people from cutting the rocks up and making beds out of them.

The resemblance to a couple of blokes with hats on was uncanny.

Mokpo doesn’t appear to have much in the way of beaches, it still seems to be more of a working fishing port than a seaside resort, with a lot of ferry traffic to the outlying islands as well places like Japan, China and Russia. When the tide is out it’s more mud than sand, although that does give the locals a chance to dig about in it for whatever creatures live in mud at the seaside.

The golden sands of Mokpo.

The shops along the seafront weren’t your normal seaside shops either. They did sell buckets and spades but they were of the galvanised heavy duty kind rather than something that a kid would use to build a sandcastle. Amongst the shops selling trawling nets and lobster pots there were even a couple of places that were selling anchors. I did wonder just how often a sea captain would fancy a nice new anchor. It doesn’t seem like your usual Saturday morning impulse buy. Maybe they get them bought for their birthdays.

There were plenty of shops selling fish too, some of them alive in tanks, some of them drying on racks, some of them propped up and grinning at you like Spongebob Squarepants merchandise. How could you cut up and eat a skate with a face like that?

Penny for the Guy?

We took a boat trip out to a couple of nearby islands. The ferry picks up from Mokpo and then does a two hour round trip that you can extend by getting off at an island or two. You then resume the journey when the ferry makes its next appearance a couple of hours later.

Our boat.

At the first island, Dalli Do,  people were surprised when we got off the boat. It was generally assumed that we were making a mistake as in the words of one local woman who lived just next to the ferry docking place, “There’s nothing here”. I’m a bit like that with Stockton sometimes, but you never really appreciate fully what a place has to offer when it’s your home town.

As it happens, she was right. We spent a pleasant hour and a half or so walking around a small island with not much there other than small farms. There were a couple of churches and with it being Sunday morning we saw a few locals heading off to a service. One farmer, dressed very smartly in a suit and tie, travelled there on his mini-tractor with his equally smartly dressed wife sat in the trailer behind.

Unfortunately I didn’t get a photo of the farmer and his wife, I just wasn’t quick enough as they passed by. I did manage to take a picture of a dead snake that we saw though. It was moving just that little bit slower.

It looks like the local mice had been getting their own back.

In theory the second island was the bigger attraction, it boasted outdoor swimming pools, flower gardens and restaurants. If I had to describe Oedal Do  in a single word though, I would choose ‘shut’. I’m sure it’s an interesting place to visit in the Summer but out of season it didn’t even boast a dapper looking farmer or a recently deceased snake.

A dog looking at a bit of rope is about as exciting as it gets on Oedal Do.

So, that’s the Mokpo touristy stuff. Time for the meaningless end of season battle between Mokpo City and Cheonan City. There’s a perfectly good thirteen thousand capacity football stadium in Mokpo town centre, the Yudal stadium, but as it’s not shiny or new anymore Mokpo play their games on the outskirts of the town at the Mokpo International Football Centre instead. I’m not too sure where the ‘International’ part of the title comes from either, unless visiting sailors hire the place for a kickabout. It’s got half a dozen or so pitches, some grass, some artificial. We got a taxi from the sea front that took twenty minutes and cost seven thousand won.

The grass pitch that our game was on had a few rows of seats all the way around with a bigger covered stand along one side, whilst a small roof provided a bit of shade for some of the people along the opposite side. It can accommodate six thousand spectators apparently and whilst there wasnt a running track, there was space to fit one in between the stand we were in and the pitch.

The main stand.

Mokpo were in their usual kit of blue shirts and white shorts, visitors Cheonan in an unusual combination of grey shirts and maroon shorts. Jen reckoned that they had probably stuck the strips in the washing machine at too high a temperature with something that they shouldn’t have. Cheonan completed their Sunday League look with grey socks. It was as if they had forgotten their PE kits and had to just make do with whatever they were wearing.

There were probably about two hundred people watching including the five Mokpo Ultras behind the goal to our left. They weren’t the most vocal of fans and if someone from the tourist board had replaced them with  a selection of rocks then I doubt anyone other than their Mams would have noticed. All it would need is a legend about the five loyal supporters who had turned to stone after watching another ninety minutes of mis-placed passes, squandered chances and defensive clearances that end up on the pitch next door. The rocks would probably attract more visitors than any football match would.

It looks as if the petrifaction process has already started for one of them.

