Archive for November, 2012

SK Knights v KT Sonic Boom, Friday 23rd November 2012, 7pm

November 30, 2012

0 - mascots

Last Friday I thought I’d go to the basketball. SK Knights were at home to KT Sonic Boom and as they play right next to the Sports Complex subway stop, it’s only about ten minutes away from me. I got there at a quarter to seven and it was quite busy outside. I queued for a while longer than necessary at the ticket office due to the people in front of me all seeming to wait until they reached the counter before wondering where they might like to sit.

Outside beforehand.

Outside beforehand.

My choice for this game was a seat behind one of the baskets, in the upper tier. It’s not one of the better views but I thought that it would be fairly empty and I’d be able to get some decent photos of the action when it was at the other end.

What I hadn’t considered was the noise from the speakers. The MC was spewing out his inanities at top volume long before tip-off and I could actually feel the sound waves. I moved to the back row so that the speakers were pointing away from me and covered my ears with my hands. Meanwhile, small children nearby were having paper tissues poked into their lugs by their parents. I kept wishing that I’d brought some of the left-over earplugs from when Mogwai were in town. I’ll certainly take some next time.

It was louder than it looked.

It was louder than it looked.

SK Knights went into the game in second place in the table and with a 12-4 record. KT Sonic Boom were mid-table having won eight and lost nine of their games so far. With those stats in mind I backed SK to win by at least five points.

As for the players, Sonic Boom had an American centre, Jasper Johnson, who had previously turned out for SK. He had a decent game, notching eleven points. Despite him being on court for over half the game I didn’t manage to get a single useable photo of him. Perhaps that’s what happens when you sit behind the basket in the back row.

So here's one of the cheerleaders instead. Sorry Jasper.

So here’s one of the cheerleaders instead. Sorry Jasper.

The other American for Sonic Boom was a 6’9“ forward, Bryan Davis. I’m not sure what happened with him. He looked to have picked up a technical foul in the third quarter, but then went straight to the bench as if sent off. There’s nothing I can see in the stats though so maybe he just sat the rest of the game out in a huff.

Bryan Davis

Bryan Davis – KT Sonic Boom

The difference between the teams was Aaron Haynes of the SK Knights. He had another excellent game contributing thirty-three points and ten rebounds.

Slam dunk from Aaron Haynes.

Slam dunk from Aaron Haynes.

Haynes was so influential that his team-mate Chris Alexander only got two minutes on court. He didn’t make much of a mark in that time, conceding a foul without scoring a point.

The other fella.

The other fella.

At half-time SK were three points up and going into the final couple of minutes they held a ten point lead. KT put my bet in danger though with a late rally and with a few seconds left they had a final attack whilst five points down. Fortunately they ballsed it up and I was able to collect my winnings.

Well done, lads.

Well done, lads.

The 69-64 win for the home side moved them up to joint top whilst the visitors slipped to eighth place.

Wolchulsan hiking, Saturday 17th November 2012

November 27, 2012

This time of year is about as good as it gets in Korea for hiking and so Jen and I decided to head south for the weekend and go for a walk in Wolchulsan National Park. We caught the KTX from Yongsan after work on the Friday and three and a quarter hours later we were in Mokpo.

We stayed in a hotel across the road from the Peace Plaza. That’s the place where they have the dancing water fountains. I can’t remember the name of our hotel but it’s next door to the better-known Shangria Hotel. The rooms are good and at 80,000 won per night it’s about two-thirds of the price of its more famous neighbour.

It’s the skinny building in the middle.

From what I can work out there are three entrances to Wolchulsan National Park; Dogapsa temple, Cheonhwang Parking Lot and Gyeongpodae. You can get there by catching a bus from Mokpo to Yeongam and then another bus from Yeongam to Cheonhwang Parking Lot. This seemed a bit of an arse on to me and so we just took a taxi from Mokpo to Dogapsa temple. I’d estimate it at being about fifty kilometres and it took half an hour and cost 35,000 won.

Dogapsa temple isn’t anything special and just looks like most of the other temples over here. I suspect that they were all built by the same bloke. It did have air-conditioning though, which I’m sure the monks will have been very grateful for in the summer.

Dogapsa temple.

The hike that we were intending to do would take us from Dogapsa temple up to the 809m Cheonhwangbong peak and then down to the Cheonhwang parking lot. The National Parks website lists the route as 9.7km and estimates that it should take around six hours. We only had around seven hours of daylight and so couldn’t really afford to hang about.

The trail starts off pretty steeply with an hour or so of ascent until you reach the Pampas Grass Field. Apparently it is silver coloured at certain times of the year but not in November when it looks as if it has died off.

Part of the Pampas Grass Field.

We had maybe fifty yards or so of relative flatness at the Pampas Grass Field and then it was back to the trudging upwards towards the first peak of the day, Gujeongbong. We hadn’t seen too many hikers so far that morning but Gujeongbong was packed with people milling around, having their lunch and just generally making a racket. There’s an easier route up that starts at the Gyeongpodae entrance and I suspect most of them will have made their way up from there.


