Despite me having completed my aim of seeing each team in the four tiers of Korean football play at home, there was still one team that I hadn’t watched, the Police. They joined the new second tier K-League Challenge at the start of the season, yet for whatever reason ignored all of the empty stadiums around Korea and elected to play their home fixtures at their opponents grounds instead.
That’s a ground hopping nightmare. Do you ignore them? Should you turn up at every one of their opponents stadiums? I dunno, but with only two days left in Korea and the chance to see them take on Chungju Hummel before I left I decided to settle for that.
I took a ninety minute bus ride from Central City. It could have all gone wrong before I started as I was initially sold a ticket for Cheongju instead. After three years I’d thought I was beyond that sort of mishap, although maybe that would have been the perfect way to finish things off, turning up at an empty stadium in a town miles away from where I’d intended.
On arrival at Chungju I bought my ticket for the return journey, paying a little more attention this time and stocked up on fake Hello Kitty Zippo lighters. They’ll never come in wrong as Christening presents.
Catching a cab to the stadium wasn’t without its difficulties either. My usual fallback after trying speaking slower and then louder is to mime the sport involved. It tends to work reasonably well with baseball but the taxi driver seemed less than impressed with my re-enactment of the sort of pass that Bobby Murdoch would have placed just beyond the last defender for Alan Foggon to run on to. Fortunately one of his colleagues must have been more familiar with Charlton’s Champions and he was able to point out that the foreign bloke kicking an invisible cat actually wanted to go to the football ground.
I paid five thousand won for a ticket which entitled me to sit anywhere I liked apart from the only section with actual seats. Wonderful. Jen and I had been here for a game the previous season where not only was it was free to get in but you could sit in the Director’s Box if you fancied. That’s progress for you. Over the course of the afternoon I was able to accumulate dust on my trousers from each of the various vantage points that I chose. The locals had all brought bits of cardboard to sit on. You’d think I’d know stuff like that by now.
I’d estimate that there were about six hundred people watching, including three different groups of Chungju ‘ultras’. One lot of thirty were sat in the main stand, near to the VIP section with actual seats, another twenty or so were stood behind a goal with a further splinter group of five setting up camp twenty yards away.
As the first half progressed the two main groups merged, although the five fans twenty yards away kept their distance preferring to sing their own songs, often in competition with the other lot.
I couldn’t see any Police fans, although there was a family behind the other goal dressed up in Suwon kit. I suspect that they were probably there to encourage one of their players doing his national service with the Police. Or maybe they had been sold bus tickets to the wrong town too and were just making the best of it.
Chungju were in green shirts and red shorts whilst Chungju were in white shirts and black shorts. If you didn’t look too closely it could almost have been Cameroon against Germany.
The Police have been the stand-out K2 team this season and they looked the stronger side in the opening stages. They took the lead after eighteen minutes when Kim Young Hoo cut his shot back across the goal into the far corner. A few minutes later Jung Jo Gook almost made it two. He turned his defender four or five times before his efforts wore him out and he fired his shot tamely at the keeper.
Chungju had a couple of chances, one from forty yards that the Police keeper almost made an arse of by being too far off his line, and another shot from distance that went just wide of the post.
The tempo picked up in the second half and seven minutes in In Jun Yeon equalised for Chungju with a shot that left the Police goalie Yoo Hyun wrong-footed. I wasn’t too impressed with the keeper and thought him fortunate to be spending his national service playing football rather than issuing parking tickets or admonishing drunken old blokes.
It didn’t take the Police long to regain the lead though. A free-kick played in from the left ended up in the back of the net. I’m not sure if Kim Young Hoo got a touch or not. If he did, he looked offside to me. He celebrated as if it was his goal though.
A minute later it was level again as Chungju swept down to the other end and Han Hong Gyu crossed for In Jun Yeon to side foot home his second goal of the game. Both players leapt the advertising hoardings to celebrate with their fans.
There was more to come and fifteen minutes from time Yang Dong Hyun got the winner for the Police. I wasn’t paying attention and looked up just as the ball hit the back of the net, no doubt after some wondrous twenty pass build-up. However it happened, it was enough to seal the three-two victory for the rozzers.
There was an added bonus after the game when I noticed that the Police team bus was equipped with flashing red and blue lights. Ideal for those high-speed chases or getting to the gimbap shop that bit quicker.
And so that was it. Two days later Jen and I left Korea.
In my time there I’d been to one hundred and eighteen football matches at seventy different stadiums. I’d seen games in twenty-one different baseball parks, all ten KBL basketball arenas, both of the Asian league ice hockey rinks and I’d watched the horse racing at all three Korean racecourses. We’d hiked in all of the National Parks and most of the Provincial Parks. It’s been a fantastic three years in a country that’s ideal for hiking and watching sport.
Hopefully we’ll come back at some point in the future when there will be any number of new teams and stadiums to tick off. Until then the blog will just sit out there in cyber-space, chanced upon by people googling penis fish, karate bears and the Olsen twins.
Thanks for reading and I hope this record of what we got up to has been either entertaining or informative, depending upon what you were looking for. It looks as if we are off to South Africa next where we’ll continue going to the match and going for a walk. I’m expecting less kimchi, but more lions.