Good friend of the podcast and faithful listener Ally asked if there would be a giant Mars Bar or such on Day 25 and being the traditionalists that we are, originally there wasn’t going to be. But, as was the case on numerous occasions during the 2015 season, we totally missed a red card! Folks, we’ll try and do better this season!
So here it is, the final day of our K-advent calendar…we hope you’ve enjoyed our wander thru the highlights (and some lowlights) of a day out at a typical K-League game. Of course, now that we’ve whetted your appetite you’ll all be itching to follow all the ups (FC Seoul/Seongnam/Beer Girls) and downs (Suwon Bluewings) of the whole season and if you’ve listened to this week’s podcast you’ll know that that’s not particularly easy.
So, given the dire state of the official websites we hope you’ll keep coming back to our blog for various features throughout the season and our weekly podcast for p/reviews of the week’s matches and key issues in the game. (Editor’s note: other shades of EnglishlanguageK-League action may be available but they won’t be as partisan!)
Football has an incredible knack of creating and some would say encouraging rivalries. From cities being divided by the colour of a scarf, managers resorting to gibbering wrecks after being wound up by another to brothers lining up against each other for different countries the game of football stirs passions like no other. We at 48 Shades are no different and with the new season upon us it’s time to put all our recent agreements and of course logic to one side and get ready for the opening day as nothing gets in the way of a good old fashioned rivalry quite as much as a rational outlook.
So before the season starts and things get as strained Val Kilmer’s belt we decided to give our opinion on the season ahead from our hugely non-biased and completely impartial viewpoints.
Q. Who is the player to watch this season?
A. Paul (FC Seoul) – Shin Jin Ho
A. Mark (Seongnam FC) – I know it’s obvious but Hwang Uijo again for me this season.
Q. Most anticipated match of the season?
A. Paul – The opening weekend away to Jeonbuk as based an ACL form Seoul might actually start the season with a bang.
A. Mark – Always the first away day to The Big Bird. Nothing better than beating them on their own patch.
Q. Highlight of 2015 season?
A. Paul – Kashima away as the TV stations messed up the coverage and only those in the ground saw the winner and experienced the emotion.
A. Mark – There’s a few but probably beating Incheon away in the middle of a monsoon with no roof. Absolutely chucking it down but nobody cared and sang for pretty much the 90 mins.
Q. Predicted league position for 2016?
A. Paul – Top.
A. Mark – 4th and clinching an ACL spot by winning the FA Cup.
Q. When do you think will be the official St. Bernard Matthews Day? (This is the day when it’s no long possible for Suwon Chickenwings to finish above our team in the league)
A. Paul – Round 30 I reckon
A. Mark – It’s been a few years since this happened but I’m going to say Round 33
With the new season almost upon us we look at the only thing that matters to managers, players and fans alike and that is clinching the title and getting your hands on the trophy itself. And so it is that after a grueling season of thirty-eight matches involving having to travel the length and breadth of the country (although thanks to Busan 2015 there’s not quite the same distances involved) the winners are finally presented with a big golden K for their efforts. It has to be said that the K-League trophy lacks the intricate craftsmanship of the English Premiership trophy, the iconic design of the coveted World Cup trophy and the size, albeit ridiculous, of the Champions League trophy which is made to look all the more ridiculous while trying to be hoisted high by Lionel Messi. As basic and almost bland as the trophy may be it still wins hands down when compared to others in the region and especially the ACL trophy which looks like it was inspired by a crop circle.
The trophy has been won by nine different clubs with Seongnam FC holding the record for most titles with a total of seven the last of which came in 2006. Seongnam also hold the record for being the only club to win ‘three-in-a-row’ having completed the feat twice, once from 1993-1995 and then again from 2001-2003. In the last six seasons only three teams have hoisted the trophy aloft as champions, Pohang (2013), Seoul (2010,2012) and Jeonbuk (2011,2014,2015). Given the signings that have been made in the close season the smart money is on one of either Seoul or Jeonbuk repeating the feat again but whether there will be red and black or green ribbons on the trophy remains to be seen. The ‘bridesmaids’ of the league are undoubtedly Ulsan who have been runners-up a total of seven times with the most recent being when they heartbreakingly threw it away on the last day of the 2013 season. I would say their bottle crashed that day but I do believe that was merely the sound of the numerous soju bottles being thrown on the pitch by the disgruntled travelling Pohang support before their team scrambled the ball over the line in the last minute to snatch the title.