We didn’t hang about for long at Gujeongbong, partly due to the crowds but mainly because we still had a fair distance to go. The ridge walk to Cheonhwangbong wasn’t the relentless grind upwards that the trail to the first peak had been but there were some extremely steep sections where it was necessary to haul yourself up or lower yourself down using the ropes or rails provided.

Looking back towards Gujeongbong.

Around four hours after we’d set off we reached 809m Cheonhwangbong peak. This one wasn’t nearly so busy as Gujeongbong and it had great views in all directions. We could see the Cheonhwangbong parking lot in the distance and so were reasonably confident that we’d be able to get there before it got dark.


On the way down to the car park we had a choice of routes, one going via a suspension bridge, the other by a waterfall. When you are from Teesside you tend not to be easily impressed by bridges and so we chose the waterfall route. I’m glad we did as getting to the suspension bridge appeared to involve an almost vertical climb of around a hundred metres. Once I’m on the way down I like to keep it that way.

It’s no Transporter.

The Baram waterfall wasn’t anything too spectacular but at least it didn’t involve going back up again. There were quite a few people making the walk up from the car park to see it, some on a family day out with a sullen teenager or two in tow, others a couple on a date with the girl wearing heels more suitable for, well I’m not sure what actually. What are high heels suitable for?

And this was no High Force.

Bang on target we reached the Cheonhwang parking lot six hours after setting off. There were far more transport options there than there had been at Dogapsa and we were able to flag down a taxi almost straightaway. Half an hour and 40,000 won later we were back in Mokpo. We had planned to hike the following day too but quickly thought better of it. With my thighs and calves still sore four days later I feel that we probably made the right decision.

Ulsan Mobis Phoebus v Wonju Dongbu Promy, Sunday 11th November 2012, 2pm

November 26, 2012

After the two football games the previous day it was time for something indoors, a basketball game between Ulsan Mobis Phoebus and Wonju Dongbu Promy. Who thinks of these names? Ulsan play at the same sports complex as the National League football team Ulsan Hyundai Mipo Dockyard Dolphins (again, who came up with that one?) and as I’d been there the day before it wasn’t too difficult to find.

The home of Ulsan Mobis Phoebus

Ulsan are having a decent season so far and went into this game in third place in the rankings. It isn’t going so well for Wonju this year and they were down in ninth place. I’m surprised really, as they finished top of the standings last season, losing only ten games out of fifty-four. They’ve also benefitted from the rule that makes the ‘half-Korean’ players move between teams every few years. In the summer they managed to pick up Lee Seung Jun, formerly known as Eric Sandrin and also briefly known during his stint with the Harlem Globetrotters as ‘Shanghai’.

Oh, and the cheerleader wear bunny ears.

Wonju’s first choice foreign player, Richard Roby, wasn’t playing. I presume he must have been injured. This meant that American forward Victor Thomas got a lot more time on the court than he usually would. He didn’t really make much of an impact though with only four points to show for his extended run-out.

Victor Thomas (in white) attempts to block a Curtis Withers shot.

Ulsan were a bit more fortunate in that their main fella was not only available but he made a decent contribution. In a league where most of the Americans imports have previously played all over the world, twenty-three year old Ricardo Ratliffe is having his first season outside of the US. He played all but four minutes, scoring twenty-six points.

Ricardo Ratliffe – Ulsan Mobis Phoebus

With Ratliffe spending so much time on court it was a quiet afternoon for the second choice American Curtis Withers. He only got three minutes of playing time, notching a couple of baskets.

Curtis Withers – Ulsan Mobis Phoebus

Jen and I had reasonable seats, close to the front, but level with one of the baskets. We were also near to one of the cameramen and before the game started he came over and had a few words.

“Would you mind being on the Kiss Cam?”

For those of you who don’t know, one of the ways in which the crowd are kept occupied during breaks is by apparently unaware couples being shown on the big screen and then being encouraged to kiss. I’ve always thought it a risky business, after all, you could be attending the game with someone who you shouldn’t really be seen with, never mind seen kissing. It seems though that they’ve thought of that and they very sensibly check in advance that you don’t have a wife at home who might not be too keen on seeing you kissing the girl from the office.

Apparently they have rules for groping too, as there are families present, ‘Upstairs, outside’ is the rule by all accounts.  We didn’t push it though and when the time came Jen and I settled for a relatively chaste effort. It was deemed worthy of a cheer from the crowd and two tickets to the cinema.

Fame at last.

And the outcome of the game? Never in doubt really. Ulsan were four points up at the end of the first quarter and they steadily increased their lead throughout the game before finishing up winning by eighty-eight points to sixty-five.

