We’ll have a roundup of Koreans abroad soon- but for now – it’s time to celebrate the Tavern’s 1 year in existence! Back to the beginning -Summer 2012…long after my vocal cords healed from yelling at the TV during the Olympic games and Hong Myong-Bo’s young hybrid Taeguk Warrior team winning the Bronze medal against Japan in Cardiff, I stared at the computer. Something – either madness or a sense of fate – drove me to hit the button that would fire up the online Tavern of the Taeguk Warriors into existence. The first post: The Case for Park Chu-Young, marginalized and forgotten at Arsenal – Korea’s former captain and lead striker proved himself in the Olympics, but would he find a new team on loan before the transfer window expired to escape his purgatory at Arsenal?
Fast forward 1 year and 239 posts later: While Park may once again be looking for a way out of Arsenal to reboot his European career (possible move to France, stay tuned), SO much has happened in the course of a year re: Koreans in search of football excellence – the adventures, the mishaps, the travails, the delicious highs, the deathly lows. While building this experiment I call the Tavern, I had only initially hoped that some people would find the site and find a sense of community -sharing a sense of the inexplicable joy I had discovered looking in on the 2002 World Cup and watching in incredulity what these Koreans were able to accomplish – bring together millions in Korea into the streets, and from around the world to unite in exuberance at the miracle that was unfolding in front of everyone. Korea was somehow beating the odds in knocking out Portugal, Italy, and Spain to advance to the semifinals.
The response here at the Tavern eventually exceeded my best expectations. Have we got readers? 52000 views later, I’m pretty confident we got ’em. And they’ve only gotten more ravenously hungry for Taeguk Warrior/ KPA news…and to think I was fearing people wouldn’t even been able to find the site to begin with. Without you all coming on board – crowding the Tavern day in and day out- spilling and drinking your soju & beer and watching/discussing the players and weekly matches…That’s the real payoff. Even if none of the writers are getting paid for their hard effort. It’s an element that I need to look at in all earnestness going forward in assessing the future of the Tavern – but for the moment – Tavern goers active, engaged, and appreciative (at least that’s what you’re telling us) is gratifying.
A project I thought would be a solitary undertaking has turned into something remarkably different. It’s the people I’ve met this past year – from all over the world – that really has made the Tavern incredibly special to me. The initial contributors including CJay (our man in Cardiff, Wales), Santiago Perez (Vigo, Spain), Chris Ayres and Lex Nande from K-Talk blog in South Korea -they were all really just amazing for the quality time and effort in posts and materials added to the Tavern – getting inside information and unique first hand observations and perspectives assembled for Tavern readers.
Later as the year went on and the crush of time with having a new baby daughter made it more difficult for the Tavern owner to update on the Tavern, the cavalry arrived! We had two writers join the Tavern in the nick of time – first Jinseok Yang with vital news on the Korean teens at La Masia, potential Barcelona’s 1st team talent. Not long after, Jae Chee, from the SKS blog -agreed to transfer to the Tavern (for an undisclosed transfer fee – talk to his agent about it for more info). His insights into the South Korean National team, tactics, strategy formation and keen commentary have been beasting it up at the Tavern – enough so that some people mistake him for the Tavern Owner! (a slight that can I can easily understand, but to borrow the tactics of the Soup Nazi – hapless offenders are fined with a red card and a one day ban from the Tavern’s premises).
My final experiment: can the Tavern form the basis of a platform where writers are able to freelance articles to international media about Korean football and players influencing the game – shining a light about the subject to a western audience not in the know. The conclusion: an exciting, exhausting and sleep depriving few weeks getting a crash course in pitching to ESPN FC, Sports Illustrated, the Guardian, NYT, Washington Post, and others that I can’t even recall. In the end, I was successful in getting 2 articles posted in the New York Times Goals online section. An eye opening process, start to finish, working with one of the editors at the NYT in editing and crafting to succinctness was an absolute thrill and honor. I still have one more article to pitch, what I hope to be my going-into-the-sunset final freelance project. Was it worth the effort? Yes, but in the realization that freelancing doesn’t pay the bills. It did give me however, a George Plimpton-esque glimpse into a career that -while exhilarating -would’ve been meant hard-as-fuck work for starvation pay.
So where do we go from here, a year into the whole experiment? The avatar Tavern will be renewed…though we may have to regretfully take on advertisement [I wouldn’t mind NBC coming on over with promoting the EPL]. What I will promise as Tavern Owner: this Tavern will not be for sale. So we won’t prostitute ourselves by writing about Australian teams in a glowing terms or Chinese casinos in exuberant fashion [both actual business propositions we received over the summer].