Mokpo had most of the early play with the Cheonan keeper making a couple of very good  saves in the opening quarter of an hour. It was Cheonan who took the lead though with a penalty after twenty minutes. I don’t know what it was awarded for as I was too busy trying to take a photo of a woman with a dog.

Paris Hilton

I did manage to pay attention for the penalty which was easily put away to the keeper’s right by Hwang Ho Lyeong.

Cheonan City take the lead.

The younger Mokpo fans consoled themselves by randomly blowing horns into each others ears from close range. They’d been given them for free by some fella with an evil streak and a cardboard box full of them. He probably owned a hearing aid factory too.Their eardrums got a temporary reprieve after twenty five minutes when Mokpo got a free-kick on the left. In an admirable bit of teamwork one of the Mokpo fellas managed to get his fist to the Cheonan keepers face, whilst his teammate Yoo Woo Ram got his head to the ball. One all.

The equaliser.

Four minutes later the home team took the lead. A corner from the left was swung into the six yard box where everyone missed it and it bounced off the arse of Mokpo’s Kwon Soon Hak and into the net. They had another couple of good chances soon after but couldn’t add to their lead before half-time.

During the break we were treated to some belly dancers doing their stuff, followed by five teenage girls dancing to a K-Pop song. I could see how the belly dancers got the gig but the other girls looked to be doing nothing more than a short dance routine that wouldn’t normally be seen anywhere more public than their front rooms. I’d have preferred to see them all have a quick game of 5-a side instead, or maybe a penalty shoot-out.

Pan's People

Mokpo should have gone further ahead a few minutes into the second half. A free kick from thirty-five yards was parried by the visiting keeper only for the lad following up to somehow sky it over the bar when it looked far easier to score.

The fans around us were getting a bit excited at the prospect of a rare victory and were giving the ref a bit of stick. One bloke gave him non-stop slaver, usually some variant of “Sonovabitch”. A small kid, perhaps sensing that the ref’s eyesight was not his strongest point, shouted “Maerong” at him, which apparently means ‘I’m sticking my tongue out at you’.

There weren’t too many more chances in the second half, a Mokpo striker managed to hit the Cheonan keeper in the chops with a shot from close range, but that was about it. The win made no difference to the league positions, Mokpo remaining twelfth and Cheonan tenth.

View from the back of the stand

We got a taxi back into town and ended up at a restaurant where the prawns came fresh from a tank outside. They were cooked alive at the table and they didn’t half jump when the gas was lit underneath their pan.

On the way out afterwards we paused to look at some fish in one of the other tanks, a few of which were looking a bit lacklustre. The woman from the restaurant saw us staring at them and came outside. I thought she would probably give the fish a bit more oxygen to perk them up, but what she did was give the tank a good kicking until all the fish appeared rejuvenated and were swimming around like perfect specimens again. It made me wonder if I should have given that grinning skate a swift kick in the goolies to perk him up a bit as well.

Jeju Olle Trail – Route 7, Sunday 25th September 2011

October 8, 2011

The Jeju Olle Trail is a series of hiking paths that mainly follow the coast around Jeju Island. I think that there were initially twelve routes that totalled over two hundred kilometres, but it seems that as more villages want to get in on the action there are now over twenty different routes. The intention looks to have been to try to divert hikers from the popular hikes up and down the 1950m Hallasan and to give some of the coastal areas a bit of a tourism boost.

The previous day Jen and I had walked the 15.6km route 7-1 from Oedolgae Rock to the World Cup Stadium and as we were staying in the area we thought we might as well return to Oedolgae Rock and hike along route 7 to Wolpyeong.

It’s a short taxi ride from Seogwipo to Oedolgae Rock. Most people arrive by coach though as part of a touring party to visit the location where one of the characters in a television soap opera died. A lot of the visitors had apparently come all of the way from Japan and China just to stand and gawp at a rock because it had briefly been on the telly. Although I suppose they may very well raise an eyebrow at the idea of me travelling six thousand miles to Korea and then watching third division football. Or wandering around an empty stadium if there isn’t a game on.

The monk on the right found a bit of peace and quiet.

The crowds disappeared after the first few hundred metres and there were a lot of wooden walkways in this early section, so it didn’t take too long to cover the first few kilometres. It’s generally as scenic as you’d expect a coastal walk to be with plenty of cliffs, beaches and, due to it being a bit warmer than the rest of Korea, lots of palm and orange trees.

