Archive for March, 2012

Seongnam v Tianjin Teda, Wednesday 21st March 2012, 7pm

March 31, 2012

I probably wouldn’t have bothered with this game normally as it’s a bit of a rush to get to Seongnam’s Tancheon Stadium for a 7pm mid-week kick-off. I was having a browse through the squad of their Chinese opponents though, as you do, to see if they had recruited any ageing superstars, when I spotted that they had an English player.

I’d never heard of the fella listed, Akpo Sodje, but all that means is that he probably hasn’t scored too many goals against the Boro over the years. Google is your friend though and it turns out that he’s played all over the place.

He started off at QPR as a kid and then had spells at Stevenage Borough, Margate, Gravesend & Northfield (That’s one team, not two), Heybridge Swifts, Erith & Belvedere (that’s one team as well), Huddersfield Town, Darlington, Port Vale, Sheffield Wednesday, Charlton Athletic and Hibernian. The last couple of names are actually two teams.

So, he’s been around a bit. It was his spell at Darlington that clinched it though. If he’d played for Darlo, I’d have to go and see him. I suppose you could describe Darlo as being like the Boro’s kid brother. They play nearby but are too crap to be considered a rival.  A bit like the way it was with Sunderland when they had Mick McCarthy in charge.

I must admit, I did wonder just why a team in the China Super League, particularly one that had qualified for the Asian Champions League, would have wanted to sign him. After all, Anelka is playing over there now and we keep reading reports that Chinese clubs are prepared to pay Frank Lampard or Rio Ferdinand a quarter of a million pounds a week to make the move. Still, that’s a matter for Tianjin Teda.

Akpo Sodje gets booked in the Sheffield derby for messing with Boro legend Ugo Ehiogu. Serves him right.

I hurried out of work and got to Tancheon a minute or so before kick-off. It was 10,000 won to get in and I sat in the East Stand, near to the half-way line. Akpo Sodje and his Chinese team mates didn’t seem to be much of a draw to the people of Seongnam as I’d reckon that there were only about a thousand spectators present. The official attendance was 2,553, but there’s no way that there were as many as that in the ground. In fact Akpo had probably played in front of bigger crowds at Darlo.

Seongnam had their usual twenty ultras behind the goal to my right and as happens every week they were outnumbered by the away fans. It was closer than most games though, with only about fifty people at the other end supporting the visitors.

Tianjin Teda fans.

The pitch was looking good, probably the best I’ve ever seen it as Seongnam kicked off in their Watford strips with Tianjin Teda in all white. So, what about our English fella? Well, he wasn’t there. Despite having scored the week before, he hadn’t made the starting eleven. I scoured the subs bench, but he wasn’t there either. Marvellous.

Not there either.

So, that was a waste of time. As for the game, Seongnam went a goal up early on when a glancing header from Han Sang Woon dropped perfectly inside the back post. The visitors equalised twenty minutes from the end with an effort that the Seongnam keeper should have done better with.

This one didn't go in.

I cleared off with ten minutes to go, it was a bit too cold to hang about on the off-chance that Sodje might suddenly appear from nowhere like a Sunday League player who had slept in and missed his lift. Nobody else scored and the game finished one each.

Hanwha Eagles v Nexen Heroes, Sunday March 18th 2012, 1pm

March 30, 2012

After watching the FA Cup first round tie between Cheongju Jikji and Ajou University the previous day, Jen and I had stayed over in Cheongju for a pre-season baseball game. There are plenty of motels in the area around the bus stations and we selected one on the basis of its towers, stone cladding and the fake bronze bust in its doorway.

Nice bust.

It was exceptional value at 30,000 won, with a 42“ television, a computer in the room and far fewer hairs in the bed or bathroom than you would expect at that price. The only thing that it was lacking was a control to turn the heating down and so we had to regulate the temperature by sleeping with the window open.

