Archive for November, 2011

Goyang KB v Changwon City, Saturday 12th November 2011, 3pm

November 28, 2011

I tend to plan the matches that I’m going to quite carefully. It makes sense really, particularly if for example, you want a seat on the train journey there rather than having to stand between the carriages. I hadn’t intended going to any games over this weekend though. There were only two fixtures scheduled, a second division play-off at Goyang on the Saturday and a third division play-off at Gyeongju the following day. I’d definitely have gone to Gyeongju if I could have as it’s somewhere I haven‘t been to yet, but unfortunately I was flying to Oman on the Saturday night so couldn‘t get there. I decided not to bother with Goyang as I’d been to see them play at home a few months ago.

It’s perfect hiking weather though and since I didn’t really have time to get out of Seoul Jen and I decided to walk a bit more of the Bukhansan Dulegil. It’s a trail that follows the outskirts of the Bukhansan National Park. It doesn’t go up any of the really big hills but it does make for a pleasant day out in the countryside. The first phase opened last year and we’d walked all 46km over three days. A new section was added this year with an extra 26km and so we thought we’d walk about half of that and save the remainder for another time.

Bukhansan Dulegil - Courtesy of the Korean Tourist Board

We took Line 3 as far as Yeonsinnae and then caught the 704 bus. We could have stayed on the subway for a further stop to Gupabal, but by that time the bus would have been more than full. It‘s better to start from Yeonsinnae if you want to be able to get on the bus without fighting. Fortunately we knew where to get off from last year, although if you get off anywhere that other hikers do then you are likely to be somewhere on the dulegil.

Someone has done a bit of work on the trail since we last walked it and the route has now been divided into twenty-one sections. The new part consists of  section numbers 13 to 20.  Our plan was to walk sections 13 to 16 which is about thirteen kilometres. Section 13 took us through what were mainly farming areas. We saw the locals harvesting their radishes and had a look at a couple of cow sheds. Each farm had a dog or two that had probably never had to bark at anyone until the dulegil was routed past their kennel.

Dulegil Dog

Section 14 involved a few more uphill sections, but still nothing too strenuous. There was a mountain, Sapaesan, close by but we skirted around it without gaining too much height.

Sapaesan - It should still be there next time.

We’d made good progress on the first two sections and I was starting to wonder if we might get any further than we’d intended. That was until we took in the view of the Angol Valley in section 15. To the left I could see a football stadium and it occurred to me that it would probably be Goyang’s ground, the team that had a play-off game that afternoon at 3pm. Now it’s one thing deciding not to bother seeing a match when you are looking at the details online. It’s quite another matter when you can see their stadium and it’s within walking distance. It would be a bit of a trek, but since we were almost there, how could we walk past and not go?

That's with 24x zoom.

If there had been any doubts about abandoning the dulegil for the day, they disappeared when we realised we had already wandered off the trail by 900 metres. So, Goyang v Changwon it was. Or rather it wasn’t. When we arrived at the stadium it turned out not to be Goyang’s ground, but Uijeongbu Stadium. I’d never heard of Uijeongbu. They don’t have a football team, just a stadium to entice hikers down from the mountains.

If only I'd had 48x zoom, I could have read the sign.

Goyang couldn’t be far away though, so we hopped in a cab. We might as well have asked the fella to take us to Ayresome Park for all he knew about Goyang. He made a few phone calls though, told us it was a long way and set off. An hour and thirty odd kilometres later we arrived at the correct ground. By now it was almost half time, so we took our time, ate some Mandu and went in for the second half.

I doubt many architects would be able to tell the stadiums apart.

Goyang and Changwon had already progressed through one round of the play-offs and the winners of this tie would go on to face Ulsan Mipo in a two-leg final. We’d missed a couple of goals during our taxi ride but fortunately there had been one at each end and so the tie was nicely balanced.

There were probably about four or five hundred people inside the stadium, roughly double what you might expect at a National League game. Goyang had two sections of fans, some of them directly in front of Jen and I and a second lot behind the goal. It’s a shame when you have so few fans and they still divide into separate factions.

The 'behind the goal' lot.

The Changwon fans were probably the oddest bunch of supporters that I’ve seen whilst I’ve been over here. They looked as if they were on a pensioners day trip and had turned up here by mistake instead of at some farmer’s market or seaside town. Perhaps they saw the stadium in the distance and mistook it for a temple. They had a couple of cheerleading grannies who were dressed in traditional costume and who spurred the team on with a pair of cymbals and a gong. Even if they all had grandsons playing in the match, it still seemed a bizarre turnout for a team from five hours south.

