This week saw the final round of matches in the K-League and I made my way down to Suwon for the visit of Jeonbuk. With it being an afternoon kick-off I did think about setting off early and doing a circuit of the fortress wall that surrounds the old city. I’d walked it in a clockwise direction before Suwon’s game against Daejeon Citizen earlier in the season and thought it would be interesting to see it from an anti-clockwise perspective.
I didn’t bother in the end though. I’d been hiking with Jen the day before and we had finished up later on in one of those barbecue restaurants where you cook your own food. This one was slightly different though as in addition to the pieces of meat, you also got an assortment of shellfish, fresh from the aquarium. I made a bit of an error in putting some of the more explosive ones straight onto the grill rather than keeping them in their loosely wrapped foil, but injuries were minimal. Apart from to the shellfish, of course, but they gave their lives in a good cause.
The hiking was interesting. Or it was to me. You will have to make your own mind up. I’d read about a new trail that had opened in the Bukhansan National Park and that circles around the main peaks and goes through some of the small villages, across some newly installed skywalks and along paths that had been closed to the public for over thirty years. The entire Dullegil circuit presently consists of 44km and we thought it would be ideal for getting around on three separate days out. For the first of these we set off from Bulgwang subway station and walked clockwise in the direction of Yangju-si.
During the fifteen kilometres that we walked we saw exactly what we had expected to as we moved from wandering though small groups of houses to heading up into the hills where we often looked down upon Seoul.
We occasionally passed graves and for those wishing to delay their eventual burial, exercise areas, including at one point a couple of badminton courts deep in the woods.
If I had a criticism of the route it would be that some of it was along the pavement next to a particularly busy road. It’s a shame that these sections couldn’t have been replaced by a trail, maybe a hundred yards or so away from the traffic. The route was also very busy at certain points, some groups of hikers seemed to have upwards of fifty or sixty people in them.
We stumbled across some sort of gathering in the yard of what might have been a restaurant. I’m a bit vaguer than normal because I didn’t really know what was going on. However what I can say is that it involved a couple of women in tradition dress and a whole pig wrapped in not so traditional polythene. It reminded me of a party that I’d once ended up at in Loftus after an afternoon on the drink and so we sensibly kept our distance.
It’s a popular season for hiking at the moment as it’s the time of year when the leaves change colour and drop off the trees. It’s a big deal here, with different regions touting themselves as the perfect place to see the multi-coloured foliage. The Tourist Office even publishes tables showing the dates when the views will be at their most spectacular for each park. Back home we just call it Autumn. There was the odd bit of wildlife about and we saw a squirrel and one of those little chipmunk things, but didn’t manage to spot any bears or wolves.
Anyway, the cumulative effects of the hike and the subsequent beers that accompanied the explosive clams meant that I didn’t get around to walking around the Suwon Fortress Wall. I’m getting better at making my way to Suwon though and in a rare feat of co-ordination I took the subway to Sadang and then got off it to transfer to a bus that dropped me right outside of the Bluewings Stadium.
I still had a couple of hours to go before kick-off and so decided to get some lunch. There was a chinese restaurant nearby that looked like the sort of place that would have photos on its menu so I went in there. It did have some very small pictures of the food but unfortunately they were no help at all as I couldn’t recognise what any of them were. They were quite expensive as well compared to the items that didn’t have photos alongside them so I suspected that they were the set meals. I didn’t really want to order dinner for five people, and so I just pointed at one of the cheaper menu entries and hoped that I had actually selected some food rather than chosen from a list of delivery charges to various destinations. One of the staff was then given the task of repeating the same Korean phrase over and over again, possibly in the belief that I spoke Korean but was just being stubborn in not answering. I hoped that she was querying my order rather than informing me that my trousers were on fire.
I resigned myself to receiving a bowl of plain rice at best, or if things went particularly badly wrong, maybe some raw kidney garnished with chicken eyeballs. The chef even came out of the kitchen to gawp at the foreigner, which left me in no doubt that I must have ordered the first lark’s tongue omelette that he had cooked in a decade.
