by NB Armstrong (December 2012)
Scooters are abandoned amidst last night’s takeaway trash outside the university’s big iron gate. At 8:40am on Saturday morning no one wants the 4,000 Korean won coffee-and-waffle set available through a hole in the wall. Nevertheless, it feels like a day of days. We are going somewhere to watch something, be part of something, and, I feel sure, celebrate something. It’s not often you get to do that, and it is why football (soccer) supporters will travel the length of their countries to expend otherwise coffee-and-waffle set disposable income on watching a match. Let’s go.
Our opposition in today’s Korean FA Cup Final is the Pohang Steelers. The Steelers play at The Steelyard. We travelling supporters of Gyeongnam FC meet at our regular home ground in Changwon, a newish complex in this newish south coast city called the Changwon Football Center. With shipbuilders STX for sponsors, that name should be changed to The Ark or The Cruiser or something competingly evocative. Or STX could redesign the stadium to look more like the famous boat-shaped coffee shop in Jinhae, the nearby provincial naval town which the club and we supporters today have a geographical care of duty to represent.
Kevin is traveling the hundred miles on the supporter’s bus, alongside our Korean friend Shim and myself. Kevin is known by everyone. I know this because everyone calls him Kevin. Earlier in the season he traveled up to a game in Chuncheon as one of just eight fans present in the section allocated for away supporters. It included three local high school girls who had entered via the wrong turnstile. He was accompanied in the car by the other four intentional Gyeongnam fans, two of whom were working officials of the club, and one of whom, the photographer, was genius like, Kevin said, in his selection of angles from which to photographically bulk out the illusion of traveling support on the club’s website. Gyeongnam won three nil. So Kevin has done his time. He’s followed. He has “been the rose,” as the club motto enjoins. And so he is greeted warmly by the Gyeongnam FC cheerleader, a youthful 30 year old who sacrifices his view of the match by facing away from the action toward the ultras behind the goal in order to lead them in the club’s staple song sheet. As a math teacher in international airport city Gimhae, the cheerleader is well placed to be club treasurer and travel director, but passion is the orchestrator of vocation and the rumor is that he takes that red plastic megaphone to the classroom, the bathroom, and the bedroom.
It is the club’s goal to take a thousand supporters up the east coast, a number greater than the total attendance at many home fixtures this season, so ringers are necessary. Our part time fans are employees of STX who have been more or less ordered to go support “their” team. Local media has reported the booking of thirteen coaches and a suspiciously accurate 497 people departing on them at 9:30 am.
It looks like senior management’s orders have not been obeyed. No. 6 bus is still parked up an half empty at 9:46. There are more people milling around the unopened Hyundai car promotion event in the field next to the stadium than there are supporters ready for the off. A sign on the old style works bus tells passengers not to bring paint on board. They haven’t. But a few have brought Hite beer, a brew made from spring water which tastes more like spring water than good beer. The beer drinkers occupy the back seat, but are no more a threat to the two toddlers traveling amongst us than are the sparrows in the trees outside. Indeed it is these guys (and girls) on the back seat, who carry the flame, or brown plastic bottle, of core support essential to any club’s survival. And a lot is riding on today’s game.
Today, for most of the Roses, is all about the Asia Champion’s League. We want to be in it without being champions. The FA cup is a route to participation and in our seven years in the K league we have never been champions: the cup is our only hope. But Busan-Gyeongnam is the most populous and important region in the country outside of Seoul-Gyeongi and we can both handle and need the glory a run in the Asia Champions League will bring. Plus, we are the class underdog, so to speak, being the only club currently in the play offs without chaebol sponsorship. There is an iron correlation between big business ownership and power on the pitch. Last year’s final was contested by Seongnam and Suwon. Seongnam FC was founded by the late Reverend Sun Myung Moon in 1989, so the club’s sponsor is Ilhwa, the chaebol conglomerate makers of a pale cola soft drink called Makol, which is not to be confused with Korean rice wine, Makkoli, and certainly never ever to be mixed with it. (Gyeongnam supporters taunted their opponents with crates of the stuff a few years ago, yet ultimately only helped fund the team that beat them that day, after which they never did it again.) The Pohang Steelers is owned by (who else?) Posco, the east coast steel giant. Pohang won the Asia CL in 2009 and thus have pedigree; they have steel.
