Midweek updates + Ki & Ristic weigh in on K-League’s beleaguered attendance

Secretly I wish I wasn’t on hiatus, especially with Son Heung-Min’s white hot debut at White Hart Lane; 2 Europa League goals + his 1st EPL goal on ‘Sonday’ (Gary Neville’s pun, not mine), not to mention Park Joo-Ho’s debut with BVB (game winning header in the Europa League!) + good work by Augsburg’s Korea trio to win their first Bundesliga match. But I couldn’t help but to blaze out this post -a kickaround that crisscrosses Asia, America and Europe. Let’s begin by looking at Korean Footballers Abroad‘s midweek listing…

Day Time (ET) Player Club Opponent TV
Tuesday 2:45 PM Ki Sung Yueng Swansea @Hull City (Cup) None
Wednesday 2:00 PM Hong Jeong Ho Augsburg Gladbach Fox Soccer 2 Go
Wednesday 2:00 PM Ji Dong Won Augsburg Gladbach Fox Soccer 2 Go
Wednesday 2:00 PM Koo Ja Cheol Augsburg Gladbach Fox Soccer 2 Go
Wednesday 2:00 PM Ryu Seung Woo Bayer Leverkusen Mainz Fox Soccer 2 Go
Wednesday 2:00 PM Park Joo Ho Dortmund @Hoffenhim Fox Soccer 2 Go
Wednesday 2:00 PM Kim Jin Su Hoffenheim Dortmund Fox Soccer 2 Go
Wednesday 2:45 PM Lee Chung Yong Crystal Palace Charlton Athletic (Cup) None
Wednesday 2:45 PM Son Heung Min Tottenham Arsenal (Cup) BeIn
Off n/a Yun Suk Young QPR
Off n/a Suk Hyun Jun Vitoria Setubal


a quick look at K-League Classic Wednesday fixtures R32 (no weekend games!)

Wednesday, September 23
6:00 AM


Busan IPark
6:00 AM

Jeju United

6:00 AM

6:30 AM


FC Seoul
6:30 AM


6:30 AM


and let’s show some love for the K-League Challenge, the title and playoff race still fairly tight, 4 points separating the top 4 (all times US EST / soccerway.com)

Wed 23/09/15 Gyeongnam 06 : 00 Bucheon 1995 More info
Suwon City 06 : 30 Chungju More info
Daegu 06 : 30 Sangju Sangmu More info
Seoul E-Land 06 : 30 Ansan Police More info
Goyang Hi 07 : 00 Anyang


Quick note on Tavern crowdfunding

I’m wrapping up our once a year in-house Tavern crowdfunding campaign soon, already several fabulous Tavern readers have offered to contribute.  If you want to support the Tavern’s web hosting costs that allows us to assemble the latest / greatest in Korean football news in English, email me hitaegukwarrior@gmail.com   DEADLINE: this Sunday, September 27.  You can give any amount you’d like via paypal, but IF we go over the very modest goal of $119.40 (that’s our annual web hosting costs), as Tavern Owner, I will distribute that to our hard working contributors, some of whom are in school while others are working their butts off trying to make freelance writing sustainable as a career. To be 110% transparent, I will not take any of that extra amount – I just want to cover the $119.40 to cover web hosting. I get enough satisfaction as a metaphorical Tavern owner. Besides, seeing as I’m old and over the hill, I can’t spend any $ in my grave, so let’s support the young ‘uns I say.

One thing I’ve neglected is that I didn’t give a proper welcome to our newest contributor, Seoul based Steve Price. As he’s written for the Tavern on some of our favorite subjects like Lee Seung-Woo, he comes to us via his own excellent KLeaguefootball.com blog, having recently written an excellent piece on the weird Kim Bo-Kyung saga, the failed summer transfer to Blackburn and the growing problems of Korean footballers transferring in England with stricter new FA rules limiting foreign players (though I suspect Kimbo’s agent deserves a fair share of blame -see Son’s agent for more competency).  Just a few days ago, his newest piece was posted in the uber hip In Bed With Maradona. Entitled A White Elephant Among White Elephants, here’s an intro::

In the background of Korea’s 8-0 stomping of Laos in September, 4 year old Hwaseong Stadium was built in a haze of mystery. With no K-League team to anchor it in the middle of a distant Seoul suburb and no subway line to connect it, it sits empty as a monument to corruption and epic ineptitude in planning. It’s also part of the puzzling landscape in which massive World Cup stadiums dominate with limited interest from the surrounding communities in their football teams.

