This text was written in 2012 for the now defunct blog on safc.com. In the build-up to Sunderland’s appearances at the Peace Cup in Suwon I found myself in Seoul watching my first ever game of baseball between the LG Twins and the SK Wyverns.
The Peace Cup might not start until Thursday, but Korea’s second sporting passion gave me a chance for my first taste of life on the terraces, Seoul style.
Baseball was the game, as local boys LG Twins took on SK Wyverns of nearby Incheon in the Korean National League at the Jamsil Stadium in the Olympic Park.
And if that experience is anything to go by, the atmosphere at a Korean football match might be a bit different from life back home.
It’s not that there’s a lack of enthusiam – even when a deluge of biblical proportions prompted an hour-long rain break it couldn’t dampen the spirits of the dark-hard fans.
But rather than the kind of spontaneous roar (or groan) that rolls around the Stadium of Light in response to the on-field action, here everything was far more carefully choreographed.
Each set of fans had its own ‘conductor’, aided by a group of cheerleaders, ensuring that everyone was literally singing from the same hymn-sheet. And, since Korean names tend to have three syllables (think Ji Dong-Won), it’s easy enough – if a bit repetitive – to fit every player to a chant as he steps up to the plate.
But therein lay the problem: since the cheer teams took it in turns, and strutted their stuff when their team was batting, it often felt like more fans were following the singalong than watching their team in action. Hits were greeted with delayed reaction cheers; by contrast a strike out – with the fielding side undistracted by some high energy ditty – drew an instant response.
During the rain break a couple of fans explained Korea’s fascination with such an American sport – an obsession which might seem at odds with a country fiercely proud of its own traditions and independence. It’s partly a legacy of the lasting US presence here following the Korean War, with 17,000 servicemen currently stationed in Seoul’s Itaewon district, but in recent years it’s also become a sport where a handful of Korean aces have crossed the Pacific to slug it out in the Major Leagues. And, just as with the likes of Ji and Korea’s other overseas football stars, these guys become heroes back home, getting the media coverage and the lucrative endorsements. That excitement trickles down to the local game, and most summer evenings see a match somewhere in Seoul.
The game ended in a 6-2 win for the Twins, courtesy of home runs hammered out in the 6th, 7th and 8th.
July 18, 2012
Korea, Seoul, Jamsil Stadium
LG Twins 6 LG Wyverns 2
Att: about 10,000