Archive for the ‘Dead people and stuff’ Category

Zenit St Petersburg 2 v Leningradets, Friday 4th June 2021, 7pm.

June 16, 2021

I’d visited Saint Petersburg during the 2018 World Cup and watched a couple of games at the Gazprom Stadium with Paul. Jen had never been though and so I took a couple of days holiday and we went for a long weekend.

I imagine that you can probably fly to Saint Petersburg from Moscow in around an hour or so. There’s a fast train too that takes you there in under four hours. Instead Jen and I decided to travel more slowly on the overnight train which departed from Leningradskiy station in Moscow at 23.40, getting into Saint Petersburg around nine hours later the following morning.

We had the poshest category of cabin on the train, complete with our own shower and toilet. It wasn’t as luxurious as the Blue Train in South Africa where I’d enjoyed a bath, but it was pretty good. We were served with dinner at midnight in our cabin and then shunted over the table to make space to fold down the bed. There was also a bunk above but we both fitted fine on the pull-down lower option.

We had a decent view of the countryside leading up to Saint Petersburg as we had breakfast the next morning and then a driver met us at the train door to take us to our hotel. It was a pleasant way to travel.

As our hotel room wouldn’t be available until later we dumped our bags and went for a wander around. First stop was the Saviour on the Spilled Blood church. I’d seen the outside of this place on my previous visit, albeit covered in scaffolding. It looked as if the restoration work remained ongoing as the upper section of the building was still hidden by protective wrapping.

The inside of the church was impressive. Maybe the best I’ve been in over here with mosaics on a lot of the walls. The paintings on the underside of the dome were better than I could have done, which is always my starting point in assessing the merits of artwork. In fact, they were much better than I’d have done, maybe because there are fewer things that I dislike more than painting ceilings.

Jen and I also had a look around the State Hermitage Museum in the Winter Palace which is somewhere that Paul and I had queued for back in 2018 but then given up on due to the time taken to get inside. This time nobody was in line and we were able to waltz straight in.

It was ok as museums go. I can usually see what I want in these places without hanging around much and the highlight of this one was a tapestry depicting various jungle animals eating each other.

Or at least I thought the highlight was the tapestry. As we were heading for the exit our route took us through the Egypt department. I like Egyptian stuff anyway but on this occasion they had excelled themselves by having the mummified corpse of what they claimed was a priest. I’ve no idea how they knew and to be honest I didn’t really care what the bloke had done for a living three thousand years ago. It’s just good to have dead people on display.

The trip had originally been built around the third-tier Professional Football League fixture between local rivals Zenit 2 and Leningradets. The new football App that I have threw up a few alternatives but in the end we stuck with the original plan and took a taxi to the Smena Stadium.

A lot of the route looked familiar and I soon realized that it was the route that Paul and I had walked three years ago after confusing the ground used by Zenit’s second team with the World Cup stadium that usually hosts the Zenit first team’s fixtures. Fortunately, on that occasion we realized our mistake in sufficient time to avoid missing out on seeing Brazil play in a World Cup game.

On arrival at the Smena Stadium we joined the queue for free tickets, then the queues to get in and finally the queues for scanning. Jen got turned back in order to deposit her backpack in the left luggage store whilst I got asked to switch on both my phone and camera. It was stricter than an airport and all for a game in the third-tier game with no more than a few hundred attendees.

We had been given tickets for the main stand. There were a few away fans in the stand opposite and some vocal Zenit fans behind the goal to our right. There was a particularly vocal Zenit fan a few rows in front of us too. He seemed to struggle in enunciating his words with each song or chant blurring into nothing more than noise.

After a while he was warned by the stewards not to be an arse and he responded by making a dash for it to a seat around ten yards away. The steward went for another word and he did the same thing again. Eventually he was left to make his noise.

Zenit took the lead just before half-time but it didn’t take long for Leningradets to equalize after the break. It became apparent that there were around equal numbers of fans of each club in the main stand where we were sat. Or people who are happy to cheer a goal no matter who scores it.

Conceding an equalizer seemed to piss off the home bench and after a few minutes of giving lip to the officials one of their coaches was shown a red. He disappeared down the tunnel, perhaps after considering the security measures that he would have had to go through if he had wanted to watch the remainder of the game from the stand.

Jen and I had seen Zenit play in Moscow the previous week and had noticed a fella with an impressively twirly moustache. At the end of that game he went down to the front to chat with one of the players. On seeing the two of them together it appeared highly likely that the player was his brother, different only by being clean shaven.

Moustache fella was sat just behind us for this game and well into the second half his centre-half sibling scored a fantastic goal with an on the angle volley whilst falling backwards. I turned immediately to see the joy on moustache fella’s face.

Sadly, that effort didn’t turn out to be the winning goal with the visitors scrambling an equalizer with just four minutes to go for a two-all draw.

Dinamo Moscow v CSKA Moscow, Sunday 16th May 2021, 2pm.

May 21, 2021

The top two divisions in Russia concluded their league programmes this weekend and as I’ve not seen a derby fixture yet I thought I’d better get along to the Premier League finale at the Lev Yashin stadium. I’ve been to see Dinamo at home a couple of times previously and it’s an easy fixture with the metro stopping right outside of the ground.

It’s also handy for visiting somewhere on the way as there is a change of line close to the centre that makes popping above ground an easy option. This time Jen and I called in at Red Square, intending to have a look around inside the Kremlin. The square itself was a lot quieter than usual, maybe as a result of it being early Sunday morning, but more likely due to fewer foreign tourists being in town.

There’s always something going on though and whereas last time there was an ice skating rink blocking the views of the historic buildings this time it was the stage for a concert being erected. If there is ever a time when it is empty then I’m tempted to turn up at about 5am to try and get the place to myself.

As Jen and I walked towards the Historical Museum at the top end we noticed that the doors to Lenin’s Mausoleum were open and people were heading in. Previously it hadn’t opened on Sundays but maybe they have changed the hours for the summer. There was a queue at the far end of Red Square and so we joined that. Half an hour later we had passed through the scanner and we were into the Mausoleum grounds. There are a few monuments to other unknown fellas, but they didn’t detain us for long and we were soon inside the chilled and badly lit building.

