Lost in…Mokpo

Konglish is the name given to the ‘loan’ words used in Korean that may or may not have the same meaning as their original English. There are countless examples. One of the earliest that I encountered and that I have heard more frequently than most is ‘Membership Training,’ or more simply ‘MT.’ It’s difficult to translate exactly, but it implies that a group of connected people- colleagues, university peers, friends- head away, usually to the countryside, for a variety of bonding or teambuilding activities. It may include functional things like seminars, or more active pursuits like paint balling or rafting, but there is one activity that seems to feature most prominently on any MT: drinking.

Each summer, the expat football team for whom I play try to organize our own MT, but generally without too much success. People have family or work commitments, or have their own holiday plans, and this year’s MT proved to be particularly disastrous. Several weeks previously, one teammate suggested that this year’s destination should be Mokpo, citing a previous enjoyable visit to South Jeolla Province where the city is located. We were sure that we had given enough notice this time for people to build their plans around our team bonding session. We were wrong.

Firstly, the person originally suggesting Mokpo got a new job in Korea’s most north-westerly province- the complete opposite end of the country to Mokpo- and the 8-hour ruled him out. After that, the usual excuses were trotted out as one-by-one teammates declined a summer trip to the seaside. When one of the confirmed attendees, who had got around the family commitments by bringing his family with him, pulled out because of work, it meant that there would be just four players from our list of 30 registered players making the trip.

I’m loathe to criticise too much because I’ve used the work and family excuses to get out of team events in the past, but as the current nominated leader of this shambolic band of brothers I wanted to be there. Lead by example, if you will. My wife is generally very understanding of these things, and, as she is also a firm supporter of our blogging endeavours here at Lost Boyos, convincing her that I should go became much easier when I explained I’d also be able to continue my Korean groundhopping adventure.

And so it was that I boarded the 13:20 KTX from Yongsan Station to Mokpo. I would arrive three hours laters and with plenty of time to make the short taxi ride out to the Mokpo International Football Center where Mokpo City were taking on Gangneung City in Korea’s National League.

Welcome to Mokpo

Welcome to Mokpo

The N-League is much changed from last year’s competition with the division losing, one way or another, four teams- in Ansan, Chungju, Goyang, and Suwon- to the newly-formed K-League Challenge, which offers its entrants a route to the country’s top-flight. I attended several N-League games last season and they always made for enjoyable viewing. With three of the departing teams being easily reachable from Seoul and the remaining ten teams being mostly in the country’s south, my only N-League viewing this season has been the N-League Cup, so I was very happy to be making this trip.

For Gangneung, the trip to Mokpo is the furthest of a season filled with long journeys, but came into this game as favourites. Mokpo lay in seventh place, while the visitors were in second place and just two points behind leaders Incheon Korail.

The sun sets on the Mokpo Football Center

The sun begins to set on the Mokpo Football Center

The Mokpo Football Centre is a wonderful facility with several full-size pitches of both grass and astro-turf, futsal pitches, and a lovely rural setting close to the sea. When I arrived there, I was surprised to find small groups of foreigners dotted around the place and even a few clusters in the stadium. I’m aware of a few committed expats who follow they’re local N-League team, but wasn’t expecting to come across anything like this.

I made my way to the main stadium and took a seat away from the small covered area where the sound system was blasting out K-Pop at an insanely loud volume. Some locals were eyeing the seats behind me, but after some pointing and suspicious looks, they took places elsewhere. It didn’t take long to find out what had perturbed the young men, as a Korean lady clad entirely in golf wear took one of the seats in the row behind me before becoming surrounded by a small swarm of giant wasps who were nesting under the seat. To her credit, she reacted calmly and walked away slowly; a far cry from the shrieky city girls I’m used to.