The baseball wasn’t due to start until 1pm and so in the morning we got a taxi to Bumosanseong fortress wall. There are two fortress walls in Cheongju, Bangdangsanseong and Bumosanseong. Don’t worry, I won’t test you on the names. Bangdangsanseong is better, but Bumosanseong is closer to where we were staying and so that is where we went.

The taxi took us to within about fifty yards of the top of Mt. Bumo and we got decent views in all directions. The wall didn’t appear to have been restored and a lot of the time we were walking on top of it. It didn’t take long to get all of the way around though and as we had time to spare we walked all of the way back to the town centre.

It's just like that one in China.

Jen had stuff to do and so I went to the baseball by myself.  A taxi dropped me off outside Cheongju Baseball Stadium ten minutes before the start. I’m glad I didn’t have a car to park as the car park was full. In fact, all the roads leading in and out were packed with cars as well, parked three abreast and stopping anyone from leaving out of turn.

I was quite surprised by how busy it was. This was a pre-season game between two teams that aren’t particularly well supported. Although I suppose that Hanwha playing in Cheongju rather than their usual stadium at Daejeon probably had a lot to do with it. As did free admission and people pining for some baseball after the winter. So I shouldn’t have been suprised really.

The stall-holders were out in force too, mainly selling chicken, silkworms and beer. I didn’t bother and just went straight into the outfield section of the stadium.

On the way in.

Cheongju Baseball Park has a capacity of twelve thousand. At the time the game started I’d estimate that it was around half full. People continued to turn up over the next couple of hours and I’d say the attendance peaked at around ten thousand. Of course, there were no seats to be had later on as latecomers had to compete with the handbags and boxes of chicken that were occupying the remaining places.

You need a chair for your beer.

For those who hadn’t brought their own food, there was plenty available inside, although I’m not sure if this woman was selling the stuff on her head or just replenishing the picnic lunch for her family.

A quick snack.

I was impressed with the stadium. It had ten rows of seating all of the way around, with a roof over the posh seats behind the plate. Ideal for a sunny day really.

The view fron the outfield.

Hanwaha got off to a decent start in the first innings with the popular Kim Tae Kyun cracking a three run homer to within a few yards of me.

Kim Tae Kyun - Hanwha Eagles

Hanwha got a another run in the fourth and then increased their lead further in the fifth when Jung Won Seok made it five-nil with a hit that again landed just in front of me. A fella in the crowd actually caught that one and prevented the usual scramble for the ball from blokes old enough to know much better.

Jung Won Seok collects a quid from each of his team mates after his home run.

Nexen didn’t really put up much of a show on the day, but that didn’t matter. The home crowd were happy just sat in the sunshine watching Hanwha knock the ball around at a stadium that they rarely visit. As was I.

That's not a bad seat.

I had a bus to catch so left in the seventh before Hanwha added another run in my absence to take the game six-nil. I expect that both of these teams will struggle again this season, particularly Nexen, but that’s for their fans to worry about, not me.

Cheongju Jikji v Ajou University, Saturday 17th March 2012, 3pm

March 29, 2012

Jen and I had been to Cheongju towards the back end of last season, but this weekend offered the opportunity to see their third division side Cheongju Jikji take on university opposition in the first round of the FA Cup, with a Hanwha Eagles pre-season baseball game the next day in the local baseball stadium. You can’t not take advantage of scheduling like that.

Cheongju is only about a hundred kilometres south of Seoul and the easiest way to get there is on a bus from Dong Seoul. They go every half hour, on the half hour, which had we known we’d have joined the line for tickets slightly earlier than twenty eight minutes past. Matters weren’t helped when a bloke pushed into the front of the queue, justifying his behaviour by the limited time to departure.

We had to run for the bus after getting our tickets and fortunately we boarded it with seconds to spare. I spotted the bloke who had pushed in ahead of us and gave him my best ‘You have brought shame on your ancestors’ stare. I really should learn the words for that one.

