Every football fan has their favourite away ground to visit, whether you are a Celtic fan heading to Ibrox, a Kop stalwart making the trip to Old Trafford or an Ipswich fan heading with hope to Norwich. The K-League is no different and for those of a Seongnam persuasion it used to be the trip to The Big Bird in Suwon, unfortunately since their fall from grace into K-League Two a trip to Suwon Sports Complex is the next best thing. And so it was in Week 3 of the new season I was Suwon-bound again.
I planned to meet fellow Scotsman, and now the proud owner of a Suwon FC season ticket, @chiefinkorea before the game for some rival banter and of course something cold to get us rallied for the match ahead. These games have become known of late as the ‘Flag Wars’ as both Suwon and Seongnam councils go head-to-head with the winner claiming the right to fly their colours above their opponents stands. In fairness the rivalry has waned slightly of late as Seongnam mayor Lee Jae Myung seems more focused on other areas, namely being on SBS with his other half. As a result attendances for the match which, in 2016, peaked at 12,000+ have now plummeted to under 2000. In truth as kick-off approached you could have been forgiven for thinking that you had wandered onto the set of I am Legend such was the lack of ‘bums on seats’.
Anyway back to the ‘away day’ in question. So after a brief stint in work, which mainly involved me tweeting about the match, I made my way to that bastion of Korean culture…..Sadang Station. Sadang seems to be the epicenter of every frustrated and late Seoullite and I’m more than slightly convinced it was the inspiration behind Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s “Hellmouth”. I truly believe that if this had been the first place I had landed all those years ago when I first came to Korea I would be writing this blog as ‘The Malaysian Kilt’. It is something of a transportation hub with most of the main bus routes linking Seoul with it’s suburbs as well as two of the main subway lines and as such is always crowded. Saturday was to be no different as the queues for the escape routes out of Seoul were all jam-packed. I’ve been in Korea for over 10 years and quite why I can never arrive at the time I planned for a football match is beyond me. And so it was that my 2pm arrival for the Suwon FC v Seongnam match on Saturday past was looking as unlikely as the eventual goal haul I was close to witnessing.
Finally I arrived in Suwon and a quick phone call later and me and the Chief were sitting outside the stadium discussing tactics, formations, and of course why baseball is so much more popular than football! Suwon Sports Complex is a fantastic place for sport, you have Suwon FC, the KT Wiz baseball stadium and, I think, a volleyball arena which I’m told by @korearacing is a “great night out”. It’s always a little disheartening to know that even a practice “rounders” session can draw a bigger crowd than a football match. It’s not as if Suwon hadn’t marketed the match, with their nifty MBA (Matheus, Alex, Bruno) promotional campaign and the spring sunshine on show they deserved at least a couple more hundred on the attendance.
We got my ticket, grabbed a couple of beers and placed ourselves next to some basketball courts for our expert analysis of the upcoming 90 minutes and indeed the season ahead in general. This is probably the first match that we have been on “opposing” sides of a footballing divide with us both hailing from similar backgrounds in Scotland. And so with a few minutes to go until kick-off we exchanged begrudged “good lucks” and made our way to our respective sides of the ground.
So onto the game in question and after only 2 minutes it looked like being yet another long day for the Seongnam crowd as the normally reliable Kim Dong Jun sclaffed his kick-out straight to Suwon’s Matheus who gleefully bore down on goal and knocked it past him for 1-0. Incredibly this was exactly how the same fixture had started when the teams met this time last year, with that match finishing 1-0 to Suwon, and for all of 11 minutes the visiting fans were dreading a similar outcome this time again. But that was last year’s Seongnam, a toothless bunch under Park Kyung Hoon, this year the team looks and feels completely different even at this early stage of the season. And so it was that as Park Tae-jun was volleying home Eder’s brilliant knock-down that the fighting spirit of so lacking in 2017 came to the fore and to be honest even as Suwon’s Alex was squandering a gilt-edged chance to restore their lead before HT there was a feeling that it was to be Seongnam’s day.
If the first half had been fairly even then the second half would probably go down as one that Suwon would like to forget as the visitors upped the tempo somewhat and began to dictate the play and, in particular, everything going through the middle of the park. Chances were being created and as the game unfolded and Seongnam grew in confidence so did Suwon’s defending grow in desperation. There was a soft penalty claim rejected via VAR as pressure was piling and then in 67 minutes Seongnam got the breakthrough their dominance deserved as Eder capped a flowing move to make it 2-1. That goal seemed to sap the remaining confidence and energy from Suwon and the floodgates opened as first Ju Hyun-woo then Eder again (from the spot this time) made it 3-1 and 4-1 respectively. It was no more than Seongnam deserved and even if the penalty given was a tad “soft” it was just rewards for their attacking play. As the Suwon players trudged off the pitch the Seongnam players were posing for their “winners selfies” such is the way of the modern game in Korea. New heroes were born and old villains forgotten as those in black basked in the glory only a 4-1 away victory can provide. In fairness after all that these fans have been through in the last couple of years who would deprive them of their moment in the sun and perhaps that glimmer of hope that 2018 might just be their year.