Chae-bol literally means wealth-clan. GFC is a “citizen club,” developing its own youth players then, unfortunately, selling them on. We have an academy and training center behind the stadium complex, but like the plants in Pohang exporting steel to the rest of the world, it is a factory making products for free market purchase. Plus, we are hobos, mooching around provincial stadiums trying to build province-wide support but in doing so fracturing that support’s base so that it fails to cohere. The club must please all the people of Gyeongsang province all the time. It has played in Masan, Hamman, Jinju and, most often, Changwon. Pohang, the Steelers, have sat in the same, oldest purpose built Korean football stadium for over half of the country’s existence. They are the exemplars of what situational stability will bring. It is fitting that we must travel to their stadium for the final, as if a semi-homeless person must plot up at his fiancée’s house for their wedding.
Are Kevin, Shim and I optimistic? A match against Busan Ipark was typical of recent displays. One nil up against eight men, we passed it around the back four like gutless civil servants fearful of initiative. Or like a group of men fearful of injury and with their minds on only one match. But I have been optimistic in this competition since we won the quarter finals on penalties, and especially after the semi which we won away at Ulsan. So we are going to The Steelyard. So what?
My view of Luke de Vere has, of late, evolved. I used to see him as a liability; his legs seemed far behind his brain in applying themselves to any decision made by the latter. Now I’ve applied a fresh adjective to his playing style –equine- and it has helped put my mind at ease when the opposition bear down on him and our goal. (Try it out, by the way - the application of a new adjective. See if it isn’t more effective than, say, meditation in deceiving yourself.) So now I think of him as our threat at corners (our equine threat). He is 23, and arrived from Australian side, the Brisbane Roar last year. K league teams are permitted four foreigners in their starting line ups, three non-Asians and one Asian. Luke de Vere, being an Australian and despite having a name like a convicted Euro party planner, is our Asian. Kevin, says Kevin, being from New Zealand, is an Oceanian, and therefore from “the rest of the world,” which feels along way away from this part of Asia. But most foreign players in the K League tend to be relentlessly South American. Gyeongnam FC let go of a Columbian whose name when transliterated through the mangle of Hangeul was pronounced Horny. He left the club for “personal reasons.” Our star waygookin (“outside-country-person”) is Caique, pronunciation of which is as elusive as his playing style. “Ka-ee-ki” is spindlier than a squid-spider dry land hybrid and capable of either hurting the opposition lethally with a killer dink pass or finish one moment, then being the player they can most comfortably ignore the next. Most of our hopes for victory rest with him. It is discomfiting to dwell on the fact that our opponents may ignore our greatest hope for victory.
The remaining part of hope lies with our forty two (count them) years old goalkeeper, Kim Byeong-ji. Kim has a twenty year old mullet, a hairstyle which once defined a decade and has now come to define Kim, at least in silhouette. He has been part of a one man movement in South Korea to transform the hairstyle of the lifelong gas pump attendant into something more reliably dynamic, if still regrettable. His perma blonde-dyed locks, in conjunction with superb agile reactions, have won him the nickname Lightning: a recent one handed reaction stop to a point blank range header left spectators choking on their cup ramyeon in admiration, and Valeri Sarychev / Shin Eui Son, the Russian goalkeeper who eventually became a naturalized Korean citizen and who holds the K League goalkeeping record nervously chowing down his pelmeni and kimchi. We rely on our goalkeeper heavily, as have done all the various teams he has played for 635 times. One of them was Pohang Steelers. So for Kim, winning today’s televised final will be like marrying a royal in front of an ex.
GFC has a decent smattering of foreign support; it loyally travels, too. It isn’t as comically hardcore as Busan Transport’s, however. Busan Transport is a Korean B League outfit that has somehow acquired an eccentric group of ten outside-country-persons of surpassing madcapness. They can be seen squeezing rubber chickens, wearing wigs, and hitting upside down 6 liter water bottles with wooden spoons in crowds totaling twenty five. We want them at GFC, and a couple who have bulked out our numbers in big games (the definition of a big game being any match streamed somewhere online) are here today, wigged but chickenless.
