Updated: Sep 9, 2019
After deciding to make the trip to Jeonju on the southern portion of the country in the province of Jeonbuk. Making it the first football game in Korea I’ve seen outside the Seoul Metropolitan Area I was absolutely buzzing and ecstatic about the fact I’d be seeing Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors. Known to the public as one of the more successful if not the most successful Korean club in history. Having won the league on multiple occasions and 6 to be exact in the years 2009, 2011, 2014, 2015, 2017, 2018. Having equal amount of league titles as the previously mentioned FC Seoul in another matchday blog
(TO READ FC SEOUL MATCHDAY EXPERIENCE GO TO BLOG SECTION OF WEBSITE)
despite sharing the same amount of league titles Jeonbuk Motors up the notch a little by having won one more KOREAN FA CUP win under their belt and even more importantly two AFC Champions League wins their first in 2006 Made history being the first and only team to have won a continental trophy without having won a domestic title beforehand. The game which I was going to see was against another team that was covered in this website, Seongnam FC. Seongnam also being one of the most successful clubs to date in Korean football but with financial troubles, relegation battles and one less Champions League Title diminishing any credibility as Korea’s most successful club despite having one more league championship and the same amount of FA Cups honours to their name.
One thing that sets Jeonbuk apart is they’ve competed at the highest level for an Asian side at the FIFA Club World Cup and were the first from East Asia to do so and first from the area to also win a Champions League. Jeonju city is one that immediately you see the soccer influence having taking the bus down from Seoul in the first moments of entering the city you see Jeonju World Cup Stadium that was built initially as a venue for the joint hosted South Korea/Japan 2002 World Cup tournament. Some readers may think well that’s just geographically where it was put but what followed was the interesting part. The Main Street that the bus came across had significant signs that Jeonbuk Motors were playing that night from constant banners meters apart revealing the date and time of the fixture. The banners were reminding locals that this was this cities team and arguably the cities main pride in sports. Baseball being arguably Korea’s most popular sport, Jeonju was different than other cities in Korea being without a team in the top league of Korean baseball (KBO - Korean Baseball Organization) you notice that attention shifted to the football club as storefronts and shops had the Jeonbuk Motors club badge plastered onto the door or somewhere in the store noticeably.
Having gotten off the bus I made my way to where I was staying for the night the Hanok Village. Besides being known as the Center for Korean Cuisine the Hanok Village is the main tourist attraction of the city containing over 800 traditional Korean homes and buildings that are used as actual homes, hotels, BnBs, services and tourist sites it is placed adjacent to the City Center which is beautiful contrast of old and modern architecture. Upon arrival and meeting the locals running the Hanok where I was staying, I was greeted very kindly and welcomed with offers of food and drinks. After making sure I was equipped, the areas sightseeing began with traditional Korean activities all over the village, the search for a restaurant began. Finally settling on a typical Korean restaurant again the one amazing thing about this country is the quality and value for the food you pay for. Individually for 20,000 won (Equivalent to 20 Dollars Canadian) I was served with multiple small bowls of typical Korean dishes while I waited for the BiBimbap and Galbi. No need to get into the details to much as most know what Korean food is and like it as well but it was certainly more than expected for the price. After walking around I headed to the ground.
On the way towards the stadium, I noticed more and more signs the game was going on and the city was ready for it as fans alike were dressed up with kits and scarves with the bright shades of green being out in the open. Arriving at the ground an hour before kick off the crowds were there in numbers with the ticket line and outside activities. Unlike FC Seoul and Seoul’s WorldCup Stadium this game throughout I noticed there wasn’t a big number of foreigners besides one other gentlemen I noticed. After getting through the lengthy line which went by fairly quickly I decided to check the main team store and inside there were clear signs this club is one which is used to winning and has ambitions of winning trophies. With memrobillia indicting different times they’ve won and other clothing articles which were neatly organized and displayed unlike other grounds I’ve been to in Korea.
Getting inside the stadium was easy but inside it was more chaotic than any football game I’ve been to despite again not a sold out crowd like other games in the K-League with groups of kids and youth academy players all bringing their own balls and playing small pick up games on the concourse. Other things to mention the stadium felt more rundown for one of the bigger clubs, seats losing shade most likely from the sun and hot summer days that host Jeonbuk Motors matches. Not that it bothered me in fact I kinda liked it making it have more identity. Jeonbuk ultras are the most recognizable in the league being named the “Green Warriors” and waving I’d say out of all the K-League games the most banners, tifos and flags exhibiting one of the closest atmospheres and looks an ultra group in Asia can bring. Singing loud and proud and obviously coming in much bigger and stronger numbers than the Seongnam FC supporters. Again the narrative in K-League and a lot of leagues worldwide may not always be what’s happening on the pitch as the fixture ended in a 1-1 draw. Both sets of fans were the highlights but for the first time out of the three games I went to a battle back and forth between the sets of ultra groups with Jeonbuk singing and waving colour and smoke throughout the game with Seongnam FC visiting fans showing their prescence in contrast as they found pockets where they were the only group of fans in the stadium making extensive noise.
Besides these moments there was other indications this city loved the sport with Jeonbuk being 2nd in the K-League standings a result may have been necessary to catch up to one of their rivals Ulsan who were currently in first at the time of the game, multiple fans I noticed over my shoulder were on their phones watching Ulsan’s game which was subsequently happening at the same time on the east coast of Korea at Ulsans home. As the game in front of me and other fans wasn’t a game of excitement as the only moment of excitement was the foul and penalty that was converted in front of Seongnam FC away fans. Surrounding adults around me continuing to a watch a brief minute or two on their phones anxiously checking Ulsan’s form in there match. Being down in the scoreline for the rest of the match resulted in Jeonbuk trying to equalize on the attacks as Lopez was orchestrating the offence. As they eventually equalized in the 89th minute, Jeonbuk were able gift fans with at least a draw, satisfied or not for the locals, I left with smiles as I was at another exciting and refreshing experience. Leaving with me seeing a World Cup ground and fixture of football. The only downside of the night was the way home as unconvincingly enough I couldn’t find a taxi back to the Hanok Village as it was unlike Korea. Besides that leaving with a few gifts and souvenirs from the game I knew I would be heading back to Seoul with a another great footballing experience to remember.