"Get into them..."

As far as the action goes, Goyang took the lead with about fifteen minutes remaining when Kim Young Nam managed to bundle the ball home after his initial shot had hit the post. He looked a good player but I wasn’t too impressed with his attitude. He was trying too many flicks and backheels for the situation his team was in.

Goyang push for a third goal.

Changwon hit back two minutes from time when Lee Jung Hwan scored a cracker from outside of the box. That made it two apiece and took the game to extra time.

The home fans celebrate getting to see another half an hour of low level football.

Unfortunately, I had a flight to catch and so we couldn’t stay to see the outcome. I looked it up later and a Song Geun Soo own goal clinched the game for Goyang who will go on to play Ulsan Mipo in the final. I felt sorry for the busload of Changwon pensioners, but I dare say that every day out is a bonus at that time of life.

KCC Egis v Samsung Thunders, Sunday 6th November 2011, 3pm

November 24, 2011

The final sporting event of our weekend in Jeonju was a basketball game between KCC Egis and Samsung Thunders. We called in at the Jeonju Arena around lunchtime to buy our tickets, ending up with two behind the basket at 14,000 won each, two rows from the front. The floor seats down the side of the court were already sold out by that time, as were the seats in the next section up. It’s a small arena though so it wouldn’t really have mattered if we had ended up in the back row.

Jeonju Arena

I’d seen Samsung Thunders earlier in the season and it was their Puerto Rican centre, Peter John Ramos, who stood out for them. Not so much for his contribution to the game, but more for his resemblance to the former boxer, Nikolai Valuev. If there is a ‘pairs’ event in that rhythmic gymnastics stuff where they dance with a ribbon, I’d love to see the two of them team up.

It seems I wasnt the only one to be questioning the contribution that Ramos had been making as shortly after the game it was reported that he was going to be released and replaced by somebody more mobile. I was slightly surprised to read that the more mobile replacement, Joe Ira Clark, is actually ten years older than Ramos.

"If we lose this game, you're flying home in Economy"

The overseas player for KCC was a lot more impressive. Deshawn Sims, a twenty-three year old American forward, seemed more than capable of getting up and down the court. I wonder how long he will last in Korea though as KCC is his sixth team in the last year and a half.

Deshawn Sims

The home side are the reigning KBL champions and they looked to be the stronger side, leading 26-18 at the end of the first quarter and maintaining their advantage to finish the first half seven points ahead. I had to go outside at the interval as it was just too hot inside the arena. Nobody was checking tickets on the way back in so if you ever fancy watching half a game of free basketball then Jeonju is the place to do it.

In addition to the one overseas player that each team is allowed, there is also a draft for half-Koreans, players with one Korean and one non-Korean parent. Both these teams had taken up their option with Samsung’s Lee Seung Joon looking like the best player on the court. Lee had briefly played in the NBA before becoming a naturalised Korean. In those days he was known as Eric Sandrin, or at least he was for most of the time. He had a spell with the Harlem Globetrotters in 2005 where in addition to being taught how to spin a ball on his finger whilst fastening his shoelaces, he also learned to answer to the name of  ‘Shanghai’.

Shanghai turns back the clock to his Globetrotter days.

After the break KCC were able to edge further ahead and they began the fourth quarter with the score at 68-57. The final stages saw Ramos spend some time on the bench. It’s unusual for a foreigner not to play the full match, but with the game drifting away it’s possible that Samsung wanted to give a bit of game-time to someone who would still be around the following week. Deshawn Sims ended up on the sidelines too, although in his case it was as a consequence of being fouled-out with a couple of minutes to go.

Chon Tae Poong also left the game early. He had got away with a deliberate charging foul and then trying to start a fight, but kept pushing it and was finally ejected after a comment to one of the referees. He’s another of the naturalised Koreans who got his spot via the ‘half-Korean’ draft and when he played in the US he was known as Tony Atkins. He’s a good point guard, but a bit too ‘Hollywood’ for me, looking in one direction and then passing in another far too often for it to ever fool the defence. I bet he’d have loved to have played for the Harlem Globetrotters, although whether he’d have been happy with a likely Globetotter name of ‘Stroppy Get’, I’m not so sure.

Stroppy Get departs for the dressing room.

The late drama didn’t affect the result though and KCC Egis ran out the clock for an 88-74 victory.

Jeonju football stadium, Sunday 6th November 2011

November 21, 2011

Now that I’ve started posting about empty stadiums, there may be no stopping me. This one is Jeonju Stadium, the former home of Jeonbuk Motors until they moved to the World Cup Stadium and before that Jeonbuk Buffalo and Jeonbuk Dinos.