Nevertheless the realities of living in Babylon is downpressing on us. Let’s not even talk day-jobs – the family situation means that writing in the same pace as last year will result in unhappy neglected Tavern kids and an even more unhappy Tavern wife. Time limits me further in a family documentary I’m making about my dad and his sibling’s escape from North Korea during the war. AND if I can somehow manage a class on Hangukmal – the Tavern Owner’s is increasingly having a more difficult time communicating with his uma – and she’s only getting older. I anticipate for me – a further drop off of my own presence at the Tavern. So far Jay has been brilliant – with relevant and timely posts. Jinseok has gotten into college -so he might not be around as often. Still, he was able to post a few days ago about Hong Jong-Ho’s surprise transfer to Augsburg. When he can between exams and classes – we can expect him to have a few more jaw dropping headlines this season. So with Jinseok in college and Jae with his own family obligations (he also has a wonderful egie and wife), I don’t want to leave them with the hours and obligation of running the Tavern. I am openly wondering how sustainable the Tavern will be in the future. Another conversation for another time -this is not a time for angst but celebration- I think we can reliably operate the Tavern until the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. Please bear in mind -we are a volunteer operation and if there are some gaps – or perhaps not enough detail in the coverage – you might understand why. Beyond 2014 – we’ll see what happens…
But going back to the connection with people: I ran into CJay from Wales here in the US back in the winter, but even more remarkable – we ran into each other in his home city of Cardiff in early April. It was part of a ‘fool’s errand’ in my quest for a story (which I still can’t fully reveal until this last article gets published). Here’s what I can disclose: at the end of this journey, thanks in large part to CJay, I had a few minutes talking with Kim Bo-Kyung, right after his breakout game on April 1st. His stature with Cardiff City has only grown since (witness his standout performances against Manchester City and Everton recently). I was lucky to witness him in action -as Kim hadn’t played in over a month before Malky Mackaye surprisingly added him in starting lineup. Here’s what’s kinda neat and kinda odd: when CJay was visiting the US, we met up in DC and got to see a rare Cardiff match on TV. We didn’t know whether Kim would make an appearance – and he ended up scoring his first goal as a Bluebird. Fast forward to the April match, I was at Cardiff City stadium with CJay and we got to see him win Man of the Match. The team they played against and defeated in both matches: Blackburn (John Durden, if you’re reading this- sorry about that mate). Here’s a photo of Kim, courtesy of CJay, dodging Everton players on one of his many excellent drives going forward last Saturday in Cardiff. We’ll post some more photos of his very soon:
The physical brick and mortar Tavern is in need of serious work, so I need to go. Oh yes, there’s been some rumors about Ji Dong-Won. In Sunderland’s 3-1 loss to Crystal Palace last Saturday, Paulo DiCanio took out Ji at halftime, who had an ok outing -save for one missed header at goal. The Premier League can be an inconsistent arbiter of who has talent (and given vast leeway to miss target on goal) and those deemed truly rubbish. There’s a growing sense that Sunderland supporters aren’t going to give Ji (who performed brilliantly for Augsburg to stave off relegation in the Bundesliga) a proper chance at the Stadium of Light. Which might explain a yet-to-be-confirmed photo showing Ji Dong-Won several hours earlier tonight at Heathrow Airport enroute to Germany. John Duerden has just reported for Nate Sports news in Korea that there are rumors on twitter on a £4 Million transfer to Hamburg. Or could that be Borrusia Dortmund, who had targeted Ji earlier in the summer? Nothing is confirmed – but the madness of the transfer window will close later today – we’ll see what comes of all this.
Ji Dong-Won has denied the report that he will move to Hamburger SV.
— Korea Football News (@KORFootballNews) September 2, 2013
I’ll go out with some highlights I witnessed as Tavern Owner. To everyone who contributed time and sweat to the Tavern, to those who took time to read and contributed postively to the conversation, to those who simply gave a damn, thank you. and thanks for visiting the Tavern tonight. Be safe. Chal ga-yo
Tavern Highlights from season 1:
2012 Olympic squad – downing Great Britain in the quarterfinals and beating Japan for the Bronze in Cardiff’s Millenium Stadium, earning military exemption.
The U23 Women’s World Cup – South Korea beating Brazil and Italy to advance to the quarterfinals.
Park Chu-Young scoring the game winner for Celta Vigo in September 2012 against Getafe.
U-19 Taeguk Warriors beating Japan and eventually winning the AFC U-19 Championship
Ulsan Hyundai winning Asian Champions League
Lee Keun-Ho winning Asian Player of the Year, MVP of the AFC Asian Champions League tournament
Son Heung-Min scoring 12 goals for Hamburg- including braces at Borussia Dortmund –twice.
Ki Sung-Yeung and Swansea knocking off Chelsea enroute to winning League Cup.
Kim Bo-Kyung establishing himself as a vital part of the starting XI for Cardiff – then being a part of their successful promotion to the Premier League (first time back in the big leagues since 1962!)
Ji Dong-Won escapes Sunderland – goes on a successful loan stint at Augsburg. Both Koo Ja-Choel and Ji contribute to Augsburg escaping relegation from Bundesliga.
Choi Kang-hee resigning as head coach of the KNT.
Hong Myong-Bo named coach of the KNT a week later.
South Korea’s 8th straight qualification into the World Cup
Ryu Seung-Woo and the U-20 World Cup team advancing to the quarterfinals
Son Heung-Min transferring to Bayer Leverkusen
Discovering the Koreans on Barcelona’s youth teams and coming across other players developing in Europe and elsewhere.
BTW: Barcelona’s youth team is in South Korea playing exhibition matches with several local school U-15 teams. Koreans in Barca’s squad including Lee Seung-Woo were on the pitch. Here’s a handmade video (a bit shaky at times) that showed one recent match up.