Ulsan Horangi v Al–Ahli, Saturday 10th November 2012, 7.30pm

November 22, 2012

Korean teams have done pretty well in the Asian Champions League in recent seasons. There’s been a K-League representative in each of the last four finals with Pohang Steelers and Seongnam winning in 2009 and 2010 respectively, whilst Jeonbuk Motors lost out on penalties last year. This season it was Ulsan Horangi’s turn to fly the flag with a home game against Saudi club Al-Ahli.

Jen and I had travelled down from Seoul that morning and had spotted a group of what we thought were Al-Ahli fans at the station. A closer look at their identical kit suggested that they may very well have been players or officials. Some of them didn’t look particularly athletic, but then again, neither did the likes of Alan Foggon or Branco when they were turning out for the Boro.

They were all very similarly dressed.

I’d spent the afternoon at a second-tier National League game in the company of some lads I know from a football forum and after continuing our drinking at a table outside of a convenience store, we caught a taxi to the Munsu stadium.

I took this photo the previous time I was there.

There weren’t any queues at the ticket office, although that was probably more a consequence of us having got there early rather than an indication of the potential crowd size. Tickets were very reasonably priced at 8,000 won, a fair bit cheaper than those at a European Champions League final.

Munsu is one of the better World Cup grounds in my opinion, mainly because it doesn’t have a running track. There’s a decent view from everywhere apart from those seats directly behind the giant inflatable tiger positioned close to one of the corners.

Initially only the East and South stands were open for home fans with a decent turn-out from the Al-Ahli fans in the North.

The Al-Ahli fans shortly after kick-off.

After queueing in vain for more beer we took seats in the upper tier of the South stand behind the goal and it wasn’t long before Kwak Tae Hwi put the hosts a goal up. As the first half wore on it was interesting to see the ground fill up. There wasn’t enough room in the two open stands allocated to the home fans and so people were just hopping over the fence and finding seats alongside the away fans in the North or in the posher West stand.

Ulsan fans behind the goal.

By the time second half goals from Rafinha and Kim Seung Yong clinched the trophy for Ulsan the place was almost full. The official attendance was 42,315 and for once I couldn’t argue much with the announced figure. Sadly, as with last year’s final in Jeonju, the size of the crowd resulted in the beer running out far too soon.

The view from behind the tiger.

I cleared off with a few minutes to go and caught a taxi back into town, leaving Ulsan to celebrate their first success at this level and the tenth in total for a Korean club.

Ulsan Mipo Dockyard Dolphins v Incheon Korail, Saturday 10th November 2012, 3pm

November 20, 2012

The regular season in the second tier National League is over and we are into the play-offs. It’s a fairly straightforward system with the teams finishing third to sixth playing two semi-finals and then a final to determine which of them meets the second placed team. The winner of that game earns the right to play the club that finished top of the league.

Incheon Korail had emerged victorious from the teams in third to sixth and their reward was an away tie with Ulsan Mipo Dockyard Dolphins. If that name isn’t long enough I think there’s a Hyundai sneaked somewhere into it as well.

The National League Play-off Semi Final wasn’t the only event going on in Ulsan that weekend, K-League team Ulsan Horangi were taking on Saudi team Al–Ahli in the Champions League Final that evening, whilst basketball team Mobis Phoebus had a home fixture the following day. With all that going on Jen and I decided to make a weekend of it and we caught the KTX from Seoul on the Saturday morning.

It’s an impressively quick two hour fifteen minute journey to Ulsan, impressive that is until you realise just how far out of town the new KTX station is. It’s not much different to those airports that try and trade off the name of somewhere else, London Luton for example, whilst I’m sure Ryanair will have a few even further away than that.

We took a half hour taxi ride into the city centre, although to be fair, there were a few buses waiting outside of the station covering a variety of destinations.  A quick lunch of Dak Galbi (which seems to have less potato in it every time I have it) and it was time for me to leave Jen to her indoor stuff and head off to the match. She put me in a taxi and asked the driver (in Korean) to take me to Ulsan Sports Complex Stadium. For good measure she let him know that this was not the Munsu World Cup Stadium and I then made a point of showing him the stadium on a map of Ulsan.

Home of the Dolphins.

Of course you know what happened next. He grinned, nodded, muttered “Soccer Stadium“ a couple of times and set off for the Munsu World Cup Stadium. I knew what he had done almost instantly as I’d walked to that ground on a previous visit to Ulsan. Every time we stopped at some lights I’d show him the map and point out the correct stadium, highlighting that it was north of the river and we weren’t. He just kept grinning and driving.

As the signs for Munsu became more frequent I was reduced to pointing at them and doing that crossed armed gesture. Eventually it dawned on him that something was amiss and he stopped to ask the opinion of a couple of small children. I showed them the map and they told him where he was supposed to be going. Twenty minutes later than we should have done we pulled up outside of the Ulsan Sports Complex Stadium with him still grinning, nodding and muttering “Soccer Stadium“ to no-one in particular.