View to the left.

The ground is next door to the baseball stadium and about five minutes walk from the bus station. Once again we just wandered in, this time through the front door and I had a walk around the track and then took a look at one of the goalmouths.

The main stand.

I’d been here about eighteen months ago and watched some locals playing. Too many of them were wearing jeans for me to count it as a proper game, but the fact that the pitch is maintained leaves me hopeful of seeing a match here at some point.

The other end.

For those who like a bit of detail, the stadium has a capacity of thirty thousand and was built in 1980, which makes it positively ancient by Korean standards.  Next time the Japanese invade I’d expect them to loot the goal posts and then burn the place down. It’s normal practice for historical sites like this.

Jeonju Baseball Stadium, Sunday 6th November 2011

November 20, 2011

This is an unusual post as I normally only write about sporting events or hikes. I think though that if someone is happy to read about obscure football or baseball teams then they may very well have an interest in stadiums as well, particularly places where nobody plays anymore. If you don’t, feel free to skip this one, I’ll never know.

Jen and I were spending the weekend in Jeonju and we’d already done some hiking in Moaksan Provincial Park the previous day before watching Jeonbuk lose the Asian Champions League final on penalties to the Qatari team, Al Sadd. Our plan for the Sunday revolved around watching a basketball game in the afternoon and so we had some spare time in the morning.

Our hotel was close to the bus station and so wasn’t too far from the old Jeonju football stadium. Next door to that is Jeonju Baseball Stadium. As we had a bit of time to fill we detoured that way to have a look around. A gate was slightly ajar and so we went in.

View from the cheap seats.

I’m pretty sure that when I wandered past the place last year there was a poster advertising some sort of tournament. It looked though as if nobody had set foot in the place for years. The seats were dirty and there were three-foot tall weeds growing in the stands. I wasn’t sure if the grass in the outfield had been mowed in recent months or had just died off.

View of the cheap seats.

I don’t think that Jeonju has ever staged KBO matches and so the ten thousand capacity would always have been way too many for any of the local games that will have been played there.

The home dugout.

I quite like walking around abandoned places, it’s a bit like garden creeping for grown-ups although without the threat of getting a boot up your arse if you get caught. Except you aren’t in a garden and you aren’t creeping. Apart from that though it’s just the same, but better because you are in a sports stadium. I stood on the pitcher’s mound and then at the plate where the batter does his stuff.

View from the plate.

Jen spotted a banner that was advertising a tournament for this year and surprisingly there was a game scheduled for that day. A few minutes after we had started mooching around a bloke with a baseball hat wandered in. We had a word with him and he confirmed that there was a tournament for local teams taking place but the overnight rain had caused that day’s fixtures to be cancelled. How unlucky is that? The competition continues until the 27th November so I’m toying with the idea of turning up then in the hope of seeing some action.

Jeonbuk Motors v Al Sadd, Saturday 5th November 2011, 7pm

November 16, 2011

It’s time for the Asian Champions League Final. Jeonbuk were at home to Qatari team Al Sadd, giving them what seemed to me to be an unfair advantage in a one-off tie. Still, I’m not complaining, it’s better than it being played in Timbuktu or somewhere, although admittedly the chances of the Asian Football Confederation ever staging the game in a West African town are pretty slim. Probably about as slim as those of FIFA awarding Qatar the World Cup Finals, I imagine.
Jeonbuk has done pretty well this season. Apart from reaching this final, they ‘won’.the  K-League with a couple of weeks to spare, putting themselves directly into the play-off final. Lee Dong Gook has had a good season too, top-scoring in the Champions League with nine of the twenty-five goals that he has scored this season coming in that competition. For all of that though and despite playing some great football, they’ve won nothing yet.
Jeonbuk’s route to the final was fairly straightforward, the only recent downside being an injury to Lee Dong Gook in the first leg of the semi-final that had kept him out of action since then. Al Sadd had a much more eventful run to the final, qualifying for the competition as a late replacement only after the Vietnam FA had forgotten to send their entry form in and then despite losing both legs of their quarter-final managing to go through due to their opponents fielding an ineligible player.
Al Sadd overcame Korean club Suwon Bluewings in their semi-final with the help of a goal scored as a result of them pretending to return the ball after it had been kicked out for an injury, but then playing a defence splitting pass to set up a goal instead.  The mass brawl that followed included a kung fu fighting sub.