We at 48 Shades find it both interesting and apt that if you imagine the “K” as a football boot swinging at the ball and actually track it’s motion it would in fact miss the ball completely. A homage indeed to some of the league’s both former and current players.
Throughout the years there have been many a player in the K-League who has been elevated to ‘legend’ status and while some have been more than deserving of the title others have been a little less so. Football fans are often accused of being a tad guillible and of easily buying into insincere gestures such as badge-kissing and chest-thumping which are all too common an infliction in the modern game (Jeonbuk’s one-season wonder Kaio kissing his badge after scoring for new team Suwon Bluewings last year a prime example). So it is with great hesitation that the 48 Shades boys band the word “legend” around but there is no denying that this season sees the return of a couple of players who could fall into that category. The ‘Dejan returning to Korea’ rumour mill started as early as the final day of the 2015 season and it didn’t take long until the world’s worst kept secret was realized and the famous striker was yet again back in the red and black of the capital club. Dejan had only been gone for two years but for most Seoul fans it seemed an eternity, as to say they missed him was more than an understatement. Whether he is able to come close to the form which saw him net an amazing 116 goals in 181 games is yet to be seen but his signing alone has almost brought a smile to Choi Yong Soo’s normally sullen demeanour.
Another player returning to Sangam is Shim Woo-Yeon whose return has been met with howls of derision among Seoul fans. He made 29 appearances in 4 years at Seoul before transferring to Jeonbuk in 2010. His first goal for Jeonbuk came against Seoul and his goal ceremony was to mime shooting himself. When questioned about it, he said “FC Seoul’s Shim Woo-Yeon is dead, long live Jeonbuk’s Shim Woo-Yeon.” No one is quite sure why he has re-signed for FC Seoul or if he’ll actually play but 48 Shades are scanning the K-League rulebook to see if Zombies are allowed.
Also making a return to his former club is Cho Won Hee who has yet again signed for Suwon Bluewings making it his third stint at the club in 10 years. It must be said that he hasn’t always enjoyed the greatest of times at the Big Bird but with over 100 appearances for them has displayed the kind of passion for a club all too often lacking in the current era of one-season wonders. He played in the last Bluewings team not to be a failure so it will be interesting to see if he can aid them in their pursuit for silverware this year. Another player who falls under the label of ‘legend’ albeit slightly loosely is Kim Bo Kyung. In an age when players seem to be departing Korean football quicker than a chaebol empties on a Friday evening it is good to see an internationalist move to the Classic while he still has his own teeth. Of course Kim himself is making somewhat of a debut on home soil having left Korea for Japan before turning 21 but given that he has 32 caps to his name and that it was only a few years ago that he was finding the back of the net against Man United in the EPL he can be considered something of a coup if not a legend.
Of course there is always the underlying concern for returning heroes that they will fail to live up to the often inflated and slightly askew memories that we have of them. Many a footballer has seen their halo slip after a failed return to their former stomping ground, and even in recent years in the K-League we have seen players such as Djeparov and Everton fail to repeat past feats albeit for different clubs. Will this batch of legends relive their glory days or will it all end in tears and of course a good old-fashioned football tantrum!
As integral a part of football as the matchday program and pie used to be in the good old days the transfer windows of the modern game has become almost it’s own separate entity with websites and pretty much full TV channels dedicated to it. It’s the time of year that the smaller clubs hate and the bigger clubs feel compelled to flex their muscles in order to keep their status among the elite. While they might lack a close-to-exploding Jim White the Korean transfer windows of late have thrown up their fair share of activity both in and out. Last season we had Adriano’s move to FC Seoul which almost certainly kept them from losing out on the ACL this year, Lee Keun Ho returned to bolster Jeonbuk’s push for the title and we also bid tearful farewells to Chong Tae Se and Edu as they both swapped hero status in Korea for lower league teams in Japan and China. The movement of players has become so much easier and more frequent since the days when we at 48 Shades Tower were being lifted over the turnstiles for free and pretty much gone are the days of ‘one-club’ players. I’m fairly sure this was not quite what Jean-Marc Bosman had in mind the day he threw his dummies out the pram.