Once inside the big surprise was that the away fans outnumbered the home. Korail had brought five hundred employees on a team-building trip and they had set up camp in the front rows of the stand opposite the tunnel.

The Korail fans are down at the front.

Not only did the Korail employees all have inflatable sticks to bang together, they had cheerleaders to show them how it should be done. The couple of dozen home ’ultras’ were shunted to the far-end of the stand where they consoled themselves with some decent stocks of soju.

The cheerleaders do their stuff.

It was a good game. Ulsan took the lead mid-way through the first half when Kim Byung Oh finished a well-worked move. The home side held the advantage until ten minutes from time when Korail’s Lee Seung Hwan curled a free-kick from outside of the box off the post and into the far corner.

As extra-time loomed Korail then managed to sneak a winner with a Lee Geun Won header.

Korail in white, Mipo in blue.

The home side weren’t the most gracious of losers and despite their coach having been sent to the stand for giving out a bit too much lip, he was back on the pitch at the end leading the protests.

Time to go home.

Understandably the visitors were in a happier frame of mind and they celebrated with their fans, a lot of whom I suspect were seeing Korail play for the first time. Or possibly seeing any football match for the first time.

Korail team-building.

The result meant that Ulsan’s season was over whilst Korail progressed to a two-legged final with Goyang KB.

FC Seoul v Suwon Bluewings, Sunday 4th November 2012, 2pm

November 15, 2012

Seoul against Suwon is the biggest game in the K-League. On one level it’s a continuation of the rivalry that existed between Anyang and Suwon before Anyang had their team nicked, relocated and re-branded as FC Seoul. On another, it’s a clash between the two teams with the largest support in Korean football and a corporate showdown between Samsung and GS.

Surprisingly, I’d not been to a game between the two clubs so far and after watching a match with only twenty one spectators the previous day I thought I’d get myself along to Sangam Stadium for what would potentially be the biggest crowd I’d seen in Korea outside of those found on a hiking trail in Autumn.

Jen and I took the subway to the World Cup Stadium station on line six and picked up a couple of 14,000 won tickets for the Suwon end. Whilst I like the atmosphere of a fullish ground, I also like a bit of space and thought that there would be plenty of room in the upper tier of the away section.

I was right, every seat in that section was empty. They were empty because the upper tier access had been taped off. The home officials must have decided that with the lower tier being sufficient for Suwon’s two thousand strong travelling support there was no point opening the area above. It was certainly a decision that the cleaners would have welcomed as Suwon fans like to make a bit of a mess. As the teams came out thousands of pieces of coloured card were thrown in the air. Some kids made a point of hanging on to them to take home to draw on, but most were more than happy to launch them skywards.

Suwon fans making a mess.

The empty upper tier above me wasn’t the only part of the ground with plenty of spare seats. The west stand to my left had only a couple of thousand fans in the lower tier and an almost empty upper section. The north stand that the home supporters favour was busy in the middle downstairs, but the wings and upper tier were virtually deserted.

The west and north stands.

The east stand had maybe ten thousand people in it, mainly in the lower tier, but even when a section of crowd looks reasonably full from a distance you just know that a significant proportion of the seats will have been commandeered for coats, boxes of fried chicken or manbags. I’d estimate that the game kicked-off in front of fifteen thousand fans and as the latecomers arrived probably reached a peak of twenty thousand, maybe twenty five thousand absolute max.

The north and slightly busier east stand.

It was disappointing really as I’d been hoping for the place to be heaving. The attendance was announced as 40,510 which was ludicrous. You could have fitted the entire crowd into the east stand if necessary.

As far as the football went, I thought Suwon were the better team in the first half and they deservedly took the lead mid-way through it when Lee Sang Ho squeezed home a shot that almost hit both posts before creeping over the line. We got another flurry of cards thrown in to the air by the jubilant visiting support.

One – nil to the visitors.

Suwon’s momentum stalled a little just before the break when defender Yang San Min picked up a second yellow. It sparked the usual protests but I was down the other end and didn’t see it well enough to have an opinion either way.

Suwon go a man down.

Seoul came more into the game in the second half, although it didn’t look like they were going to score. Their fans weren’t discouraged by being a goal down and they kept up their support throughout. There were a group togged up in black that spent most of the game with their backs to the pitch leading their fellow supporters in the various chants. Each to their own, but I wouldn’t want to have to watch the highlights when I got home to find out what had gone on at a match I’d been to.

FC Seoul fans.

Seoul did eventually make the breakthrough when with four minutes to go substitute Jung Jo Gook timed his run perfectly to beat the offside trap and lift the ball over the advancing keeper.

Initially the Suwon players didn’t have too many complaints about the flag staying down but once someone had seen a replay on either the big screen or on a monitor in the dugout they were outraged. At one point it looked as if their coach was calling them off the field in protest at the perceived injustice. Eventually order was restored and the remaining minutes were played out for a one-all draw.

Despite getting it right the linesman got plenty of slaver.