Jen had done a bit of checking and she reckons that there are five dead leaders with their bodies on show to the public. Apart from Lenin there are the two Kims in North Korea, some south american bloke and Ho Chi Minh in Vietnam. We saw what was left of Mr. Minh when visiting Hanoi a few years ago and so if we were to start ‘collecting’ embalmed leaders then today would take us to forty per cent along the route to completion.

As you might expect no photography was allowed, but there are plenty on the internet. Jen reckoned that his right eye looked a bit ropey and his fingers had a brown tinge to them. Maybe he had been creosoting a fence in his final days. I thought he looked just like Sean Dyche, but more serene and without the mental scars from that Chesterfield semi-final. Overall though he was in decent nick considering his circumstances. I know people still alive who look rougher.

On the way out we were directed past busts of other important dead people. I recognized the fellas from the eighties, but nobody before apart from Stalin. He had extra flowers on his marble base, so is clearly still fondly remembered by some people in these parts. I understand the belief that things were better in the olden days, we get plenty of that in the UK and there is still a certain nostalgia for the CCCP even among Russians too young to remember it, but come on, Stalin? Really?

As we were back at the bottom end of Red square we decided it was probably a good time to have a look inside St. Basil’s Cathedral. That’s the famous one you always see on the telly and currently obscured by concert scaffolding as above. It was a tenner for foreigners to get in and a fiver for locals. Fair enough. If you can afford to be travelling around you can subsidise the locals.

As we went in we passed a group of worshippers singing away in a side room with an altar. I doubt that they had paid and I was a little surprised that we were allowed to mosey around at the same time as a service was taking place, I don’t think that it would have been too difficult to limit admission to those times outside of services. The cathedral was actually four churches inside the same building with each in different states of repair or restoration. Some were pretty fancy.

Other areas seemed to be partially restored, whilst some areas had been painted over with a fake brickwork pattern. Who would think that is a good idea? Just leave whatever was there previously and then restore that if you want, but don’t add another layer of nonsense that will also no doubt be removed at some point.

With the culture done we had some lunch before heading to the stadium. I don’t really care what I eat and the place that was handy turned out to be a Jamie’s Italian. I though Mr. Oliver had gone bust and if our lunch was typical of what he does elsewhere then I’m not surprised. I can forgive my pizza being cold and the tv screens that showed him and the old bloke he worked with sticking their fingers in every thing they cooked. What was just about unbearable though was the same crap Ed Sheeran song being played on a loop non-stop. The same song. Once was bad enough but we had to listen to it all the way through our lunch. Jen had a theory that the management must have been trying to get their staff to quit. I certainly wouldn’t have lasted a day if it had been me, one lunchtime was enough.

After scoffing our lunch as quickly as we could we took the metro to the ground. It was busier than previously with a lot more police. I suppose with it being a Moscow derby that could be expected. Lots of the fans were dressed in black, particularly those from CSKA, with many of them sporting the Stone Island gear that I’m told suggests that they might be up for a bit of trouble.

We had quite posh seats for this game. Previously I’ve been in the upper tier but by the time I got around to buying tickets all that were left were tier two seats at forty five quid. We shared an entrance with people in executive boxes but that’s as posh as it got, although I suppose the concourse was less crowded.

Visitors CSKA had to win if they were to have a chance of a top four European spot, albeit in the new third tier UEFA Conference competition. Even then they needed results for the two teams above them to go their way. Dinamo had nothing to play for apart from local bragging rights and I did wonder whether they might mentally already be on their holidays.

It seemed as if I’d called it right when CKSA took the lead in the first half. The goal revealed just how many of their fans were located outside of the designated area behind the goal. They wouldn’t have got away with celebrating like that at many English grounds.

The atmosphere in general was very good, with both fans having singing sections behind the goal and the twelve thousand attendance around double that I’d previously experienced under covid restrictions. As there were only a handful of tickets left a week before the game I assume that the game had sold out.

With results elsewhere favourable to CKSA it looked for a while like their European dream might be on. Dinamo were keen to make a game of it though and equalized in the second half before quickly taking the lead.

CKSA levelled late on but when pushing for the winner conceded a third to end their hopes. The loss left them in sixth and free to do whatever they like on Thursday nights next season. Maybe there is a Russian version of The Bill for them to watch. The win for Dinamo brought them level on points with their local rivals but also outside of the European spots.

Torpedo Moscow v Spartak Moscow 2, Sunday 15th November 2020, 5pm

January 23, 2021

Keepers wear just about anything they fancy these days but back when I was a kid green was the order of the day and the colour that you naturally associated with goalies. There was the odd exception in that if you think of, say, Dino Zoff, it’s grey that comes to mind. Steve Sherwood was red, which sadly just about killed that colour off as a credible option for keepers. Shame really, as I’d thought that it looked pretty stylish when I wore it between the sticks for Freddy Natt in the 1974-75 season.

Jim Platt often turned out in blue for the Boro in his early days and I’ve got a vague recollection of seeing mid-seventies photos of Peter Shilton in an all-white kit. Not as convenient as green for getting grass stains off the elbows though.

The most iconic goalie kit though has got to be all-black combo worn by Lev Yashin. I checked him out recently to see if he’d played for Russia at Ayresome Park in the ’66 World Cup but he’d sat that game out with an injury. Something I did discover though was that he was buried in the Vagankovskoye cemetery. Coincidentally, I’d had a mooch around in there on my way to a Dinamo game, but hadn’t known about Yashin’s presence.

As the cemetery was about an hour and a half walk away from this week’s game at Luzhniki I decided that I may as well go back there, look for the grave and then walk along the river to the game.

It all seemed easy enough, particularly as I found photos of the grave online so that I knew what to look for. It’s an engraving, possibly life-sized, of a bloke holding a football. How difficult could that be to spot? Well, very difficult is the answer.

Vagankovskoye cemetery has lots of small paths dividing it and between those, some even smaller paths. I tried to be methodical but couldn’t spot the stone anywhere. After an hour I gave up and headed out towards the river.

It’s getting cold in Moscow now and with the temperature around freezing there were flurries of snow as I followed the loop of the river northwards before doubling back on myself in the direction of Luzhniki Park.

I passed the area where Kiyevsky station is located and where I’d briefly stayed in a hotel a year ago. There seemed to be fewer people around but I suppose the weather was more conducive to staying indoors.