A point of order -read his IBWM piece before continuing with this kickaround. Not to toot my own horn, but to toot my own horn, I too have a piece published by IBWM – this on one of my favorite subjects that I bring up ad nauseam, the problem of military conscription on Korean footballers (which Tomas Danicek wrote about Son’s situation regarding that today in Eurofotbal). That, along with colossal and virtually empty football stadiums make some of the core pillars that I call the structural concerns of Korean football going forward (followed by echoes magnifying the significance of the italicized).  I must say, THAT would make for a killer indie rock album title…or maybe not.  This is why I’m a Tavern owner and not a rock star I guess…

Not only did Steve get out an excellent piece, it’s also timely as Ki Sung-Yeung weighed in on poor K-League attendances in an interview recently. Ex-Tavern writer and freelance KFA translator (a rad job among rad jobs) Jae Chee translated this and has given us permission to post up Ki’s thoughts on this and other interesting items.  It begins with Ki talking about midfielders he admires (Motta & Verratti from PSG), but let’s join in as he talks about Son Heung-Min…

When Son Heung-Min was in Germany, we didn’t speak much. We were both in Europe but in different leagues, so it was like that. Now that he has come to the UK I think we’ll contact each other more often. He came to a good team in a good situation, so I’m of course happy for him. I’m a little jealous that he gets to live in London. I came to Europe and have mainly lived in the countryside. Glasgow, Sunderland, Swansea (laughs).


Personally I think Son’s career is the best model for our young players. In Germany you can show your talents with a midtable team while playing against top teams. You can also get the interest of top teams around Europe better. I think it’s the best way for others to follow.


On K-League attendances and the future of domestic Korean football:

My father (Gwangju FC president) attends many games and thinks a lot about the number of spectators at the stadium.  At FC Seoul too, I think the environment has not improved much since I played there. Many people have worked to improve parts of it, but there is still a long way to go.


How the K League can get better is something I talk to Lee Chung-Yong (Crystal Palace) about a lot. We talk about going back there later and playing. But we worry about what follows that. We also have doubts whether us going back and playing will be any help.


These days we see the Chinese league has huge investments. Simply if there are many investors, the number of spectators and social interest will be high. So, I am very worried about the K League…

Ki goes on to talk about the Juventus interest last summer, and his preferences for long passes but having to adjust to a shorter passing game at Swansea.

The original Naver interview can be found here. [Thanks Jae!]

Both Jae and I agree: it’s encouraging to see internationally high profile players like Ki and Lee Chung-Yong take an interest in the Korean domestic game. Despite it’s structural problems, at the very least, some of the right people are actively thinking about solutions to improve the atmosphere surrounding the K-League, even if there’s some pause in wondering whether they can make impact should they move back in a ‘David Beckham a la MLS’ strategy.  Both Ki and Lee played together at FC Seoul several years ago before moving abroad and as a pair were dubbed the ‘Double Dragon.’

Which brings us to another excellent blog, K-League United, in which Ryan Walters just conducted a neat sit down interview with Jeonnam’s Stevica Ristić .