What we also have is the longest banner in the league: Our fearless hearts sing Gyeongnam’s glory with our whole body. But it’s not enough. I think, too, we should release balloons all along the east coast, as do the citizens groups which dispatch one dollar bills and revealing facts about Kim Jong-un in balloons across the DMZ. We need more by way of statement that we exist. Witness now, for instance, the lack of cup final atmosphere on the works bus. A three year old excitedly points out a grey ghost plane arcing up from Gimhae International Airport and that’s about it. A few supporters are asleep already
In A Season with Verona, Tim Parks describes his first Verona away game, traveling with a group of coked to the bone Italian Ultras chanting about their coach driver’s daughter being violated by men of non-Italian heritage. That coach driver will have to sit through 500 miles with them. Our driver has no such worries. Indeed he has the chops to be a bit of a wag. Closing in on retirement, dressed from head to hands in company clothing –STX cap, STX driving gloves, STX jacket - he is sympathetic to the capriciousness of the human urinary tract. He agrees to stop for one of the beer drinkers, a beer drinker cringingly shielding his own crotch (has this ever stayed the pain?), but not till we get through this slow thick jam and out the other side of the tollgate. The beer drinker, who I heard let out a conspicuous ‘aaahhh’ of satiation when he downed the first swig of a 1.5 liter bottle of Hite, is a very thin man wearing a red ‘Caique’ no. 18 shirt. He is by now absolutely desperate to adopt the pose of a medieval Veronese boy statue. The human heart goes out to him but everyone murmurs to the person sitting next to them something about him just using the empty 1.5 liter water bottle etc and there for the grace of etc. Eventually, and by which time passengers have developed a phantom somatic cramp, we get through the blasted tollgate and pull over. Caique has options but in order to avoid the mortification of being partially visible, hobbles dangerously across a feed road and over a barrier down a steep bank into a yellow field. We all laugh the laughter of another person’s shame, but I see a father shoot a look at his son a few seats further forward, his eyes expressing the pain of not being able to be there every moment of his son’s life to avert such minor humiliations. For Caique was once cradled by his mum; but here he is, three decades later, pissing in a field to an audience.
The other coaches pull up alongside so that the convoy effect isn’t broken. We sit and wait. What a clever boy I am, I think, for sticking to my no drinking on the bus policy. We wait and wait. This is turning into a very long, er…Is he...? He can’t be. He’s not, is he? But I didn’t see him carrying any tissue, so what’s he using for...? Everyone, including those three year olds, is now deciding what to do with the vivid image in their head of this man crouching in a yellow field. “That soldier only took 51 seconds to get across the DMZ!! What’s this guy doing?” shouts the driver, breaking the tension with reference to a 17 year old North Korean conscript who, a few weeks previously, shot his two senior officers and made his way across 500 meters of DMZ to knock on the South’s post door and request defection. Suddenly a wiry man in a red shirt vaults a traffic barrier and sprints aboard a bus already losing time before it had stopped.
It’s a two o clock kick off at The Steelyard. We are stuck in traffic on a bridge over the Nakdong River, which is currently lushly flooding its plains, to leave Busan’s endless ranks of 23 story apartment blocks looking like gigantic white water rocks in the distance. A three year old enchants the atmosphere with a nursery rhyme but then gives a random shriek in frustration at her environment of inactivity and inertia. Why are we on this bus? What’s the point of being here now, she must be thinking, deploring adult patience.
She gets her brother to play I-spy. There is a murmur of conversation; it is not expectant. Most passengers look with glazed eyes at a thresher still harvesting a wheat field just outside of Ulsan, the same Ulsan we threshed 3 0 in the semi final. The city still retains its sense of civic pride, however. A hillside Hollywood-style sign on its outskirts reads, “Ulsan, Mecca of Modernisation.” (I wish “folks” would stop using Mecca as a metaphor for any kind of present or future.) We continue along the highway, our driver still chewing gum, and pull into to a slope-rooved rest stop for some noodles. Happily slurping away, my Samsung Galaxy phone tells me that last night in South Yorkshire, an English supporter of Leeds United ran onto the pitch at a second division match and, despite the TV cameras broadcasting a game being watched by 29,000 witnesses live to a few hundred thousand more, punched the opposition goalkeeper in avenging celebration.
Back on the works bus Shim and I take a moment to go through the club’s song sheet. Our songs, and maybe all football songs in Korea, seem less designed to respond to events on the pitch, by which I mean there are fewer obscene chants at hand with which to abuse players and referees. They feel scripted more to create a developing myth about a football club we need good reason to go on supporting. Kevin translates football reports from the Thai Premier League into English, for those few non native followers of the country’s football scene. It is an even younger league than Korea’s K League and still, literally, drumming up support. One club, TOT (Telephone Organisation of Thailand), employs a twenty piece band to keep up a rallying tempo for the duration of the match. Now all it needs as it marches around a fully empty stadium, according to Kevin, is some spectators to play to. We at Gyeongnam FC at least have a more established base than that. Although at this point, I have to make the claim that English football supporters would, sharp as you like, have adapted the recent 800 million youtube-clicked Gangnam Style K-Pop effort into a club supporter song called Gyeongnam Style. I practice one of our team’s anthems with Shim. We sing it mezza voce right to the end.