The match I was heading for was my third visit of the season to the Luzhniki Sports Camp. Whilst the first two games had featured Chertanovo, this one was a home fixture for their ground-share partners and fellow second-tier team, Torpedo Moscow.

Torpedo must be a lot more prestigious than Chertanovo as my seat in the central area of the main stand had set me back 1,200 rubles, considerably more than the 300 rubles that Chertanovo charge. Even at the higher price I felt fortunate to get the ticket as they were only being sold to those already registered as a Torpedo fan. I’d signed up a couple of months previously but then opted for a game elsewhere. Luckily that past registration was enough to get me in.

On my way around to the main stand I stopped for something to eat. There weren’t a lot of options and I ended up with a hot dog that was garnished with crispy onions and what was probably a whole gerkin cut into half a dozen slices. It wasn’t the best, but hot dogs rarely are and at three quid it was a tenner or so cheaper than last one that I’d had at a Philadelphia Union game last year.

Spartak’s second team had their Boro strips on and if you squinted hard enough the home side could have passed for Darlo. The other sartorial matter of note was that the linos were wearing tights. I should have done the same really as a pair of jeans wasn’t much protection against a temperature that was slipping further below zero.

Torpedo broke the deadlock around half an hour in with a shot from outside the box that just sneaked into the corner of the net.

The second half was notable mainly for my legs starting to freeze. Nobody else seemed to be bothered by the cold, but perhaps they were all wearing tights too.

If people had started to head for the exit I’d definitely have done so too but I didn’t want to admit defeat if nobody else was.

Spartak’s reserves had two good chances in the second half, one where their number 66 went around the keeper but a defender got back to cover and the game ended with just the single goal in it.

Viettel v Binh Phuoc, Saturday 29th September 2018, 3pm

March 19, 2019

In our time over here we’d only been to Vietnam once, a trip to Saigon a year or so earlier. It was an interesting place so we thought we’d see if Hanoi was just as good.  Turn out that it is, with the added benefit of being to gawp at the actual remains of their former leader Ho Chi Minh, rather than just wander around somewhere like his 1970’s decorated palace searching in vain for the advertised elephant’s foot umbrella stand.

The walk through Mr. Minh’s mausoleum was very well-managed. The queue snaked through the grounds for a few hundred yards but under covered walkways. It was kept moving at a good pace by some very smartly dressed soldiers and once inside, as you might imagine, there was extremely chilly air-conditioning. You weren’t allowed to talk or take photos, in fact you weren’t allowed to do anything but walk. Jen was told off for crossing her arms whilst I did my best to stifle a cough.

The route eventually ended up in a dimly-lit room with a corpse in a bed. He looked a bit like his photo on the main stand at the game we went to later, but a little waxier.

Other highlights were a big lake near to our hotel surrounded by eating and drinking establishments. The roads were closed off for the weekend to allow people to stumble around with less chance of being killed by the traffic.

We walked to the match on the Saturday afternoon and had to dodge scooters on the pavement as well as cars on the roads. We also had to dodge a bloke smoking a bamboo pipe that was at least a foot long.

The Hang Day stadium is pretty run down, but that’s the way I like them. We arrived about an hour before kick-off and there were lots of people milling around the main entrance. Vendors were selling snacks that may have been cooked a while ago and were unprotected from flies. You could wash them down with something cold. Or at least you would be able to if the cans and bottles weren’t just sitting in the sun rather than a cool box or fridge.

As we had sufficient time we did a circuit of the stadium. It was quieter around the back and we spotted a couple of soldiers. They seemed much more relaxed than the ones on duty at the funeral home.

If we’d been inclined we could have had haircuts at the back corner of the ground. That’s something the Boro should start offering during matches. I reckon there would be a decent queue of people keen to escape watching the soul-destroying set-up of five centre halves and four defensive midfielders taking turns to lump the ball forward to a single striker ill-equipped to do anything with it.

Anyway, this game was free to get in to and the sounds of partying that we’d heard coming from inside were due to the home side Viettel having already clinched the second division championship with a couple of games to spare. Not quite Charlton’s Champions but you take what you can get.

There were two tier stands down each side, with open terracing to our right and a wall to the left that backed on to housing. Potential there for “Once more and we’ll stick a knife in it”. The home fans were celebrating their promotion with their band and by waving a variety of flags. The carnival atmosphere was mirrored on the pitch where Viettel, in white, seemed to be applying the ‘Tuncay’ rule whereby the build up to any chance must include at least one fancy but ineffective flick. Binh Phuoc were in green shirts with a red band. Or red shirts with a green yoke. Hard to say really. Either way the best chances in the half went to the hosts, but poor finishing and some decent keeping kept it goalless at the break.

Our first half viewpoint in the stand opposite the tunnel had become less attractive as the sun got lower. When it began to shine through the gaps in the structure on to the backs of our heads we were forced to move to an area where the sun was blocked by a stairwell. At half time we took the opportunity to move upstairs and take advantage of the better shade provided by the roof.

The excitement level rose soon after the restart when the away coach was sent to the stands. Maybe the sun had been a bit much for him too. It didn’t seem to change much on the pitch though as the champions continued to press ineffectually for a goal to complete the coronation.

With a quarter of an hour to play it was the turn of the players to lose their composure. We had a minute or two of argy-bargy before Binh Phuoc switched off from the subsequent free-kick and an unmarked header put Viettel a goal up. It sparked just the sort of celebrations that you’d expect.

A few minutes later another header doubled their lead and we sloped out leaving them to it. Game and season over.

England v India, Sunday 9th September 2018, 11am

October 30, 2018

At the end of our UK holiday, Jen and I had a Sunday evening flight back  to Malaysia. This meant that if we made our way down towards Heathrow in plenty of time we could watch most of the third day’s play at the Oval in the final test of the series with India. So that’s what we did.

Rather than just rattle all the way down the M1 at once, we broke our journey overnight at Eyam. No, I’d never heard of it either, but in looking for somewhere to go for a walk in the Peak District I discovered that four and a half centuries ago Eyam earned it’s fame as a ‘plague village’.

Apparently, a load of flea infested clothes arrived from London, bringing the plague with them. It caused devastation among the villagers who, very thoughtfully in the circumstances, agreed for the village to be quarantined until they either all died or someone invented antibiotics.

