On the 13th of August 2011 there was an event, unprecedented in history, that shook the very foundations of the city of Changwon. Children would listen in startled wonderment as their parents recounted this tale of bravery, determination, lights showers and victory. Legend has it that the men (and women) who graced the battlefield came from far lands, bareing tattooed marks of warriors/gangsters and wore flattering coloured vest-tops.
Gyeongnam FC a K-League team, (the K-League is like the English Premiership but with more bribery, less violence and more ginger hair dye than it was thought humanly possible) kindly invited some local teachers to play in an exhibition game that would precede the evenings main event of Gyeongnam FC versus Samsung Suwon Bluewings. The purpose being to promote the club to the ex-pat community and to conversely promote the ex-pat community to the local citizens.
Expertly organised, and re-organised after a previous game was cancelled due to some monsoon weather, by a friend with links to the K-League club. The date was set and the teams were organised. We showed up at the stadium, fearful of an imminent downpour from the dramatically water-coloured skies, and met some familiar and unfamiliar team-mates.
As a pre-cursor to the game, as a brief shower passed, I dived into the newly opened club shop to check out the merchandise. It appeared to be the grand opening of the club shop and a very senior club official was lurking at the door. As I wandered into the store he stopped me, grabbed my bare arm (it was a hot day so I had a vest top on) and much to my surprise kissed me on my bicep. It is not uncommon for Koreans to grab your arm in a friendly manner, my vice-principal always does it when I greet him in the morning, but kissing my arm is a new and surprising experience! Anyway, I checked out the shirts, refrained from buying one (as I was off to Vietnam the following day; saving the pennies-or won I guess) and then headed for the exit. My new friend duly stopped me again with an arm grab, smiled and wiped off his kiss. Feeling a great sense of rejection/relief/confusion I ambled over to the stadium entrance and headed into the gladiatoral theatre.
When you visit the Gyeongnam FC stadium you will be impressed by a modern spacious stadium, framed by the shadowing mountain that it is built on the side of and kitted out with a perfectly flat, manicured grass pitch. I have played once before in a significant stadium at Tranmere Rovers’ Prenton Park. Cold, miserable in a run-down area and a pitch ravaged by an English season and dubious groundsamship I certainly felt like I had walked out on to every footballers dream surface. We got changed, (disappointingly pitch side and not in the changing rooms- I guess they would not have time to change them over and clean them up before the professionals arrived) had an unimpressively organised warm-up, blasted some shots at goal/against the empty seats behind/out of the stadium and finally lined up in the tunnel for kick-off.
We marched out to some motivational music behind the very official-looking match officials and lined up for the national anthem (actually I’m not sure we had the Korean anthem, but I am quite sure we did). After the necessary photos we shook hands with our enemies and shaped up for kick-off. I was on the baby blue team, it appeared (as you can tell from the pictures) that we were wearing the training bibs from the academy team locker. Feeling slightly unmanly in my cut-off transvestite styled team colours we kicked off.
The match was an open game, dominated by the attacking flair of the blue team and the solidity of our central defence. I played upfront, an unfamiliar position for me but one I generally excel in when I get the chance. Our first goal was beautifully created by myself. Spying a certain New Zealander who used to be my co-worker creeping off his line, I audaciously lobbed him from 40 yards out, close to the touch line, only to be denied by the post. Luke intelligently had followed up my shot and slotted home. Many naysayers will suggest that I was crossing rather than shooting, but I beg to differ. I can sleep soundly at night.
The second goal was a whipped in corner (from myself!) that met the ever energetic Caleb. Caleb almost burst the back of the net with a thunderous header. Orange were reeling.
The third goal did not involve me. So, is therefore not important. Kyle, my Sparta Busan colleague from the foreigner league in Korea, scored an unspectaculiar 30 yard strike with the outside of his boot into the bottom corner. Dreary.
An emphatic 3-0 victory for the baby blues was consigned to history. The oranges will claim that football was the real winner. Personally, I think I was. Genuinely, a fantastic event and a lot of praise should go to James Edrupt and Gyeongnam FC for organising the event. It was thoroughly enjoyed by all and it was great to see so many people playing in and supporting the game.
The evening game resulted in a disappointing defeat for Gyeongnam FC. Played in increasingly atrocious conditions as a new monsoon system moved in, Gyeongnam FC lost sloppily 2-0. The game should have been called off in the second half due to the waterlogged pitch that created for some comical moments as the ball consistently made a fool of the players on the pitch and slide tackles sent a player streaking over the turf for twenty metres.
An evening of drinking and drying off followed as JP, Matt Scudetto and Daniel Lyons bemoaned their thunderous defeat, Kyle exaggerated his lucky goal and everyone bathed in my general amazingness…..