The Main Stadium

The Main Stadium

With the wasps back in their nest and me sat a few rows further forward, the game began. The wasps’ nest seemed to provide most of the entertainment and talking points in the opening minutes, while the difference in league standings was being reflected on the field. It was Mokpo, though, who took the lead. A toe-poked pass in midfield set Mokpo’s #10 Han JaeMin free. With a quick stepover, he beat the last defender, committed the goal keeper, and then squared a pass for any easy tap-in by #7 Jang JaeWoo. Gangneung’s best chance came not long after. An excellent cross-field pass was sent out to the right, and Gangneung’s #11 Lee KwangYong put an old-school, near post diving header just over the resulting cross. Gangneung’s front pair two an interesting, old-fashioned little and large pairing. Lee, suffered the curse of so many big centre forwards by continually giving away fouls and he was lucky to stay out of the referee’s book until the 40th minute. His strike partner, #10 Lee JunHyup, was probably the best player on show, and his movement and trickery drew almost fouls as #11 had given away.

Mokpo held on to their lead in what had been a moderately entertaining first half. The half-time show a bit more lively, as six local belly-dancers came out to show off their skills. Nobody had turned the sound system down, so I set off for a short walk around the complex.

The local belly-dancing troupe provide half-time entertainment

The local belly-dancing troupe provide half-time entertainment

When I got back, almost all the foreigners who’d been watching the first half had disappeared. Clearly they weren’t N-League fans at all and had just come out for the belly-dancing! I took a seat behind the only remaining foreigners to get the lowdown on where to eat and drink for when I would meet up my teammates, who were by now making their way to Mokpo. It turned out that the small groups of foreigners were actually one large group of US college students here to teach English at summer camps and residing at the football centre. They weren’t yet overly familiar with Mokpo, but they gave me something to go on.

Mokpo began the second half in defensive mode, but an attempted backheel near the halfway went loose, Gangneung were quick to seize their chance as substitute Yoon JeongPil equalised. They were now on-top and looking to gain the advantage. The last remaining college students headed back to their residence for dinner, but they were about to miss out on a very dramatic finish to this game.

Firstly, Gangneung deservedly took the lead. A cross from the right was neatly headed in by #10 Lee, who had continued to impress. Mokpo, though, came back to life and when their captain headed a cross back across goal, #17 Choi SuBin excellently volleyed over the Gangneung keeper from close range to make the scores 2-2. Both teams now seemed to believe they could win and the excitement spread to the touchline where Mokpo’s coach was sent off for his overly-enthusiastic protesting of one refereeing decision.

Mokpo coach Kim watches from the stands

Mokpo coach Kim watches from the stands

The referee was now the target for the ire of the small band of Mokpo Ultras behind one goal, who had done brilliantly to create some semblance of atmosphere among the crowd if perhaps 200, a decent amount by N-League standards. “Change the ref,” shouted one, while others opted for far more choice words. Soon though, they would be nothing but thankful to the man in yellow and his assistants.

The Mokpo Ultras

The Mokpo Ultras

With five minutes to go, Mokpo received a free-kick on the right. It was a left-footed in-swinger that was eventually headed in by Kim DongMin. Something, however, had upset the Gangneung players. I assume it was a simple offside (that looked mostly likely from my seat at the other end of the ground) or a handball, but it could have been anything.

Whatever it was, the Gangneung players were furious and immediately surrounded the assistant referee and remained surrounding him for a full seven minutes. At least  I assume that’s how long it was, as that’s how many extra minutes were indicated by the four official when, with the clock showing 90 minutes were up, the game eventually restarted. At one point, I wondered whether they’d return at all. The drama didn’t end there, though. For his part in the lengthy protest, the Gangneung coach was sent to join his Mokpo counterpart in the stands, and they were soon both joined by two players, one from each team, who’d been involved in a small melee after Gangneung were denied a penalty for handball.

Entertaining myself with floodlight shots as the protests go on...and on...

Entertaining myself with floodlight shots as the protests go on…and on…

Mokpo hung on and earned a valuable three points, while the Gangneung players faced the long trip back north, no doubt complaining about the referee and his assistant. I made the trek back into town to meet up with my teammates and check out what kind of a night out is served up in Mokpo. The college students’ advice turned out to be good as we drank cocktails at the seafront, ate good barbecue, and danced and drank until the early hours. Whatever else goes on at MT, there’s always drinking.

HIGHS: Decent game with plenty of drama; great facility and great setting; Mokpo is a decent place for a night out

LOWS: Gangneung’s childish protest were at first amusing, but crossed a line and they were very fortunate it was only the coach who got sent off; Not enjoying the night out in Mokpo with teammates

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