Eyam is an interesting place to stay. Most of the period buildings are still standing with a lot of the plague-related history detailed on signs around the village and then expanded upon in a visitor’s centre. There are also a few footpaths, one of which goes past the boundary stone where food would be left by folk from the next village and coins would be placed in holes filled with vinegar by the Eyam residents.

I’ve no idea how effective vinegar is against plague but I used to work with a bloke who swore by it as the answer to all of life’s ailments. He’s dead now so it looks as if it may not quite cure everything.

We followed up the Eyam stopover with a night in Richmond. The London one. That made it easy enough to take a train into the Oval the next morning where the touts were out in force. The prospect of seeing Alistair Cook’s final innings for England meant that they were frantically trying to hoover up any spares, although I didn’t see any actual buying or selling taking place.

I’d bought our tickets a couple of months earlier, at eighty-five pounds a pop in the Lock Laker Stand and even at that stage there weren’t many available. I imagine Cook’s retirement announcement quickly shifted any that had remained.

There were brass bands playing as we arrived, although probably not specially for us, and our early start allowed us to watch the teams warming up. England, somewhat controversially due to the past injuries that have been sustained, were playing five-a-side football. Or maybe six-a-side. Stuart Broad didn’t look to have much of a first touch, whilst Moeen Ali appeared to be able to waltz through the opposition at will.

Whilst our seats were nominally in the Lock Laker stand, they weren’t really. We were actually sat in the curved section close by to the side nearest to the gasometer.

India resumed their first innings about a hundred and fifty behind, with just four wickets in hand. For most of the crowd, or at least those supporting England, it was just really a matter of how long it would be before Cook batted for the last time.

It reminded me of when Juninho made his comeback after a long-term injury in his third stint at the Boro. He’d been named on the bench with the consequence that until he finally got onto the pitch every movement in the dugout commanded far more attention than anything happening on-field.

We had a long wait for the England opener though as India eked out their innings until mid-way through the afternoon session and reduced the deficit to just forty runs. From the moment the last wicket fell all eyes were on the pavilion until such time as Cook made his entrance to another standing ovation. It continued long after he’d arrived at the wicket and stopped only as the bowler commenced his run-up. I think I may have had something in my eye at that stage.

Our flight time meant that we had to leave at five, with still another hours worth of batting to come. I was unsure, somewhat selfishly, whether I’d have liked Cook to have been dismissed before we left, so I could be part of the clapping off. That wasn’t on the cards though and he batted out the session in our absence before returning the next day to complete one more daddy ton.

By the time the former England captain was out for not far short of a hundred and fifty, we were back in Malaysia where I watched his dismissal and departure as it happened on the telly in our house. It’s not often you see a batsman’s innings start and finish from locations more than six thousand miles apart.

Gyeongju Citizen v Hongik University, Sunday 10th March 2013, 2pm

March 14, 2013

0 - gyeongju citizen

After watching the FA Cup game at Yeungnam University the plan was to take in another First Round game at Gyeongju the following day. As it’s only an hour or so from Daegu to Gyeongju we thought that we might as well stay in Daegu overnight and make the journey the next morning. We booked into the Zen Motel and were rewarded with what was possibly the best equipped room that we’ve stayed in over here. As well as two bathrooms and a sauna it also had a professional looking karaoke system (including microphone stands) and a second telly that was concealed in the ceiling and could be lowered via remote control.

Unfortunately it was probably the dirtiest room that we’ve ever stayed in. We ignored the variety of debris that we had chanced upon over the evening, but the clincher came the next morning when we found a used condom that had been discarded on to the floor next to the bed. I must have walked past it half a dozen times without noticing it. Had I stood on it then I might not have been so laid back about the situation.

We took a luxury bus to Gyeongju before lunch, the journey takes an hour and seems a bargain to me at three quid. Gyeongju is famous for barley bread and dead kings. You can’t walk more than ten yards without stumbling across one or the other. We ignored the barley bread shops but one of the many dead king parks proved ideal for a picnic lunch.

Tinky Winky, Dipsy, Laa-Laa and Sejeong

Tinky Winky, Dipsy, Laa-Laa and Sejong

It’s half an hours walk from the bus station to Gyeongju’s ground. The football stadium is part of a bigger complex with taekwondo and wrestling venues, plus half a dozen artificial pitches, all of which could easily have staged this game.

It was as well that we got there on-time as within forty seconds visitors Hongik University were a goal up. The ball had been swung in from the left and one of the students was waiting on the edge of the six yard box to angle the ball home.

It's on its way in.

It’s on its way in.

Fourth division Gyeongju were in their yellow shirts with a red and green central stripe and blue shorts. That’s too many colours for one team. Hongik wore a more restrained white kit with red trim.

I did wonder if that early goal would be the start of a landslide but the home team got their act together and held their own for the rest of the first half. They had as much possession as Hongik and managed to force the keeper into a couple of decent saves.

View from behind a goal.

View from behind a goal.

The stadium was a classic Korean bowl, with a small covered stand and open seating around the rest of the ground. Or at least it will have when the refurbishment is finished. A couple of blokes were bolting down new seats throughout the match, although at the speed they were going it may well be next season before the job is complete.

Looking towards the main stand.

Looking towards the main stand.

By half-time the crowd had reached around eighty. There weren’t any ‘proper’ away fans, the type that stand behind the goal and bang a drum, but a few of the student’s mothers were hovering around, dishing out food and drink to any squad members who weren’t getting a game this week.

Note the stacking chairs.

Note the stacking chairs.

There were a few more chances in the second half and Gyeongju really should have equalised on the hour when a free-kick flashed across the goalmouth without anyone getting a touch.

Ten minutes later and it was Hongik’s turn to go close with a shot that was stopped on the line by a home defender. The poor fella got the ball trapped between his feet for what seemed like an eternity before he dug it out like a week old bogey and hoofed it clear.

Random action shot. Or maybe a spot of kung fu.

Random action shot. Or maybe a spot of kung fu.

Gyeongju nearly got their equaliser a minute from time when a sloppy backpass let one of their strikers in. Fortunately for Hongik their keeper was a bit more on the ball than the defender had been and he was able to dash out quickly enough to get a foot in.

Another view of the main stand.

Another view of the main stand.

