Archive for April, 2012

Doosan Bears v Samsung Lions, 17th April 2012, 6.30pm

April 30, 2012

I’d watched Samsung Lions a couple of days earlier in their home game with Nexen. Their next fixture was at Jamsil against Doosan Bears and as it was a warm evening, one of the first of the year, I thought I’d go along after work and watch.

My initial plan had been to walk, but I got a bit impatient and hopped onto the subway at Seolleung for a two stop journey that saved me twenty minutes or so. The way the game panned out it proved to be a lucky decision. The area around the stadium was fairly busy and there was a sizeable queue at the ticket office.

As I stood in line I was approached by one of the granny touts. She had a nine thousand won ticket that due to her holding up three fingers I thought she must have been asking thirty thousand for. I offered her a ten thousand won note, which she took and then gave me five thousand won change. I’ve no real idea how that worked but can only assume that she had originally been asking for three thousand won and had then decided that I could afford five thousand instead. Still, we both did ok out of it.

That's my granny tout in the brown coat.

My ticket was for a reserved seat in the main stand. I’m just as happy sitting in the outfield though and as the entrance was right next to the ticket office I went there instead. I had to persuade the girl on the gate to let me in, but as I had a higher priced ticket and there were likely to be lots of empty seats, that wasn’t too difficult.

I’d missed the opening twenty minutes, but it was still 0-0 with Doosan batting in their first innings. I’d been right about there being plenty of empty seats. The outfield was sparsely populated and I could have had my pick of where to sit in most parts of the main stand.

Plenty of space in the outfield seats.

Jang Won Sam was the starting pitcher for Samsung. He has an unusual action where he faces away from the batter as he starts his throw. I’m sure that most of the coaches that he will have worked with over the years will have wanted to pick him up and re-position him in the opposite direction. I was in Japan a couple of years ago and kept seeing people reading on the subway. Over there, writing is done in vertical lines rather than horizontally and it took all of my willpower not to reach out and rotate whatever they were reading ninety degrees for them.

Jang Won Sam prepares to get tonked out of the ground.

Maybe Jang Won Sam will start facing the right direction when pitching in future because he got a real pasting in this game. Firstly Kim Dong Joo got a hit that allowed a team mate to get home from second. Then Choi Joon Seok  cracked a home run for three to make it four-nil. One of the younger Doosan players, Jung Soo Bin, got in on the act next hitting to second with the bases loaded to get two more home. Six-nil to Doosan. There was more to come though and Son Si Hyun hit a ball deep into the outfield for another two runs.

The first Doosan innings finally finished at twenty past seven with them leading by eight runs to nil. It was virtually game over. For Samsung starting pitcher Jang Won Sam it actually was game over as he got the hook after a first innings where he had pitched fifty-three balls for eight runs and six hits.

Choi Joon Seok doffs his cap after his three run homer.

The game settled down a bit after that opening flurry and there were no more runs for a while. Samsung seemed to show a bit more urgency in the field than they had done early on, but when you are eight runs down it’s probably not going to make a lot of difference. I got a couple more cans of Hite from the lady who was wandering around with a basket on her head and just sat back waiting for some more big hits.

I did my best to lighten her load.

I had to wait until the fifth for the next run. Jung Soo Bin’s hit took him to third, enabling him to get home a couple of balls later and extend Doosan’s lead to nine.

The travelling Samsung fans didn’t seem overly subdued by the scoreline and they had the odd moment or two to cheer. Unfortunately it was more often than not their mascot moonwalking than anything happening on the field though. Lee Seung Yeop, newly returned from his time in Japan, improved the mood with a hit to second. Unfortunately he raised an even bigger cheer from the Bears fans next ball when he strayed too far from his base and ran himself out.

Lee Seung Yeop - Samsung Lions

Doosan got through plenty of pitchers as they looked to be giving everyone a chance in conditions where there wasn’t much pressure. In the ninth it was the turn of their American fella Scott Proctor. I’ve looked him up and he’s played a lot of Major League Baseball. He’s an interesting character, having been thrown out of a couple of games for deliberately chucking the ball at the receiving batter. He also set fire to his baseball kit on the field after one bad performance for the New York Yankees. That’s worth staying to the end for.

"Can I borrow your lighter please?"

With a nine run lead I wasn’t expecting Proctor to get up to much mischief in this game. I was pleased though to see Lee Seung Yeop take a consolation run off him in the ninth, just on the off-chance that the pyromaniac pitcher might reach for the petrol can and start dowsing his cap and boots. If he did, he waited until they were safely out of sight in the dressing room.

The defeat was the second in a row for last season’s champions following their 10-7 home defeat against Nexen. Whilst that game had been close, this one could have been an even heavier loss than it was as only some very good Lions fielding and a couple of hits falling just short of the crowd kept the score down to nine for Doosan.

