Sunday, 21 November 2010

Places I Have Been: Suwon's Big Bird

In 2002, after a full year in Daejeon and seven months of purgatory on the north-eastern edge of Seoul, I moved to Ansan, an industrial town near the west coast of Gyeonggi Province that was best known for having one of the capital city's largest concentrations of massage parlours-cum-brothels. Probably explains why it was twinned with Las Vegas.

As the crow flies, my closest K-League team was Suwon Samsung Bluewings. Unfortunately, I was reliant on Seoul Subway Lines 1 and 4, which took considerably longer to cover the same distance. Bankrolled by electronics giant Samsung, in footballing terms Suwon - twice K-League winners, holders of the AFC Champions League, and with World Cup semi-finalist Lee Woon-jae keeping goal - were the real deal. As a Newcastle United fan, I was never going to feel very comfortable there.

I went to the Suwon Big Bird Stadium three times: to see the host nation's 1-0 win over Australia in the 2001 Confederations Cup, Spain knock out Ireland on penalties in the World Cup's round of 16 (the only Spanish fan I saw that night was a Londoner with a nylon flag) and, just once, to see the Bluewings themselves. Always one of Korea's best supported teams (their Grand Bleu fan club claims to have 30,000 members), they almost managed to fill all 43,000 multi-coloured seats in the immediate post-World Cup euphoria (slightly more than I'd seen at the Suwon Civil Stadium earlier in the year).

A few weeks later I travelled eight hours by bus to see Daejeon lose at Ulsan Hyundai. I always did feel better around mediocrity.

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