There were three minutes of injury time added but that wasn’t sufficient for Gyeongju to get an equaliser. Hongik were able to hang on for their victory having defended their lead for more than ninety-two of the ninety-three minutes played.

Jen and I got a cab back to the station and had to spend a fair bit of time searching for food that wasn’t barley bread. In the end we settled for a restaurant that looked as if it had been around since the days when most of the dead kings will still have been alive.

Pig soup.

Pig soup.

There wasn’t much of a menu and we ended up with pig soup. It needed plenty of pepper and a suspension of any thought as to what the bits of meat were. I ate most of it but left stuff that may have been eyelids, goolies or windpipes. Still better than barley bread though.

Kia Tigers v Lotte Giants, Sunday May 29th 2011, 5pm

June 2, 2011

The second sporting experience of the weekend in Gwangju was a trip to the baseball and a chance to visit the only stadium in the Korean baseball league that I hadn’t yet been to. First though, Jen and I paid a visit the May 18th Cemetery.

You might be aware that there was an uprising in Gwangju against the military dictatorship during May 1980 and that over two hundred protestors were killed as troops were sent in to re-establish their authority. The bodies were hastily buried in the Magwol-dong cemetery and then a few years later when democracy had been restored the bodies were exhumed and re-buried in the new National 18th May Cemetery.

18th May Cemetery

In addition to those who were killed at the time, anyone who survived the protests can choose to be buried in the cemetery when their time is up. Most of the graves have a photo of their occupant as well as their dates of birth and death. Some were small children, others old men, but most were students.

Most of the graves were similarly decorated.

The old cemetery where the bodies had originally been buried has been kept just as it was in 1980 despite the exhumations. As the old and the new places are only ten minutes walk apart we were able to have a look at both of them and then also the exhibition hall that details what went on.

The original burial site.

If you like cemeteries or want a bit of an insight into the events of May 1980, it’s well worth a visit. You can catch the 518 bus there and back from just about all over Gwangju, including the bus and train station.

We got back into town at about quarter to four and after stocking up with a few cans we hopped into a taxi at the bus station. There was already a large crowd outside of the baseball stadium and it soon became apparent that the game had already sold out.

We struggled a bit at first to find a tout but ended up with two 8,000 won outfield tickets for a total price of 30,000 won. Despite there still being an hour to go to the start a lot of the areas inside were filling up. We managed to find a couple of seats just to the right of the scoreboard where we didn’t have to watch through a fence.

View to the left.

The stadium was smaller than I’d imagined and we didn’t see any Lotte fans at all. Strange really, as they seem to have travelled in large numbers to other places I’ve been.

Ryan Sadowski was the starting pitcher for Lotte. We’d watched him warming up near to us and Jen had identified him from the Japanese handbook the bloke next to us was using to shield his eyes from the sun. Ryan looked better warming up than he did when he was playing though and when the game started he didn’t have a particularly easy time. He was pulled early in the fourth innings after having been whacked all over the stadium for seven runs.

Ryan Sadowski - Lotte Giants

The opening pitcher for Kia, Son Yeong Min, didn’t do a lot better. At least not in terms of sticking around and was also replaced after three innings. At least by that stage he had only conceded a single run. It was the seventh innings before Kia conceded their second run and I reckon that by that time he will have been showered, changed and down the pub.

Son Yeong Min - Kia Tigers

The player who really got the home crowd going though was first baseman ‘Big Choi.’ At Gunsan the previous week the fans had a song for him to the tune of YMCA. Here they seemed to have a different chant every time he appeared. He’s one of those players that always seems to be up to something and a natural centre of attention. He managed to make his way around for a run and got the sort of reception that couldn’t have been any better had he stopped halfway to put out a fire at an orphanage.

Big Choi rounds third base.

Jen and I left at quarter past seven to catch our train. We could probably have squeezed another fifteen minutes in, but three hours in the hot sun was enough. We got the KTX back to Yongsan whilst Kia held off a late Lotte fightback to take the game 7-5.

Jeonbuk Motors v Chunnam Dragons, Sunday 6th March 2011, 3pm

March 9, 2011

 

After kicking off the 2011 season with a visit to third division Seoul United, I thought I’d take in Jeonbuk’s first league game the following day, at home to Chunnam Dragons. 

Jen and I got the KTX from Yongsan on the Saturday evening, getting off at Iksan and then taking a taxi to Jeonju. You can get a connecting train to Jeonju, but as  the taxi only takes about twenty minutes it wasn’t really worth sitting around waiting for the train.

Finding a hotel was a bit more difficult though and the first two that we tried were full. We got sorted before long though and sixty thousand won got us a room with a large bathtub in the middle of it and a circular bed.  Oddly though, there wasn’t a key or any sort of code to lock the door so when we went out we just had to hope that no-one would want to steal either the bed or the bath.

Next morning we had a bit of spare time before the game so we went along to the Jeonju National Museum. It was a pleasant enough place to spend an hour or so, the grounds had some re-built tombs that would have benefited from a few bones scattered around in them whilst the main building housed the usual assortment of cracked pottery and Bronze Age ash trays.

You weren't allowed in.

What did impress me though was that on the floor of one of the rooms was a map of the region that was maybe about five metres by three metres. It was a large enough scale to enable us to pick out landmarks like the football stadiums. It made me think that I’d like to see a map of the whole country like that, maybe even slightly larger in scale for those of us whose eyesight is starting to deteriorate. Even better, I’d like to see one of the world, perhaps housed in something as big as a few football pitches. I’d happily spend a day looking at the UK,  following the route of the A19 and looking out for places that I’d been. It’s the sort of place that would make an ideal theme park in my opinion, Mapworld or Mapland. Old blokes could be dropped off by their wives and collected in the evening after spending a day pointing out motorway junctions to each other.

Jeonju National Museum

We had some bulgogi for lunch at a restaurant near to the museum and then got a taxi to the World Cup Stadium. Jen must have got the pronunciation spot-on as the driver knew what she was talking about first time. I generally have to mangle the name and try saying it in about a dozen different ways before I get lucky and it’s recognised.

We got to the stadium with about three-quarters of an hour to go before kick-off and bought ten thousand Won tickets for the North Stand which is the bit behind the goal for home fans. There was a decent turnout, maybe eight or ten thousand, with the East Stand Lower looking fuller than normal and with enough soldiers in there to declare Martial Law if they were that way inclined.