Samsung Lions v Nexen Heroes, Sunday 15th April 2012, 2pm

April 26, 2012

This wasn’t a game that we’d planned to see. Jen and I should have been watching a Futures League fixture at Gyeongsan but it had started and finished earlier than we had expected. With it being a sunny day we thought that we might as well watch some KBO baseball and so we got a taxi from Gyeongsan that dropped us outside of the Daegu Stadium just as the game was starting.

It was busy outside.

There were only outfield seats at seven thousand won remaining and by the time we had bought a couple of tickets and made our way inside the game was ten minutes old.

It was still scoreless in the first innings as we looked for vacant seats. You know how it is, I’ve moaned about it often enough, but the ground could be half empty and there would still be nowhere to sit due to people using seats to put their food, coats and bags on. Then there are the seats saved for non-existent friends. If I could suggest one improvement to Korean baseball it would be to have stewards whose job it is to stop people abusing the free-seating policy in the outfield area.

Fortunately we spotted a pair of seats near the scoreboard and were able to sit down. I suspect that if we had arrived ten minutes later then we would have been standing at the back.

Plenty of seats.

The number 36 for Samsung, Lee Seung Yeop, was popular with the home fans. I had a look for him online afterwards and it turns out that he’s one of the best Korean players ever and has just returned to Samsung Lions this season after eight years in the higher-level Japanese league. In the nine seasons that he spent with Samsung before moving to Japan he was voted KBO MVP in five of them.

Lee holds plenty of records and won an Olympic gold medal in 2008. I suppose you could summarise it all by saying that he hits a baseball further than most people do. He did his popularity with the fans no harm in that opening innings when his first hit got him to second base, allowing a team mate to put the first run on the board. Lee Seung Yeop followed him home a few minutes later to make it two nil to Samsung.

Lee Seung Yeop - Samsung Lions

The Samsung lead lasted until the third innings when a Nexen player hit a four run homer that clipped the top of the fence before going over.  Those are the fine margins that can make such a difference. The next ball Nexen’s Kang Jung Ho hit one in the same direction but with just a little more force. It cleared the fence with ease to make it five–two to Nexen.

Samsung pulled a run back in the third, but in the fifth innings Kang Jung Ho clattered another one into the crowd for Nexen, hopefully landing in the picnic that someone had spread over an empty chair. The two run homer extended the visitor’s lead to seven-three.

Kang Jung Ho trots around after another home run.

Samsung don’t lose that many games. They certainly don’t lose many to Nexen and it wasn’t long before the home fans were starting to make their way out. Those that remained were understandably subdued although they did knock out a song to the tune of Cum On Feel The Noize. I wonder if Noddy Holder knows that Korean baseball fans sing along to one of Slade’s hits. I remember seeing them at Boro Town Hall in 1980 when they were in their heavy metal phase. The next day at school everyone was walking around with a sore neck from the head-banging and with ears that were no use for anything other than keeping your glasses on. To make it worse, we didn’t even get to hear Merry Christmas Everyone as they refused to play it. Although with it being February, I suppose that they had a point.

Nearly forty years on and now sung at Korean baseball.

Samsung pulled a couple of runs back in the sixth when Lee Seung Yeop scored a two run homer and then they got to within a single run of Nexen in the eighth, just before we left to catch our train. I checked later and Samsung finally went down ten-seven in the tenth.

Samsung Lions v Kia Tigers, Sunday 15th April 2012, 11am

April 25, 2012

One of the things that I’m trying to do this year is to see more baseball outside of the eight team top-level KBO League. Usually that involves stumbling across a run-down stadium in a one-horse town and then hoping that some sort of local tournament is taking place. To be fair, it’s an approach that has worked reasonably well so far.

My latest discovery though, is the Futures League. It’s basically a reserve league for the KBO clubs, supplemented by the Police and Army teams. Like most reserve leagues, it allows young players the opportunity to press their case for a place in the proper team whilst those recovering from injuries can get back to full fitness in an environment where winning isn’t necessarily the main focus.

The appeal to me is that they don’t play the games in the usual stadiums and so it’s chance to visit some smaller venues with virtually nobody there. What’s so good about that? Not sure really, although there’s definitely an element of ticking places off lists and it’s quite nice sometimes to watch something without a load of strangers making a racket.

Anyway, Jen and I had been watching a couple of football matches in Cheonan the day before. Afterwards we caught the KTX to Daegu, which is the nearest big station to Gyeongsan. Gyeongsan being the place where we intended to watch the Samsung Lions second team take on their KIA Tigers counterparts the following day.

There are always plenty of places to stay in the areas around stations and the combination of neon palm trees and onion domes on the roof was sufficient to draw us in to the thirty-five thousand won per night Paradise Motel.


