Thursday, 4 November 2010
Places I Have Been: Daejeon Citizen
The first time I saw Daejeon Citizen they lost 2-0 to Busan in front of a four-figure crowd on a city-owned sandpit. "Bit crap this, isn't it?" said the Darlington fan I'd gone with as the Daejeon defence launched an aimless ball in what looked to be the general direction of the corner flag. We were given scarves and interviewed for the programme midway through the second half. Foreign fans of provincial K-League teams were unsurprisingly thin on the ground.
The club had been founded under the catchy slogan "Along With Citizens With New and Fun Soccer!" but there wasn't very much that was new or fun about losing every week. Eight of the league's other nine teams were bankrolled by a chaebol, the powerful family-run conglomerates that still dominate the Korean economy. The ninth, Seongnam Ilwha Chunma, were funded by Sun Myung Moon, revered by his followers as the second coming of Christ. Daejeon, two years old and with only a local construction company behind them, never stood a chance, finishing the season with six wins and eighteen defeats from their twenty-eight games.
A lot can change in two and a half years. By the time I left Korea an out-of-shape Dalian Atkinson had come and (thankfully) gone. Kim Eun-jung, the club's star forward, went blind in one eye and scored the only goal of the 2001 Korean FA Cup Final. Choi Eun-sung had made Guus Hiddink's 23-man World Cup squad in the vital role of third choice keeper, and Daejeon were now half-filling the Purple Arena, the 40,000-capacity stadium where Italy had lost to an Ahn Jung-hwan header (or the referee, if you were Italian).
That season they played twenty-seven and won just one.