Seeing a live football fixture months ago anywhere in the world was looked at being the near impossible, due to the vicious outbreak of the then labeled Coronavirus and now more appropriately named COVID-19. This last weekend I was able to do something I thought I wouldn't do all year round or even beyond that. With the ability of having sufficient testing & tracking of where a potential spread of the virus can take place Korean organizers early on in the summer were able to not only return to play after a short delay but more recently do one better and have fans return to their beloved stadiums.
With this return to action with fans in attendance most people knew it wouldn't be exactly as easy as it were previously done in prior seasons. For starters the capacity was lowered as clubs in the K-League 1 and K-League 2 weren't able to sell out stadiums instructed by the Korean FA and Korean Authorities to have no more then 25% capacity in full. Despite that the pre-match atmosphere was fairly live and you'd see the number of fans building up as I'd taken public transportation to the ground. Noticing that at each station the number of supporters gradually becoming more evident. Arriving at the ground usually there is food stands some from the club itself and others from outside individuals setting up shop to conquer the hunger and thirst of fans alike, but this time around they weren't anywhere in sight. Without food vendors there was a void of activity or an extra bit of space left out around the entrances of the stadium due to there absence but regardless the fans entering the ground were all dressed the part helping bring the level of atmosphere up making it known you were headed to a football fixture.
Getting inside the stadium and finding our seats was a challenge but a minor one at that and one I knew would be the most likely case as the previous week I attended a KBO baseball game (Korean Baseball League) which was a hassle getting inside the stadium. Going into the first gate at the bottom of the stadium I had to self distance in a straight line where you were obligated to apply hand sanitizer until they indicate when you were allowed to go up the stairs. At that stage there was a second gate where you had to verify you had tickets to the fixture. After small delays at accessing and unlocking the QR Code that would eventually I was permitted to moving forward. With that QR Code you then had to show it to the ticket booth where they again gave small complications which weren't long at all, and the reason for that delay will never be known as the language barrier stepped into place but regardless of that fact the tickets were printed and now the final stage was just going through the final security and gate where they checked bags, without bags I was met by an individual who worked with FC Seoul's PR team who spoke fantastic English and helped guide me to the VIP Seating area which I have never sat at before despite going to a dozen FC Seoul and fixtures at Seoul World Cup Stadium.
Getting to the seats I noticed that the usual ultras groups weren't noticeable in terms of there habitual accelerating level of noise. The fixture itself was one to remember even taking out the fact it was my first live football match since the pandemic started. With a early goal in the tenth minute by Sangju's Park Yong Woo after a beautiful cross into the box and a heading goal it left me with the feeling the overperforming military loanee club was gonna sneak another win in and have Seoul stuck in another trailing match. Despite that the club based in the capital turned things around and were able to take over possession in the match giving them the opportunity to create chances and move the ball forward. Although several close chances that were merely missed Seoul was able to equalize within fifteen minutes after a close chance which lead to a goal from a corner. The beautiful placed set piece was converted into a stunning header goal by the defender/centreback Kim Won-Sik who came up through the ranks of FC Seoul and Reading FC and later Valenciennes academies. The match stayed fairly open from then on with Sangju maintaining possession throughout the rest of the first period. Prior to the start of the second half some observations made were that several concession stands seemed they weren't selling anything besides beverages. The second half begun he second half began with excitement straight away as former K-League champion with Jeonbuk Han-Seung-Gyu whose on loan with FC Seoul scoring a wonderkick from outside the box that nestled beautifully into the bottom left corner that gave the home club the advantage. From then on the match had close chances from both clubs and more so from Sangju the away team who couldn't capitalize on their odds in front of the box as Seoul's keeper Yang Han-Been the true hero of the match who undeniably help keep Seoul's three points alive. Yang Han-Been Seoul's keeper made multiple and to emphasize incredible acrobatic saves that which later on would help keep Seoul's third victory in a row helping his respective club move into a top six spot in the league table. With humidity levels at there highest which shown to not disrupt intensity in the fixture, the match ended up being a cracking fixture with chances from both ends.
Excluding the minor difficulties entering the ground it was truly a match to remember for me personally for time to come. Even though the announced crowd was small with only breaking over two thousand fans in the cavernous World Cup Stadium those present clearly enjoyed the match. As Seoul were able to not only get the three points but also put on a show even though for lack of better terms "parking the bus" for most of the second half. Seeing a live match during this dreadful time of COVID-19 it showed with extra planning and cooperation with the public leagues can continue to operate and even have fans return to the stands. As cases spiked throughout the capital region most likely in result with the recent behavior of churches in the Gyeongi area the question lies in if fans will be able to continue to have the ability to see these great fixtures live as I did over the course of this last weekend.