It took two hours for the bus to get to Cheongju and after lunch we took a taxi to the Cheongju Yongjeong Football Park. Cheongju are playing there this season whilst their usual Civil Stadium has some building work done to it. I remember when my Nanna had to move out of her house for a year or so in the late seventies. That was so that she could have an inside toilet installed. I’ve been to the Cheongju Civil stadium though and the facilities are fine, so I doubt that’s the reason. Maybe they are adding an extra tier to their seventeen thousand capacity stadium. It’s just what you need when you get crowds of a couple of hundred.

Yongjeong is a fair distance out of town, the journey taking half an hour and costing eleven thousand won. I was a little worried when we got there that I’d got the kick-off time wrong. The players on the pitch next to the entrance were packing their gear away and it looked as if their game might have just finished. It’s not unusual for kick-off times to change and it wouldn’t be the first time I’d been caught out.

First impressions weren't the best.

Fortunately there are three pitches in the complex and the FA Cup game was taking place on Pitch 1, a bit further over.

This helped.

Pitch 1 has the best facilities for spectators. It has a seating for about twenty yards either side of the half-way line with a roof covering the middle section where the VIPs sit. The less important people on either side get wet and have a view that is obscured by dugouts that aren’t much smaller than the stand itself.

The main stand before kick-off.

As the teams came out, we selected a vantage point towards the back which allowed us to see most of the pitch. The home side were in their Man City strip with the Ajou University students dressed up as Fulham.

Pre-match photo.

The complex is set amongst some small hills which provided a pleasant backdrop to the game. I looked around at the rustic setting and could see a few carefully tended grave mounds, some allotments planted with a variety of crops and the odd area that fly-tippers had left knee-deep in shite.

There was rain in the air as the teams kicked off, but it wasn’t heavy enough for me to need to seek shelter with the posh people and FA officials. I’d estimate that there were about a hundred and fifty spectators watching including three women in front of us whom I suspected all had sons playing for the home side. There was also a bloke behind us who spent the whole first half sniggering like Muttley off Dick Dastardly.

Don't even think about fouling one of their boys.

Cheongju Jikji had the best of the opening half hour and the home crowd got overly excited every time the ball reached the opposition penalty area. They had a decent chance after thirty-five minutes but the lad put his shot just wide of the post. Bang on half-time though, Cheongju got the opening goal. There wasn’t even time for the students to kick off again.

Jikji go close in the first half.

I’d hoped that going a goal down would encourage Ajou to be more positive in the second half and that’s what happened. Cheongju absorbed the early pressure but couldn’t prevent the visitors equalising on the hour. I’d tell you what the goal was like, but I was photographing some of the fans when it went in. You can just see the joy or anguish starting to appear on some of their faces.

One each.

Ajou kept it level until fifteen minutes from the end when the Cheongju number twenty-two got on the end of a free-kick and headed his side back in front. The visitors pressed forward again and had a couple of decent chances, hitting the post on one occasion before shooting straight at the Cheongju goalie soon afterwards. The mothers in front of us were in a state of panic and there wasn’t much sniggering coming from Muttley any more.

The view from behind the goal.

With a few minutes remaining Cheongju broke away and the right winger floated a cross into the box where his striker was waiting to put the game out of reach. He had time to direct his header anywhere he fancied and wisely chose to head it downwards. His header was a bit too effective though and the ball hit the ground somewhere near his feet. Luckily it worked out okay for him as the ball ballooned up and over the keeper, ending up in the back of the net.

The two goal advantage was enough to clinch it and Cheongju went through to the Second Round. We had to walk back towards the town for ten minutes or so before we could get a taxi. Whilst Cheongju’s temporary move allowed us to see a game at a different location, I think that I prefer the old Civil ground and I’m looking forward to seeing it with that extra tier.

Seoul Utd v Gyeongju Citizen, Saturday 10th March 2012, 3pm

March 23, 2012

One of the places where I’ve wanted to see a football match in Korea is at the Olympic Stadium. As far as I can tell, it’s the biggest ground in Korea, South Korea at least, and it’s got that touch of history about it. Apart from that, it’s the nearest stadium to where I live and I see it every time I go to watch the baseball at Jamsil.

