Suwon v Urawa
The match sounded like something you would have expected George and Zippy to have come up with on an especially flamboyant episode of Rainbow but it was a hugely serious and important match. It wasn’t necessarily a clash of two titans but more a clash of two underachievers. Amazingly for their size and stature neither club has won anything for 4 years, Suwon the FA Cup in 2010 and Urawa the Champions League in 2007. But despite the barren years they are still huge clubs with incredibly passionate fans whose dedication was about to be tested on a particularly cold February evening.
My journey to Suwon began at 4pm some three and a half hours before kick-off. It would end up with me taking four different subway lines and walking for about 30 minutes but as I said this was potentially a huge match so was going to be worth it right? The journey was largely uneventful until the third leg of my subway tour, a rather straightforward but hugely time-consuming transfer from Geumjeong to Suwon Station. After waiting more than 15 mins for the train I was bordering on a tad frustrated, I was meeting a friend at Suwon World Cup Stadium and this was eating into my drinking time. After one stop on the train it became clear that a couple of guys in their late-teens were playing a kind of ‘dare game’. The idea was that when the train stopped they would run along the platform to the nearest vending machine, buy a coffee and jump back on the train. A far cry from the “I spy” games I used to play when travelling to Celtic games as a chirpy lad. The first couple of ‘dares’ went to plan and the returning heroes were saluted by their peers and the spoils of war consumed. Then suddenly it came the turn of a rather eager guy in a red jacket. At first he seemed in luck, his train stopped right beside a vending machine, sweet he thought! Unfortunately though the God of dares had other ideas. Initially his 1000W note kept being rejected by the machine, and as he kept looking back to the subway in panic he became more flustered. Suddenly an elderly woman stopped to lend a helping hand, not understanding the importance that time plays in this scenario she started to carefully bend the edges of the ‘evil’ note in question. This was met with some hyena-esque laughter from his friends and as she tried to use one of her own notes instead the door closed and the fallen hero was left stranded on the platform. I have to admit it was a pretty funny scene and I was still chuckling to myself as I left the group behind to embark on the fourth and final leg of my subway adventure.
As I arrived at the stadium I was feeling particularly happy with myself that I had managed to secure 4 cans of Suntory for only 10,000W, the irony of drinking Japanese beer while playing a Japanese team was not entirely lost on me either. I got settled at a table near the large tv screen replaying the previous evening’s match between Man City and Barcelona and waited on my friend. We had decided that I would get some beer and a table and he would get the tickets, a decision that seemed perfect when he returned with two adult and two kid (for his sons) tickets for a paltry 15,000W. Everything was looking good. I commented that I was surprised that there were so few Urawa fans outside as I had expected there to be a large travelling support and my friend suggested that maybe they were inside already. And how they were.
Upon entering the stadium I was impressed by the sea of red to my left, they had certainly a few fans with them. A quick look to the right was met with the equally impressive wall of blue of the Suwon Ultras.
The pre-match atmosphere was pretty quiet despite the numbers, that was until about 2 minutes before kick-off when Urawa started to sing, their words met with a chorus of boos from Suwon and so it began. For the next 90 mins or so it was pretty much a back and forth battle to see who could out sing each other with the Urawa fans being as equally vocal as the passionate home support. As the players came out and lined up the Suwon fans unveiled the banner above which read “Stadium for football not only for Korean”. This was directed at the Urawa fan’s “Japanese Only” banner from last season which caused ripples throughout Asia for obvious reasons. I did think it was kind of ironic that their fans displayed such a non-inclusive banner whilst having a repertoire of songs which contained several with English lyrics but anyway.
The news before the match was that the ever dependable Jung Sung Ryong was injured and was to be replaced in the starting lineup by No Dong Geon and it was obvious from kick-off that Urawa were hoping to capitalize on this. The match started at a pretty quick pace with both teams attacking from the whistle. As well as no Jung in the team Suwon also didn’t find places for their new signings Kaio and Leo, although Leo was on the bench and would have a huge part to play later. Suwon had a couple of early chances with Jong Tae Se in particular looking lively. With half an hour on the clock Urawa really should have taken the lead when No fumbled a cross in the box but he managed to recover only to drop it again but then the resulting shot was crashed over the bar and Suwon survived. With half time almost upon us Urawa took the lead and it was a pretty sweet goal. The ball was played out to number 46 Moriwaki on the edge of the box, he looked up took a step inside and curled an unsaveable shot beyond No. The whistle went a few seconds later and as the players made their way up the tunnel it was obviously the Urawa fans who were the happiest.
The second half was more of the same, both teams pressing with Suwon again having a little more of the ball. You got feeling that they would get a goal back soon and it didn’t take too long. With 10 minutes gone of the second half Oh Beom Seok made a run down the right wing, his cross into the box took a wicked deflection off Makino and sailed over Nishikawa in goals. It was fortuitous but was nothing more than Suwon deserved. Urawa responded well and if they had been a little more composed in front of goal they might well have got something from the match. Just after 60 minutes Lee decided to hand a debut to Leo and what a decision it turned out to be. Leo was signed from the Swiss team Sion who are no real mugs to be honest so it will be interesting to see how he handles Korean football but if he is able to repeat his form from his first 2 seasons there he should be a hit with the Suwon fans. With the game petering out and a draw looking likely Leo popped up to become an instant hero. A freekick from the right was swung in and somehow sailed past everyone and found its way to Leo at the back post. He was tightly marked by Moriwaki but managed to get a head on the cross and nodded it past Nishikawa. The stadium erupted and even I (far from being a Suwon fan) found myself cheering the goal. In fairness it was shocking defending and should have been bread and butter to deal with but that’s football and why we love the game. The full time whistle sounded shortly after and for all their effort Urawa went home empty handed and the Suwon fans got to celebrate long into the dark cold night. I, on the other hand, bid farewell to my friend and his two boys and made the long journey back to Seoul. Next up for Suwon is a trip to Beijing while Urawa host Brisane Roar. I will be closer to home taking in both Seongnam and FC Seoul’s home matches.