With all the groundhopping I’ve been doing I hadn’t yet managed to fit in a Jeonbuk game this season and so with our departure from Korea getting nearer I thought I’d nip down to Jeonju and check up on ex-Boro striker Lee Dong Gook.
Jen and I caught the KTX to Iksan. You can go to Jeonju on the train as well, but the World Cup Stadium is out of town and as you need a taxi from either station I think Iksan is just that little bit more convenient. Mind you, the taxi driver did make a point of checking that it was Jeonju World Cup Stadium that we wanted. I’m no idea as to how many fares he would ever have had to other World Cup stadia but I doubt it would be many.
It was busy outside of the ground with the crowd larger than normal as a consequence of it being Childrens Day. That’s the designated day that kids don’t spend in a hagwon memorising quadric equations but instead accompany their parents to a park or a football game.
It looked as if Jeonbuk had put some special deals on to boost the crowd as the lad in front of us in the queue had a coupon that got him in for five thousand won. Jen and I paid fifteen thousand each to sit in the West stand, mainly so that we didn’t have the sun in our eyes. It’s free-seating and so we made our way up to the less well populated upper tier.
The official attendance was announced as 23,000ish. I’d have estimated it at about two-thirds of that, but it’s still a decent turn-out. Jeonbuk haven’t had the best of starts to the season and on the back of failing to retain the title last season the crowds have been dropping off.
Seoul brought around two hundred and fifty with them which considering the terrible start to the season that they’ve had is equally impressive. As ever they made plenty of noise.
Both sides struggled to impose themselves in the first half, Seoul probably having the best of the chances including a two on one which ended up with Jeonbuk goalie Choi Old Man forcing Dejan Damjanovic wide enough for the shot to finish in the side netting.
Lee Dong Gook didn’t see too much of the ball in the opening period, he won a couple of fifty-fifty challenges and linked up well with Eninho but didn’t have any scoring chances.
A few minutes into the second half Jeonbuk’s Lee Seoung Ki turned former Celtic player Cha Du Ri inside out before beating the keeper at the near post to put the hosts a goal up. Maddeningly he then picked up his second yellow of the game for removing his shirt. The Jeonbuk players argued that he hadn’t taken it fully off but the ref was having none of it.
The sending off didn’t seem to change the game too much. Jeonbuk, as you might expect, occasionally sat that bit deeper at times but still pressed forward at every opportunity. Seoul hit the post on the hour and at the other end Eninho curled a shot just wide.
Jeonbuk came close to adding a second with a quarter of an hour to go when Lee Dong Gook bore down on goal, held off a determined defensive challenge and squared for Lee Gyu Ro who should have done better than the tame header he directed straight at the Seoul goalie.
In added time Seoul almost snatched an equaliser but were denied by a great reflex save from Choi. Not bad for a forty one year old. Deep into injury time Lee Dong Gook was subbed. He got a warm round of applause from the home fans and a handshake from the referee. Seconds after he took his place on the bench the final whistle blew.
The one nil win moved Jeonbuk up into fourth place, leaving Seoul just above the relegation spots in tenth position.
I think that‘s probably the last time I’ll see Lee Dong Gook play. I’ve watched Jeonbuk around thirty times over my three years in Korea and he’s played in almost all of those games, providing me with a tenuous link to Teesside. Mind you, I only actually saw him play half a dozen times or so for the Boro and managed to miss both occasions where he scored for us.
You never know though, maybe he and I will both get to go to the World Cup in Brazil next year. That would be nice.