The difficulty is that nobody plays there these days. There’s a student game takes place each autumn, I think, some sort of Korean version of the Varsity match, but whenever it’s been on, I’ve been somewhere else.

Maybe they should rent it to West Ham.

Third division Seoul United used to play there, but for the last couple of years they’ve been turning out in Hyochang or Nowon. For some reason though, they decided that what they needed for their first home fixture of this season, was a 69,000 capacity stadium. Woo hoo. Or maybe not. After having my hopes raised, they were quickly dashed when it was announced that whilst the game would take place at Jamsil, it would be on the nearby practice pitch rather than the main stadium.

The practice pitch is on the left, with the floodlights.

Marvellous. I doubt that they would have shunted Ben Johnson and Carl Lewis outside and told them just to run up and down the car park. Still, I hadn’t seen a game on the practice pitch before either, so I thought I’d go along anyway.

It was a sunny day, so I left early and walked there. It’s only forty minutes or so along a straight road that takes you past a few of the big hotels and the COEX centre, following the route of the subway. If I’d actually used the subway then the three stop journey would have taken six minutes, but as I say, I wasn’t in a hurry.

I passed the Art Nouveau City hotel where Jen and I sometimes go for their wine buffet on a mid-week evening. If I’m out of work sharpish, which I usually am, we can be in there not long after half past six and can spend a couple of hours in their comfy armchairs chugging fine wines that are limited only by the need to stand up again afterwards. They have food as well, so it’s a pretty good deal for thirty-odd thousand won and an ideal start to an evening.

We drink on the top floor. Partly because of the view but mainly because that's where they serve the wine.

Anyway, despite choosing to walk rather than get the subway, I was still at Jamsil two and a half hours before kick-off. I was wandering around, as you do, before spotting a bloke stood next to a Seoul United sponsored car. He looked at bit old to be a player, but turned out to be the manager.  We chatted briefly and he told me that after yet another change of plan the game would take place in the main stadium rather than the practice pitch. He also told me that they would win. Only one of those statements turned out to be correct.

The Seoul United manager. He has feet in real-life.

His team were beginning to arrive and in a sign that I’m getting older, they all looked about fourteen. I left him to do whatever managers do two and a half hours before kick-off and went and watched some baseball, a little more excited by the prospect of returning to see a game in the main stadium than a man of my age really should be.

I doubt that any of them were born when the Olympics were here.

Half an hour before kick-off I was back and was pleased to see that a gate to the main stadium was open and that there were people going inside. Not too many people mind. I counted them and reckon that including those in the media section who may or may not have just been sitting there so that they could place their food and drink on the tables provided, the attendance was one hundred and forty. In a stadium with a capacity of almost seventy thousand, that has to be the highest ever ratio of seats to arses at any game I’ve ever been to.

Plenty of space.

The teams came out and lined up before turning to face the Korean flag. It looked as if they were expecting the National Anthem, but it wasn’t played and ten seconds later they sheepishly turned back to the front. Seoul Utd were in a Newcastle strip, whilst Gyeongju had a very imaginative effort of yellow shirts with a green and red stripe. They combined this with blue shorts in what I’m sure was a contravention of some FIFA regulation limiting the number of colours in a kit.

It's still better than black and white stripes.

It was quite a lively opening few minutes with Seoul winning a couple of corners. They were cheered on by their five ultras, one of whom had brought his drum. All their chants followed the same format of shouting a player’s name followed by three bangs of the drum. It’s as well that they don’t have any single name Brazilians at this level, although thinking about it, a lot of them have a three syllable name and so it would still work quite well.

It's like the Gallowgate End in the seventies.

The visitors took the lead after twelve minutes. A deep cross to the Seoul back post was knocked back into the goalmouth where the keeper, at full stretch, couldn’t hold on to it. The Gyeongju striker who picked up the loose ball had time to pick his spot and put his side a goal up.

