2015 saw the emergence of a new team in the K-League in the form of Seoul E-land. They would ply their trade out of the Olympic Stadium in Jamsil albeit courtesy of a temporary stand constructed on the running track along the pitch. E-land, not ones for shunning the limelight, would make a lot of noise in their inaugural season and not only because of their leopard print kit. They made high profile signings such as ex- National team goalkeeper Kim Young Kwang from Ulsan and Kim Jae Sung from Pohang. They had more fan events than some K-League clubs have actual fans. They played social media like they had invented the idea and they played their football with the kind of swagger normally reserved for a chaebol ajossi exiting a Jongno noraebang at 4am. To quote the great Sir Alex Ferguson it’s safe to say they quickly became the “noisy neighbours” of the K-League.
On the field things were good too, after a shaky start they soon found their feet and an entertaining brand of football quickly emerged and as always it was accompanied by a YouTube or Facebook video. Unfortunately things weren’t to go completely to plan for the debut boys and they crashed out in the playoffs to eventual promotion winning Suwon FC but there is no denying it was a good first season for them and they definitely made their presence known within the all too often stuffy confines of the K-League.
Just before Christmas Seoul E-land’s Assistant Head Coach Dan Harris came down to 48 Shades Tower to discuss his first year in the land of the morning calm. We talked performances, fans, kits, injuries and of course kimchi. It was a pretty comprehensive interview, a teaser is below.
The full interview is available on Soundcloud, with the link at the bottom of this page and also available to download on iTunes.
The number one question on everyone’s lips, do you like kimchi?
It’s an acquired taste, I’m growing to like it, although not sure I’ll ever fall passionately in love with it.
The claim is it’s the healthiest food in the world, working in that field do you believe that to be true?
As part of a balanced diet there is a role for it sure. Given some of the things I’ve seen the lads eat back home it’s definitely a better choice than some of that for sure.
Should Wayne Rooney be tucking into it on a Saturday morning before a match?
I think Wayne Rooney and kimchi operate in different worlds.
What’s your favourite episode of the podcast?
I think the benefit of the social media revolution is that fans are more informed and more involved than ever before. I dodged the question I know.
You mentioned the fans there, at the beginning E-Land said they were going to listen to the fans and give them a voice. Do you think you have managed to do that?
We sat down with the fans yesterday and did an awards ceremony for those fans who had been to every game, the founder members so to speak. We had a meal together with the players and coaching staff, an informal awards ceremony, watched a movie together and then had a Q&A session with them. We’ve worked really hard to work with the fans and had the second highest average attendance in the Challenge this year which is testament to those fans. They’ve taken a real punt on us and we hope we have been able to reward them on the pitch.
What were you doing before you came out to Korea?
I realized that I wasn’t going to make a living playing football due to my career being cut short by a severe lack of skill so I got involved in Sports Science. Worked in various teams in England before a few seasons with Celtic in Scotland. After that worked as a consultant for 18 mths so we could stay in Scotland as we really loved living there. Moved back down to England to get back into the game and started to look at going overseas, looked at China first and then decided not to take that on. Was very interested in coming to E-land as it was the chance to start from ground zero.
Did you know Martin Rennie before coming out?
Football is a small world and our paths had crossed but I had never actually worked with him before coming out no.
Has the fact that you are younger than the other managers caused any issues with respect within the K-League?
No not at all. There’s a self-confidence that we have about ourselves, we aren’t going to shout from the rooftops but we are confident in what we do. We have no interest in being losers we want to be winners. We tell our players that it’s okay to have those ambitions, it’s okay to take pride in what you do. Yes respect the traditions of hierarchy in Korea which is really important but when you cross that white line everyone is equal. Don’t be afraid to take some one on, try a shot or be creative.
Seoul E-land came fourth in the league in the end, eventually losing out in the playoffs. What would you say was the highlight of the season?
My overriding emotion is disappointment as I said earlier myself and Martin don’t have any interest in being losers but to answer your question the run of 9 wins in a row was a highlight. From a personal point of view the highlights were behind the scenes, developing players, for example like Joo Min Kyu. Nobody really knew who he was last season so watching him develop was a real highlight. Watching people call for him to be in the national squad and seeing him emerge as a top player.
This is the second year that a Challenge team has eventually won the playoffs and knocked out the Classic team. Do you think it’s because the Challenge has competitive matches all the way to the end?
I’m not a fan of the split system, I experienced it in Scotland. I think the playoff system in the Challenge where you reward the team that finishes highest up the league by giving them the advantage of playing a one-off match at home is a great idea as it keeps the matches competitive right until the end. There are no ‘dead rubbers’ in the league.
Speaking of Scotland and Celtic. You were there when Ki was there, he made a pretty sweet transition from Korea to Scotland. Do you think there are any current players who could make such a smooth transition?
From the outside it might have looked that way. He came to us after the Olympic training so when he came to us he wasn’t in good nick as he hadn’t played for a while. The first day of training the snow and rain was horizontal, typical Scottish summer. Straight away Scott Brown who was club captain at the time and is a typical Scottish player came straight across and knocked him onto the ground in a traditional ‘Welcome to Scotland’. Fair play he got up and took it, course two mins later Brown did it again. He came into the dressing room after the game and said I need to bulk up. I tell you that lad grafted and grafted and worked to earn his place in that Celtic team. 6 months later he was smashing Scott Brown!
The idea we get from the media back home is that diet is very controlled whereas in Korea, judging by social media posts, players look like they eat things like Galbi and so on. Is that the case?
A lot of that is good marketing from the UK clubs. Sure in the club cafeteria they eat controlled diets but when they go home they still make wrong choices and of course the media love that story and love putting that on their front pages. In Korea we want to take all the good stuff of Korean culture and mesh it together with ideas from around the world to make the modern day Korean footballer. And yeah we could do a lot better with nutrition but the choices here are generally good. Lot’s of fish for protein, rice and good fruit and vegetables. Your average Kimchi jiggae in our cafeteria isn’t that much different form those in normal Korean restaurants.
Being heavily involved in fitness do you think the Korean players have similar injuries and issues as say EPL players? You don’t often hear of metatarsal injuries for example, you seem to get small niggling injuries more.
The style of play in Korea is different from that in the UK for example. The UK has a more explosive style of play, players are encouraged to take opponents on by trying to run past them quickly for example. There is also a higher game volume in the UK which also increases the risk of injuries. In the K-League it is more of a patient style of play and so the injuries in Korea tend to be more over-use injuries, a lot of knee and ankle injuries, you don’t get those extreme sprints as much. Also the Korean footballer is a well-conditioned athlete. A lot come from a Taekwondo background and have a fantastic range of movement. Some players back home would struggle to touch their toes, actually some would struggle to touch their knees.
Dan also talks reality TV shows, Celtic and Rangers football fans, potential Korean stars and much, much more.
You can listen to the full interview on soundcloud at
Thanks to Dan Harris for his time and good luck for 2016.
Photos courtesy of Dan Harris – @danharris79
Interviewers : Mark Kelly and Paul Carver.