Happy Birthday to the Tavern! Late August 2012 -a digital Tavern was raised; as a proverbial bartender, I wondered who, if anyone, would drop by. 2 years and tens of thousands of drinks served later, I’ve been pleased to be joined by other Tavern contributors who have shared their voices and passion for Korean football over drinks (both alcoholic and non) – a dangerous, volatile and time consuming operation. Loved every minute of it.
The Tavern remains as a friendly international zoned establishment – where all people can be in a community to root, raise a ruckus, go f*cking nuts when a goal is scored or a game is won, and suffer together when the KNT and it’s various characters falls on hard times. We have the trappings of a veritable community – which I think is the best part in all this.
But let me reminisce for a moment…
Not long ago, euphoria was still present that hot August when Hong Myong-Bo’s team earned the Olympic Bronze medal match against Japan. Seeing Park Chu-Young eluding 4 Japanese defenders to fire the ball in net: pure magic and ecstatic joy. Koo nailed the 2nd goal and the team sealed their fate, a generation of players including Ki, Kimbo, Koo, Ji + others who received military exemption -and with it the chance to have an unfettered career abroad.
Coincidentally, the Tavern came alive just as Park Chu-Young got his first chance to emerge from Arsenal purgatory. He made a beeline for the Galician coast of Spain and a season loan to Celta Vigo (later to become the 1st Korean to score in La Liga). As it so happened, the Tavern’s first task: make a case for the much maligned odd man out in North London. An enigma then as he is today, at one time Hong Myong-bo took a gamble that he could be one of several Korean players abroad that could’ve provided the missing puzzle piece to unlocking the Taeguk Warriors chances in Brazil. A disappointing group stage exit later, his story is as it always has been – still complex and mysterious. So much so that at the time in 2012, I felt a fuller story deserved to be told to a western audience unfamiliar with Park’s background and the unique challenges that Korean players like him have had to face.
So much has happened, a roller coaster of ups and downs – and despite what could now be described as the fall of Park Chu-Young – we have witnessed the rise of Son Heung-Min becoming the newest Asian to score in the Champions League, Ki Sung-Yeung holding the League Cup with Swansea, legends like Park Ji-Sung and Lee Young-Pyo hanging up their boots, watched Kim Bo-Kyung held aloft by an adoring pitch invasion crowd in Cardiff after being promoted to the Premier League (followed by disintegration of the Bluebirds a year later), the conclusion of a World Cup cycle -and soon, like the changing of seasons, another cycle begins again.
There’s really too many memories, storylines and dramatic transfers and action packed goals to recall. I will leave you with a few observations:
- As fun as it is to follow Korean footballers mixing it up among the best of the best in Europe, it’s become clear over time that attention needs to be given to the K-League. The success of the domestic league is paramount to Korea becoming a team to reckon with in the international stage. It has tremendous obstacles to overcome, including struggling attendance figures and poor TV coverage, but according to this twitter post, perhaps Koreans are heeding the call to give some love to the K-League:
The average attendance of K League Classic has risen 10% after the World Cup.
— Korea Football News (@KORFootballNews) August 25, 2014
And they’ve finally launched a K-League English language page! The site covers both the K-League Classic AND K-League Challenge leagues. About damn time…
- I am increasingly getting excited about the youth situation, particularly in Germany and Spain. Kids at Barcelona’s La Masia academy, Valencia, Deportivo and Almeria, and in the last 24 hours, 2 more Korean kids joined Alcorcon in Spain, and there’s so many in Germany – I’ve lost track (and will soon need a huge board to graph them out). But a word of caution here – it would be expedient to temper expectations. Easier said than done. The fact is that there’s almost too much of a burden, a burden of expectations placed on such young shoulders, with no guarantee that they will turn out like Son has. Keeping that caution in mind – you are allowed to watch them play in complete awe and amazement. Go ahead…it’s like glimpsing into the future…
- The eujahs are ballers too! Look at Ji So-Yun scoring goals like a madwoman – and/or creating goal scoring opportunities for her mates at Chelsea. Doesn’t take a certified sociologist to know Korea is a bit unbalanced as a uber-male dominated society – but if given proper coaching, encouragement and resources, the Korean Womens team could be a top 10 program like the Japanese women have now. *Japan are currently FIFA ranked 3rd, just behind Germany and the US.