There were reports that this game would be a sell-out and although this seemed unlikely Jen and I turned up an hour and a half before kick-off just in case. Jen asked the girl in the ticket office for seats in the ‘Special Zone’ which is the area where you get a table in front of you and free beer and chicken to put on it. I was a little surprised that the tickets were only 15,000 won rather than the usual 20,000 and when we got in we found out why. They weren’t ‘Special Zone’ tickets after all, those seats were reserved for visiting posh people and our ‘Special Zone’ seats were just normal lower tier seats. I didn’t fancy that so we headed upstairs and took a couple of seats next to the media section and close to the halfway mark.
I think I’ve started to take some of the good things about Korean football for granted. Drinking beer whilst watching the match for example. I’m used to either bringing in a few cans or else just buying a bagful from the shop inside the ground. Tonight though in a ruling more annoying than staging the final in Timbuktu would have been, the Asian Football Confederation had decided that beer had to be decanted into paper cups. Marvellous. As I’d already been hiking that day and didn’t want to be negotiating the stairs every five minutes I got three cups, the maximum I could carry. At least they were alcoholic I suppose, UEFA don’t even allow that at their matches.
As the teams lined up I discovered that Lee Dong Gook had only made the bench, with his lack of match fitness after his injury probably counting against him.

Jeonbuk v Al Sadd

The rumours of a sell-out were exaggerated, but it was an exceptional turnout for a Korean club game. The official announcement of 41,805 was probably only five or six thousand above my own assessment of the crowd. I suspect that Korean pride at the prospect of winning an international trophy made it more like a game involving the national side. Jen and I had been here a month earlier and despite Jeonbuk being top of the league the place was empty then. I suspected that some of the crowd hadn’t been to a match since the 2002 World Cup, which made the lengthy queues for paper cups of beer all the more frustrating.
There didn’t seem to be as much media interest in the game as I’d have expected, or at least they weren’t  occupying the designated area. Perhaps they were all in the ‘Special Zone’ drinking our free beer and eating our chicken. The media seats didn’t go to waste though as a party of kids just took them over.

I'm sure that they were all properly accredited.

As far as the football goes, Eninho put Jeonbuk ahead early on with a free-kick from the edge of the box. At that stage it looked as if Jeonbuk would run away with the game. They didn’t capitalise on their advantage though and Al Sadd levelled on the half-hour with a headed own goal from Sim Woo Yeon.

Eninho puts Jeonbuk ahead.

I braved the queue at half time only to discover that the beer was sold out. That’s what happens when you get thirty-five thousand people showing up once every eight years. In the second half Al Sadd stunned the home crowd when they took the lead after a quick break. With twenty minutes to go Jeonbuk brought on Lee Dong Gook and Lee Seung Hyun in an effort to try to get back into the game.

Lion King time.

The final twenty minutes consisted of constant Jeonbuk pressure punctuated by Al-Sadd timewasting. I reckon we only got about ten minutes where the ball was actually in play, with the rest of the time being spent treating Al Sadd players for a variety of mystery ailments.
The substitutions paid off though when right on the final whistle Lee Seung Hyun snatched an equaliser for the home side.

Two each.

Despite them stealing my Special Zone seat and then buying up all of the beer before half-time I couldn’t help feeling pleased for the Jeonbuk fans, even those who didn’t appear to know which team was which.

Just like 2002.

Neither side really looked like winning it in extra time and so penalties it was. The Korean bloke who turns out for Al Sadd, Lee Jung Soo, diplomatically missed his penalty but none of his team mates did and Al Sadd picked up the trophy. Jen and I struggled for a taxi afterwards and ended up with fried chicken and beer after all as we killed time in a hof waiting for the part-timers to make their way home.
Next up for Jeonbuk is the K-League play-off final at the beginning of December. Even though the crowd will drop by three-quarters I’ll be playing safe and filling my pockets with cans of Asahi.

Italy v Holland, Saturday 5th November 2011, 2pm

November 15, 2011

Some of the things that I write about tend to be a bit vague. Actually that opening sentence is a bit vague. It proves my point though, I suppose. The vagueness is generally because I don’t really know what I’m writing about and it’s easier to just avoid including details rather than bothering to find out. This post is vaguer than most.

Jen and I had been hiking in Moaksan Provincial Park and were on our way down from Mount Moak when we spotted a football pitch in the valley at the bottom. At this point we were still a good kilometre away, but we could see that a game was underway. It reminded me of the view from the away end at St James’ Park. I didn’t take a photo at that point because my camera was in my backpack, but if you imagine a Subbuteo pitch at the bottom of your garden then you will probably have a reasonable idea of what we could see.