Deep into the Q&A, the veteran K-Leaguer put his thoughts out about the attendance problems:

If you go to Europe and watch a game, England or a Dortmund game, that’s feeling amazing. Even Japan, every stadium is full. So the other day I was having coffee with Oršić and he said “I have no good feelings, because every time the stadium is almost empty.” I said because Korean company just gives money to the club. And clubs just spend money. So they don’t have organization for how to bring people into the stadium, how to make something, how to make an event…


I cannot understand about Incheon, about Busan, about Daegu. That’s 7-8 million people and they come 200 people to the game. 1,000 people to the game. If you look at Germany, Hoffenheim village has 5,000 people. Stadium? 60,000 people. Every game is a full stadium. Dortmund, for the next five years, their stadium is sold out. Sold out stadium for five years. 80,000 people come to Dortmund’s stadium.   -Stevica Ristić


Ristić did offer some ideas for marketing and getting the masses into the stadiums, including giving students tickets and in turn the students would bring parents along. He was alarmed by the lack of effort of clubs to communicate and help their own local supporter groups -an easily reversible situation with potential for building better community and in turn with better atmosphere and fun setting, increased attendance.  He also offered this bit of advice to encourage turnout: “Turn off the TV. You turn on TV, four channels, only baseball. I hate baseball. Because of that [I’m unable to] watch football.”  

Words of wisdom.  What happened to the KFA or K-League working on increasing TV rights and exposure?  I’ve heard about certain ACL games (like last week’s Jeonbuk getting knocked out at the death in an entertaining quarterfinal with Gamba Osaka) that don’t even air in Korea, but instead 4 channels are on sometimes airing the very same baseball game live. Talk about stupid on air programming…

Referring back to Steve Price’s IBWM piece, he alluded to the problems of the post World Cup situation in Korea. While the 2002 World Cup was a massive success, ironically the massive stadiums were too big for the local pro teams to effectively fill. We’ve advocated in the past for the K-League to do an MLS style comeback campaign, which is simply to build smaller (20K) yet sleeker stadiums for maximum atmosphere (which Korean clubs claim they don’t have interest/money to do). The stats don’t lie, in the past decade, those new soccer specific US stadiums are now full (or nearly full). There’s singing, stomping, flag waving supporters. There’s even danger and adventure lurking with smoke bombs and flares and marches through the streets leading up to kickoff. Soccer in the US, a sport that traditionally played 5th fiddle to others like baseball, is becoming a hot ticket. It also doesn’t hurt to have smart imports like Sebastian Giovinco (ex-Juventus) and ex-Chelsea man Dider Drogba (still impressive at 37).  Back to Korea, the question ongoing: is there the will for rebuilding those kinds of stadiums (something closer to Pohang Steelers’ stadium, 25K capacity, no running track -brings fans closer to the pitch, etc) and in turn, breath new life to one of the best pro leagues in Asia that disappoints constantly with poor attendance?  [update: I just saw K-League United’s Steve Waddell accomplished his mission of visiting all 48 football stadiums in the 3 pro leagues of Korea. He’s just now compiling his thoughts online and runs down his top 12 stadiums here.]


Super quick recap from the weekend in Korea, Supercup match win by Seoul, with their 0-3 win at Suwon they take revenge for a humiliating supercup match loss earlier in the season.  And the attendance number is in: 29,406 people in through the turnstills. Not bad, though not great considering past Supercup attendances —  another encouraging number: 18,000 in Ulsan to see the house edge out Jeonnam 3-2.


To conclude, I’ll stay on the positive as I’m still basking in Son’s 3 goals at White Hart Lane as well as Park Joo-Ho’s goal for BVB for his Europa game winner last Thursday. I’ll remain on German soil for one more aggregate link, Choi Kyong-Rok’s team St Pauli is considered the hipsters’ club for good reason, with punk and anarchist roots anchoring their unique support base. But is that enough to force changes on the pitch to provide winning formulas?  Here’s a Guardian excerpt that originally appeared in Eight by Eight by Uli Hesse. 


Still working on my family documentary, how they escaped North Korea during the war and the disappearance of my uncle by Russian forces. I will return occasionally, but the Tavern continues to be in the excellent hands of all the current contributors and writers, keep on coming by the Tavern to get your fill. This season is off to a good start and I’m looking forward to what happens next (especially with the extra strange La Masia FIFA ban saga of Lee Seung-Woo, Jang Gyeol-Hee and Paik Seung-Ho).  Chal ga!



