With no K-League Classic games due to the break for the World Cup I took the decision to go to Bucheon Stadium to take in Bucheon v Gwangju in the K-League Challenge. Bucheon have recently been accepted back into the K-League fold after SK decided to move the team to Jeju in 2006. They play their games at Bucheon Stadium and are vocally supported by a group of fans called Hermes who also have the distinction of being the oldest fan group in Korea, but more about them later.
The stadium is one of my favorite in Korea, well actually when I say that I really mean I like the convenience store and the park that are outside the ground. The ground itself is, unfortunately, similar to many in Korea in that it has an unnecessary running track around it and the actual seats themselves are so far back from the action that you need either amazing eyesight or those binoculars from Triple X. I unfortunately have neither. I arrived about a half an hour before kickoff and made my way to said convenience store, the obligatory pack of D was purchased for the game. D is short for Dry finish, although Dire is potentially more appropriate. Its one of those beers that makes you question what Korean brewery employees actually do all day, and this coming from a man who hails from the home of Tennants!
As I made my way up the sloping walkway towards the gate I was greeted by a group of yellow-clad ajummas bowing and welcoming me, they were there promoting one of the candidates in the upcoming elections. Considering it was raining, misty and generally gloomy I was impressed by their dedication and energy even if it was kind of wasted on me.
As well as being the oldest fan group in Korea, Bucheon also have, what feels like, the most easily irritated fans. This was apparent on a recent visit to Suwon to see them take on Suwon City, a match they lost 3-2 and solely blamed on the referee. Again today it literally took 5 mins for them to get annoyed at the referee. I wasn’t really sure as to why but I think it involved him playing an advantage that the Bucheon guys didn’t appreciate. They proceeded to spend the majority of the game booing the opposition and throwing expletives in the general direction of anyone in the white of Gwangju.
The game started relatively slowly and after only about 15 mins looked destined to finish 0-0, although to be honest I don’t think it was aided by the atrocious weather conditions. Bucheon looked the better side for most of the first 30 mins, their fans getting inexplicably excited every time Rodrigo, their Brazilian striker, got near the ball. It seems like every K-League team has a South American in their team these days, some of whom are of questionable value for money. With halftime quickly approaching and it looking rather predictably like a 0-0 scoreline Gwangju won a disputed free-kick, well disputed by the Bucheon fans at least. Choi Sung Hwan struck a top-drawer strike, the kind Ki Seung Yeung would be proud of. 1-0 Gwangju.
The HT whistle sounded immediately afterwards and as the players trudged through the rain to the comfort of their dry changing rooms the theme tune to Hawaii 5-0 blared over the speaker system which could only mean one thing, it was ‘Cleaning Time’. Bucheon FC might not get much right on the pitch this season but off the pitch they are an example to most ‘large’ teams. As well as sending helpers round at HT to clean up the trash in the stadium, they also distribute ‘The Introduction of Bucheon FC 1995’ red guidebooks. Maybe not as frequently quoted as Mao’s ‘little red book’ these handy little guides contain player profiles, photos, full match schedule and a list of merchandise with everything from scarfs to cups to mouse mats. Also for their first home match of the season they booked none other than Stellar for their HT ‘entertainment’. The YouTube video of their HT performance has currently had over 65,000 hits and not all just from me!
Back to the game and Bucheon started the 2nd half pretty strongly, with the conditions worsening they upped the tempo and started looking like a team that realized they were letting any faint hopes of getting out the the division disappear quicker than my empty beer cans during ‘Cleaning Time’. Rodrigo seemed to be getting more of the ball this half, much to the joy of the 3 guys sitting next to me. And then all their efforts were rewarded as a shot/cross in the box fell to Rodrigo about 3 yards from goal and he gleefully tucked it away. 1-1 with 17 mins left, surely a late surge from Bucheon would deliver all 3pts now? Er NO! Unfortunately not. Bucheon kept pushing towards goal but they lacked the decisive drive they had prior to equalizing. The game finished 1-1 which was probably a fair result, Bucheon maybe deserved something more from the game but considering the conditions the game was played under I think both sets of players were just happy to get back down the tunnels and the chance to dry off. As I left the stadium I noticed that the lively and energetic ajummas who had been promoting the electoral candidates were nowhere to be seen, and I thought they were dedicated!