Anyway, once we got to the bottom we went and had a look. There was a football tournament taking place and since we were due a rest after our hike we stopped for a while to watch one of the games.

Now this is where it gets vaguer than normal as I have no idea who the teams were, nor the name of the ground. We were near to the start of a trail within Moaksan Provincial Park but I don’t even know if the name of the village was Moaksan. Whatever.  One of the teams was dressed up as Italy and the other as Holland, so I’ll just assume that the local council had stumped up the cash to stage a prestigious international friendly.

Johan Cruyff takes on three Italians.

One of the things that I like about Korea is the abundance of sporting facilities. Everywhere you look you will find football pitches, basketball courts, outdoor gym equipment. We’ve even stumbled across badminton courts halfway up a mountain before. This pitch was artificial, with a small stand at the half-way line and three rows of concrete seating running the length of the pitch either side of it . It would be ideal for a second or third division team.

The main stand.

The best thing though was the view. Whilst the hills behind the stand were impressive enough, the opposite side of the pitch had a mountain backdrop that was guaranteed to make a player’s attention wander whenever he wasn’t on the ball. I imagine quite a few goals have been scored whilst a keeper has been leaning against his post gazing into the distance. I used to be a goalie and I let loads in by not paying attention even though the only views I had to distract me were local housing estates or chemical plants. I dread to think how much more of a liability I’d have been if I’d played next to Moaksan.

The other side of the pitch

Some of the players looked to be getting on a bit and others were carrying a few pounds more than looked good for them, although I can empathise with all of that. Typical Sunday League stuff I suppose. In keeping with the lack of detail I’ve no idea what the score was either. There was definitely at least one goal at each end if that helps.

The Italians had an extensive post-match warm-down session.

It wasn’t the best attended of games. The only other spectators were the players who were waiting to use the pitch next and a small child that presumably belonged to some bloke who had been unable to get a babysitter. We stayed for about half an hour, but then had to get away because we were off to the Champions League Final. The football would undoubtedly be better at the big game, but the pitchside view certainly wouldn’t.

Moaksan hiking, Saturday 5th November 2011

November 10, 2011

Jeonbuk Motors had qualified for the Asian Champions League final and had been fortunate enough to be drawn at home. It’s a strange system, playing a one-off final at the stadium of one of the teams rather than a neutral venue. However, I’m not complaining as it meant that Jen and I could go to the game.

Kick-off wasn’t until seven in the evening and so we took advantage of the nearby Moaksan Provincial Park to do some hiking first. Moaksan is about twenty minutes and fifteen thousand won in a taxi from Jeonju bus terminal.

The street that leads to the start of the trail

We got there for about half past nine, had some mandu and gimbap for breakfast at a small cafe and were ready to go by ten. There are plenty of shops and restaurants at the entrance to the trails, although I didn’t see any hotels. I’d be surprised if there weren’t any though.

Moaksan map

The highest point in the park is Mt Moak at 793.5m. Quite why the half metre matters I don’t know. Possibly a neighbouring park has a hill that is only 793m high and Moaksan likes to highlight how much better its hill is. Anyway, there are three routes up Moaksan if you are starting from where we were. You can go straight up the valley or you can take a ridge route to the right or left. Most people were going straight ahead, so we went right. It’s slightly longer at 3.5km, but at that sort of distance it doesn’t really make much difference.

The views were obscured by trees and fog.

It was quite steep to start with, then we got a few stretches of reasonably flat trail followed by a couple of staircases. Two hours after setting off we were at the top. Or at least what we thought was the top. After staring into the fog for ten minutes and feeding a feral cat some of the left-over mandu that we’d saved for lunch we continued along the trail only to find the real summit a couple of minutes further along.

Nine out of ten feral cats prefer mandu

The actual peak was cluttered with military buildings and phone masts. Possibly some of the other people knew that it was there but didn’t think it was worth the effort.

At the top.

Our plan had been to descend via the back of the mountain but we took a wrong turning and ended up coming back down the ridge to the left instead. It was fairly steep, with some sections where you needed to hang on to a rope.

It's cheaper than building a staircase.

It took a couple of hours to make our way down to the bottom where we caught a bus from the car park back to Jeonju. I didn’t see a timetable so have no idea how frequently it runs. The seven kilometre walk that we did was ideal for a half day and our plan is to go back sometime when the visibility might be better and take the trail that we had thought we were taking this time.

Samsung Lions v SK Wyverns, Monday 31st October 2011, 6pm.

