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

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.

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