Extra Time: still here?  Looking over to Takuechi’s twitter feed, a Naver interview caught my attention, that of Son’s agent, Meister.  I referenced him briefly earlier, (and if my interpretation of google translation is correct) he was able to shed some light on Son’s decision to go with Spurs instead of Liverpool: after combing through a variety of variables, it came down to managers. Son seemed to favor Pochettino rather than Brenden Rodgers.  Not bad timing. Speculation is growing louder, Rodgers is on the way out (Klopp on the way in?). Tottenham also established some kind of relationship going back 2 and a half years ago with Meister and Son. While this transfer was long time in the making, seems like Son is adjusting to the Premiership faster than even I anticipated. Kudos and here’s to a bright future with ‘Sonaldo’ continuing to make waves. Son was, after all, one of the very first players we featured on the Tavern masthead back in 2012 – that wicked long distance strike at the edge of the area for Hamburg forever iconic. It is therefore fitting he returns to the Tavern mast, this time striking a pose in Spurs uniform….

wait a tic: Son as CF last Thursday?   Here’s a question to the Tavern: should Pochettino play Son out wide as he’s been inclined to do for Leverkusen and Hamburg or as the center forward like last Thursday’s Europa clash?  [scored centrally on Thursday but countered fast on Sunday wide left].


We’ll go out with the Clash in our heads.  London calling ya’ll. Tavern out.



About Roy Ghim 454 Articles
The old Tavern Owner


  1. Nice post and good thing SHM scored a goal!
    BTW is this documentary video gonna be released somewhere? Or is it just for your own personal view?
    My grandfather escaped North Korea with his father and I think his father was gonna go back and bring the rest of the family if all went all but he got sick when they went to the South. So my grandfather was left alone after his father passed away. Looking back, my grandfather was quite young at that time. Fortunately he was too young to serve in the army and he was living in the North before escaping so good thing he never had to fight for the Communists.
    Anyway Roy, good luck with the film!

    • Thanks for that Elliot. Well, the documentary – I haven’t quite decided if it’s just for our family and especially for my children as they grow older – or potentially for public viewing. I don’t know if my folks would be willing to share their private moments of grief for the world at large, I haven’t asked them. There’s a part of me that would like to see if this is PBS POV worthy – but some that depends on the edit process. If it translates well and seems interesting beyond the scope of our family, maybe I’ll try to pitch it to them.

      Yeah, hearing that from you – it sounds very familiar -my understanding is my great grandfather offered to stay behind when the convoy truck fleeing south couldn’t fit the whole family. They all thought it would be a short war and eventually it would all blow over. Who knew how long this storm would last.

      • Baseball and football (soccer) are the most popular sports in Korea no doubt. But I feel like when it comes to national teams Korean baseball is a lot stronger. Plus their baseball team is one of the best in the world. In football terms, Korea is a nation that hasn’t had a lot of success besides 2002 and 2010 but are one of the best nations in Asia but not the world. Of course we are good enough to make it into World Cups but our performance there is not always the best. My father has told me when it comes to football most Koreans care about the national team. And it’s sad given how the K league is arguably the best in Asia. I was watching a baseball game live in korea once on TV and there were cheerleaders, crowded stadiums, passion, yelling and enjoyment. Now I am proud of our baseball team and league and how successful the national teams have been but baseball is a rather boring sport to watch. I do remember I was at a World Baseball Classic match once back in 2006? And we were versing japan and we completely owned them and there was so much cheering. I think baseball may be popular due to the good success it has had in Korea but the football can change, especially if we give a good performance at the 2018 World Cup. Just my thoughts. 😀

  2. If you build it, they will come? Not so sure it’s that simple. Incheon and Gyeongnam both have small football-specific stadiums, and both are on the struggling side for attendance (both are also in relatively large cities). Re-building smaller stadiums would be nice, but it’s only a piece of the puzzle. One other small point to raise is the ownership of said stadiums. Like in say, Italy, the stadiums are usually owned by the city/province they are in and are not owned by the club. So, when we talk about renovations or new stadiums it falls to the government to pay for it. There is little reason for clubs to shell out a hundred million bucks or so to re-vamp a stadium when they get nothing in return (financially speaking). If they owned the thing and could get increased matchday revenue or something, then there might be some motivation, but as it stands…

    The TV issue is a bit of a chicken or the egg riddle for me. How do you get TV stations to broadcast a sport that traditionally has earned very low ratings? The easy answer is to make the sport more appealing, which generally means getting it out there to more people, which generally means… TV. I don’t know the logistics and such, but I would love to see a football-specific channel. One that can really push the sport on it’s own. One that would show KNT matches, AFC CL, KFA Cup, some K League, plus review shows and such. Right now the stuff that’s out there feels far too spread out amongst the various channels.