East Stand

Jeonbuk has a new slogan for this season, Green Shouting 2011. I’m not really sure why they bothered, but it was emblazoned around the ground and the subject of a large banner hung from the East Stand.

That bloke looks familiar.

Lee Dong Gook started for Jeonbuk, with new signing Jeong Seong Hoon alongside him, whilst Chinese midfielder Huang Bowen also made his league debut. Luiz Henrique missed out though and together with Krunoslav Lovrek, had to settle for a place on the bench.

The main point of interest in the Chunnam team was their goalie and captain, Lee Woon Jae. I’d watched the thirty seven year old make his farewell appearance for the National team against Nigeria back in August when his final act before being substituted after less than half an hour was to pick the ball out of the back of the net. He only played a couple of times after that for Suwon before losing his place and then rarely even appeared on the bench. It was a bit of a surprise to me therefore when I read that rather than move into coaching he had signed for Chunnam Dragons.

Lee Woon Jae

Jeonbuk had a new goalie too, Yeom Dong Gyun, who had been signed from today’s opponents during the close season. I try not to prematurely judge a new player, but he looked crap in the warm-up. My doubts were confirmed when after about twenty minutes he didn’t even bother diving for a low shot from Gong Young Sun which I’m sure that he could have stopped had he just stuck a foot out to his left. His new team mates stood and glared at him in disbelief, pretty much as the Boro defenders would do with Brad Jones whenever he decided that a goal-bound shot wasn’t worth getting his knees dirty for.

Neither team had many chances, Lee Dong Gook put a half volley wide from distance just before half time and whilst Jeonbuk had a few free-kicks within shooting distance, I don’t think Lee Woon Jae had a save to make all game.

Eninho hits the wall.

Jeonbuk pressed a bit more in the second half with the introduction of Luiz Henrique and  Krunoslav Lovrek adding a bit of urgency to their play. Lovrek and Eninho failed to hit the target though when really they should have been testing Lee Woon Jae’s ageing reflexes.

At the final whistle we didn’t wait for the bowing but cleared off sharpish instead to make sure of being able to get a taxi to the station at Iksan. Our driver filled us in on the scores from the other games and speculated upon how costly the military call up of Jeonbuk’s regular keeper would be to their chances this season. There’s a long way to go yet though  and I’d expect Jeonbuk to finish the season somewhere near the top.

Samcheok v Gyeongju Citizen, Saturday 13th November 2010, 2pm

November 18, 2010

I haven’t seen very much of the third division whilst I’ve been here which surprises me a bit. If I’d had to forecast at the start of the season what I’d get up to I’d have thought my trips to matches would have been fairly equally spread amongst the divisions. But it hasn’t worked out that way and whilst I’ve been to almost all of the top division stadiums I’ve only managed to get to a single K3 game so far.

I had an opportunity to double my tally for the season last Saturday though as it was the first leg of the K3 Play-off final, with Samcheok hosting Gyeongju Citizen. Samcheok is quite a trek from Seoul and I remembered it from spending an hour or so there a few months ago when I changed buses on the way to the Hwanseon Cave.

Hwanseon Cave

But, you have to be somewhere, and whilst a four and a half hour journey each way to watch two poor teams contest a match where I had little interest in the outcome seems a bit of an odd way to spend a day, it does have its plus points.

Apart from enjoying watching live football, I quite like the traveling. The buses are comfortable with wide single seats and I tend to alternate between reading a book and looking at some fantastic scenery. This journey went through the mountains, where I saw plenty of graves in the hillsides and as I got close to Samcheok, which is on the east coast of Korea, I had some decent views of the sea.

As we drove along the seafront I did think that maybe I should have made this a weekend trip and seen a bit more of the area, but I’d already arranged to do a bit of hiking with Jen the next day. We’d walked the first fifteen kilometres of the Bukhansan Dullegil the week before and I was looking forward to doing the next fifteen or so. Actually, I’ll fill you in on how the hike went now and then get back to the football. I think these things read a bit better if they finish off with the match.

So, on the previous week’s hike we had ended up north of Sangbangjong, where the path turns to the east in the direction of Gangbuk-gu.

Bukhansan Dullegil

Our plan for the second leg had been to get the 704 bus from Gupabal subway station back to where we had left the trail and then hike through the valley towards Gangbuk –gu. We would then carry on beyond the Information Centre until we found a convenient point to leave the trail having done somewhere around fifteen kilometres.  This would mean that we could complete the 44km trail on a third visit. Unfortunately plenty of other hikers had the same plan and the buses all seemed too full to even bother trying to get into them. We took a taxi instead and beat the crowds.

It was fortunate that we did get there before the buses as when we passed the Park Ranger Post we were stopped and told it was reservations only to go beyond that point. Again we were in luck as that day’s quota hadn’t been reached and we were given a slip of paper and waived through. Fifty yards up the road we reached another checkpoint, this time manned by a couple of soldiers complete with tin hats. They seemed content to let the Rangers do all the work and didn’t even come out of their sentry hut.

Some of the peaks that we saw from the valley were spectacular, with rocks on the top that looked likely to fall if given the slightest touch. Perhaps that was why we couldn’t see anyone on those hills.

Bukhansan rocks.

As far as wildlife went, we didnt see much. There were plenty of signs telling us of the various species that lived in the area, but all that we spotted were a couple of dogs that weren’t very wild at all.

Bukhansan wildlife

The section of the trail where entrance was restricted was a very pleasant walk, with far fewer hikers than we’d seen on the rest of the trail. The woods were close to a couple of military bases and it looks as if they had used the area for training. We passed a watchtower and a small parade ground and at one point along the route there were anti-tank defences.

Anti-tank defences. Or something.

Once we got to the other side of the valley the route skirted the edges of the city. Whilst I’m happier being up in the hills this did have its advantages, mainly that I could forget about the roll of gimbap that I’d packed for lunch and get something a little better. We went into a restaurant that specialised in mutton and had barbecued lamb chops instead. I can’t think of a single hike I’ve ever done that wouldnt have been improved by stumbling across a restaurant that allows you to barbecue lamb chops at lunchtime.