Slightly out of step with the rest of the walk though is the section where the route passes through a sewage disposal plant. I was a little surprised that the trail hadn’t been diverted to detour around it.

I didn't get a photo of the sewage works, so here's one I took of a dog instead

An hour and a quarter into the walk and we reached the World Cup Stadium, or at least the crossroads where you could leave route 7 if you wanted to go to the match. There wasn’t a game on so we just carried on. That’s twice we’ve seen the stadium now without getting to see a match there.

You can just about see the roof.

Some of the fishing villages that we passed through looked as if they hadn’t changed much in years, apart from signs in restaurants advertising their Olle Trail Specials and an occasional newly opened coffee shop. At one place we saw women washing clothes by hand in the seawater.

"Tide's in, dirt's out."

At others there were women bundling and bagging seaweed. I’m not too sure what the blokes were doing whilst all this was going on.

The bags weigh 50kg each.

There were plenty of stalls along the way selling food and drink so you could leave the backpack at home if you wanted. You could buy a box of oranges if you fancied, or just a slice of pineapple.

I felt like the man from Del Monte.

About two-thirds of the way along we passed a site intended for a new naval base. It looked as if the locals were none too happy to have had their land used and there was a peace camp protest, a large police presence and plenty of slogans in both Korean and English painted on the perimeter walls of the base.

I doubt that you would see that North of the border.

It took us just over four hours to complete the 15.1km route to Wolpyeong. There isn’t a great deal at the end apart from a small shop and a fish restaurant. We called in and got some soup and a raw mackerel. The mackerel was fresh from the tank and at one o’clock it looked like this.

Does that count as 'freshly caught'?

Ten minutes later it looked like this;

Served raw - eat with a bit of rice and spicy sauce wrapped in seaweed.

We were fortunate to be able to get a taxi back to Seogwipo afterwards as I don’t think too many cabbies would tend to hang around at the end of that particular Olle route. There was enough going on in Seogwipo to fill in the rest of the afternoon and we took a ride in a submarine to a depth of about fifty metres and then had a walk along to a waterfall.

We were sat just behind the driver.

Both were interesting enough. Disappointingly the submarine didn’t make that sonic beeping noise that they do at the pictures, instead we got some relentless babble in Korean from a crew member who fancied himself as a bit of a comedian. The waterfall was busy but worth the effort too.

It takes a while for the new fashions in Seoul to reach Jeju.

We’ve got plans to do a few more sections of the Olle Trail. With the exception of the start where we encountered the coach-trippers there weren’t many people about and so out of season it should be even quieter. I doubt that we’ll get around all of the trails but with there being not too many hills I think it’s quite possible to do two routes in what would be a 30km day. We’ll see.

Zeeno v Incheon Munhaks, Saturday 24th September 2011, 6pm

October 6, 2011

After watching the goalless draw between Jeju United and Jeonbuk Motors, Jen and I wandered out of the Jeju Ora Stadium and called into the baseball park next door. I’d have been happy just to have a quick nose around the pitch and empty stands but we got lucky again. There was another one of those sixty-four team tournaments going on for amateur sides, similar to the one that we had stumbled across in Chuncheon the week before.

There was a game just finishing as we went in, but with another scheduled for six o’clock we got some food and drinks from a stall outside and then went back to sit in the posh seats and wait for the action. The light was starting to fade, but with a beer in hand and the 1950m Hallasan providing the backdrop, a virtually empty small-town baseball stadium is still a decent place to be.

Jeju Baseball Stadium

The tournament had started on the previous day and the game that we would see would be a quarter-final tie between Zeeno and Incheon Munhaks. I’ve no idea at all about the Zeeno team, but assumed that Incheon Munhaks are either made up of locals who originate from Incheon or else they have entered the tournament in order to have a lad’s weekend away in Jeju. Then again, maybe someone just had a spare set of Munhak shirts.

Each match in the tournament would last for four innings, which for those of us with a limited attention span should work out nicely at around an hour and a half. The stadium was slightly smaller than the one we’d seen in Chuncheon last week, with a capacity of eight thousand. To be fair, that didn’t matter too much as there were only twenty-four people watching. As two of those were actually stood outside looking over the fence then they probably shouldn’t count in my official attendance figure. I think Jen and I were probably  the only people in there who weren’t either players or related to them.