    P.S. It’s “Giovinco” not Jiovinco.

  3. I’m glad you mentioned it – absolutely -it’s not as easy as ‘if you build it they will come.’ I was hoping that would be the case at Incheon – it’s new, football specific, sleeker and appropriately smaller. Since it was built, it hasn’t manifested in better attendances sadly. Blame? Hard to say – Incheon happens to be one of the city owned clubs. The logistics are different for each club as to solutions -whether they have appropriately sized stadiums like Pohang or not (ie. Busan, Daegu, Ulsan and so forth) – but I would maintain that the if one of the goals to improve conditions at the K League is better atmosphere -moving eventually most if not all of the clubs to small/sleek football stadiums has to be part of that equation. Look at Seoul E-Land – they know the situation at the old Olympic stadium is quite imperfect -but until an alternative is in place, temporary stands on top of the running track and closer to the pitch is better than nothing. But there’s a lot of moving parts to making a successful league, so a stadium only approach would not work – not when there’s historically low attendances that presents a huge gauntlet that socially and culturally works against domestic football success.

    TV – I love your idea – a dedicated football channel in Korea. NBC sports has done a fantastic job of showing the EPL properly to US viewers – high production values, etc. My father in law who’s not a soccer person necessarily has been watching and starting to get into it.

    I hate to say it, but as there’s a kind of WWF pro wrestling aura that follows clowns like Diego Costa, what with his evil guy theatrics – somehow it only helps to enhance the worldwide appeal of the EPL. It’s not the only reason why people follow the EPL of course -but just one of several reasons. There’s a kind of mini-World Cup-ness appeal of the EPL -Ghanians love Swansea much in the same way some Koreans do- Andre Ayew for them, Ki for us. Anyway, the problems facing K-league and attendance is many and daunting and no easy solutions. However, hypothetically speaking, should people become invested in the storyline narratives that develop – and/or just love the ‘jogo bonito’ aesthetics of the game – or some other crazy reason develops – like it’s a new fad to abandon baseball for football -the K-League could yet experience the kinds of growth that they’ve been yearning for (hmmm…come to think of it, maybe military conscription would be a good thing should Son be forced to come back and suit up for Sangju…or maybe I should lay off smoking that Denver ganja). And thx -I’ll fix that – Giovinco. Got it. How was he when he was playing for Juventus?

    • Unfortunately the narrative angle rarely comes up here other than the most basic sense (derbies, table place). A Korea culture block, the idea of big personalities and outspoken/controversial players/coaches just doesn’t fly.

      The easy to love/hate aspect (Costa) is a big part why I love Serie A. It’s so easy to get riled by the stuff that comes out there. It’s a fine line of course, IE Italian Ultras. Korea is essentially the opposite. It’s so bland and there is so little “juicy” stuff that comes out between matches. Right now Korean football is basically solely relying on the game itself to attract fans and well, that’s not gonna cut it. How the league and clubs re-position themselves in the landscape of Korean sports will be vitally important to the growth of the game. The raw ingredients to make football like it is in Europe and other parts of the world are there, but someone needs to stir the soup to mix it together cuz right now they’re all just floating separate.

      Gio? Always split opinion among Juventini. Always uphill for him b/c fans tagged him as the “Next Ale Del Piero” (Gio was born in Torino, grew up in academy, had good technical ability). His size was also an issue, if he had a bad outing, people would always say he was too small and couldn’t cut it in Serie A. Never really shone consistently for Juve, but had two good loan spells with Empoli and Parma.

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