A quarter of an hour later, Seoul were level. Their number 14 managed to get away from his marker at a throw in and bore down on the keeper whilst a defender snapped away at his ankles like a bad tempered pug. Despite not striking the ball cleanly he still managed to hit it across the keeper and into the corner of the net. One each.

It's on its way in.

There were a couple of other chances before half-time but it remained level at the break. I took the opportunity to switch to the other side of the stadium and bask in the mid-afternoon sunshine. A great plan in theory, apart from it didn’t feel any warmer and I had the sun in my eyes.

Shortly after the re-start, Gyeongju were back in front when one of their strikers was played through the centre and he just managed to get to the ball before the advancing keeper, poking it past him to make it 2-1 to the visitors.

Gyeongju increased their lead on the hour when after a goalmouth scramble in which they should have scored twice before they did, they finally got the ball into the net. It looked at that point as if they might run away with the game. I glanced across at the Seoul manager on the other side of the stadium and wondered if he was mentally revising his pre-game prediction.

See, he does have feet.

Ten minutes from time, Seoul pulled one back to spark what should have been a frantic finish. It wasn’t though, as Gyeongju kept them pinned back in their own half and denied them the chance of throwing everyone forward.

Seoul press for an equaliser, whilst the linesman tries to levitate.

At the final whistle I took the opportunity to walk around the track and then up the 100m home straight. I didn’t cover the ground as quickly as Ben Johnson did all those years ago, but I’d had nothing stronger than a couple of cans of Cass and I’m not sure just how performance-enhancing that stuff really is.

Yonsei University v Konkuk University, Saturday 10th March 2012, 1pm

March 21, 2012

The baseball season doesn’t start properly until April, although the first pre-season friendlies will be underway next week. Even so, if I’m walking past a baseball stadium I’ll always have a look and a listen to see if there is anything going on.

As I passed the Jamsil stadium on my way to the Seoul United football game taking place nearby I could hear voices from inside. I was fairly sure that they were from inside the stadium and not the ones from inside my head, mainly because they didn’t keep telling me to “Grow up, sonny“.

I walked about halfway around the outside of the stadium until I came to the main entrance. There were a lot of people milling about, some dressed in full baseball kit, others clutching boxes of chicken and six packs of beer. I tried to get in but was stopped by a security guard. As a few of the people were leaving and getting onto coaches, it looked to me as if it was some sort of pre-season jolly, possibly for fans, maybe for a junior team. I left them to it and went to have a look at the Olympic Stadium and see if anything was going on there.

Something was definitely going on.

A little later I was walking around the other side of the baseball stadium and I noticed a couple of blokes standing around on the next level up. I went up the ramp and after spotting that they had staff badges on, asked them if there was a game on. When they confirmed that there was, I asked if I could go in and watch. Unlike the earlier security man, they couldn’t give a toss and so I headed into the seating area behind the plate.

View from the posh seats.

It looked like a kid’s game was going on and after picking up a programme from a pile near the entrance I learned that it was a University tournament. I settled down in one of the posh seats with a table directly behind the plate and watched Yonsei University take on Konkuk University.

I’d never sat in a seat that close to the action at Jamsil before, those seats are always sold out long before I get around to buying a ticket, but it turns out that I hadn’t been missing much. Whilst it was great to be so close to the action, the netting that stops you being hit between the eyes by a misplaced shot was just too intrusive. I much prefer to watch from a distance where you don’t notice it as much.

There was plenty of debris lying around, mainly empty beer cans and fried chicken bones. Just what you would expect from students really, they probably scattered them around to make the large stadium seem less intimidating and more like their bedsits.

Bloody students.

The standard of play was as bad as their housekeeping and I wondered if anyone on a sporting scholarship was in detention. Some of the pitches bounced, whilst others flew over the catcher’s head. Runs were gained by stealing bases rather than hitting the ball and it was clear that the formative years of these students had been spent in maths hagwons rather than outside in the fresh air.

