With the long wait for live football over and our craving for live sports barely being kept under control by the odd trip to the volleyball it was time to get down to the the serious business of K-League football and the Opening Weekend of the the K-League One!
Our first, of hopefully many, ‘Away Days’ in 2019 would take us all the way down to Changwon for Seongnam FC’s visit to play Gyeongnam. It had been two years since The Magpies had graced the fields of Korea’s top tier and so was a game that couldn’t be missed, regardless of the epic hangover that woke me abruptly from my slumber. A taxi and 2 Cass later and I was Express Bus bound for the 4hrs and change journey from Seoul to Changwon.
Upon arrival at Changwon Bus Terminal after the glitzy lights and electronic boards of Seoul’s terminal it was a bit of a contrast to step off of the bus into a scene akin to The Scorch from The Maze Runner! There are two easy ways to get to Changwon Football Center, by bus or taxi. As my bus from Seoul had been caught in some holiday traffic I decided to take a taxi to make up some of the lost time, a rather costly 12,000W later I regretted that decision.
With some beer, makgeolli and a food truck chicken skewer acquired I made my way up the small set of steps to the ground. There are a couple more food trucks and a few tents selling merchandise outside the main gate which were distracting me from locating the ticket office and I was begining to look as much a football “tourist” as a Changwon one. Luckily I met fellow K-League fan James Edrupt who, rather knowledgeably, guided me to the “secret” ticket box up the stairs from the main one and away form the queue which was beginning to snake a little back towards said tents. Gyeongnam may very well have priced their Asian Champions League tickets in the stratosphere but it’s safe to say they’ve got their domestic prices nailed on. 10,000W for a ticket for E/N/S and 15,000W for the Main Stand are great value for money, especially given the views inside. I also like the ‘one gate does all’ approach as I was able to enter the South section and slowly make my way around taking in the ground and of course the performing, on-loan, NC Dinos cheerleaders!
There are no bag searches going in the South gate, I don’t know about the North, which is good as once inside there isn’t exactly a wide array of refreshment choices. There were two kiosks visible, one at each end of the East Stand, which sold very limited provisions of mainly Cass, chips and ramen so definitely stock up beforehand if quenching your thirst is as much of a priority as what is served up on the field. The view from the away end at Changwon Football Center is exceptional, you are as close to the pitch as a Pohang or Bluewings and with the backdrop of mountains it makes it a fantastic place to watch football. There are no roofs (other than the Main Stand), which although not great in monsoon season does mean no restricted views anywhere in the stadium and, for those who this is important, the bathrooms are on the same level as the seats so you never need to miss any of the game…..well almost never.
As for the game itself it would be a disappointing return to ‘top table’ action for Seongnam as the game finished 2-1 to the hosts with 2nd half goals from Kim Seung-jun and Takahiro Kunimoto. And while the ghost of the departing Marcao was not exactly exorcised, it was a positive start for last season’s runners-up. English journeyman Jordan Mutch made a second half appearance and looked both off the pace and unfamilair with the new role being asked of him by coach Kim Jong-boo. The two-goal lead was deserved with the hosts looking every bit the K-League One side and the visitors, unfortunately, playing like a side that was just promoted. It wasn’t all doom and gloom though for Seongnam as there were definitely some positives to be taken from the flowing passing movement that led to their consolation goal.
I had time to kill after the match so after a brief catch-up with James it was time to explore the delights the local area had to offer. Many of the restaurants were closed as it was still only 6pm but there wee a few options and within 10 minutes I was settling down to a hot bowl of Galbi-tang and another Cass or two before the final taxis and KTX would get me back into Seoul on the stroke of midnight. It was great day out despite the score, the stadium is beautiful and Gyeongnam look like having another decent season ahead of them, maybe just don’t go down for an ACL match 🙂