Nega, no-wee, byeoli deh-ah (I will become your star),
Gum-ul chatnun no-wee, bi-chee del-keh (I’ll light up the way as you chase your dream)
Nega, no-wee, byeoli del-keh (I’ll become your star)
On-jae-nah noh-wee gyeot-eh-sauw (Always at your side)
There is an official system for transliterating Korean into English which will make that sound a lot less like it actually does. But the song, chorused in a language whose provenance academics are still unsure of, calls to mind a chant I used to hear at Nottingham Forest’s club stadium (The City Ground) in the eighties.
Oh mist rolling in from the Trent,
Is always to be here oh
Both are taken from well known pop songs and fittingly adapted to the object of their supporters’ affinity. The Gyeongnam ultras follow up with drum beats and the rhythmic waving of flags on poles. The Trent End of the City Ground used to follow up with
You’re the sh*t of Manchester (Merseyside / London Town, etc)
Forever an' ever, we'll follow our team,
We're Nottingham Forest, We rule supreme,
We'll never be mastered,
By you (Cockney/Brummy/Yorkshire/Geordie/Derby/Southern/Northern/Inbred/Dirty) b*stards,
We'll keep the red flag flyin' 'igh!
Bathroom visits seem to be the global bane of travelling football support. ‘mufcwarm92’ on Redcafe.net, Manchester United’s largest unofficial supporters forum, relates the following, totally credible story on a thread about away games.
Got the car up from Uni at Birmingham with a load of lads and had some cans on the way. Absolutely dying for a p*ss when we got there so we all jumped out of the car and ran into a little wooded bit beside some houses. There were already 5 or 6 people p*ssing in there so I went in a little further. Got to what looked like a massive bed of leaves and was desperate so thought I'd do it there. Turns out it was actually an old river covered in mud and leaves, I took one step in and went knee deep in mud. By the time I'd pulled my leg out, I'd lost my trainer. We tried for about 10 minutes to get it out but it must've been about a meter in. Turns out I never saw that trainer again and had to go to the game with one leg of my jeans covered in mud up to the kneecap and only one shoe on. Can't tell you how many people I had to explain that to as they p*ssed themselves laughing. Stewards looked at me like I was a nutjob. No chance I was missing that game though.
mufcwarm92 has nothing but good memories of Blackburn away.
Needless to say it was a ridiculously good day and I'll never forget that.
he signs off.
There’s an endless stream of this stuff online. The internet may have acquired a reputation for harming the reputation of veracity, but anyone who has attended a football match in England since about 1970 can swear by its loyalty to fact in this sort of territory. And, comme le cochon aime a se vautrer dans la boue, once you start reading you can easily lose a couple of hours on it, especially if you have first hand memories of the era and the milieu itself. Online, you start to enjoy the boue, the mud; next thing you know you are using google translate in order to fancy talk your way out of an apparent absorption in what might be derided as low pleasure. A notch or so in intensity above these tales is a genre of book devoted to the rucks and offs which characterized the game for so long: hooli-porn.
Attending a football match in England has always been what Londoners call ‘a beano,’ a raucous day out, for young men at least. The development of hardcore hooligan firms from bootboy elements that themselves sprung out of competing city schools or areas and which used the local professional football team as an environment in which to continue their established rivalries and then to unite and take on the traveling out of towners’s similar elements was so rapid, so natural, that to those involved it seemed no more thought through than listening to a song by a favorite band. It was a fractiousness analogous with and born out of nothing more notable than the youthful proclivity to identify with and follow a certain band, or a certain style of jacket, or a certain between-meals snack. And though leaving foreigners clutching their former views of Englishness in open mouthed shock as England smashed up Luxembourg and Rome, the culture developing at football matches was about as mysterious in its origins and practices (and as worthy of deep examination) as the contents of a chip. To describe its evolution, its “history” in the context of Englishness is to do no more than describe how it was sunny outside this morning but now is raining. In Korea, it might puzzle one (but not really; only as a kind of theoretical pose) not how England developed such a hooligan phenomenon in the first place, but how one hasn’t similarly developed in Korea.