Just in case the single free condom in the complimentary toiletry pack wasn’t enough, they had thoughtfully provided a vending machine full of them right next to the reception window.

Something for the weekend, sir?

The room itself was fine with a big tv, computer and as far as I could see no hairs belonging to the previous occupants of the bed. There wasn’t much of a view, with the narrow alleyway beyond the window obscured by bars and barbed wire. But, it’s Daegu city centre and there wouldn’t have been much of a view regardless. Fortunately we were only one floor up and so we probably wouldn’t have needed to use the window as an escape route if a guest had tried to burn the place down in protest at having to pay for a second condom.

The view.

At noon the next day we hailed a taxi for the journey to Gyeongsan. Jen, who speaks very good Korean, was extremely specific with the instructions to the driver. She told him the town that we wanted to go to, Gyeongsan, then she told him the area of the town. He nodded and grinned. Happy that he knew the town and the area of the town, she then told him that when we got to Gyeongsan it was the baseball stadium that we wanted to go to. He repeated back the word ‘baseball’ and set off.

Twenty minutes later we arrived at the Daegu Baseball Stadium, home of the Samsung Lions and venue for a first-team game that day between Samsung and Nexen. Jen explained it all again to him, re-emphasising that the name of the town that we wanted to go to was Gyeongsan and pointing out that the name of the town that we had asked him to go to differed from the one that we were in.

Not Gyeongsan.

He seemed baffled, as if the idea that other towns could have baseball stadiums as well was a concept too bizarre to dwell upon. Then he suggested that this game would be better. When we politely insisted upon the original plan he seemed to mark us down as trouble makers and quoted what I suspect he felt was a prohibitive thirty-five thousand won fare to take us to the place that he’d already agreed to take us to twenty minutes earlier. That’s fine. Just drive.

Half an hour later, we arrived in Gyeongsan. The driver behaved as if he had been caught up in a tornado and then deposited in a random town hundreds of miles away. He kangarooed along the main street, accosting random passers-by with a variety of questions that no doubt included whether he would need a visa and if the water was safe to drink. We paid him up and left him to what was likely to be an uncomfortable few hours driving around in circles before he chanced upon the road home.

Fortunately the next cab driver knew exactly where the baseball stadium was and a few minutes later we were there. It was ten minutes or so after the scheduled one o’clock start time, but that’s not a big deal in a game that can last for three or four hours. It wasn’t as if it was likely to sell out.

The stadium looked pretty new and seemed more like a training facility than a baseball park in its own right. There were a few players standing around outside and three or four fellas using cameras with large lenses to take photographs. I didn’t want to miss any more of the game so we went up to the seats. There weren’t many people watching, maybe ten in total, so perhaps the Futures League isn’t much of a draw.

It was certainly quieter than a KBO game.

I had a look at the scoreboard and discovered that Samsung were leading Kia by two runs to one, in the eighth innings. Eighth? It was ten past one. Ten minutes after the scheduled start-time. Something wasn’t right.

Eighth innings action.

There were some Samsung players sat nearby and one of them asked me why we were there. Why indeed, I thought, there’s no easy answer to that one.  I asked him about the change to the start time and he told me that they had started two hours earlier than intended because they had the following day off and they wanted to get away as soon as possible. Marvellous.

Almost as many players as fans in the crowd.

Ten minutes after we had arrived it was all over with Samsung holding on to their two-one lead. As we wandered out we hopped into our third taxi of the last half hour and got the driver to take us back to the Daegu baseball stadium that we’d been at an hour earlier. So far the Futures League seems to be a lot of travelling and not very much baseball.

Cheonan FC v Gyeongju Citizen, Saturday 14th April 2012, 3pm

April 20, 2012

This was the other of the two games being played simultaneously on adjacent pitches. The beauty of that is that you don’t have to read anything in this post about my journey to Cheonan or the usual guff about what I’d had for breakfast. I’d had glimpses of the first half of this match whilst watching the game next door between Cheonan City and Busan Transportation. From a distance it looked as if Germany were taking on Holland but as the teams came out for the second half I could see that whilst Cheonan were wearing the classic Dutch combination of orange shirts and white shorts, Gyeongju Citizen had red and green stripes on the fronts of their white shirts.

Not quite the 1974 World Cup Final.

The visitors were leading by two goals to one but that didn’t seem to have diminished the support from the half a dozen home fans close to where we were sitting. They had four drums between the six of them which is a ratio that I imagine even the drummiest of marching bands could only aspire to.

Four drummers drumming.

There were probably about a hundred people in total watching, which was pretty good when you consider that a game of a much higher standard was taking place less than twenty yards away. I didn’t notice any fans cheering on Gyeongju, just as I didn’t when I saw them play in Seoul recently. Maybe they don’t have any travelling fans. Or maybe they just don’t like to make a fuss, acknowledging goals at either end with a similar stoic nod and a wry smile. That’s fair enough, I’ll watch out more closely for them in future.

