I work for a Korean company. Head Office is in Seoul. The World Cup in June 2002 was also in Seoul. One doesn’t need to be a rocket scientist to work out that finding an excuse to be at Head Office over June was a sensible course of action to take. Company pays for the flights, company pays for the accommodation, Thomo gets to enjoy the ambiance of the World Cup.
Good decision? Well, you’ve probably seen some of the TV coverage so the short answer to that question is …. You betcha!
I got into Seoul about 2 days into the World Cup, I had been sitting in Bangalore in India. I didn’t get to see the opening ceremony although I did catch the first games on TV in India. The trip from India worked out well, however, as I arrived here before Korea’s first match with Poland. At that stage, I had no idea what I was getting in to.
We were sitting around the office the day before the Korea v Poland game and I noted that as the game was on at 3:30 in the afternoon, I should let my staff slip out to watch it, expecting them back around 6:00 in the evening to put in another couple of hours before going home. It was agreed that we should all slip out then around 2:30 to take up seats in local pubs or at the big screen provided across the road from us at the Coex Mall in Seoul. The western guys working for the company, along with me, a translator, my Second in Command, a couple of my staff and a few of the guys from the Administration department downstairs then slipped into the Kings Cross Pub up the back from the office. Beers were ordered (and at that point I guessed that no one would be heading back to the office after the game).
Come 3:30 and the game started. The first cheers of “Dae Han Min Guk clap clap clap clap clap” started on the TV from the crowd at the game and these were soon taken up by all the people sitting in the pub. We were also taught “Dae Han Min Guk” and cheered and clapped along with the rest. Korea scored and the pub leapt to its feet. Korea scored a second time effectively putting the game out of Poland’s reach and the pub (as well as most of the country) leapt to their feet cheering again. We drank some more beer and watched the post match coverage, with the translators explaining what was being said and what was happening.
The Korean Broadcasting Service (KBS) was switching between various locations throughout the country and showing the crowds still milling and celebrating after the game. About half the crowd were wearing red T-shirts, most of them saying “Be the Reds”. We then learnt that the “Red Devils” were Korea’s official supporters and they were the ones who worked the Dae Han Min Guk cheer as well as prepared the signs for the crowd to hold at the start of the game and who also produced the large Korean flag.
Did I say large? The flag is apparently 50 metres by 30 metres in size and weights a hefty 1.5 tonnes. It takes a minimum of 15 people to carry it. Just as a sign of perspective, it could be draped from the side of a small apartment building and cover the entire side. Or, it could be hung from the road level of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and it would drape into the water of Sydney Harbour. It does look absolutely magnificent, however, when the crowd moves the flag over themselves to cover part of the stand.
After several more beers we eventually staggered back to our apartment. This entailed a walk of about 1.5 kilometres. For that entire distance, there were people out and about, cheering, dancing, singing, blowing horns on their cars and generally celebrating Korea’s victory over Poland. Later I asked why the celebration was so great. The Koreans I work with told me that the dream of Korea was to win one game at the World Cup. This was something that North Korea had famously achieved in 1966 in the UK, but something that had eluded South Korea for all these years. On checking, I found out that South Korea had played in 5 World Cups before this one.
The next day arrived and I returned to the office (rather sleepily as the Koreans had still been celebrating, rather noisily, at 2:00 in the morning). At this stage, I still really did not have any idea of how great the phenomenon of the Korean Football Team (Korea Team Fighting) and the Korean Supporter was. On the streets were many stores selling red T-shirts with “Be the Reds” emblazoned in white on them. The cost was KRW 10,000 a shirt. We started to get close to the next game against the USA. The Koreans had played the USA many times before and have had a number of good results against them. They also played the USA earlier this year as part of their preparation for the World Cup.
