Not only was this the first time that Seongnam had welcomed the Champions since June 2016 it would also be the Kim Shin-wook fanclub’s (@RevJChrist) final K-League match before heading home to challenges afresh. The visit of Jeonbuk was one I had been looking forward to for a while as they are truly truly the only team in the K-League that I think could hold their own back home and being a Celtic fan it is great to look across the pitch and see a stand bedecked in green and white, even if they are the enemy for the 90 minutes that lie ahead. The rice wine of choice was the incredible Baekyryeong Do Makgeolli (백령도막걸리), which almost made me late for the match as I was adamant that the pesky security guard wasn’t getting his hands on the bottle, empty or otherwise.
I headed early down the well traveled road that is the Bundang Line with the idea of having a few beers before the match with the departing Jon, a few other foreign K-League fans had made the journey to bid farewell to one of Jeonbuk’s loudest, if not exactly on-pitch, choir members. Jon is responsible for the “We all dream of a team of Kim Shin-wooks” chant and I have never been happier for the running track at Moran as it would prevent that particular ditty making it all the way to the home end where I, thankfully, had avoided the bag search as was enjoying one or two refreshments.
The news before the match was that Eder wouldn’t be featuring against his old club and that Mathias Courier had recovered enough from his bout of flu to make the bench while the elusive Jaja continued to Instagram everything but football. Jeonbuk started with Moon Seon-min, Kim Shin-wook and the permanent handful that is Lopes as they obviously came northwards to win.
The first half was a lively 45 minutes as both teams attacked the game from the whistle, Moon Seon-min should have done better in the 5th minute after some beautiful footwork from Lopes but curled his effort wide. Seongnam had the ball in the net after 10 minutes as Gong Min-hyun volleyed the ball home from close range but was ruled offside,it was probably the correct call but it was really close. Jeonbuk were next to fall foul of the referee’s whistle as Lee Seung-gi slid home Moon Seon-min’s cheeky back-heel for what he thought was the opening goal on 37 minutes but again it was chalked off as Moon had used a hand in the build-up.The half-time whistle followed soon after and both sets of players made their way to the tunnel having given the fans their money’s worth.
The 2nd half started much as the first one had ended with Lopes continuing to be a thorn in every Seongnam player’s side. Seongnam were trying to make the best of the half chances that came their way as the Champions left the occasional gap at the back as they poured forward looking for the win. Seo Bo-min stung the Jeonbuk goalkeeper’s hands with a long range effort midway through the half before The Wookie really should have done better on more than a couple of occasions as he could have and should have given Jeonbuk all 3pts and sent Jon homewards with the perfect farewell gift. As the game neared an end it took a combination of top-drawer goalkeeping and desperate defending to keep Jeonbuk at bay as they turned the screw and then some. The inclusion of Lee Dong-gook with 10 minutes left brought back memories of shocking dives at Tancheon and had me reaching for my cooler bag in search of something to numb the pain/anger. Thankfully the veteran striker would muster up nothing more than falling over outside the box and as the final whistle sounded a collective sigh of relief resonated around the “Ultras” section as a) we had avoided another defeat to Jeonbuk and b) that final whistle meant that we would not be subjected to another rendition of the ‘Team of Wookies’ song for a few months.
All that was left was to wait outside the ground for Jon and his group of disciples to finally stop ‘fan-boying’ Kim Shin-wook and get down to the serious business of drinking and eating. It was my first time meeting the man who came to a Korea to teach and left a mountain climbing K-League legend but in the words of Arnold Schwarzenegger, “They always come back”, or he said something like that anyway.