Bill Buford, former editor of Granta and a man with literary connections bordering on the corporately transglobal, once, on his way out of a London tube station, turned to an elderly couple that were temporarily blocking his progress, and told them to “fuck off.” What happened was this: he became a football hooligan. He spent a good proportion of his social life in the late eighties and early nineties with Manchester United’s huge home and away following, in Dantean pubs, on smashed up trains, and on militarized back streets, “taking” other cities, coarsening his worldview and personal habits, and eventually, twelve pints in, swearing at pensioners. Among the Thugs stands with A Season with Verona as an intelligent insiders’ exposition of bother at football matches. Arguably, however, neither are primary sources.
Tony O’Neill was a major hooligan presence at Manchester United games from the early seventies to the early 2000s. In Red Army General, he talks about battles with the ICF, the notorious West Ham United ‘Inter City Firm’ who travelled around England using promotional tokens from detergent powder products to acquire cheaper tickets on regular ‘Inter City’ trains. One big FA Cup match, the ICF were trailed by a documentary team up to Manchester’s Picaddilly Train Station.
I got into town just after 11am and crowds had already formed around Piccadilly Gardens. Suddenly it went off somewhere and United were charging about like lunatics. I found myself outside Woolworths chasing some West Ham lads. We saw Jeff Lewis in a bus shelter being arrested because he had twatted someone, so we all went over. We crowded round and insisted Jeff had been attacked and the copper let him go because he was so scared.
The day ends in such a result for United’s Red Army, as they were loosely known, that ICF leader Bill Gardner, a man who watches the action on the field with the intense dissociative motivation and hope of a political enemy watching his own party leader in a fight for survival, allegedly called out to a United leader, “Whooah, we’ve had enough. Get them off us.’
They got back to Picaddilly and fucked off with their cameraman.
That fight involved upwards of a thousand young men. O Neill is straight forward, engaged, capable of occasionally abstract insight (on a protracted weapon-filled tube station platform battle again with the ICF: “But it can only go on so long”) and amusingly willing to tell stories against himself, eg, about how he got the nickname Buckethead: 200 lads were chucking cans, pint glasses, and bottles at him so he wore a metal bucket to protect himself. Other participant-observers describe events as if they were very serious elements of a vigilante law enforcement outfit, operating out of and protecting some booze filled dystopia. One supporter on waiting for Liverpool to arrive:
The first special was due in at 5:30pm. Logic indicated that the police would either escort them or, more likely, bus them to the ground. Without any concrete information, no major moves were made and yet again it turned into a drink, with small war parties and individual scouts constantly mooching off looking for the enemy.
A mob of at least seven hundred finally get through. The Liverpool fans are eventually rescued by police on motorbikes, “leaving damaged Scousers lit by blue flashing lights.” A theme of that story is how Liverpool’s firm “bottled” it that day, failing to show up in proper numbers and, presumably, leaving ordinary fans and “barmies” (mufcwarm92 types) to take the brunt of the violence. There were only very sketchy lines drawn in the hooligan world of what was permissible and what was not, though most serious firm members would righteously claim never to harm scarf wearing dads and lads. But Manchester United’s following, like Liverpool’s, included large numbers of grafters and sneak thieves. These criminal chancers took the opportunity of relative crowd anonymity, over the course of the match day, to grab at something, anything you’d otherwise have to pay for, with a sports-clothed outstretched arm. That image serves to illustrate how the extreme post war growth of crime and criminality in the UK has evolved, as well as how crime travels incognito with crime. United fans are pursuing Everton fans outside Swiss Cottage in London on a Wembley Cup Final day.
There is chaos on that road. The coppers cannot handle it. An Asian guy comes out of his jewelry shop to watch us chase Everton down the road. Suddenly our mob stops. You could see the scousers turning around, wondering why we had stopped chasing them. Well, what would you rather do, chase scousers all day or rob a jewelry store? Everyone went in and grabbed whatever they could. The fellow couldn’t do anything…That was a great result.
Mass hooliganism at football matches in England has been on the wane for fifteen years for the following reasons:
- Organized and experienced regional police forces and severe custodial sentences for those arrested for football related violence. CCTV everywhere in England.
- A fissuring of the social bonds which tied young working class English men together in violent local self-identification, most notably due to deindustrialization and mass immigration, both of which have transformed the areas in which they grew up.
- A steep rise in the cost of entry to football matches following the advent of the Premier League and all-seater stadiums following the Hillsborough stadium tragedy in which 96 supporters were crushed to death.
- Tony O’Neill, Bill Gardner, et al are deep into middle age.
- Drugs, Xbox, the internet, cheap and easy international travel, millennial anxieties [add your own here…]
Almost every young man who attended football matches at this time, including your timorous but then football obsessed author, had some interest in what was happening in the crowd, be it what it wore, what it chanted, or how it moved. The above sorts of incidents, however, are largely gone from the English game, and almost no one misses them, though the phenomenon occasionally recrudesces in delimited outbreaks involving smaller groups.
