I know I blogged about the Sangju Sangmu Phoenix team before (here), but I just gave some basic highlights of the games and what I typically do as a fan. I didn’t really say the negative about my beloved team. But seeing that I’ve been attending games less frequently, the season is almost over, and they’ve actually made the news in the United States …I think it’s past time I share the tragic tale of the Sangju Phoenix.
I think I mentioned that my Korean friend/a foreign friend’s girlfriend works for the soccer team, and therefore she knows quite a bit about what’s going on. When I first started going to the games, I had heard about bribes and whatnot that were being taken by the soccer players. Around May, I read here about the scandal of fixed matches. However, I really hadn’t seen too much evidence of this underhanded business during the matches. It wasn’t until I went to an away game in Pohang (포항) June 18th that I saw evidence of these fixed matches/bribes.
Before we headed to Pohang, Sangju Sangmu was ranked number 4 in K-League. They had been doing really well, but a lot of their games have ended in draws (o-0 being the most common). A small and different foreigner crowd went to watch this game: myself, 3 girls, and one guy and we all got on the Sangju fan bus (filled with Koreans). Anyway, so we are all at the stadium cheering on our boys in red. The first half went spectacular! Sangju Sangmu finished the first half 2-0. Needless to say, everyone was in good spirits and quite a few of the Koreans were getting drunk.
Then the second half started. At first it seemed to be going pretty well, although some of our boys’ playing was getting sloppy. Then Pohang scored: 2-1. We cheered our boys on-it’s okay! As the second half continued, my friends and I were commenting on how poorly the boys were playing. It seriously looked like another team was on the field…a team that really sucked at soccer and didn’t care if they won or lost. Pohang scored again. 2-2. Us Sangju fans remained optimistic: 2-2 is still recoverable. Then Pohang scored again. The drunk Sangju fans got ANGRY. They started throwing trash and beer cans onto the soccer field (the stadium seating was right along the soccer field by the opposing team’s goal post). There was a point in the game, where I watched our goalie move almost to corner of the soccer field…actually when he was ignoring his job at goal-tending, Pohang scored AGAIN. The drunk Koreans threw more trash, started shouting obscenities, climbing on the rail between the stadium and field…it got so bad security came over. The star player, Kim Jung Woo, attempted a goal at the very end of the game–but that was the last trace of good playing and to no avail.
To Sum Up
The way the soccer game went down in Pohang was atrocious. Of course the Sangju team isn’t that strong of a team to begin with and their playing has never been up to World Cup standards, but it was very obvious that something had happened and that the team took some money to lose that match. Now, I realize that these players are susceptible to bribes because they are doing their mandatory military service and, therefore, do not make a lot of money. In fact, their salary is quite pathetic of around the equivalent of $12,000 USD/year, but there’s been a press release that their wages might double next year. However, it’s a little too late. This past month, many of the players and the coach have been arrested; there is no more goalie for the team (they just throw in substitutes). My friend was distraught because some innocent players have gotten caught up in this frenzy as well. In mid-July, Sangju threatened to leave K-League (read here), but they are currently still playing and will finish the season in August.