The day game. Mercifully for work, the game was at 8:30 that night so my staff remained in the office until about 6:00. We then adjourned to another pub to watch this game. This pub was also packed, this time with almost everyone wearing “Be the Reds” T-shirts. The beer arrived and the game started. The crowd at the ground started the “Dae Hun Min Guk” chant and the crowd in the pub (us included) joined the chant. The result was a 1-1 draw. The Korean supporters were happy. They lead the group. So, their dream had been fulfilled on the first game and now after the second game they were group leaders. It was a wonderful time of joy for the supporters and again, the walk home took a long time as we had to stop and “high-five” Korean supporters. My staff had equipped all us foreigners with Korea Team Fighting badges to make sure we had no problems in the crowds. There was never a worry about problems as the Korean supporters were just so happy.
A few days pass and the Korean team is due to play Portugal. The stalls on the street have reduced the price of the “Be the Reds” T-shirts to KRW 8,000, not expecting Korea to beat Portugal. The game is played, two Portuguese players are sent off and Korea wins the game 1-0, thereby going through to the round of 16, somewhere they have never been before. There are calls from the Koreans to give Guus Hiddink (the Korean Team’s Dutch Manager) Korean citizenship. The whole city of Seoul erupts in celebrations which were going on at 5:00 still the following morning.
It is difficult to explain to people outside of Korea the mood and feeling here during the World Cup. Perhaps the easiest way is to note that the game against Portugal was a sellout. Also a sellout was every other football stadium in the country, along with the baseball grounds. All these places had a full crowd in to watch the game on the big screen at the ground and to be with 40,000 other Koreans all cheering their team. There were big screens placed all over the country. In Seoul, there were screens placed at the Coex Mall, along the side of the Han River and around City Hall. As some indication, in the rain, around 500,000 people were around City Hall to watch the game there. All pubs and movie theatres were showing the game. The pub down the road from our apartment here had rented a screen and sound system which was on the side of a truck, parked out the front of the pub with all the tables out on the footpath. It was one of the few times in Seoul when I have seen the motorcycle riders forced to use the road as they could not get on the footpath.
And the excitement? How do you describe that to someone who was not here to see or feel it? It was just unbelievable. Every one was so happy. Every one was so excited. The stalls came out again and the “Be the Reds” T-shirt price had risen to KRW 10,000 again.
The Italy game was next. Portugal lay in tatters, one of the tournament favourites, certainly a favourite to make at least the round of 16. The Portuguese team on their way home. The Portuguese complaining about the refereeing but really having no one to blame but themselves. Their game plan was based on defending a 1-0 lead, but against 44,000,000 Koreans, a 1-0 lead is not always enough. They lost their cool in the game, Figo was shutdown, the Korean defence hustled (generally three Korean defenders were around the attacker with the ball and forcing the error. The Portuguese had also tried to milk penalties from the referee but he was having none of it, yellow carding a diving player and causing the second Portuguese player to leave the game early.
The Italy game was big. Really big. The Red Devils were organised again with a plethora of banners and signs, including one that suggested that Hiddink should be made president. The Red Devils even produced some Italian language banners reminding the Italians of the last time they had met a team from the Korean Peninsula in the UK in 1966. Then the North Korean team defeated the Italians. The game came and was played. The Italians attempted their usual style of game – a combination of physical play and milking for the penalties. At the same time, the Italians were also playing a negative style of football, keeping as many men behind the ball as possible. They lead 1-0, then it was 1-1 in the 88th minute. The Koreans then scored 4 minutes from the end of extra time in the golden goal period and the result was exit Italy, losing 2-1 to Korea.
Naturally, the Italian football team and press blamed everything for the loss other than the fact that they were beaten by a better team. The refereeing was poor, there was a conspiracy, goals were disallowed that should have been allowed, off sides called when players were onside. However, to history, the result will be Korea 2, Italy 1. There really is nothing else to say there.
That night, the euphoria was unbelievable. Korea had beaten a second of the classy European sides. They had made the quarter finals. This was so far ahead of the dreams of the country that most people could not come to terms with it. Another sleepless night as Dae Han Min Guk was heard at 3:00 and 4:00 in the morning.