Our coach finally pulls in to The Steelyard. An STX official stands in the gangway and makes an announcement warning of the possible danger of sitting with the home supporters. I laugh out loud. Around the stadium, the Posco wealth-clan is hammering home their club’s association with steel at every turn. The Samhwa Works No. 6 Blast furnace has even been set in gardens as a statue. It looks like an enormous steel tea pot.
Originally built in 1943, this is the last of eight 20 ton blast furnaces from the Samhwa works, which closed in 1973. The oldest remaining furnace in existence in South Korea, it was acquired by POSCO in 1993. Today it stands as a monument to Korean steelmaking development in the mid-20th century and a valuable resource for the study of smelting technology from that period.
The Steelyard itself could more accurately be called The Concrete Bowl. Randomly, apropos of no appeal or petition, we are presented with free match tickets while queuing up to buy them. Inside and less amiably a home banner taunts, “The team with no history can now leave.” Another one: “Football is war. Win.” hangs alongside “Defender Kim Sang Sok: The silent strong type,” which I guess isn’t him making a Facebook page of a national sporting event to advertise his single and available status. A curved phalanx of red marines on the upper tier thwack red plastic fans and chant their home base bias. They sit just above our stand-length banner. I see only one other. It reads Luke De Vere, we will never forget your sacrifice for us, a reminder that he is playing today despite his grandfather’s passing earlier in the week. Correctly, his commitment is taken as a forbearance rather than sign.
We sit deep among the Gyeongnam loyalists, just adjacent to the foreign contingent who start off a couple of English language songs. One, to the tune of the Camptown Races, informs the crowd that Pohang have homosexual proclivities. Whether it’s the city or the club or the team or its supporters is not made clear. The traveling Gyeongnam kids and mums and dads turn round to smile their approval and clap along with what they assume is a harmless song of encouragement. It is a semi amusing moment for about fifteen people and perhaps it is a sense of guilt precludes any repeats. A few hundred have made the trip and the math teacher cheerleader is a bit lost in a crowd this size, his larynx taking a real hammering despite and because of the megaphone.
The stands are tight to the pitch and mostly full, and there’s definitely more concern than the usual semi-neutrality on non-ultra faces (I’ve been at games in which supporters heading for a bathroom break have not so much as glanced back toward the pitch when a goal has been scored). After some early nerves we play the more relaxed game, with the spindly one cool as ever, but there are few clear chances for either side. A dodgy ref (we get two nothing first half yellow cards) stops the game for half time dead on 45 just as we launch an attack. Posco is a rich, powerful company, we are wont to reflect. It can do all kinds of damage to the Olympian ideal. The half time draw for a brand new red Hyundai Kia is won by a family man who sprints across the pitch just as if he’s just been offered a free car. He is carrying a shy toddler under his arms and the grin and delight he feels should lift us all. But I can sense that we all hate him. The second half is a carbon copy of the first and by now I’ve had 6 cans of small Hite, giving me a fresh perspective on the coach’s earlier delay. Let’s win this now and not go to penalties.
Kevin, Shim, and I are the first back on the coach, even though we were among the last out of the stadium. We walk back alongside the marines, none of whom gloat. There is a steady trickle of returning disappointment. Some are grumbling about the ref, especially the driver. No 18 looks distraught and has, in particular, had a day to forget. Our coach has a roman mosaic floor design, but configuring no discernible shape. The lights are luxury imitation hotel corridor style thick thick glass and fairly, needlessly hooligan proof. The three year olds have behaved wonderfully well. There is nothing to entertain them apart from a bright quarter moon. I impatiently gee the driver on to get going when we take a pointlessly lengthy rest stop, but he is constrained by the pressing uniformity of convoy etiquette. Life on the way back seems to be a toll gate. We’ve been on this bus for eight hours.
It’s Monday morning, October 22nd, 2012. Threats of retaliation by North Korea should activists in the South send 200,000 balloons they plan to release in Im-jin-gak Peace Park on the border are all over the news. You live in the ever-present tension of a reality that should another Korean war break out, it will, like that last minute goal, a header from a free kick which was the last action of the game, appear right at the end, unexpectedly. The activists are prevented from releasing their balloons. That Leeds fan who hit the goalkeeper gets four months.
NB Armstrong is a writer and translator. His latest book is Korean Straight Lines.
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