- It’s no secret – I long for the day Korea allows their major sports athletes to be the best ballers they can be…and they can with (cue triumphant music) military deferment. Of course there is the silly rule about exemptions granted with Olympic metal (of any color) or Asian Gold (it’s GOLD Jerry – Gold!). Right, like the Korean football program can count on that kind of result each time a tournament rolls by. Yes, with a wave of my magic Tavern wand, I’d grant military deferment, which could unlock the careers of Korean footballers. Just look at Kim Jin-Su doing well with his first game at Hoffenheim – you just know that there are more that could adapt and rise to the challenge of top flight Euro ball. Conversely there’s Mainz’ Park Joo-Ho who’s getting ready to serve his military term after establishing himself in Germany as a highly rated left back. It’s frustrating of course but there’s no sense denying this issue is incredibly thorny – complete with cold war bluster and nationalism muddying the contrived narrative along with the reality of a nuclear armed crazy farm that is North Korea. But to paraphrase Lee Young-Pyo -Korean footballers could better serve their country instead by pursuing the rigor of playing in the most competitive leagues in the world – which honed and brought back to the Korean National Team would = a kick ass team. Of course, the KNT kicking ass and taking names on the world stage won’t restore balance in the universe, nor reunite the peninsula. But a kick ass KNT does have a potential positive political benefit that lawmakers could get behind; a ridiculously good World Cup run = national unity X red clad euphoria in the streets X elevated kibun = possible electoral success for the party in charge. Do you believe in magic? Your political party pollster does. Get on it Korean legislators and make my all my Korean football dreams come true.
- It takes a village to make a Tavern. Thank you to all the Tavern goers/readers who get their daily fix here, you all have been incredibly encouraging and are the reason the Tavern stays open. Much of the success of the Tavern can be attributed to other people: I somehow convinced Jae Chee of SKS blog some time ago to join forces at the Tavern. We were extremely lucky to have him on board. Jae had it down – tactics, tirelessly examining all the angles – deconstructing the plays -making sense of it all. He has been the man who’s provided so much at the Tavern. He is also in transition, much like myself, but I imagine he might continue to surprise us with his presence and regal us with his insights. I am also absolutely indebted to the Tavern contributing writers who are taking charge at the Tavern. As it stands, Tim Lee is on weekend listings duty. Jinseok will break it down with the weekend recaps summary. Jeremy Paek is holding it down midweek, and Takeuchi will periodically update what’s happening with the youth in Europe and beyond. Each of them have helped shape the Tavern to what it is – a diverse set of voices and opinions that add to the richness and color of the ongoing saga of the Taeguk Warriors. And I can’t forgot to add that 2 individuals (who wish to remain anonymous) have made private contributions to the Tavern that covers the hosting and domain fees for this year. Not a bad birthday present to the Tavern! We at the Tavern are incredibly grateful to the donors, (with deep bow) Kam sam nee da!
- There’s actually been a number of people I’ve been able to meet while in the role of Tavern owner. It’s been one of the neatest parts of the job actually. It’s kind of trippy to step outside of the digital Tavern and meet some of the Tavern goers – and some of the characters we cover in the real world. I’ve been promising for quite some time to shed more light on the Kim Bo-Kyung interview I did back in 2013 and the circumstances surrounding it. Even now I can’t believe it happened. For a short while, I lived the vicarious life of a freelancer, traipsing around London and Cardiff. It was terrifyingly wonderful, but I had enough and wanted to return to my life as a humble Tavern owner. Serving drinks is far less stressful.
- Looking ahead to Asian games in Incheon and the Asian Cup in Australia, as well as the Women’s World Cup in Canada -all awaits for this next year. Champions League continues with Son Heung-Min and Bayer Leverkusen
(and Ji Dong-Won with Borussia Dortmund if he’s named to their CL squad)battling in their respective group stages. FC Seoul is the last K-League team representing in the Asian Champions League – do they have enough to win the title? In the K-League Classic, the race at the top is dead even between Pohang and Jeonbuk while on the other end of the table it’s a 5 way to avoid the drop. Can Ki Sung-Yeung and Swansea hold the lead at the top of the EPL? Can Kimbo and Yun Suk-Young battle their way back into the starting XI for their respective teams? Will Park Chu-Young find a team -and can he finally regain his mojo before his career withers? Will the Koreans at Barcelona/La Masia get their ban lifted and be able to play? How’s that little guy at Valencia doing? So many questions, too much to think about for one post. An exciting year awaits, can’t wait to reopen the Tavern in the morning to find out more. Good night ya’ll – from wherever part of the world you’re in. Chal ga-yo.