November 9, 2011

The Korean Series is played over the best of seven games. This year the first two games took place at the Lions stadium in Daegu and the next two at Munhak, home of the Wyverns.

After that, if necessary, everyone moves to Jamsil Stadium for the remaining games. As the score stood at three-one to Samsung Lions after the first four games that meant that there would definitely be at least one game at Jamsil.

That was certainly good news in that it gave me the opportunity to see another play-off game. However the downside was that the tickets were sold out and the 6pm start meant that I wouldn’t be able to get there until three quarters of an hour into the game. By that time it was possible that all of the old granny touts would be sat at home working out exactly how many new sun visors they could buy with the profits from their ticket sales.

Now, I don’t suppose that too many ladies read this blog. Actually not too many blokes do either, but there’s probably a balance in their favour. However, if any ladies are reading, can I give you a bit of relationship advice? I know, I’m not really agony aunt material, but trust me this stuff is worth passing on. If you want to get in your fella’s good books, don’t make him go shopping with you or give him lists of DIY jobs to do around the house. Despite what you may want to believe, that rarely works. Instead you should get yourself along to the baseball stadium on your way home from work, find a tout and then pay him more than twice face value to buy your bloke a ticket for the big game. That’s what Jen did and doing stuff like that is one of the reasons why she’s an absolute star.

So, ticket in hand I was in the stadium for quarter to seven. The second innings was just drawing to a close and the game was still scoreless. There were quite a few empty seats in the main section where the latecomers with allocated seats would no doubt be wandering in over the next hour or so. I was in the outfield section and as expected, it was packed. There were some seats that were occupied by coats and boxes of fried chicken but most had people in them. The aisles were full too and the walkway at the back was crammed with picnickers and fans stood up to three deep on the rail at some points. I made my way right around to the far corner and found a spot on the railing near to that big post that helps the officials determine if a ball has been hit behind or not.

I could watch the replays on this bloke's phone.

Samsung took the lead in the fourth innings when Kang Bong Gyu hit a solo home run straight into the Samsung fans to my right.

The Samsung players celebrate their home run.

Both sets of fans were impressive, but I think the Samsung fans just shaded it with their inflatable lions. It was a little more subdued where I was stood, which is probably just as well as I needed to limit my beer intake. It would have been just too difficult to fight my way through the crowds to get to the toilets and I’d have lost my position on the rail if I had.

Samsung Inflatable Lions

By the time we got to the ninth innings, Wyverns were still a run behind and Samsung closed the game out to take the Series 4-1.

Last man out.

That was the signal for the fireworks and the presentations. Most of the Wyvern fans stayed to applaud the winners which I thought was pretty decent of them. When you see the presentations at football finals in the UK half the stadium is empty before the players have even shook hands with each other, never mind picked up the cup.

There was a better display than they have on Bonfire night.

And so that brings the baseball season to an end. It’s been a good year where I’ve completed my tour of the KBO stadiums with visits to Gwangju and Gunsan as well as watching games between local sides at small stadiums in places like Chuncheon and Jeju. Next season I’ll be looking to get to some games at the second tier ‘Futures League’, where although there will be fewer fireworks and inflatable lions, there will probably be more chance of getting to sit down.

Gyeongnam v FC Seoul, Sunday 30th October 2011, 3pm

November 8, 2011

I was at the Gyeongnam v Seoul fixture last season and so normally wouldn’t have bothered travelling south to somewhere that I’d already visited. What caught my attention about this game though was that Gyeongnam weren’t playing at their normal ground in Changwon, but were hosting the fixture thirty-odd miles away in Jinju.

I find it hard to resist the chance to visit a new ground, particularly one that only gets used once a year and so I thought I might as well make the effort. Gyeongnam has previous for this sort of thing, they played a game at Geochang earlier in the season and have also staged matches at Masan, Milyang and Yangsan in the past. I have a feeling that they would probably play in your back garden if you offered them enough cash.

It reminds me a bit of the way that county cricket teams would share their fixtures around. Yorkshire would regularly visit Acklam Park whilst Durham would turn out now and then at Stockton Cricket Club. I’m not sure to what extent it still goes on but I suspect it’s less common these days than it was in the past.

I got the bus from Seoul Express bus terminal at 8.20am. It was 22,000 won and they seem to run pretty frequently. The roads were clearer than normal and I arrived in Jinju on time at 12.10pm.

I’d actually been to Jinju before. I was there last year with my mate Paul either side of a hike up Jirisan. On that occasion though, we’d seen the inside of a bar or two and the bus station, but not a great deal more. As I had plenty of time before the 3pm kick-off I wandered along to the fortress by the river which is okay for a quick visit.

