We may only be a few weeks into the new season but 2015 has already thrown up a few talking points, from new teams to returning heroes avid followers of the K-League have had more than enough to talk about to fill the long away bus journeys. For me though the biggest talking point is the increased attendances and in particular the almost ‘record breaking’ numbers that have been descending on Challenge stadiums so far. So far this season we have seen 12,000+ at Bucheon, 10,000+ at both Anyang and Ansan and the quite incredible 20,000+ at Daegu on Sunday. Add in a couple of sell-outs at both Jeonnam and Jeju and it would seem like the passion for football has been reignited in Korea.
There’s been a lot of conjecture as to what the reason may be below are a couple of reasons I feel could be key factors
The ‘Uli’ factor
The man once affectionately know as “The Stopper” might just be having the opposite effect on Korean football fans. Although not exactly Guus Hiddink-esque yet, although I’m sure the pizza contract is in the post, Uli has restored some pride to to Korean National Team. The recent Asian Cup run allowed fans to forget the disastrous and let’s be honest embarrassing debacle that was Brazil 2014 for Korea. When the Asian Cup started few Koreans really believed that they would make the final such was the apathy surrounding Korean football in the wake of Hong Myung Bo. A successful group stage was followed by a knockout stage run propelled by a resurgent Cha Duri and suddenly memories, and of course images, of 2002 came flooding back. An unfortunate defeat in the final to hosts Australia didn’t stop Korean’s passion for their national team being restored, has this passion trickled down into their league football too?
The Return of Park
There’s no doubting that Park’s decision to return to his old stomping ground will put an extra couple of thousand on FC Seoul’s gates but will it have a wider impact on the rest of the K-League? There was an argument back in Scotland in the 90s that when Glasgow Rangers signed ‘Gazza’ they injected a much needed shot in the arm into Scottish football. Their own fans turned out to see him and opposition fans turned out to ‘hate’ him. The league got more exposure on TV and ultimately led to increased interest across the board. Park is still an iconic hero for most Koreans, sure he had a horrendous World Cup but was that down as much to Hong as to the player himself ? The return to the league of such a high profile figure can only have a positive effect whether he is a success at FC Seoul or not. With the blanket coverage that the KBO gets across Korean TV the KFA needs something to steal the occasional headline away from grown men dressed like extras from a bad hip-hop video running around in a circle for 3hrs praying that it doesn’t rain, what actually is the issue with them and rain anyway?. Park might just be the man to do that.
Of course it could just be that it was the first couple of rounds of the new season and fans decided to come out in numbers to watch the matches . But here’s hoping that it is in fact a sign of things to come and that we can keep seeing stats like we have so far. After all if faced with a choice of a cat cafe or a Hello Kitty museum tour I know where I’d rather be…… now where is that map to Seoul Martyrs.