Seongnam FC vs Incheon United
Tancheon Sports Complex, K-League Classic, October 16, 2016
It’s a dilemma that most groundhoppers will have encountered at some point: watch the team you support or visit a new ground? There are always merits to both, as there were in my own case. Watch Incheon United, the team I had followed during my ten years in South Korea at a ground I was already pretty familiar with, or head to Suwon and visit the city’s Civil Stadium for the first time. I asked the excellent ROKfootball forum and the majority said stick with Incheon, who are in a relegation battle and could do with the support. I asked my brother who said his curiousity would get the better of him and would head to Suwon. I asked my friends in Seoul, who said go to Suwon because it’s a bit more interesting than Seongnam.
On matchday, I still hadn’t decided. I was a bit hungover from spending Saturday with my one true footballing love in Korea, Seoul International Soccer Club. We had celebrated a 6-0 win the previous day and I extra excited having nutmegged my marker in a cameo appearance on the right-wing.
A huge skillet scrambler brunch at a familiar old haunt helped with the hangover, but I still hadn’t made my mind up where to go. I’d decide at the bus stop. When I got there, the tugging of the heartstrings and the lingering hangover meant I opted for the slightly less inconvenient journey to Seongnam. I’d get the bus to Gangnam and from there the subway to Seongnam, just south east of Seoul.
On the bus, I saw that Twitter’s @KLeagueKilt, a K-League blogger and podcaster, was also heading to Seongnam, so I invited myself to tag along with his crowd. It was starting to look like I’d made the right decision.
I arrived at Yatap station about an hour before kick-off and received a message from Mark, aka the aforementioned @KLeagueKilt, that he was drinking outside a convenience store on the way to the ground. Convenience store drinking is always fun, but particularly in the rain, which was now coming down reasonably hard. Among Mark’s group of three was Sean, who it turned out had recently moved to Hanoi and lives just a few minutes away from me. Small world.
We made the short walk over to Tancheon Stadium with Mark explaining the ‘black’ references around the ground, the most prominent (but thankfully least offensive-sounding) being ‘Royal Black’. The black is because this Seongnam team is not exactly the same yellow one that appeared on these pages four years ago.
Following the death of Reverend Sun Myung Moon, the Unification Church he had founded and who had supported the club for almost a quarter of century, decided it was time to sell. The initial rumours were that the team would be playing their future games in a fourth different city, Ansan, since their foundation in 1989. However, Seongnam City Hall put up the money to keep the team in its current home. The new ‘citizen’ team would lose their Ilhwa Chunma moniker and become Seongnam FC, with the fans voting for a magpie as the new logo and black as the team’s new colour.
Another change at the club is the ‘Black Zone’. Tancheon is notorious, particularly with away supporters, for having terrible views of the pitch. To improve things for home fans, the club have installed a temporary stand over the track. As I was enjoying having company and not being an especially vocal fan, I joined Mark and friends in the home stand. We picked up a few beers in the convenience store within the ground and were handed raincoats as we entered (the only disadvantage of the temporary stand being that is not under the roof).
Things were pretty dire in the first half, Seongnam lost two players to injury, but chances were very few and far between. The main drama came in the stands. One amongst the group of schoolboys in front of us had caught one of the ceremonial balls players kick into the stands before every K-League game. Suddenly, another in the group grabbed the ball and proceeded to boot it, ‘Ave it’-style, out of the stand and onto the track. Cue much staring and pointing, before the poor lad went to get his own ball. The first half finished goalless.
Sean topped up the beer supply during half-time. It was the Ball Beer I’d seen shared in various social media photos, but this was my first time to drink it and it wasn’t bad at all.
The football, on the other hand, continued to be bad. The K-League Classic, Korea’s top-flight, employs a split system for its final five rounds of fixtures and it can serve up some awful games. This was one, with neither team really needing to attack. Seongnam may be in the relegation group, but spent much of the season in the top half and are in little danger of going down. For Incheon, a point on the road was useful as they try to move out of the bottom two.
Incheon finally managed a shot on target in the final minutes, but Kevin Oris’ volley from the edge of the box was easily saved by Kim DongJun. The Belgian striker has been a decent K-League player for a few years, but this was my first time seeing him play for Incheon. Sadly, he was isolated up front and had very little influence. The same couldn’t be said for Incheon captain Matej Jonjic, another I was watching for the first time and who had been superb at the back all game.
Seongnam’s Hwang EuiJo was another player I was looking forward to seeing. The attacker has broken through in the time I’ve been away and is one goal away from double figures in back-to-back seasons. Seongnam fan Mark had warned me not to expect too much and he was enraged by Hwang’s erratic shot in the game’s final attack. It summed up a poor afternoon for the home team’s star player.
I had had fun, though. The Seongnam fans in the Black Zone generated a decent atmosphere and the giant, smoking magpie that sporadically appears above the stand never failed to entertain me. There was also entertainment when a rare shot on goal hit the face of the young lad who had kicked his friend’s ball away. Karma. We probably shouldn’t have laughed, but the lad was okay and we couldn’t help ourselves.
Full-time: Seongnam 0-0 Incheon United
The guys were heading for dakgalbi, which threw up another dilemma. The spicy chicken dish is my favourite Korean food, but my wife and I had talked of heading to Seoul’s new Hard Rock Cafe. Hard Rockhopping won out this time and I left the guys in Seongnam.
The football may have been terrible, but it was good day. No new ground, but it was nice to meet some new faces and tick off another Hard Rock Cafe.
GOOD: rain coats, the Black Zone, Karma, Matej Jonjic, Ball Beer, Hard Rock Cafe Seoul
BAD: rain, dull game