Jinju Fortress

There are a few old looking buildings inside the fortress walls that have been rebuilt over the years. There is also a rock that a local girl jumped off a few hundred years ago. She managed to drown a Japanese General by throwing herself into the river and dragging him in with her. There was none of that sort of thing going on whilst I was there, but with a visit from a K-League team once a year I suppose that the locals no longer feel the need to make their own entertainment.

Be careful if you are a Japanese General.

I’d seen as much of the fortress as I wanted to by one o’clock and thought that I might as well walk to the stadium. I’d picked up a map earlier and it seemed easy enough, just follow the river until you get there. The river walk was quite pleasant. It was a bit overgrown but provided an opportunity to see some wildlife along the way, mainly butterflies and herons.

Just keep the river to your right and you won't get lost.

As the time moved towards half past two I was getting a little worried that my map may not have been too accurate, but fortunately the stadium came into sight. It’s a very impressive looking ground, built last year with a sensible capacity of twenty thousand.

Jinju Stadium

I got a ticket for eight thousand won and sat with a few lads that I know towards the back of one of side stands. The stadium was just as impressive inside as out, the highlight being a grassy bank behind one of the goals. It’s a feature that I like and I’ve enjoyed stretching out on the grass before at LA Galaxy and at Munhak for the baseball. I first encountered one at Wigan in the Boro’s 1986-7 promotion season, but the climate in north-west England meant that it was more like a slag heap. It wasnt just the players who should have been wearing football boots that day.

FC Seoul fans behind the goal.

There was an excellent turnout for the game, although as usual, people were still arriving well into the second half. At its peak, I’d say the place was 95% full, although the announced attendance claimed an impressive 110% capacity at 22,000.

The other end.

As far as the game went, it was always likely to end in tears for Gyeongnam. Seoul are having a far better season and needed a win themselves to clinch third place. Gyeongnam had a slim chance of making the play-offs but in addition to requiring three points they were also relying on two other teams failing to win.

Not a great deal happened in the first hour. Seoul then broke the deadlock when a heavily deflected shot from Ha Dae Sung wrongfooted veteran keeper Kim Byeung Ji. Gyeongnam’s task was made a little harder when they had a bloke sent off for something off the ball. I didn’t see what happened but unfortunately for Jeong Da Hooeon the ref did.

Seoul on the attack

Gyeongnam pushed forward despite being a man down and were then caught twice as Ha Dae Sung completed his hat-trick. In the end results elsewhere meant that the three-nil defeat didn’t matter. A lot of the crowd had gome home early once Seoul got on top, but it was still busy on the way out. As I left I was passed by about a hundred Korean RAF lads marching in formation.

Left, right, left, right.

The traffic was heavier on the way back to Seoul and so my return journey took over four and a half hours. I’ll keep an eye out for Gyeongman’s fixtures next season in the hope that they will continue to spread some games around the region.

SK Wyverns v Samsung Lions, Saturday 29th October 2011, 2pm

November 4, 2011

It’s almost the end of the baseball season and we are into what is apparently known as the Korean Series. Last season’s champions SK Wyverns qualified to play the team that finished top of this year’s standings, Samsung Lions, in a best of seven games finale.

Samsung had won the first two meetings at their Daegu stadium before the action moved north to Munhak, where SK Wyverns had pulled a game back the previous evening. I had to decide whether to go to this game or watch one of the division three football play-offs instead. If the weather forecast had been for rain I’d probably have gone to the football, but as it looked like a sunny day in the Incheon area I got the subway to the baseball instead.

I arrived at Munhak after a ninety minute subway journey and with still about hour to go before the scheduled two o’clock start. The game was sold out and I didn’t have a ticket, but as there are usually some touts kicking around, I wasn’t too concerned.

Lots of food, but no tickets.

I didn’t see anybody selling tickets as I left the subway and so I walked up to the stadium. There were lots of people getting there early but nobody seemed to have any spares for sale. I headed back towards the subway and spotted a bloke with a small handwritten sign. That generally means one of three things over here, he was buying, selling or offering to save my soul. I enquired further and it turned out that he was selling a single ticket with a face value of forty-five thousand won. I only had an hour so I didn’t ask about my prospects for the after-life.

Neither of us spoke much of the other’s language and so I pulled a fifty thousand won note from my wallet. He looked uneasy, so I got another one out. Twice face value didn’t seem unreasonable to me. This freaked him out a bit more and he made a big fuss of turning it down. I wasn’t sure if he was trying to strike a harder bargain at that point or whether he’d never actually seen a fifty thousand won note before and was worried I was trying to pay with money-off coupons for a pizza shop or something.