The view from the other side.

Ten minutes into the second half, Cheonan drew level. One of their strikers chased a through ball and placed his shot to the keeper’s left.

It's on its way in.

There weren’t a great deal of chances for most of the second half and my attention did drift occasionally to the Cheonan City game taking place to our left. Five minutes or so from the end Cheonan’s Park Min Seok cut in from the right and shot across the keeper into the corner of the net to give the home team the lead. The lads with the drums seemed overjoyed.

The joy was short-lived though as Gyeongju hit back almost straightaway through Jang Ji Soo. His initial shot was parried by the Cheonan goalie but the ball ballooned up and he was able to direct his header over the grounded keeper. Three-all and surely worth more than a wry smile from the away fans.

Jang Ji Soo - Gyeongju Citizen.

The point moved Gyeongju up into second place in their nine team group, whilst Cheonan remained in seventh place, five points behind.

Cheonan City v Busan Transportation, Saturday 14th April 2012, 3pm

April 19, 2012

There are two football teams in Cheonan. One of them, Cheonan City, plays in the National League whilst the other, Cheonan FC, is one division lower in the Challengers League. Up until recently they played their games at the Baekseok and Oryong stadiums respectively. These days though they both seem to have been turning out at the newer Cheonan Soccer Centre.

The Soccer Centre has four pitches, two grass and two artificial. Both the grass pitches have seats for spectators, the main pitch having stands down two sides whilst the other has just the one stand.

So, what’s all this leading to? Well, I was coming to that. Both teams had been given a home fixture on the same day and so it should have provided an opportunity for a few hours of watching football, with one game following the other. That’s too sensible though and instead both games were given three o’clock kick-offs. Baffling. I couldn’t miss the opportunity of watching two games simultaneously though and so Jen and I caught a train from Seoul to Cheonan at Saturday lunchtime.

Cheonan is pretty well served by transport options ranging from the thirty-five minute KTX journey to a couple of hours on the subway. This time we went by Saemaul, which was the fastest option until the introduction of the high-speed KTX trains a few years ago. It took just over an hour and that was fine. We overtook a few of the subway trains at a pace where I could look smugly into their carriages. The KTX trains must use a different track which is just as well really as the difference in speed between the KTX and the subway trains would no doubt be enough to suck out the subway carriage windows and spirit away the hats, glasses and false teeth of the people inside.

We took a taxi from Cheonan station, but that was only because we didn’t know where we were going. It’s probably only a ten minute walk from there to the Soccer Centre. Once we arrived we had to decide what to do. Do you focus on one game or try to watch them both at the same time? If you sat right at the end of the stand you could pretty much keep an eye on both, a bit like if you had a seat right on that dividing screen at The Crucible when the snooker is on. In the end though, we decided to watch forty-five minutes of each game and started with the National League fixture between Cheonan City and Busan Transportation.

The view from the main stand looking towards the other grass pitch.

Both teams have terrible kits. Cheonan were wearing maroon with grey shorts and socks. That’s not a football strip, particularly the grey socks. They looked like kids who had forgotten their PE kit and were just wearing standard school uniform socks. Busan weren’t much better, they have a strip that resembles a Brighton kit from the front. Nothing too bad about that I suppose, unless you are a Crystal Palace fan, but the blue and white stripes are only on the front of the shirts. The shirts are solid blue on the back which makes them look nearer to Chelsea when you see them from behind. It’s as if you are watching three teams chasing the same ball.

School kids v Brighton v Chelsea.

Whilst the strips were dodgy, the crowd was very impressive for a game at this level. I’d estimate that there were about five hundred people in the main stand and another seventy or so sat in the sunshine opposite. The home side were cheered on by about a dozen ‘ultras’ whilst Busan also had a few supporters making a bit of noise at the far end of the main stand.

Cheonan City fans.

The visitors almost opened the scoring in the first minute but the ball ran just the wrong side of the post. They were certainly the more attacking of the two teams, but the finishing from both sides left a lot to be desired.

Busan had another good opportunity ten minutes before half-time when Kang Jin Kyu cracked the ball against the bar from the edge of the box. He hit it with enough force for the rebound to clear the penalty area. The miss was forgotten a couple of minutes later though when Busan took the lead through Park Seung Min. The former Incheon United midfielder capitalised upon a spot of arsing about by the Cheonan defence to drive the ball home from close-range.

This wasn't the goal, but it would be ideal for a Spot the Ball competition.

That was about it for the first half and as we had another match to watch on the next pitch, just about it for us too as we moved to the adjacent stand at half-time. A few minutes into the second half the noise from the crowd alerted us to a goalmouth scramble and we were able to watch from a distance as Busan doubled their lead.