Zeeno were in black and batted first, with the Incheon starting pitcher varying his initial deliveries between  55 kmph and 84 kmph. After watching professional baseball it did seem incredibly slow and I was surprised that more of the balls weren’t whacked straight back over his head.

Slow but steady

There was a lot of base-sneaking going on. In fact most of the batters seemed to have a reasonable chance of eventually getting around if they could just get to first base.

When it was time for the Munhaks to bat they had to contend with a Zeeno starting pitcher who was quite a bit faster than his opposite number, getting up to 119 kmph at one point. He wasn’t particularly accurate though and in the fading light I was expecting someone, possibly a spectator, maybe even me, to be hit between the eyes with a stray delivery.

Faster, but not quite so accurate.

The players did their best in the twilight for the first two innings, with the sun having almost set by the time the floodlights came on at half past six. It seemed like a different game then, a proper game, rather than something between a few mates who were about to be called in from the dark by their Mams to have their tea.

That's more like it.

For what it’s worth Zeeno had the game in the bag early on and by the time we reached the end of the fourth they had built up a healthy 13-3 advantage. There was only one home run in the whole game. Whilst the ball didn’t clear the outfield wall, it did just about reach it and that was far enough away to enable the batsman to get all the way around before the ball was retrieved and returned.

It all seems friendly enough at first base.

True to form, it was all over in an hour and a half. We could have stayed and watched the next one but we were getting hungry. All we had eaten since lunchtime was a hot dog on a stick that had been deep fried with some sort of bread wrapped around it and then chips stuck to it. It was more like one of those German hand grenades with a handle from the First World War than something intended to be eaten.

We sloped off to a restaurant around the corner and had a barbecue of Jeju black pig and Jeju horse. The Jeju horses are quite a lot smaller than normal ones, so I did wonder if we might get a whole one. We didn’t, but with the black pig as well, there was sufficient. However, the thought that we might be eating one of the horses that we had watched at Jeju race track on a previous visit did cross my mind.

A Jeju horse, possibly two servings.

Horse wasn’t the only slightly unusual item on the menu. They also had cat soup. If I hadn’t already eaten the hot dog hand grenade, a pig and a horse then I might just have found room for a bowl of cat soup. Next time.

Jeju United v Jeonbuk Motors, Saturday 24th September 2011, 3pm

October 3, 2011

I’ve been waiting a while to see a game in Jeju. Its island location means that a bit more effort is required to get there than most places. If Jeju United had managed to hold on to top spot in the league at the end of last season then I’d have seen the Championship play-off there. Unfortunately they slipped to second and I had to reschedule our flight tickets for a couple of months later when the season was over.

My plan this season had been to time my trips to those stadiums that I had yet to visit to coincide with the home team’s fixture against Lee Dong Gook’s team, Jeonbuk. It had worked well and Jeju was the final K-League destination on my list. That’s not to say that there won’t be other top division grounds for me to see over here; Incheon will move to a new home next season and I’d like to think that Daegu will return to the World Cup stadium now that the World Athletics Championships has finished.

Jen and into flew into Jeju International Airport on the last flight out of Gimpo on the Friday night. It wasn’t the best of journeys as the taxi ride from Yeoksam to Gimpo had taken us almost twice as long as the hour-long flight. I tend to smirk a bit when I see that an airport feels the need to include ‘International’ in its name. I think it just makes the place look small-time.

A much quicker taxi ride took us to the southern part of the island and the town of Seogwipo where we got a hotel in what appeared to be the only street that the bloke from the Lonely Planet Guide had visited.

Next morning we were up and out early as our plan was to walk to the game along one of the sections of Olle trail. It was just over fifteen kilometres long and it conveniently finished at the World Cup Stadium. I like walking to the match, I used to do it as a kid at Ayresome for financial reasons and still occasionally walk to the Riverside from Norton when I’m back in the UK. As I can afford the bus fare these days, I’ve been forced to conclude that I do it because I’m a bit odd.

Jen and I walked for four hours to a Seongnam game earlier in the year and then made an unfortunate effort to do the same for a Seoul game only to be thwarted by the floods after six hours. This time though it was quite straightforward, or at least it should have been. The Olle trail is generally well-marked but as we were doing it in the ‘wrong’ direction, starting from Oedolgae Rock, some of the signs were less noticeable.