When it arrived though, I was in luck. I’d got a spicy noodle soup with bits of seafood in, a few mussels, some octopus legs, that sort of thing. Very nice it was too. Not too many lark’s tongues or chicken’s eyeballs at all.
I was meeting some people before the game so I got a few cans of that Japanese beer in the silver tins and made my way up to the stadium to wait for them. They’ve got a few sculptures on the grass on the way in and a toilet block in the shape of a football.
I found a table outside of a cafe and drank my beer whilst I watched the crowd turning up. There’s a stage about a hundred yards away from the cafe and a band that were due to perform after the match were setting up and playing the odd number. It was quite a pleasant way to while away a bit of time.
I’d been there for close to an hour when the lads I was meeting turned up and by that time I’d worked my way through the Japanese beer and had replenished my stocks with Cass from the cafe. I knew them from a football messageboard, but it was the first time I’d met them in real life and the plan was for them to record a brief chat with me to use on a podcast that they do. I wasn’t wholly convinced about the wisdom of this as they seem to know their stuff about Korean football and I found it hard to imagine what I could possibly say that would prove either interesting or informative to their listeners. I just turn up at games, wander about aimlessly with a can in my hand and then drift off home at the end hopefully after managing to establish which team was which. I briefly provided a segment on Spanish football for an American podcast a few years ago and just about killed that show off after three weeks. Still, I consoled myself with the thought that as it’s quite new they probably don’t have many listeners anyway, so I wouldn’t be wasting too many people’s time.
We recorded about four minutes of gibberish, which will no doubt sound like they selected a bloke to interview without first enquiring if he knew what football was, before going into the ground. I thought that I might as well just go into the Suwon end with them. Suwon has the liveliest fans I’ve seen over here, so I’d be able to stand all game, plus in the convoluted play-off permutations I was hoping that Jeonbuk would lose and be overtaken by Seongnam so that one of the midweek games would be in Seoul and not Jeonbuk.
I picked up a couple more beers and joined in as if I’d been a Suwon fan all my life. I suppose a perfect result would have been a high scoring win for the home team, with Lee Dong Gook rattling home a few for Jeonbuk. As expected the Suwon fans were pretty good and led by a band at the front plus blokes with megaphones, they really got behind their team.
Their team though, was a lot less impressive. Eninho opened the scoring for Jeonbuk from a free kick early on and Lee Dong Gook soon added a second. Luiz Henrique made it three nil before half time.
It didn’t really seem to bother the Suwon fans though and in a way I could see why. They had recovered from a terrible start to the season which had brought about the sacking of their manager, Korean legend Cha Bum Kun. It’s a great name, but how much better would it have been if his parents had given him the name Daf instead of Bum. Whilst Suwon hadn’t made the play-offs they had won the FA Cup a fortnight or so earlier and qualified for the Champions League. This game then was meaningless and just a chance for the fans to have a bit of fun before packing away their gear for the winter. As the second half started they unfurled a giant surfer over our heads that obscured the view of the pitch entirely. Probably for the best, I think, and anyway, it meant I didn’t miss anything as I nipped up onto the concourse for some more beer.
Jeonbuk added a fourth in the second half, before Suwon finally got a consolation goal. Lee Dong Gook then rounded things off with his second of the afternoon and Jeonbuk’s fifth.
It all gets a bit blurry after that. I know I got some more beer from that cafe near the stage before we went to a restaurant,where I remember topping my glass up from the pitchers on the tables but had to be told the following day that I’d had chicken to eat. This was followed by a spell watching the band on that stage near the cafe where in addition to yet more Cass I mixed things up a bit with a bottle of Soju. Eventually the tiredness from the previous days hiking must have taken its toll though and I headed off home, falling asleep on the bus and having to be woken by the driver when it stopped at Sadang. If he had let me sleep I may very well have ended up back at the stadium an hour after leaving.
Elsewhere Seoul got the win they required to top the table, with Jeju finishing second and Jeonbuk in third. Ulsan, Seongnam and Gyeongnam filled the other three play-off places.
The K-League has a week off before the play-offs begin so next week I’ll probably pop along to see the first leg of the third division play-off final at Samcheok. I’ve been there before and it does strike me as a place where a whole pig wrapped in polythene wouldn’t attract a second glance.