Today, I went to The World Cup Stadium to see FC Seoul play Busan I'Park. The 64,000 all seater stadium was purposely built for the World Cup and has been the home ground for FC Seoul for the past two years.
Joint hosts of the tournament along with Japan in 2002, South Korea exceeded all expectations, beating along the way teams such as Italy, Portugal and Spain before finally losing 1-0 to Germany in the semi-final.
The manager of South Korea, Gus Hiddink, had led South Korea to the most successful showing by an Asian team in the competition's 72 year history and he became a national hero, even getting honourary citizenship for the team's achievement.
Nicknamed 'The Red Devils', police estimated 22 million fans in total took to the streets in South Korea during the tournament.
The rectangular shape of the roof was built to resemble a traditional Korean kite and apparently the octagonal shape of the stadium represents the Korean people's desire for world peace and prosperity. It is also Asia's largest only football stadium and its stunning design makes it look as if a huge spaceship(or a rather large ashtray, depending on your point of view), has landed smack down in the centre of Seoul.
The K-League, as it is known, was originally formed in 1983. Thirteen teams compete in a two part season with championship playoffs at the end. There is no relegation or promotion and the winners gain entry to the Asian Champions League the following season.
The second to last game of the season and one with nothing to play for, FC Seoul are currently mid table, whilst Busan I'Park are languishing near the bottom. I was hopeful that this wouldn't discourage the teams from putting in an entertaining performance for those watching or the fans getting behind their teams. Fortunately, by the end of the day my hopes were proved right.
I bought my ticket and then went into the stadium where I sat down with the home fans behind the goal. In the sea of red, everyone was chanting and some of the crowd were standing on their seats with megaphones to help fire everyone up. Then before kick off the players came out and lined up in the centre of the pitch. The national anthem was played on the stadium speakers and everyone rose up off their seats.
Once the game began the chanting felt as if it had quadrupled in volume. Throughout the first half, FC Seoul had most of the possession and their strength in midfield and defence managed to quite easily break down the few attacks that Busan I'Park managed to put together.
FC Seoul were unlucky not to have scored during the first half and were unfortunate to have had a goal disallowed, which brought about a huge sigh from everyone when they realised that it wouldn't count.
The second half continued much like the first. FC Seoul using their home advantage to good affect and controlling the game. Eventually after constant pressure on the I'Park Busan goal they managed to score. Huge explosions went off around the stadium in celebration and smoke engulfed the crowd who reacted immediately with screams and cheers, the goal having whipped them up into a frenzy.
The atmosphere was electric, despite the relatively low crowd and it made me think how exciting it must have been to be here, when South Korea went World Cup crazy three years ago. If this is what it was like with just 15,00 people, what would it have been like with a stadium full of people watching the national side march onwards to glory?
Buoyed by their goal, FC Seoul managed to further dominate the match and sewed the game up in the dying moments with another goal. Jubilation once again rang out along the terraces. With victory sealed you could immediately sense the relief from the crowd. The win provided some consolation to the FC Seoul fans for a disappointing season that originally promised so much and they revelled in the moment a final home game victory, once the final whistle blew.
Everyone began to chant, they locked arms and started to dancing from side to side. Exuberant with joy everyone raised their scarves. The season had at least ended on a high note for the supporters by beating the stage one winners.
The players did a final lap of the pitch, applauding the crowd for their support throughout. Each player's name was called out by the crowd and they turned and waved to show their appreciation. Once they had gone back down the players tunnel, everyone finally left to make their journeys home.
You can see all the photos here.
Here's a short film I made of the day.
Friday, October 30, 2009
Posted by steve at 1:56 p.m.