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