For the Spain game, I watched at the US Army base in Yongsan. Spain tried and were unlucky. After extra time, the scores were 0-0 still. By the start of the penalty shoot-out, most of the Americans (mostly servicemen) in the bar where I was watching this were cheering for Korea as well. Korea wins on penalty goals 5-3. Spain had won their previous match against Ireland on penalties and probably felt confident when it came around to the shoot-out. To be fair, Spain were unlucky to have a linesman call a ball out that was still in and that they eventually scored off but these things happen from time to time.
As with the Italian press, the Spanish press and football officials called for investigations into the refereeing and such but again, I think it was just a case of they were beaten by an Asian team and needed an excuse to give the folks back home. The Spanish were certainly more controlled than the Italians who had canceled Ahn Jung Hwan’s contract at Perugia after he scored the winning goal against Italy.
After this game I went up to Itaewon, the foreign quarter of Seoul. The streets were blocked with people celebrating (Koreans and non-Koreans alike). The party lasted until well after 5:00 in the morning when I decided to crawl back home.
Korea was now in the semifinals against Germany. Definitely uncharted territory. The “Be the Reds” T-shirt prices were rising and falling all over Seoul. This was the big game. I wondered how the Koreans would take a loss. I found out. The night of this game, about 90% of the population of Seoul was wearing red. CNN estimated that 1 in 8 of the Korean population was out that night – I reckon with was closer to 1 in 4. 550,000 people around City Hall. All the other grounds full. The Big Screens packed. The bars and pubs packed. The roads are empty. There is red everywhere. Korea loses 1-0.
Caught a taxi from Yongsan to Kangnam heading home (it was a work day the next day after all). On the Kangnam side of Seoul there were streets blocked off and people in red celebrating everywhere. If you had arrived in Seoul that night and not heard the football result, you would have thought that Korea had won the game. I think that Korean football supporters are the best in the world.
I guess the best way to sum all this up is by an e-mail I sent to a friend of mine in Germany, who happens to have a Korean wife:
The finals might well be South Korea – Turkey, which would confound
all predictions. Or a more conventional Germany – Brazil.
To which Thomo replies:
It is a distinct possibility – the European teams have all underestimated the cohesiveness of the Korean team and the lack of real star players (no Zidane, no Figo, no Totti, no Del Piero or Viera and so on). I think Korea was ranked about 45th in the World at the start of the Cup. Whilst I think the Spanish were a little unlucky last night, I also think they paid the price for their poor tactical judgment – they got away with it against Ireland and did not against Korea.
One thing that is impressive with the Korean team is the Midfield defensive work. Opposition player comes through with the ball and many times there are three Korean midfielders around him, one in to tackle and the other two for the loose ball that results from the tackle. Even if the attacker gets the ball away, the next guy ends up with 3 Koreans around him. This ‘hustle’ seems to have disoriented the European teams in particular who have become somewhat used to a more ‘scripted’ game. That and the fact that over most of the games, when a Korean has been tackled, unless he is hurt, he is up on his feet and back into it immediately. I think that has resulted in a little ‘kindness’ from the referees as they see a side not trying to ‘fake’ a tackle for a free kick. And yes, I remember there was a couple of times last night when the Koreans where chasing the penalty rather than the ball, I guess they are learning 😦
I particularly loved the Italian Job however. The signs at Daejon were wonderful. In English and Italian (the Red Devils are really the best organised supporters group I have ever seen before). Italian ones saying things like “Welcome to the Giant’s Pit” and “welcome to the port of fire” along with English signs such as “Azzurri’s Grave” and “Hiddink for President”.
The Red Devil’s get into the ground the day before the game to set up – so they test the location of that BIG flag (it apparently weights about 1.5 tonnes) as well as laying out the white cards for the crowd sign at the end of the ground. All is prepared and nothing left to chance. The other remarkable thing about the Korean Games is that EVERY Korean supporter at the game (with the exception generally of Kim Dae Jung and the Korea FIFA representative) is wearing a red shirt. Either the “Be the Reds” shirt, which is the Red Devil’s official shirt (available unofficially in Itaewon as well, of course), or the home strip shirt of the Korean team. The stands are just a sea of red.