We did pass a few other restaurants along the route, quite a few of them having signs outside informing passers-by that they specialised in the combination of dog and duck. As The Dog and Duck is quite a popular name for a pub in the UK, I was amused by the prospect of a Korean visitor to the UK seeing the pub sign and popping in for some familiar food.

In the afternoon we walked on for about another three hours, passing a cemetery dedicated to the victims of the 19th April 1960 massacre of protesters by soldiers.

April 19th Cemetery

We couldn‘t get into the cemetery from the trail, but there was an observation point that gave us a good view of it from up on the hillside. I’m not quite sure exactly where we left the trail later in the day, but hopefully we will manage to find our way back to complete the final section.

Right, back to the football. I’d left the Seoul Express Bus Terminal at half past nine in the morning and I didn’t get to Samcheok until ten to two in the afternoon. The bus had about ten passengers on it to start with, but then dropped most of them off at Donghae, which is a town just along the coast from Samcheok and as it has a beach and a harbour it looks like somewhere worth visiting. Mind you, after four hours on a bus, even  places like Billingham start to look like they are tourist hotspots.

As we approached Samcheok I spotted the football ground on the outskirts of the town. A little further along the route I also noticed a banner advertising the game. The good news was that I’d got the date right. However I hadn’t been quite so precise with my understanding of the kick-off time. I was under the impression that it was a three o’clock start, whilst the banner had it down as 2pm. As it was already ten to two and I wasn’t yet at the bus terminal that wasn’t the best development.

It worked out ok though. When I got off the bus I was fortunate enough to get into a taxi whose driver knew where the football stadium was and I arrived at the ground a couple of minutes after kick-off.

Samcheok Football Stadium

It was free to get in and you just sat where you liked. Mind you, as the total attendance in the fifteen thousand capacity stadium was no more than about one hundred and fifty people, it wasn’t a fixture where much stewarding was required.

One of the teams was wearing a red strip, the other was in white. I had no idea which team was which and as the half went on I didn’t really get any wiser. I think that I was sat with the Samcheok fans, although as they weren’t wearing any colours and with most of them seeming to cheer everything that was going on regardless of who did it, I couldn’t be absolutely certain.

The chants were led by a bloke with a drum who appeared to have brought a class or two of schoolkids with him.As he banged the drum they would chant each players name in turn. Occasionally he would vary the routine by giving the drum a rest and by hitting an iron railing with a saucepan instead.

Samcheok supporters.

The stadium was quite typical of older Korean grounds. It was oval shaped, with a running track and with a small covered stand along part of one side. The remainder of the oval was uncovered terracing. Where it did differ from other places was the playing surface. It was grass, which isn’t too unusual, but it was yellow grass, which tends to be a bit rarer. Particularly as we are only a few weeks past an uncommonly lengthy rainy season.

Maybe a little watering might be an idea.

It was a fairly typical first leg, with both sides not wanting to give too much away. There were a few running personal battles between the players which were making the play a bit niggly and the number nine for the white team was spoken to a couple of times for not disguising the sly digs at his marker a bit more professionally.

At half time I nipped outside and after being given a free coffee I bought a hot dog in a bun that had been inserted onto a stick and then deep fried. It tasted as bad as you would expect it to. I decided I would watch the second half from the other side of the covered stand and so I made my way past the main entrance. I was surprised to see eleven brand new bikes lined up by the front door, hopefully they would be the prize for the winning team. I’m sure that they would be a lot more use than a medal. Back in the nineteen seventies I can remember the winners of the League Cup getting a tankard each rather than a medal, but a bike would be even better, although I’m not sure about the practicalities of doling them out from the Royal Box and then having to manhandle them back down the Wembley steps again. It would make the lap of honour that bit quicker though.

Bikes outside the main entrance.

As I took my seat for the second half I noticed that I was now sat with the other set of fans. I was fairly sure that this lot were supporting Gyeongju, who by now I had concluded were the team in white. Gyeongju is a town from a lot further down the coast. I was there a couple of months ago with Jen, after we had been to a barbecue out in the countryside nearby. It has some old tombs in a park that looks like teletubbyland and every second shop sells nothing but barley bread.

Gyeongju

The Gyeongju fans were as noisy as the Samcheok ones that I’d sat near in the first half. There were probably about thirty of them, although I did wonder if they had been expecting more when I saw the supplies that they had brought with them. Even though we were into the second half they still had cases of food and drink unopened. They looked a lot rougher than their Samcheok counterparts. Perhaps it’s a harder life in tellytubbyland. One of them, who I’ll call Tinky Winky, was leading the chanting. He didn’t have a drum or a saucepan, which is probably just as well, as judging from his looks I suspected that he was prone to smacking himself in the chops with a saucepan rather than banging it on the railings.

Gyeongju supporters

They had a chant that might have been “Gyeongju“, but it actually sounded more like “Dog Dirt“. I really hope that it was one of their players names.

Both sides had their chances, although I dont really remember either keeper making a save of note and the game finished up at 0-0.

View from the other side.

By this time I’d made a circuit of the terracing and ended up back where I’d started. In addition to the usual bowing I was treated to a salute from the Samcheok players.

Attenshuuun.

After the players had left the pitch most people wandered down onto the yellow grass for a raffle where just about everyone seemed to win a scarf, ball or a bike.

Everyone's a winner.

After a while I left them to it and walked back into town. It took me about half an hour to reach the bus terminal and ten minutes after that I was on my way back to Seoul.

Incheon United v Jeonbuk Motors, Sunday 26th September 2010, 3pm

October 3, 2010

My friend Paul had been over here for a week or so and after hiking up Cheongwangbong in Jirisan earlier in the week we’d been doing a bit of sightseeing. Despite having been here for seven months now and having travelled all over the country, there are still lots of areas of Seoul that I’m not too familiar with. When you have a visitor staying though, it provides a little bit of motivation to get out and have a look at some of the tourist attractions.

There are a couple of famous markets, Dongdaemun and Namdaemun,  and we had a bit of a wander around those. You could pretty much buy anything you wanted in these places with whole streets devoted to single items such as power tools, broiled fish or ginseng roots in bottles.

One of the markets.

We didn’t bother with the power tools or the ginseng, but we did chance the broiled fish soup. Very nice it was too once you got the hang of removing the bones with chopsticks.

