From Russia with love

by Kate Smith

Exiled SAFC fan Andy Potts shares an anecdote from Korea.

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 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.

As entertaining as the baseball was - and it ended in a comfortable 6-2 win for hosts LG Twins, hammered home with home runs in the 7th and 8th - the real action starts for me tomorrow in Suwon.

About me:
I'm Andy, an exiled Mackem based in Russia. With two former Moscow colleagues of mine now based in Seoul, the Peace Cup seemed like too good a chance to waste - and hopefully I'll be luring a few people along for their SAFC-watching debuts during the tournament. Even though I'm travelling solo for this one, I'm looking forward to seeing some old friends and making new ones in Seoul and Suwon.