When the Red Devil’s start the “Dae Han Min Guk” chant, the whole country really does take it up. All the big screen audiences are doing it at the same time as well as patients in hospitals (they are normally all moved down to one of the large recreation rooms in the hospital where they can watch it as a crowd), the church congregations (that really really big Church on Yoido in Seoul, the six storey one, has been showing the games as well for the congregation and the pews have all been packed).
Unusually for me, words do fail me in describing the feeling here – but I feel really very lucky just to have experienced it.
Major roads over the city last night were blocked for hours with revelers out on the streets. At 5:30 this morning when I finally staggered home (OB is not such a bad beer after all) there were still crowds out in Itaewon and around the Coex Mall. I reckon that about 25% of the population of Seoul was out on the streets last night.
The people I have spoken to here do not really care what happens now, as Hiddink has taken them way further than they dreamed possible. Their dream was to win one game in the World Cup. That was something they had never done before. When they won that first game, they were all in parts of their dreams that they had never thought they would be.
From a business perspective, this World Cup looks like leading to the changes that foreigners like me have been pushing at their companies for a couple of years now as there are already two or three books being released on Hiddink’s methods applied to a corporate environment – finally, maybe, we can start to get away from the rank, position, alumni matrix and into taking different approaches. One of my problems is that Numbers 1, 2 and 3 around the office where I work have already described me as “their Hiddink”. Even two of my subordinates have used the same term and shock of shocks, a couple of changes I had been arguing for two months have suddenly passed all levels of management without a dissenting voice.
There was an old Japanese General who once described the Koreans as “Tigers in the Castle and Kittens in the Field”. I think this World Cup has gone a long way to proving him correct.
And I think the best two comments on European football were the welcome home received by both the Irish and English teams, which was positive and in the best tradition of good sportsmanship; and the Italian reaction “We was robbed – we are too good to be beaten by a team such as these, therefore, the referee and FIFA must have plotted against us – oh, and let’s cancel Ahn’s contract as well as he had the temerity to score a winning goal against us”. It sort of matched the comments by Ronaldihno, I think it was, after he faked that penalty in the Brazil game a couple of weeks back and then noted later that as they were world class players they should be able to do this against lesser players. Many teams could not accept that even if they were a better team, they had to do more than just turn up to the game to get the points!
And yes, Karl-Heinz, I am loving this!
Cheers, Thomo the Lost
Temporary new Thomo’s Hole can be viewed, as it grows at:
but it will be moving in a couple of months
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++And that really sums it up.
The game against Turkey? Exciting and fast and the Turks managed a piece of sportsmanship the established teams and countries could well copy. Their taking of the Korean players over to the fans at the end of the game, as well as their waving of the Korean flag was wonderful to see. What was also wonderful was to see the Korean fans remain at the ground long after the game had finished to watch their team receive their medals for fourth place. This is certainly a World Cup that I will remember.
The fans? Again, the rest of the world could learn a lot from the “Red Devils”. The Devils (and indeed, all the Korean fans) exhibited exemplary behaviour. At the same time, the “Red Devils” are possibly the best organised football fans I have seen anywhere. Their powers of organisation make even the British hooligan gangs of the 80’s seem positively amateurish by comparison. The placing of the flags, the construction of banners to hang at the game, the enthusiasm of the chants that resulted in the entire crowd joining the chant – all wonderful. Their undying enthusiasm for their team up until the last whistle was also a joy to see. Korea were never really beaten until the referee had blown that final whistle – witness the game against Italy for a perfect example of this.
And the final winner, well, when I am writing this the game has not been played yet – and really, I don’t think it matters. The winners on this World Cup were Asia and the new teams. Japan through to the round of 16, Senegal and the USA to the quarterfinals, Korea and Turkey to the semifinals. And to Portugal, Italy and Spain, all that will be remembered is 1-0, 2-1, 5-3! That says it all.