A little later I had a wander between the two pitches to get some photos of the main stands so I did see a bit more of the Cheonan – Busan game.

The view from the other side of the pitch.

We didn’t miss any more goals though and the match finished with Busan maintaining their two goal advantage.

Suwon City v Mokpo City, Saturday 7th April 2012, 3pm

April 18, 2012

This trip didn’t turn out anything like I’d intended it to. The original plan had been for Jen and I to walk along the Hwaseong fortress wall before watching Suwon City take on Mokpo City in Suwon’s Civil Stadium. In the end though, we did neither.

A late night on the Friday resulted in us getting up too late to walk along the fortress wall. It did mean that we had a bit of time to watch some baseball in ballpark next door though. Once that had finished we made our way to the Civil Stadium.

Suwon Civil Stadium.

Now, I’m coming to the conclusion that I’m not really one for learning lessons. Unless, perhaps, physical pain or injury is involved. For example, I no longer use that open razor blade on the cheese grater for slicing bits of cheese. Not since I took a chunk out of my thumb anyway. Nor do I try to force corks into a wine bottle with a knife if the corkscrew doesn’t do its job properly. At least not since the time when a bottle cracked and I nearly severed a finger.

Where I’m still struggling to learn lessons is in making sure that games are on before setting out. God knows I’ve missed enough of them and this one was yet another. We arrived at the Civil Stadium bang on three o’clock and after wandering in caught sight of another pitch without goalposts. Perhaps if I get Jen to jab me in the eye each time it happens I might start to check things a bit more thoroughly.

Fortunately, the most likely alternative to the as yet incompletely refurbished Civil Stadium was the Suwon Big Bird Stadium, either the main pitch or more likely the auxiliary one next to it. There’s not too much distance between the Civil and Big Bird Stadiums and a twenty-minute taxi ride was all that was needed.

I’d watched Suwon City on the auxiliary pitch last season. It’s ideal for a lower league team with one small stand running the length of the pitch. As we walked around the outside of the main stadium though we could hear drumming and chanting from inside. A quick glance confirmed that City had borrowed the Big Bird from their K-League neighbours, Suwon Bluewings.

It was a relief to see some goalposts.

Suwon were in their red and blue stripes and were already a goal down to Mokpo. It was strange seeing a stadium that is usually one of the best attended in the country staging a match in front of no more than a couple of hundred spectators. Mokpo had contributed to the crowd by bringing eight fans with them for their rare day out in a World Cup Stadium. I wondered if any of them had turned up at the Civil Stadium first.

It was a good day out for these fellas.

We made our way around to the far side so that we could sit in the sun and watched the remainder of the first half. Suwon had a few chances to equalise but were unable to take them and they went in at the interval still trailing by a goal to nil.

A Suwon corner, just before half-time.

Mokpo doubled their lead a couple of minutes into the second half when Suwon keeper Lee Jung Hyung dashed to the edge of his box only to get in the way of one of his defenders. The mix-up meant that the ball fell to Han Jae Man who after controlling it with his arm was able to roll the ball into an empty net. A couple of the Suwon players protested to the linesman who I’m sure must have seen it. Maybe the odd poke in the eye might have helped him to focus on the task in hand too.

Suwon responded by bringing on their lanky striker Bae Soo Han. Although having checked his height it turns out that he is only six foot three. Maybe he is just tall in comparison to some of his short-arse team-mates. Whatever, the substitution paid off almost immediately as Suwon pulled a goal back when Jang Hyuk’s shot from the edge of the box sneaked in next to the post.


The home side had plenty of time to find an equaliser in the remaining half hour and they put the visitors under a lot of pressure. The Mokpo keeper had a decent game though and he was able to keep the Suwon efforts out to help his team pull off an unexpected away victory.

It hadn’t been quite the day that I’d planned but it had worked out pretty well in the end, whilst the fortress wall and the Civil Stadium will still be there for a future trip.

KPC v Kogas-Tech, Saturday 7th April 2012, 1.30pm

April 17, 2012

If I walk past a sports ground of any kind, I’ll always try and have a look inside just in case there is something going on. This was one of those times when I got lucky. Jen and I had gone to Suwon to watch Suwon City in the National League and we had got there an hour and a half before kick-off. Next to Suwon’s Civil Stadium is the Suwon Baseball Stadium, which is the former home of the now defunct KBO team Hyundai Unicorns. The Unicorns were one of the most successful sides in Korean baseball, winning the Championship four times before relocating to Mokdong, changing owners and ending up as the rather less successful Nexen Heroes.

As we walked around outside, we could see players arriving in their kits and with noises coming from inside the stadium, I was fairly sure that something was going on. We walked through the main entrance, gambled on turning left and a moment or two later found ourselves in the away team dugout. Nobody seemed surprised by us appearing there and I took the opportunity to get a few photographs from pitch-side.

