This past weekend I attended my first K-League soccer game. K-League is the highest league of professional soccer in South Korea and is currently comprised of 16 teams. FC Seoul, the only team located in the capital city, are reigning league champs and currently hovering around mid-table. Soccer is popular in Korea but K-League has a hard time drawing fans away from international soccer (Korean national team and European domestic leagues) and can’t compete with the popularity of Korean professional baseball at home. Part of the reason is the fact that the quality of play is not as high as it is in Europe. Not helping the Korean soccer’s case? Match-fixing scandals are currently rocking the league causing distrust in the league and even suicides of former players.
All of that aside, attending an FC Seoul match has been on high on my list of things to do since I arrived in Korea. I started following soccer when I lived in Rome and attending matches at Stadio Olimpico are some of my greatest memories. When I was in London this past fall I had the pleasure of attending my first Premier League game at Craven Cottage. I even enjoyed watching MLS when I lived in Philadelpha. So, I mean, how bad could this really be? (Only a small amount of offense meant toward MLS.) Live soccer is electrifying and a great way to get a glimpse into the pride of a city or country.
FC Seoul play at Seoul’s World Cup Stadium which holds nearly 70,000 people. There is nothing amazing about the place but it is clean and does it’s job. And on a rainy day, like it was on Saturday, there’s a nice overhang that keeps the majority of the seats dry. The atmosphere was both extremely Korean and typically soccer. Like at any Korean sporting event, there was a cheerleader organizing the crowd’s efforts at supporting the home team to a win accompanied by a poorly choreographed dance team and the stands were packed with families eating kimbap. And like at any soccer game there were the supporters groups singing loudly throughout the match with their banners and flags proudly hung.
This game against Incheon United wasn’t great. The pace was incredibly slow and the missed passes frustrating, but I’ll extend some leeway because of the aforementioned monsoon. Incheon took the the lead in the second half, but FC Seoul’s standout striker Dejan Damjonovic (no, that’s not a Korean name, he’s Montenegrin) soon evened the score. The play livened up in the last 10 minutes or so but not enough to change the outcome and the match finished in a 1-1 draw.
Did I feel like I was watching Barcelona take on Real Madrid? No, but I got what I expected. A fun afternoon watching a sport I love live.