Oedolgae Rock

We soon got lost and missed out some of the early sights, although we did pass a small football ground and an indoor croquet facility that was big enough to house aircraft in. I’ve no idea if croquet is, like snooker and darts, one of the sports that as host nation we will be adding to the 2012 Olympic event list. What I can be sure of is that we won’t have an indoor croquet facility anywhere in the UK that is even half the size of this one. I sense another banker gold medal slipping away.

I think our Olympians have the odd game in the back garden on a sunday afternoon.

We picked up the official route again after about an hour and a half and I reckon our short cut had probably knocked a couple of kilometres off it. Most of the Olle trail just follows the coast around Jeju and so there aren’t too many hills to deal with. The section that we were hiking (7-1) loops inland though and takes in the 396m Mount Gogeun.

I know that 396m does nt seem much, particularly when it is in the shadow of the 1950m Hallasan, but it was a decent slog up the last stages and would have been much more strenuous if we had done the walk the ‘right’ way around.

Hallasan viewed from Gogeunsan

As we came down the other side we got our first view of the World Cup Stadium. It’s an impressive sight with a roof on one side that curls around behind both goals.

Jeju World Cup Stadium

It didn’t take us long to walk into town and complete the section of Olle trail. After posting ourselves a box of Jeju tangerines, we had a lunch of pig bone soup. It was ok, possibly due to it coming with the first beer of the day.

We finally rolled up at the stadium with about forty minutes to kick-off. It was pretty quiet outside and I was a touch scathing about the lack of fans, particularly as Jeju United had been relocated from Bucheon a few years ago in a team-stealing move that puts MK Dons to shame.

We couldn’t find an open ticket office or entrance gate, but eventually got in via a museum. When I looked at the pitch I realised the reason for the lack of fans. The grass was long, there weren’t any markings and there weren’t any goal nets.

2.35pm and the groundsman still had a fair bit to do.

A quick chat with a couple of stadium employees confirmed that the game was actually scheduled to take place forty kilometres away in Jeju City. We hopped in a taxi and retraced the journey that we’d made the previous night, arriving some forty minutes later and thirty minutes after kickoff. It took us another ten minutes to find the ticket office and buy our five thousand won tickets and so it was five minutes to half time before we finally saw some football.

That big banner says that the match is here and not at the other ground. Thanks.

The first thing that I noticed was that Lee Dong Gook wasn’t playing. He’s been having a very good season with nineteen goals in all competitions, so my presumption was that Jeonbuk were saving him for the finely balanced mid-week Champions League fixture with Cerezo Osaka. Or perhaps he’d gone to the wrong stadium too.

The game was goalless when we arrived, a scoreline that probably suited Jeonbuk better than Jeju. Before this fixture the visitors were eight points clear at the top of the league with just five games remaining. It would take a disastrous collapse for them not to finish top and secure home advantage in the Play-off Final. Jeju were on the edge of the play-off places and really needed more than a point if they wanted to be involved in the post-season games.

The view from where I was sat.

There weren’t too many fans inside the ground, perhaps the venue change had confused a few other people too. I’d reckon on about three thousand, with Jeonbuk and their Mad Green Boys contributing about eighty of them. The Jeju Ora Stadium holds twenty thousand people, so it did look fairly empty. It’s about forty years old and a typical ‘bowl’’. There’s a running track and a small roof down one side.

Not so mad, they did at least get to the correct stadium.

The Lion King came off the bench ten minutes into the second half, replacing Luiz Henrique. After an initial spell playing a bit deeper than normal he moved further forward when Lovrek was subbed a few minutes later.

Time for a change.

Jeju hit the post on the hour from a free kick just outside the box and the Jeonbuk keeper made a good stop ten minutes from time, standing up well to a shot from a tight angle after a quick Jeju break.

Both sides had chances in the last few minutes but neither were able to break the deadlock and it finished goalless. We hung about for a few minutes to see if we had won a car in a raffle, although it would have been a hassle to get it back to Seoul. Maybe we could have got them to post it like the tangerines.

Whilst it was a bit disappointing not to see a game at the World Cup Stadium, there’s always next season and it did give us the opportunity to visit a ground that I hadn’t expected to get to. The point reduced Jeonbuk’s lead at the top of the table to five points, with just the four games to go.