The single point for Seoul allowed Jeonbuk to close the gap in the title race to five points. It seems a lot but those two teams still have to play each other at Sangam before the season is out. Jeonbuk won’t bring as many fans as Suwon did, so it will probably be a sub-twenty thousand crowd. There’ll be  be a lot less sweeping up afterwards though.

Central Seongam v Eunhye, Saturday 3rd November 2012, 3pm

November 13, 2012

I feel a bit of a fraud even writing about this one as I only watched about ten minutes of the match. I took a few photos though and in the interests of completeness I may as well post them up. After all, I don’t want to be racking my brains in a few years time trying to recall which was the game with the overweight goalie lying flat-out in his six yard box after making a save with his nuts. If I write it down then there’s a fair chance that I might find it and remember.

I’d been on my way to the Challengers League game between Namyangju United and Seoul Martyrs at the Namyangju Sports Complex when I noticed a match going on at one of the nearby practice pitches. It looked as if there was a tournament taking place as there were plenty of players in the stands and a decent crowd, mainly wives I’d imagine.

I stopped to watch for a few minutes and then with kick-off approaching in the ‘proper’ game I moved on and left them to it. Once the Challengers League game was over I could hear that something was still going on and so this time I went and had a closer look.

Namyangju Sports Complex practice pitch.

It turns out that it was a tournament for local church teams. The game that I’d seen taking place a couple of hours earlier had been one of the qualifying matches and they were now half-way through the final.

Central Seongam, in white, were taking on Eunhye in the blue and black kit. The artificial pitch had a couple of small stands, both on the same touchline and I suppose just really an extension of the manager’s dugouts.

One of the two stands.

There were about eighty people watching, four times the crowd that had just taken in the six-all draw in the Challengers League game fifty yards away. A lot of them will have been player’s wives, urging their blokes on with a fervour that you rarely see from the likes of Victoria Beckham.

The WAG’s took an afternoon off from shopping.

As to the score, I’ve no idea. I watched for about ten minutes and saw a goal at the Eunhye end, possibly helped by the keeper not having fully recovered from effects of his earlier save. It was end to end stuff and Eunhye came close to getting one themselves.

Eunhye on the attack.

The ten minutes that I spent watching were enough for me to see everything I needed to and so I called it a day and made my way back to Yangjeong subway station for the journey home.

Namyangju United v Seoul Martyrs, Saturday 3rd November 2012, 2pm

November 12, 2012

The final round of matches in the Challengers League took place this weekend and in a perfect piece of scheduling the two worst teams in the league took each other on. Seoul Martyrs have lost every game this season bar one, a draw against Jeonju EM back in August. They have conceded double figures in a game four times, the highlight of which was a seventeen nil thrashing by Pocheon a fortnight ago.

Hosts Namyangju have fared a little better with two wins and six points to their name, the last of which came seventeen games ago in the reverse fixture with today’s visitors. As a form guide, Pocheon only managed to put twelve past Namyangju when they met so I suppose we could say that a home victory was the most likely of the outcomes for this final game of the season.

When titans such as these collide you have to be there and so I caught the subway to Yangjeong. If you look out of the right-hand side of the carriage window as you approach Yangjeong you can see the floodlights of the stadium at Namyangju Sports Complex. I just about managed to keep them in sight until the train came to a halt.

Through the train window.

If you come out of exit two, you should be able to see the floodlights in the distance. There’s a map at the exit that helps as well. All you have to do is follow the general direction of the main road, keeping one eye on the stadium and the other on the traffic.

It looks easy enough.

It’s quite a scenic route in a way, passing a few farms, but there are sections where the path runs out and you have to walk along the edge of a busy road. After about twenty minutes you need to veer off to the left. By this time you will probably have lost sight of the floodlights but the stadium isn’t too far away and before long it comes fully into view.

Nearly there.

There are a couple of other pitches nearby and I briefly paused to watch a game on one of them before making my way through the main gates of the Namyangju Stadium. There weren’t many people there and I wondered for a moment if the game had just finished. I checked with the fourth official who was standing at pitchside and he confirmed that it would definitely start as scheduled in five minutes time at two o’clock.

The stand with the most roof.

The stadium is quite nicely situated in a wooded area, with some hills in the background. I sat in the main stand which has seating for about five hundred people whilst on the opposite side of the pitch a partially covered stand that curves around a little way towards each goal has the potential to hold another couple of thousand fans.

Unfortunately the crowd was nowhere near the capacity of the ground and as the sides kicked off I counted twenty one people in attendance. There might have been twenty two depending upon whether or not a bundle to my left was a sleeping baby or someones shopping. Namyangju were in blue and black stripes, whilst Seoul were in red. The artificial pitch was covered in leaves, presumably real, but I didn’t check.

Five minutes into the game Seoul Martyrs striker Shin Wyun Seop took the ball on his chest with his back to goal, let it drop and then turned and drilled the half-volley into the net from the edge of the box. Bloody hell. One nil to the Martyrs. The young girls to my right shrieked with delight as Mr. Shin grinned all the way back to his own half.