I don't think we were supposed to be here.

We re-traced our steps and took the corridor that had been to our right. This brought us out at pitch-side once more, but further along and not far from the plate. A bloke gave us a programme and we made our way up into the posh seats with the tables. There weren‘t many fans there and it’s possible that we were the only ones not to be either playing or watching a family member play.

It's seen busier days.

A quick glance at the the programme revealed that this was the first day of a multi-team tournament that was scheduled to run throughout the Summer. We had arrived in the first innings of the third game of the day, a contest between KPC and Kogas-Tech. I assumed from the names that they were company teams, although I suppose that maybe it was just a sponsorship arrangement.

KPC, in blue, were leading Kogas-Tech who were in red by three runs to nil. The standard wasn’t too bad, certainly better than the University game I’d seen three weeks or so earlier. Whilst there were plenty of sneaked bases, the pitching was generally on target and the batters were capable of giving the ball a fair crack. We didnt see any home runs but there were some big hits.

The view from our seats.

We watched for just over an hour before it was time to leave for the football game. I’d  enjoying sitting quietly in the sunshine in a stadium that a few years ago would have been filled with twenty thousand capacity crowds. The hour was sufficient time to see KPC take the four innings match by thirteen runs to two and give themselves a solid start to the tournament.

Bucheon 1995 v Paju Citizen, Saturday 31st March 2012, 5pm

April 16, 2012

The last time I’d been to Bucheon I’d taken a trail through some woods to reach the ground. This time though, I didn’t have time and so after getting off the subway at Sosa I just followed the road for twenty five minutes to Bucheon’s stadium at the Leports Complex. On my previous visit I’d arrived only to discover that the game had been switched to the opposition stadium but thankfully this time I could see the players walking out onto the pitch through a gap in the stand.

With the game about to start I followed some fans through the main entrance where I was politely turned away and re-directed further around the stadium to the ticket office. It came as a bit of a surprise as it’s not often that you have to pay at this level or indeed, the one above.

I found the ticket office and joined the queue for a five thousand won ticket. It wasn’t ‘Boro at Wembley’ length, but I did find the idea of printing tickets and then employing people to sell them and check them on entry a bit over the top for a division where the crowds average around two hundred. Wouldn’t just handing over a five thousand won note as you went in be a bit more efficient if you are going to bother charging an entry fee in the third tier?

At least you didn't have to camp out overnight.

I’d missed the first couple of minutes by the time I’d got inside the stadium. Bucheon were in red shirts with black shorts and Paju were in green tops with blue shorts. There were maybe five hundred people or so watching, including a dozen from Paju behind the goal. That’s a pretty healthy crowd for a Challengers League game, so perhaps it’s worth their while charging for admission after all.

The Paju fans seemed happy to catch up on their sleep.

Bucheon had more of the ball in the first half but neither side created much and when a half-chance did fall to someone a goal never really looked likely. It was goalless at half-time.

Paju on the attack in the first half.

The Bucheon fans were very impressive, singing throughout the match and they marked the start of the second half with a flare. Bucheon 1995 is a club that was founded by supporters of SK Bucheon after the K-League club was relocated to Jeju Island a few years ago as part of the effort to de-centralise clubs from the Seoul area. Whilst the new team play in the third division, they use the same stadium that SK Bucheon did and they wear the same colours.

The Bucheon fans show the Paju lot how it's done.

The game came to life ten minutes after the interval when the Paju goalie flattened a Bucheon striker on the edge of the box. It looked like it was going to end in tears from the moment he set off as he was never likely to get to the ball first. Even though the ref had little option but to send the keeper off, the lad was furious, throwing his gloves to the pitch in a fit of temper.

Bath time, sonny.

Once the keeper had left the pitch, we still had to wait a while for the re-start. First of all the Paju staff had to work out which of their twenty of so subs were actually goalies. Then they had to decide which of them would come on to replace the unlucky outfield player. Once the new keeper had been selected, we then had to watch him warm-up at the side of the pitch for five minutes whilst the rest of the players and the crowd gradually froze to death.

Eventually the new lad felt ready to come on. If I’d have been the ref, I’d have booked him for time-wasting as he made his entrance. His first touch saw him pole-axed as if he had been clattered with a length of 4″ by 2″. I did wonder at that point whether he just didn’t fancy it, despite his extensive warm up. His second touch was to pick the ball out of the net as Bucheon finally got the opening goal.

As most of the home players ran to their fans to celebrate, Paju had to be stopped by the ref from sneakily kicking-off against the couple of Bucheon players who were back in their own half.