Konkuk look for their first run.

It was a pleasant way to pass a bit of time though, and the two hundred strong crowd seemed to be enjoying themselves. For those of you who are interested in results it was the highest scoring baseball game I’ve ever been to despite there being no possibility of anyone hitting a home run unless an eagle swooped down and carried the ball off and dropped it over the wall. By the end of the third innings Yonsei had built up a 23-0 lead. As the games were being contested over just four innings, it was looking  fairly desperate for Konkuk at that stage. Still, it will give them a feel for what it’s like not to start their dissertations until the night before they are due to be handed in.

To the delight of their fans though, Konkuk got a run in their final innings, eventually going down by twenty-five runs to one.

Give that lad a House Point.

With the pre-season games still a week away, and the season proper not starting until next month it was nice to see some baseball earlier than I could have expected, despite the standard. By way of a bonus, as I was leaving I caught the eye of the security bloke who had turned me away earlier and gave him the smuggest grin I manage.

Daegu v FC Seoul, Sunday March 4th 2012, 3pm

March 15, 2012

After failing to see a game at Bucheon the previous day, I was keen to belatedly start my Korean season with a match somewhere. There were a couple of options, but the most appealing was the K-League clash between Daegu and FC Seoul.

As you might have guessed, it wasn’t the teams or the quality of the football that attracted me, although it was likely to be of a better standard than that of the small kids kicking around on the Bucheon practice pitch that had been the full extent of my football the day before. No, it was the chance to see a game in Daegu’s World Cup stadium.

I’d been to watch Daegu play before, but on that occasion they had turned out in the old Civil Stadium whilst their World Cup ground was being tarted up for the 2011 World Athletics Championships. I’d watched a couple of days of that competition too, so I had actually been in the World Cup stadium. However, as good as watching Blanka Vlasic in her gym knickers is, I hadn’t actually seen a football match there.

You wouldn't believe how many visitors come here looking for Miss Vlasic. Or maybe you would.

I caught the 10.10am KTX from Seoul, arriving at Dongdaegu station just after noon. It hadn’t been the best of journeys with the woman behind yapping into her phone all journey and the bloke in front closing the blinds so that I couldn’t see out of the window. It was cold in Daegu with a sea air smell in the area around the station. As Daegu is miles from the coast I presumed that it must have come from a factory somewhere.

Daegu has some quite nice districts, but the area around the train station isn’t one of them. I looked in vain for somewhere to eat and very nearly had to resort to popping into Dunkin’ Donuts. The poster in the window brought me to my senses though.

Salty Caramella? Deviants.

If they can mess up ice-creams with salt, then I couldn’t really trust them with anything else. I gave up on lunch and just got the subway to the nearest stop for the stadium, Grand Park. On coming out of the station, there was a free shuttle coach waiting to take fans to the ground. A nice touch, I thought, particularly as it was absolutely freezing and a twenty minute walk in the wind wasn’t that appealing.

On arriving at the stadium, there was still an hour and a half to go before kick-off. I browsed the various stalls and was given free water, tissues, an orange marker pen and a couple of face packs made from soju. Luckily I didn’t mistake the later items for some sort of consumable soju gel.

Daegu Stadium.

None of the stuff that I’d been given was edible, so I paid five thousand won for a box of fried chicken. It wasn’t really any more edible than the marker pen would have been. It was colder than the surroundings and I couldn’t be entirely certain that it hadn’t been left over from the previous season. Maybe a Salty Caramella might have been worth a try after all.

Get your free stuff here.

After ditching the chicken I bought my ticket, shelling out twelve thousand won for a seat in the West Stand. Don’t know why really, as it was about eight thousand to sit in the East. It’s still only about seven quid though, which compares favourably with the fifty quid that I paid at the recent Real Betis v Getafe game. The prices at K-League games, in fact Korean sport in general, mean that very few people are priced out. You can watch baseball or basketball for around four quid, National League and Challengers League football games are generally free and last time I went to Seoul Racetrack it cost me thirty pence to get in.