We also visited what was described as a folk museum, but there wasn’t much  music going on. It seemed to concentrate on preserving household items from the 1970’s which I quite like in a museum. After that we stumbled upon a recently refurbished gate that was quite impressive.

As good as new.

Seodaemun prison was next on our itinerary. I’m starting to wonder if the ’daemun’ suffix is Korean for tourist attraction. Probably not. I’m used to seeing signs over here pointing out some injustice or another perpetrated by the Japanese during one of their occupations, generally the destruction of a national treasure or two. The prison though was the real deal and a thought-provoking place, particularly the execution chamber.

Seodaemun prison.

With the sightseeing done and with my legs too sore from the Jirisan hike to do any more walking we turned our attention to watching a bit of sport. We had planned to go to the horse races on the Sunday, but it wasn’t on because of the Chuseok holiday, so that left the football. Paul is a Middlesbrough fan too, although a bit of a lapsed one these days, so what better than a game involving Middlesbrough’s most famous Korean ex-player, Lee Dong Gook? Actually he is our only Korean ex-player, but that’s beside the point. His team, Jeonbuk, were playing at Incheon whose stadium is only about an hour and a half away from my apartment and so that’s where we went.

The season is starting to draw to a close now with only a handful of games left before the play-offs. Jeonbuk should be able to remain in the play-off spots as Suwon’s recent resurgence seems to have fizzled out a bit, whilst Incheon are well adrift but have nothing to worry about as the K-League doesn’t have relegation.

It had been a bad week for Jeonbuk though, they had been knocked out of the Champions League at the quarter-final stage by Saudi Arabian club Al Shabab. A one-nil away win for the Koreans being insufficient to overturn the two goal deficit from the first leg. Things were going better for Incheon though. A run of bad results that had seen them without a win in the league since May had been ended the previous week with a 4-1 away win at Daegu.

As we had arrived quite close to kickoff we got tickets for the East stand, which was the nearest to the subway. They were ten thousand won each, which seemed quite expensive compared to the four thousand won that it cost to go behind the goal. Still, it saved a three minute walk and with the state of my legs after the Jirisan hike it was well worth it.

The Munhak stadium had been quite badly damaged in the recent storms and a lot of the roof was missing. The upper tier in the East stand was closed, presumably because of the damage, so we found ourselves some seats in the back row of the lower tier, the only place where we wouldn’t have the sun in our eyes. There were a couple of hundred Incheon fans behind the goal to our right, but not much more than thirty or so travelling supporters from Jeonbuk at the other end. Perhaps the rest were still making their way back from Saudi Arabia. I reckon the total attendance was no more than a thousand, despite it being officially put at over six thousand.

Jeonbuk fans

The big shock of the day was that Lee Dong Gook wasn’t playing. Were they not aware that Paul had travelled six thousand miles to see him? And what about this blog? It’s supposed to be about the Lion King. There’s a limit to how long I can waffle on about silkworms, baseball and death by electric fan, you know.  Or perhaps not. Not only was Lee Dong Gook nowhere to be seen, but Eninho, Luiz Henrique and Krunoslav Lovrek were also missing, ‘rested’ after the trip to Saudi Arabia during the week.  It was hard to see where the goals were going to come from.

Jeonbuk, who were playing a 5-3-2 system for a change, started the better of the two teams and after twenty minutes their left wing back Kim Min Hak was fouled as he shaped to shoot. From where we were I thought the ball had just bobbled as he went to hit it, but the ref was a lot closer than us, possibly almost two hundred yards closer, so I won’t question the decision too much.

Kim Min Hak, a young lad who was making only his third appearance, got to take the penalty himself in the absence of the big guns and he put it away very confidently for 1-0.

1-0

Incheon were coming back into it more though as the game went on and their Bosnian- Herzegovinan striker, Samir Bekric, sidefooted a good opportunity past the post after half an hour. A few minutes later Lee Jun Young escaped the attentions of the covering defenders, megged Lee Kwang Hyun and then passed it though the legs of  Jeonbuk captain Kim Sang Sik for Yoo Byung Soo to tap home his 16th goal of the season for Incheon.

That was it for the first half and as we got ourselves a beer we had a look across to the adjacent SK Wyverns baseball stadium where some fans had already began to arrive. They had a game starting at five o’clock which, in a rare example of Korean fixture co-ordination, meant that we could pop into the baseball after the football match had finished.

The baseball stadium

I was quite pleased about that as the food is much better at the baseball than the football. Paul, having declined the dried squid, had got himself some gimbap. I decided to wait though until the SK Wyverns game and have some pork dumplings instead.

It’s probably worth reflecting on the fact that we were able to sit at our seats and drink a can of Max each. If we had done that in the UK it is almost certain that we would have been arrested, fined and banned from every ground in the country for three years. It seems a bit excessive for a couple of middle-aged blokes having a quiet beer.

Not long into the second half Yoo Byung Soo took his total to seventeen for the season when his shot took a wicked deflection to wrongfoot the Jeonbuk goalie. He didn’t seem too embarrassed though, choosing to celebrate by making that overhead heart-shaped sign that is surprisingly popular in Korea.

Incheon fans celebrating and hoping that it doesn't rain.

That second goal was the signal for Jeonbuk to abandon their wing back experiment and after a double substitution that brought two debutants on, they switched to 4-4-2.

The home team went further ahead on the hour as Lee Jun Young skinned Kim Min Hak and sent over a perfect cross that Kim Young Bin finished off not quite so perfectly with his shin for 3-1.

Jeonbuk pressed forward in the final stages, but they didn’t ever look convincing without their experienced strikers. They did pull one back though towards the end with a second penalty of the game when their final substitute Kim Hyung Bum claimed his first goal of the season.

3-2

I’ve seen Jeonbuk come back from the dead a few times this season and they almost salvaged a point in the final moments when one of the new lads broke clear but hit it over the bar. I’d have fully expected Eninho or Lovrek to have put that one away. It wasn’t to be though and we made our way out towards the baseball and the pork dumplings.

The defeat left Jeonbuk in the sixth and final play-off position, ten points behind leaders Jeju United but with a game in hand. Play-off rivals Suwon could only draw and are six points behind Jeonbuk in seventh place, but they have played two games more. I think the play-off spot is fairly safe for Jeonbuk, but they will need to improve a fair bit on their current form if they want to realise their ambitions of retaining their title.