The goal opened the game up a bit more and both sides had their chances. A few minutes from time a Paju free-kick from the edge of the box was curled just wide, whilst Bucheon could have sealed it at the end with a chip over the Paju keeper that landed just the wrong side of the post.

Almost an equaliser.

The single goal was enough to clinch victory for Bucheon and the win took them above Paju in the table and into second place.

LG Twins v Nexen Heroes, Saturday 31st March 2012, 1pm

April 12, 2012

After turning up at Bucheon three weeks ago for a football match that took place elsewhere, I had been looking to go back there and actually see a game. They were at home again last Saturday with a 7pm kick-off and the lateish kick-off gave me a bit of spare time in the afternoon to watch some baseball first.

I had a walk along to Jamsil where LG Twins were taking on Nexen Heroes in another of the pre-season games. As I approached the stadium I wondered whether or not the game was on. I couldn’t see anyone in the seats, which was surprising with only twenty minutes to go before the scheduled one o’clock start.

When I got there though, there were plenty of people milling around outside and the old biddies who sell the food and drink were out in force.

Plenty of dried squid available.

It was free entry, but the outfield seats weren’t open. I took a seat in the away fan section near third base, just high enough up to be able to see over the top of the netting. There weren’t too many other people inside as the game started, but there were probably ten thousand or so in there by the time I left. It was a similar attendance to that of the game I’d seen the previous week at Cheongju, but there’s a big difference in atmosphere between ten thousand people in a twelve thousand capacity ground and the same number of people spread out in a stadium that holds thirty thousand.

The crowd at 1pm.

In last week’s game Nexen hadn’t managed a single run against Hanwha, but they were off the mark in the first innings in this one, with Yoo Han Joon getting the hit that allowed one of his team mates to get home. Yoo Han Joon seemed pretty unpopular with the home fans and was booed every time he walked to the plate. I’ve no idea what the issue was, as far as I can see he isn’t an ex-LG player, nor has he turned out for their rivals Doosan Bears. Perhaps he’s just one of those fellas, like Robbie Savage or Craig Bellamy, that you feel obliged to boo, pantomime-style, whenever you see them. Fair enough.


The Nexen celebrations for their run and indeed anything else were hampered by their lack of cheerleaders. Perhaps they were economising and saving them for the proper start of the season. One of their fans was happy to fill the gap though and despite the absence of any music or a megaphone, he managed to lead his fellow supporters in a variety of chants. I liked the way that he generally kept one eye on what was happening on the field whilst still managing to cajole some noise from the Nexen faithful.

Not the usual gratuitous cheerleader picture.

Nexen kept their lead until the third innings and then fell a run behind in the fourth. In the break between innings I had a glance around at the people sat nearby. The old bloke to my right was drinking yellow coloured liquid from a jam jar. I’d like to think that he hadn’t mixed up his refreshments with a urine sample. There was a man behind me using the sort of lens on his camera that you could photograph a moon landing with and of course, the obligatory couple in matching clothes, this time showing their love for Nexen as well as each other.

That's commitment.

There were a lot of families in the crowd too and some of them had brought children that were far too young to really appreciate what was going on. A pre-season game is an ideal situation though to bring a young kid. There’s plenty of room, it’s free to get in and other fans aren’t going to get arsey about a toddler running around.

When my son was three or four years old I would take him to Boro reserve games at Ayresome Park. He’d watch the football for a while but then would be more interested in running up and down, getting some sweets and then going home at half-time. I didn’t mind, I’d got to see forty five minutes or so of football and we’d had an night off from watching Thomas the Tank Engine. Nobody else in the crowd was inconvenienced at those games as the place was empty. Mind you, if I recall correctly the crowds for the first team matches weren’t much bigger in those Lennie Lawrence days.

Nexen regained their lead with two runs in the fifth before the home side responded with a hit that ended up in the empty outfield seats and tied the game at three each.

The first home run of the day.

By the start of the eighth it was still three all and time for me to leave to catch the subway to Bucheon for the football. I had a look on the internet later and someone had got a fourth run to take the game. I can’t remember which team it was unfortunately, maybe Nexen. Anyway, it’s not important.

That’s it for my pre-season baseball, next time I go it will be the real thing. Or maybe not, I’ve got plans this year to watch a fair bit of second tier baseball in the Futures League. So it will be up and coming hopefuls battling it out alongside grizzled old pro’s returning from injury or loss of form. The stadiums appear to be located in towns whose existence is rarely even acknowledged by the guide books and I’m expecting the crowds to consist almost exclusively of coaching staff, agents and families. There’ll probably be an old bloke or two drinking their own piss as well.

FC Seoul v Jeonbuk Motors, Sunday 25th March 2012, 3pm

April 10, 2012

Three weeks into the new season and with Jeonbuk Motors visiting FC Seoul, it was time for me to catch up with Lee Dong Gook. The Boro’s greatest ever Korean player had started the season exceptionally well, capping his recall to the national team with three goals in two games and then continuing his good form with another three in Jeonbuk’s first three K-League games.