He’s one happy fella.

A moment later the same bloke broke away and should have put the visitors two up. The excitement must have been too much for him though and he screwed his shot wide.

As expected, Seoul’s lead didn’t last long. Namyangju won a corner when a shot from outside of the box smacked the Martyrs keeper in the chops before deflecting wide. In the mayhem that followed the corner Park Young Men was able to blast home the equaliser from a yard out. I know that doesn’t sound like a real name but I’m assured that it is. As an after note Jen has students named Dong Suk and Bum Suk, so I suppose being called Young Men isn’t as bad as it could have been.

One all.

The third goal came after ten minutes when Namyangju’s Kim Jong Chul lobbed the keeper to put his side in front. Within a minute Namyangju had pulled another goal ahead when Park Young Men got his second of the game toe-bopping one home from about six yards out.

Seoul didn’t seem daunted by the Namyangju flurry of goals and went straight down the other end and made it five goals in the first twelve minutes as Kim Beom Soo tucked away a rebound from a parried shot. By my reckoning that was three – two to Namyangju.


It had been hard work keeping up with the scoring, a problem that seemed to be shared by the KFA representative sat behind me. He made a point of popping down to pitchside every now and then to query something with the fourth official. There was that much stuff going on that I’m surprised he risked turning his back on the game for a moment to return to his seat.

Stuff going on.

We had a brief respite from the goalscoring for ten minutes or so before a dummy from Kim Jong Chul allowed Park Young Men to blast home from ten yards and put Namyangju four – two ahead. The pressure of not being ten goals or more down must have been getting to both sets of players as we then had a quick bout of fisticuffs. Most of the outfield players got involved in the pushing and shoving and there were a few punches thrown. Both linesmen weighed in to help break things up and eventually two lads got a telling off and another two picked up a yellow card each.

Get into ’em.

As half time neared the home side brought a sub on. He didn’t get on the pitch as quickly as he would have liked as he had to spend time sticking a number on the back of his shirt with white tape. I’m not sure if he replaced the player wearing number six and had to wear his shirt or whether it was just spare that week. Either way, he had to stick a three on next to the six before he could take the field. He also had to make a smaller number for his shorts which I thought was a little over the top. Whilst I usually get annoyed when I see subs only putting on their shirts or shin pads when called upon, this lad had my sympathy.

Finally ready for action.

There was still some more excitement to come before half-time when Lee Hyun Gi turned his marker and pulled one back for Seoul. It was fortunate timing as the Seoul Ultra had just arrived with his girlfriend and his drum. I don’t know if he’d slept in, got the kick-off time wrong or had struggled to drag himself away from the game between a couple of church sides on the nearby pitch. Whatever, he had missed a great first half.

Sonny and Cher.

A local fella came over to me at half-time and as a consequence of our somewhat limited conversation seemed to get it into his head that I was a scout for Middlesbrough. He disappeared for a while before returning to tell me that his brother was the full back for Namyangju and to give me four chocolate brazil nuts. Maybe he knows how little the Boro has to spend these days.

The second half started off a lot calmer than the first and it was twenty minutes before we got another goal. The ball bobbed around for a while in the Namyangju box before Seoul Martyrs centre half Jang Gyun Hwan hooked it home to make it four each.

Seoul kept it level until fifteen minutes from time. After being brought down on the edge of the box, Namyangju’s Kim Jong Chul took the direct free-kick himself and curled it around the wall and past the keeper who may not have been giving matters his full attention.

Kim Jong Chul takes a break from scoring goals to contest a header.

It looked at that stage as if Martyrs were destined for another defeat but they somehow managed to turn it around in the final few minutes.  Han Gyun Soo lobbed the keeper from a tight angle to make it five each and then when the Namyangju keeper flapped at and missed an inswinging corner Jang Gyun Hwan bundled the ball over the line at the back post to put Martyrs six-five ahead. The ultra was ecstatic, as were the shrieking girls.

Ha. 6-5 to the Martyrs.

In injury time the hosts had a chance to level with another direct free kick from twenty yards out. This time Seoul weren’t going to take a chance on their keeper not watching properly and positioned two men on the goal-line to help him out. This, of course, meant that Namyangju could have a couple of players standing directly in front of the keeper. In the end though, the ball didn’t clear the wall and the ref blew for full time.

The Seoul celebrations at their first win of the season seemed a bit muted. I’d have been turning cartwheels if I’d have been them. If I could turn cartwheels that is. The reason was revealed the next day when I looked the game up online and discovered that the score was listed as six all. Now I’m not the most attentive of blokes, particularly when noticing a new hairdo or frock is concerned, but on this occasion I really was watching closely. My theory is that between them, the Korean FA representative, the ref and the fourth official messed things up.

“Shall we just call it a draw?”