He very carefully took a five thousand won note from his pocket and made a big show of handing it over with the ticket before taking one of the fifty thousand won notes in my hand. A moment later I understood the reason for his caution as two plain clothes coppers came over and examined the ticket before asking me to confirm that I had paid exactly the face value and no more. Luckily for the Korean bloke I resisted the urge to tell them that I’d handed over a couple of hundred thousand won plus my phone, car keys and shoes. I’m pretty sure that they would have emptied his pockets and handed the contents to me before hauling him away to chokey barefoot.

Most tickets for Munhak are general admission, with just a small proportion of them being for allocated seating. As my ticket was one of the posh ones I didnt need to get inside early, but I did anyway.

My seat was in the Samsung Lions side of the ground, to the left of the plate and level with the pitcher. I was about four or five rows from the front. Most people would regard that as a very good seat with it being so close to the action, but not me. I don’t like the idea of watching the game through the netting that is there to stop you being smacked in the chops by a stray ball. I could have moved to the cheap seats but decided to stick with it. As much as anything I didn’t want to worry the bloke who had sold me the ticket by not being there when he arrived.

Samsung Lions fans

It was a decent seat for watching the warm-ups, which is handy I suppose when you get in so long before the start. I did wonder how specialised a job being a ‘warm-up’ pitcher is? The fella that was sending down the balls for Samsung Lions must have thrown far more than any pitcher playing in the game would do, albeit at a lower intensity. Did he then spend the rest of the afternoon tossing the ball back and forwards with the relief pitchers too? It seemed a lot of effort and not very much glory. I doubt that it was what he had dreamed of as a kid.

He didn't even get in the photo.

I don’t often see the start of baseball games, particularly evening ones, but for this one I got to witness the celebrity opening pitch  by a girl who seemed well-known to a fair proportion of the crowd and then the national anthem played on a saxophone. I haven’t been missing much if I’m honest about it. My section was still quite empty when the game started although the other areas of the ground had filled up nicely. It was a good ten minutes into the game before the bloke who’d sold me my ticket turned up with his mate. As he’d been outside for at least an hour beforehand it did strike me as quite poor timekeeping to still manage to miss the opening innings.

Samsung got off to a good start with two runs early on. The starting pitcher for the Wyverns, Kim Kwang Heong, struggled a bit and he got the hook early in fourth after conceding a third run. I’d like to think that he went to help his mate out warming up the relief pitchers rather than sulking at his big day coming to a premature end.

Kim Kwang Heong gets the game underway for the Wyverns

The opening fella for the Lions, Yoon Seong Hwan, fared marginally better surviving slightly longer into the fourth innings before making the long walk back to the dugout. His team was leading 4-1 at that stage so I dare say he was a little happier than his counterpart. After a couple of hours there were still people coming in. I know that it’s a game that can go on for four hours or so, but come on, it’s the play-off final and it’s a Sunday afternoon.

The blokes next to me were Wyvern supporters, so not only had they bought one ticket too many, they had bought them for the wrong part of the ground. I did wonder whether the pair of them had turned up the night before and found out their tickets were for the wrong day as well. They were a bit more organised with the food and drink though with one of them nipping to the concourse for some fried chicken and beer. They very generously passed me a can and offered me some of their chicken. I’d been taking it easy up until that point, staying off the beer, but as so often happens that first cold one of the afternoon opened the floodgates and when it was gone I went and got us another six. Why not, it was a warm autumn afternoon and a few beers to just take the edge off the day seemed appropriate.

They seemed to be enjoying themselves too.

The other lad then disappeared and returned with some fried mandu and a bag full of beer. The afternoon was getting better by the minute. When that beer had all gone I went back and got us some more as by this time the bloke to my left was joining in as well. After an hour or so we were high five-ing each other any time a Wyverns player got anywhere near the ball. Even the Samsung fan on my left seemed happy to cheer on the opposition efforts once the beer had kicked in.

Samsung added a fifth run in the seventh and it looked at that stage as if the game was over. Wyverns hit straight back though with a three run homer to reduce the deficit to a single run.

The Wyverns celebrate their comeback.

At one stage in their seventh innings SK Wyverns had nobody out and a bloke on each of first and third bases. If they were going to do something in the series than that was their time. They didn’t take the opportunity though and another two runs in the eighth for Samsung followed by one in the ninth made it 8-4.

SK couldn’t come back from that and Samsung took a three to one lead in the best of seven contest.