I’ve been to see quite a few games at Seoul’s Sangam stadium over the last couple of years and so to make the day a bit more interesting Jen and I decided to walk there. We’d tried to do the same thing last year but had been thwarted by the flooding of the Han River.

This time though, we were still three months or so away from the rainy season and saw no reason why we wouldn’t be able to just follow the river all the way to the stadium. We set off from Yeoksam not long after eight in the morning which gave us almost seven hours until kick-off. Just to make the route a bit longer, we walked in the wrong direction to Jamsil and joined the Han River at the Olympic Stadium. This took the overall distance to more than twenty kilometres. I’m not sure how much more, but as we seem to average around three kilometres an hour, I wasn’t entirely certain that we’d make the kick-off.

There wasn’t a great deal going on that we hadn’t seen on previous walks along the Han, apart from a much increased security presence. There was a Nuclear Summit due to take place the following day that the likes of Obama would be attending and it looked as if every copper in Korea was on duty. We passed three coachloads of police by the COEX centre and as we walked along the river we saw policemen on bikes, in boats and guarding every bridge we passed. Helicopters constantly flew overhead.

Undercover Police pretending to be fishermen.

Every time I walk along the Han I see more improvements to the paths, facilities and surrounding areas. It’s a place where kids can play sport and older folks can walk their dogs or work out on the gym equipment. There are stages and seating for open-air concerts and car parks where people can watch films on big screens. There are swimming pools, football and rugby pitches, basketball, badminton and tennis courts, croquet lawns and baseball parks. Taxation levels seem very low in Korea so it surprises me when I see the extent of public spending on leisure facilities.

We passed the areas where the previous year we had been forced to make extensive detours and in some of those cases the path had now been relocated to higher ground in response.

Last year.


After a bit of earth-moving and with a new path installed it now looked like this;

This year.

We first spotted the World Cup Stadium at around two o’clock. It took us another half an hour or so to get there as there were numerous roads to cross. I’ve a feeling that if we had carried a little further along the river then there might have been a nice easy path through a park. Maybe next time.

Six hours later.

It was a cold day and whilst Jen was fine with that during the walk, she was less confident of her ability to avoid hypothermia whilst sitting in a football stadium for two hours. She headed off back to Yeoksam (on the subway) and I got myself a fourteen thousand won ticket for the Jeonbuk end.

As I went through the gate I noticed that Jeonbuk shirts were being given away for free. I joined the queue, but was told that they were only for employees of Hyundai Motors and their families. Judging by the amount of shirts being given away, half the factory must have been attending the game. Despite the decent turnout by the Jeonbuk fans, the overall attendance was poor. It was announced as 25,811, but it was easy enough to work out that the true figure was less than half of that.

The match started well for the visitors and within three minutes they were in the lead. Luiz dispossessed a defender and played in Lee Dong Gook who calmly placed the ball to the keeper’s left for his seventh goal of the season.

One - nil to Jeonbuk.

Seoul had plenty of possession though and equalised just before the half-hour mark. Dejan Damjanovic’s shot hit the bar, bounced down and Ha Dae Sung  was first to the rebound, scoring with a diving header.

At half time I moved upstairs, partly for the change of view but mainly for a bit of peace and quiet. The woman who had been sat behind me in the lower tier had been getting a little too excited in the first half whenever Jeonbuk were on the attack. On the occasions when they got near to the Seoul penalty box, she sounded as if she was close to orgasm. I thought it only polite to give her some privacy.

Jeonbuk should really have regained the lead on the hour. Lee Dong Gook got clear though and was one-on-one with the keeper. He tried to leave the lad flat on his arse but in doing so allowed the goalie to nick the ball off his toe. He got a second chance at it but his shot was cleared off the line by a defender who had got back to cover.

Jeonbuk have got a new foreign striker this season, Hugo Droguett, a Chilean who has been playing in Mexico. He came on as a sub for Eninho mid-way through the second half but didn’t make much of a difference. He put a free-kick wide of the post and failed to hit the target after a one-two with Lee Dong Gook. I don’t want to judge him prematurely, but I didn’t see anything that made him look as good an option as an impact sub as Krunoslav Lovrek, who has moved on from Jeonbuk to Qingdao Jonoon in the China Super League.

Droguett puts his free-kick wide.

As the game drew to a close I reflected that whilst both teams would no doubt be disappointed with just the point, they had each missed so many chances that they couldn’t really complain. It wasn’t over though and in the eighty-ninth minute Molina weaved his way through the Jeonbuk defence and finished well to clinch the three points for the home side. I was keen to be home before midnight and so decided against walking in favour of the subway.