No prizes for the groundsman.

There weren’t many people inside the stadium as I took my seat around the half-way line. What struck me was just how brown the pitch was. Do you remember your first ever football match? For most people, the greenness of the pitch is something that sticks in their memory. It wouldn’t though if your first game had been this one. I don’t know if the pitch had been covered up or whether frost had killed off the grass, but it looked more suitable for growing potatoes than playing football.

At quarter past two the Seoul fans made their entrance. I could hear them before I could see them as they had a few drums with them. They marched from the back of their section to their seats with flares blazing and drums, er, drumming. Small children nearby were waving at them in awe, (or possibly recognition if they were family) and the local plod quickly took up a new position that bit closer.

The flares had gone out by the time I took a photo.

The couple of hundred Daegu fans behind the other goal were pretty impressive too, keeping the support going despite the cold and the rain. I was a little surprised to see the crowd announced as twenty-one thousand. Sixteen thousand of them must have gone home as soon as they had stocked up with marker pens and soju facepacks.

Daegu fans in the rain.

I had a coffee to warm me up as I watched the Daegu team being announced on the big screen. I was pleased to see that their three Brazilians were playing. It would be just like watching the Boro in ’97 with Juninho, Emerson and Branco. Although you wouldn’t want Branco anywhere near a stadium that sold fried chicken, not if you had any ambitions of being able to find a pair of shorts to fit him.

I realised that I’d got it wrong though after the thirtieth or so player was announced. What we were getting was a run through of the entire Daegu staff, including an assortment of big bosses, goalkeeping coaches and even a couple of old biddies who snip the weeds from the nearby grass verges and take them home for soup. Only one of the Brazilians, Matheus, had made the team. I wasn’t surprised, Emerson and Branco would have been back in Brazil if it had ever been this cold in the Boro.

Those zoom lenses are handy.

After the cheerleaders had done their stuff we were given a rousing speech from the Daegu big boss. I didn’t understand much but I imagine he chose not to dwell on the brown grass, four month old cold chicken or the local tendency to confuse ice-cream with fish and chips. When he’d finished, we got a firework display which left a haze of smoke over the pitch and gave me an insight into what my life will be like when I’ve developed cataracts.

The players emerged in full-length padded coats. I, meanwhile, was sat shivering in a thin jacket regretting that I could ever have thought Spring had arrived. The latest forecast is that it will be here at the end of March, with Summer then starting two days later. Four seasons, my arse.

Even Big Jack would have struggled to collect all those coats.

Under their heavily insulated jackets, FC Seoul were in their usual AC Milan kit, whilst Daegu were in blue. Smurf blue for those of you who like a little less vagueness.  I noticed that Lee Jin Ho was wearing red gloves and reflected that he was just a white beard short of being dressed as Papa Smurf. It’s not often a mascot gets a game.

Lee Jin Ho.

Thirteen minutes in Yong Kang cracked one into the top corner to put the home side a goal up and spark wild celebrations with their bench and new Brazilian manager.

One-Nil.

At half time I had a hot chocolate and then some ramyeon to try and warm up. A lot of people were leaving, presumably because of the cold. Seoul had a goal disallowed after fifty seven minutes before Molina finally equalised on the break just after the hour.

Second half action.

The rain got a bit heavier as the second half went on and whilst I doubt the players were too pleased, hopefully it will help the potato crop. Seoul looked the more likely of the teams to snatch a victory and went close when hitting the post ten minutes from time. That was enough for me though and not much longer after that I nipped away early. I didn’t want to risk dying of exposure due to not being able to get a taxi. Luckily one stopped straightaway and I was back at Dongdaegu station not long after the game had finished. No one else scored in my absence, with a one all draw being a reasonably fair result.

