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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.