They had been conferring all through the game and I think at some point a disallowed Namyangju goal had somehow been counted. If the teams had been told the incorrect score before the end then that would explain their reaction at the full-time whistle.

As both teams are used to conceding double figures I doubt they have much appetite for keeping score themselves and with so many goals in quick succession I couldn’t blame anyone for getting mixed up.

So, the record books will show that both teams added to their season’s points tally with a draw, Namyangju moving onto seven points and Martyrs doubling their total to finish with two.

Naejangsan Hiking, Sunday 28th October 2012.

November 7, 2012

I haven’t managed as much hiking as I’d have liked this year, partly due to visiting Oman once a month but mainly because of my reluctance to hike in the hot summer whilst carrying more weight than I felt comfortable with. The temperatures are getting that bit colder now though and going for a walk in the mountains is a much more appealing prospect.

Jen and I had been to watch Jeonbuk Motors play FC Seoul the previous day and I’d identified Naejangsan National Park as somewhere that would be easy enough to get to afterwards. When the game finished we took a taxi to Iksan and then caught the KTX to nearby Jeongeup.

I’d marked Jeongeup down as a ‘one-horse town’, probably, I suppose, because it doesn’t appear to have any sporting teams. It’s not necessarily the most logical of assessments but in my book that’s the sort of thing that counts. As even the quietest of towns always have plenty of places to stay though, I was confident of having the pick of the motels around the station.

When we are hiking we will usually book the motel for two nights even when we are only staying for one. It means that we don’t have to check out and carry all of our gear with us and we can return to the hotel for a shower and change of clothes before travelling back to Seoul. It seems a bit extravagant, but with rooms usually costing around forty to fifty thousand won a night it’s not such a big deal.

The first place we tried quoted us 120,000 won per night. I was astonished, especially since we’d be paying double. We tried another motel and they were full. Apparently the ‘one-horse town’ of Jeongeup has a three or four week period in the autumn when it is swarming with visitors keen to see the changing colours of the leaves.

We tried a third motel whilst pondering whether or not we should have stayed in Iksan instead. The motel had one room left and quoted us 80,000 won per night. Despite being twice what they would normally have charged it seemed like a bargain. The room was fairly good too, if a little oddly decorated.

One of the rare remaining rooms in Jeongeup.

It was raining and so we decided not to bother going out to eat, instead getting by on a takeaway of kimchi mondu and kimchi fried rice. The bottles of wine that washed it down meant that we didn’t manage to achieve the early start that we’d planned the next morning and it was after nine thirty before we set off in a taxi for Naejangsan.

It’s a journey that should take around fifteen minutes, but the lure of the leaves caused so much congestion that after half an hour the driver dropped us at a car park a couple of miles from the National Park. There were dozens of coaches, hundreds of cars and thousands of people. It seemed that most of latter were queueing for the shuttle bus that would take them the remaining two miles, despite them being togged up in their best hiking gear.

Lazy gits. The bus is in the distance.

It took us half an hour to walk to the park entrance whilst I suspect that it took those on the bus a good while longer. There was a market at the entrance selling everything from soy beans to twigs for putting in soup. We noticed that a few of the restaurants were roasting half pigs and mentally filed the information for later.

Naejangsan map.

Whilst a lot of the crowd were only there for the shopping, a fair proportion of them kept walking once the stalls had petered out and followed the trail towards a temple and a cable car. There were so many people that marshalls with batons and whistles had to be deployed to keep things flowing. Everytime someone stopped dead in their tracks to photograph the foliage someone else would walk into the back of them and the bottlenecks would build up.

This was once of the quieter sections. Really.

After a further half an hours walking we reached the start of the trail to Janggunbong, a 696m peak a couple of kilometres away. We branched off to the left to follow it and immediately left ninety-nine percent of the crowd behind. Within five minutes we didn’t have another hiker in sight and we encountered far fewer on the way up than you would expect on a normal day’s hiking in Korea.

That’s better.

It was a steep climb and it took us an hour to reach the Yugunchi Pass, which is the start of the main ridge and the place where Korean Master Monk Huimuk gave the Japanese a pasting in 1592. Forty minutes later we got to the Janggunbong summit where the crowds of hikers made it difficult to find a place to stand. I suspect that a lot of them had approached from the opposite direction after taking a ride to near the top in the cable car. It’s a shame that there aren’t any Master Monks around these days to keep the crowds down.

It’s an ideal place for a picnic.

We hung around at the peak for ten minutes or so taking in the views. They were pretty much the only ones that we’d seen all day as the trail never really rises above the tree line, even when on the ridge.

We did think about pushing on to the next peak, but the volume of people made us wary about whether we would have enough time to be able to get back to Jeongeup to catch our train. Besides, there were half pigs being roasted at the bottom of the hill.

View from Janggunbong.

We retraced our steps and a little over an hour later we rejoined the crowds on their way to and from the temple. Despite it being mid afternoon the number of people arriving didn’t seem to be getting any smaller.