Bucheon 1995 v Cheonan, Saturday March 3rd 2012, 3pm

March 6, 2012

The first day of a new season. Don’t you just love that day? Your team is unbeaten and possibly even top of the league if you support Aardvaark Athletic. It’s a day for optimism. Even for those of us who don’t have a team that they feel too strongly about in Korea, it’s a chance to put the basketball to one side and go to a proper match.

The build-up to a new season had been slightly spoilt for me as I’d just returned from a fortnight in Europe where I’d been able to see some matches in Spain. Fixtures at Real Betis, Sevilla Atletico and Arcos de la Frontera had taken the edge of my appetite somewhat. As a child I was always told not to eat sweets before my dinner, this though was more like eating a Sunday roast before a bowl of cabbage soup.

Real Betis fans celebrating a goal.

Still, football is football and you can’t be sitting in the house when there is a game on. I’d thought about heading down to Jeonju to see Jeonbuk kick-off their season. Lee Dong Gook is in prime form at the moment having scored three times for the national team in the last week, but I was still a bit jet-lagged though and settled for the nearby third division game between Bucheon 1995 and Cheonan.

I say nearby, but it’s an hour on the subway to Sosa and then a fair walk to Bucheon’s thirty-five thousand seater stadium. Yes, thirty-five thousand. Just what you need when you play in a division that rarely has more than two hundred spectators at a match. Although it does mean that you don’t have to worry about getting a ticket in advance.

The ground is signposted from the station and after a ten minute stroll through town you come to a park. The local authorities have very kindly mapped out some hiking trails through it, one of which looked to go pretty close to the ground.

The scenic route.

I had about an hour to spare before kick-off and despite feeling a bit ropey after a late night tackling the jet-lag with wine and cigars, I thought that I might as well take the trail. It was a bit more undulating than I’d hoped and was fairly busy. There were numerous exercise areas along the way including a couple of large temporary buildings. One was full of badminton players, the other sounded as if it was hosting a hand slapping competition. Do you remember that game from when you were a kid where you had to hold your hands out in front of you, palms together? You had to hold them still until your opponent who was trying to slap them made his move. Once he had begun his swing, you could pull your hands out of the way. If you moved too soon, he got a free slap. Well, that’s would appeared to be going on in one of the buildings. Either that or they are now setting up S&M room salons in the woods.

Along the trail.

After one steep climb I reached a viewing platform and was rewarded with my first sight of the stadium. It didn’t look too far away and I was reasonably confident of getting there by the 3pm kick-off time.

That's it there.

The trail brought me out quite close to the stadium car park and I took the opportunity to have a peak through one of the locked gates before finding out where I could get in. Oh dear. No goal posts and the pitch was covered up like a snooker table at a posh wedding reception.

That's not good at 3pm on a Saturday.

I wasn’t too bothered by this, there is a practice pitch behind the stadium which in reality is much more suited to games at this level. A similar situation had happened last year to me at Ansan and whilst I’d been keen to see a game in their main Wa Stadium I did enjoy watching the game from a tightly packed small stand on their auxillary pitch.

I walked around the edges of the ground and could hear plenty of shouting from up ahead. It sounded like I’d missed the kick-off, but again that’s not such a big deal. As the practice pitch came into view I could see people on it. They didn”t look like footballers though. Or at least not footballers playing in an organised game. As I got closer I could see that it was kids having a kickabout or riding their bikes, with a few adults walking dogs.

Not here either.

This was a little more worrying. I’ve turned up a few times in the past to discover a game has been taking place somewhere else and this looked like another of those occasions. I wandered about for a bit trying to find another pitch, but there wasn’t one. After half an hour or so I gave up and headed back to Yeoksam. I later found out that the game had been switched to Cheonan, although I’ve no idea why. I didn’t miss much by the sound of it with the game finishing goalless.

In the game that I should have gone to, Jeonbuk won their opening fixture 3-2, with Lee Dong Gook scoring twice to become the all-time K-League highest goalscorer and to bring his total for the season (and the week) to five. That’s a bit better start to the season than I’ve had.