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.
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.
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.
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.
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.