During the last few weeks/months a lot of the focus has been on the Chinese Super League as they have scoured Europe for players that for the most part were surplus to requirements but still command a hefty price-tag. Even in Korea at the beginning of the transfer window all the noise coming from Jeonbuk involved names such as Torres and Van Perise, unsurprisingly these were just rumours and the Mad Green Boys won’t have to think of a song with RVP in the lyrics any time soon. There has been quite a bit of movement though in the top league with Jeonbuk being especially busy in their recruitment drive as they have snapped up pretty much the top talent from the league. They have added podcast favourite Kim Shin Wook aka ‘The Wookie’ from Ulsan, Ko Mu Yeol from Pohang, Lee Jong Ho from Jeonnam and brought in Erik Paartalu from Melbourne City to name but a few. In their recent ACL opening match something like 5 players made their debut over the course of the ninety minutes and one can only imagine if they gel quickly they could quite well run away with the title again. As mentioned yesterday Suwon FC have also been busy and seem to be releasing photos of new signings on a daily basis. Other clubs such as Seongnam and Seoul have also been busy with the former also hoping to double-up as extras in the new Dad’s Army movie such is the average age of their new additions. In all really only Pohang and Suwon Bluewings have been underwhelmingly quiet and given that they have the ACL to add to their domestic adventures this is pretty surprising.
All in all it’s been a pretty busy transfer window and with a couple of weeks still left in which to register foreign players or free transfers there could still be a few more orchestrated ‘fighting’ photos doing the rounds on social media.
As we gear up for the beginning of the 2016 K-League Classic we have a new kid on the block in the Classic in the shape of the 2015 third placed K-League Challenge team and eventual playoff-winners Suwon FC. Suwon were made to fight for their place in the top tier as they had to navigate not one but three play-off matches before finally ensuring their place among the big boys after a 3-0 victory over Busan. It was just rewards for the boys in red and blue as they had fought well over the course of the season and for many a neutral were the team they wanted to see promoted. Their place in the Classic guarantees us a ‘city derby’ which is something that Korean football has been sadly lacking. Sure we have The Supermatch and the Jeolla derby, we have the rivalry between Seongnam and Suwon and also the recently evolving contentious atmosphere when Incheon and Seoul met but nothing really stirs the passion of fans quite like a city rivalry and hopefully the new ‘Suwon Derby’ will live up to others.
Of course Korean fans are no strangers to new clubs, from clubs changing names being an almost annual occurrence to others ‘moving’ from one area to another we have seen our fair share of ‘disruption’ in our game. And of course only last year we had the emergence of Seoul E-Land, as a new club was formed and entered into the second division. In fact if luck had been a little more on their side (or referees depending on who you ask) we might just have been witnessing out first top tier ‘Seoul Derby’ instead.
To say Suwon’s journey to the top table has been interesting is something of an understatement. Considering the fact they only turned professional at the end of the 2012 season you could be excused for calling it something of a rags to riches story. They have also gone about their business on and off the pitch in the manner normally associated with ‘big’ clubs, last year they boosted their squad with considerable talent in the form of Brazilian goal-machine Japa and Spanish midfield general SiSi. Both those players departed the club over the close season and many fans thought the writing was on the wall at this point but instead they have yet again secured some potential stars in the form of Australian international Adrian Leijer, Belgian international Marvin Ogunjimi and another Spanish midfielder in Jaime Gavilan. Many believed they would merely make up the numbers this season but it certainly looks like they have other ideas. Considering the recent lack of investment coming from Samsung into the coffers of their city rivals Suwon Bluewings it may only be a matter of time until Suwon FC are the top dogs in the city and the mighty Bluewings regarded as their ‘poor cousins’.