Still busy.

We had time for some roast pork before we made our way back to the park gate to flag down a taxi. It took us an hour to cover the distance that we had walked in half that time earlier in the day and then a further thirty minutes to get back to Jeongeup. It’s a journey that would normally take fifteen minutes.

There’s enough for a decent sandwich there.

All in all, it was a good day. The foliage was spectacular if you like that sort of thing and the trail that we took well-marked. It was also great just to get out into the hills again. It would have been a completely different experience though if we’d turned up a month earlier or later and had the place to ourselves.

Jeonbuk Motors v FC Seoul, Saturday 27th October 2012, 4pm

November 1, 2012

I had a couple of options for games this weekend including making the trip across to Gangwon to watch Gangneung, the one remaining National League team that I haven’t yet seen play at home. In the end though I decided to head down to Jeonju to watch Lee Dong Gook’s Jeonbuk Motors take on league leaders FC Seoul.

Both teams had eight games left to play and Seoul were seven points clear of second placed Jeonbuk. The sides still have to meet each other in Seoul before the end of the season but this was a must-win game for Jeonbuk. Or at the very minimum a game that they definitely couldn’t afford to lose.

Jen and I took the KTX south and with plenty of time to spare stopped for a dolsot bibimbap just outside of Iksan station. It’s a dish that mainly consists of rice and vegetables and it is served in a red-hot stone pot. If I can get through it without burning my mouth or my fingers I tend to regard the occasion as a success.

We then took a cab from Iksan to Jeonbuk’s World Cup Stadium. It cost 17,000 won which is a bit more than if we’d travelled on to Jeonju by rail but it saves on the hanging about between trains.

World Cup Stadium

There was still around half an hour to go before the 4pm kick-off when we arrived and we bought 10,000 won tickets for the east stand before making our way to the upper tier. It had been raining on and off all afternoon and I was keen to be under cover.

The Seoul fans were to our left and for a team that were top of the league and the best supported in the country, it was a disappointing turnout. I doubt that there were more than two hundred present. Those that had made the journey got behind their team though and kept up the support throughout.

FC Seoul fans.

It was a fairly poor attendance all around really. In addition to the Seoul fans in the south stand, Jeonbuk had maybe eight hundred ‘ultras’ in the north. There were about the same number in the west stand opposite. I couldn’t see how many people were in the lower east, but I’d be surprised if there were the nine thousand or so that would have been needed to make up the announced 11,681 crowd.

In the home end there were a couple of banners commemorating Jeon Bong Jun, a local resistance leader who was put to death by the Japanese in 1895. He was still outnumbered by the banners of Che Guevara though.

Jeon Bong Jun

I was surprised to see Choi Eun Seong in goal for the home side. The forty-one year old has had a new lease of life since he left Daejeon last year, but regular keeper Kwon Soon Tae has recently returned from his National Service and I’d expected him to re-claim his spot. He didn’t get any closer than the bench though.

The old fella started well, tipping a dipping shot over the bar in the first few minutes, before going on to have a decent game.

Choi Eun Seong

Lee Dong Gook was up front by himself. He’s had a good season overall albeit with prolific runs of scoring being interspersed with some barren spells. That’s how it goes, I suppose. He was recently dropped from the national team for the umpteen time in his career but has responded in the best way possible with five goals in his last five games. One of them was a particularly impressive strike from outside of the box against Ulsan where he chested the ball down with his back to goal before turning and volleying it into the top corner. I don’t remember too many of those from his time with the Boro.

Jeonbuk were busy early on with Eninho curling a shot over the bar when he could probably been a bit less selfish. It was Seoul who took the lead though when a shot from a corner was saved on the line before Sergio Escudero knocked the rebound home.

That was it for the first half, but at the break we were treated to a win a car competition where the four contestants selected a key in turn and whichever one electronically opened the car would take home the prize. After three failures the fourth bloke celebrated by default only to discover that his key wouldn’t work either. They were all too far away.

Everyone moved forward ten yards and tried again. Another four failures. With the teams back on the pitch and waiting to start it just became a random free for all with the contestants dashing towards the car frantically pressing the button on their key in the hope of one of them winning before the ref lost patience and told them all to clear off.

Get closer!!!

An hour into the game Jeonbuk equalised. The ball was floated over the top and Lee Dong Gook slipped his marker before diving to head home. It was his thirtieth goal of the season in all competitions for club and country. That’s twenty eight more than he got for us.

One each.

The home fans celebrated by waving their little banners that I understand translates as a laughing noise. Fair enough I suppose, although with the scores level they were still seven points behind in the race for the title. I’d have thought that Seoul probably had more to smile about.

Yeah, whatever.

Both side had plenty of chances in the final half hour, the best of them falling to Hugo Droguett who managed to flick the ball away from the Seoul keeper before missing the opportunity to put the ball into the empty net. It finished one each and with seven games to go it looks like Seoul will probably take the title.