The 2012 season is drawing to an end. The previous week had seen Incheon Korail win the National League Play-off Final whilst FC Seoul clinched the K-League. As we reached the final week of November the only competition still to be decided was the third-tier Challengers League in which Chuncheon had come through the play-offs and earned the right to play top of the table Pocheon.
I’d been to Pocheon a couple of years earlier. It’s an unremarkable town with a main street full of the usual shops and a Sunday market that sold everything from power tools to live rabbits and chickens.
Still, when there’s not much football left to play I wouldn’t want to miss anything, particularly a final. I took a bus from Dong Seoul and an hour and a half later arrived in Pocheon. They don’t have the market on a Saturday so if I’d been wanting a sackful of dogs or a Chinese monkey wrench I’d have been out of luck.
I’d remembered where the stadium was from my previous visit. You come out of the bus station, head for the river and when you’ve crossed the bridge just follow the road (and the river) to the right. There were banners and posters advertising the game and there were even a few policemen directing the traffic towards a car park next to the ground. On my last visit there were almost as many players as spectators and so this felt like one of Pocheon’s big days.
The main stand was fairly full as kick-off approached. On the other side of the pitch we had around two hundred and fifty soldiers supporting the home side.
A closer inspection showed that not only were the soldiers banging inflatable sticks together with military precision but they were being co-ordinated by cheerleaders. It’s hard to imagine what cheerleaders do in Pocheon on the occasions where there isn’t a play-off final, but they seemed well enough organised.
Chuncheon had brought around forty supporters, a few banners and a couple of drums. They kept up a decent tempo throughout but couldn’t really compete with the soldiers fifty yards along the terracing.
The first half was fairly even. Pocheon passed the ball well and were comfortable taking their time and building from the back. The closest that they got to a scoring though was hitting the bar after twenty minutes. Chuncheon seemed content to soak up the pressure and try to hit their hosts on the counter-attack. It nearly paid off just before the break when they had an effort ruled out for offside.
The half-time whistle was greeted with more excitement than you’d imagine and a lot of the crowd in the main stand surged forward to the front. It turns out that the main event of the day for most people there wasn’t the match but the raffle. I had a quick glance at the prizes and could pick out a fridge freezer, something else the size of a washing machine, ten mountain bikes and any number of sacks of rice and cartons of unidentified drink.
I hadn’t bothered with a ticket and so left them to it and had a wander around to the other side of the pitch. Besides, I’d have struggled to get a fridge-freezer onto the bus.
Pocheon started the second half well and should really have gone ahead ten minutes after the restart. A shot from outside of the area was parried by the Chuncheon keeper into the path of Kang Seok Gu, only for him to screw his shot wide.
It didn’t take much longer for the goal to come though and the home side went ahead through Seo Dong Hyun.
Chuncheon had their chances as the second half went on but for a long time didn’t really looked like equalising. Things picked up for them five minutes from time though when Pocheon’s Park Gi Seo was given a second yellow for dissent.
The dismissal set up a frantic final few minutes as the visitors pushed for the goal that would take the tie into extra time. There were some nasty tackles flying in from Pocheon, but the ref seemed reluctant to reduce them to nine men.
Instead he evened the numbers up by dismissing Chuncheon’s Park Chul Woo for a dive. I reckoned it could just as easily have been a penalty although my judgement may have been swayed by my seat amongst the away fans.
The failed penalty appeal was Chuncheon’s last chance and the final whistle brought the Challengers League season to an end.
That wasn’t the end of the entertainment. Oh no. We were ‘treated’ to a dance routine from a few of the soldiers. As you might have expected it included what now seems to be an obligatory horse dance.
That was enough for me and without waiting for the trophy presentation I cleared off back to Seoul.