A Brief History of the Now Official Seoul vs Anyang Rivalry
This Wednesday marks the first time these two teams have ever played each other and there's a whole host of history coming along with it. If you've ever wondered why Seoul's crest has both 1983 and 2004 on it, this now official rivalry fills in the gaps. If you're new to K League or simply haven't dug into the oddities of 90s and early 2000's KFA regulations, then you could be forgiven for not knowing the story of the LG Cheetahs, but they're at the center of all of this.
(header image via simonexploressouthkorea.wordpress.com)
Formed in 1983 Lucky-Goldstar Hwangso officially moved into Seoul city limits in 1991 and became the LG Cheetahs. The Cheetahs were one of six professional teams in Korea and played their home matches at the now demolished Dongdaemun Stadium. They finished bottom of the table that season, but life was relatively good for the LG owned club since they were finally granted the move into Seoul they had been pining for. Things eventually got better on the field and they finished runners up in 1993 to Ilhwa Chunma (now Seongnam FC). Everything seemed to be on the up and up for the capital-based club... and then the KFA stepped in.
With three of K League's eight clubs based in Seoul in 1995, the KFA decided it was time to spread the sport's popularity throughout the country and instituted a decentralization policy. This was partially to grow the league nationally, but also done with a keen eye towards securing football-specific stadiums throughout the country in a bid to host the 2002 World Cup. As a result Ilhwa Chunma, LG Cheetahs and Yukong Elephants (now Jeju United) were all required to leave the city. Things did not progress smoothly. Yukong threatened to dissolve the club if they had to move, and a month later the KFA announced clubs not accepting the policy would be excluded from K League. In spite of the skirmish between the clubs and the league, several city governments were lining up attempting to attract the teams being forcefully relocated. In the end, the Korean government had to be called in to issue an eviction order on each of the clubs. As a part of the eviction, K League relented slightly and offered a condition each of the teams could move back to Seoul... if they built a football-specific stadium within the city. It was only then that all three clubs agreed to move and take up some of the offers other cities had put on the table.
Ilhwa Chunma moved to Cheonan when the city government promised the club 1.2 billion won would be poured into refurbishing Cheonan Oryong Stadium. The club accepted the offer and moved to Cheonan, but things didn't exactly go as planned. Results on the field were substandard and Cheonan Oryong Stadium remained in poor condition. So in 2000 the club moved again to the satellite city of Seongnam and renamed themselves Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma. They went on to become one of the most successful Korean sides to date with seven league titles to their name.
The Yukong Elephants were offered a new 20,000 seat stadium in Bucheon and, after being forcefully evicted, couldn't say no. They officially changed their name to Bucheon SK in 1996, but played temporarily in Mokdong Stadium in Seoul while the stadium in Bucheon was completed. Once Bucheon Stadium was complete the team only played five seasons there before relocating to Jeju and taking over Jeju World Cup Stadium. The fans in Bucheon were incensed with the team's exit so quickly after moving within the city limits. However, Bucheon fan's sense of betrayal paled in comparison to those in Anyang.
The last of the franchises to move out of Seoul, the LG Cheetahs landed in Anyang largely due to the popularity of football in the area. They officially changed their name to Anyang LG Cheetahs and played their home matches at Anyang Sports Complex. Not only did the team enjoy rabid support, but they formed the fierce rivalry with Suwon Samsung Bluewings that lives on to this day. As their popularity rose, so too did their play on the field and in 2000 they were crowned champions after beating fellow Seoul outcasts Bucheon SK. Everything seemed to be on the up and up for the Anyang club... and then the KFA stepped in.
Co-hosting the 2002 World Cup with Japan meant Korea had 10 brand new world class stadiums that would be an utter waste to leave dormant. So, the KFA decided to shuffle teams around yet again to fill the new stadia in an effort to minimize financial losses on the cities to maintain the behemoths without a tenant. All of them except for Seoul World Cup Stadium that is. Due to the previously mentioned decentralization policy, no K League team could operate within the city, so the crown jewel of the World Cup stadiums sat dormant save a few national team games. However, in spite of their own rule preventing teams from playing in Seoul, the KFA owed Seoul Metropolitan Government ₩25 billion as their share of the construction of Seoul World Cup Stadium. So they started looking for a team to absorb said cost. All of it. Originally the idea was to create a club from scratch, but any such club would have been on the hook for the astronomical construction costs and it proved far too much for any newcomer to handle. Realizing they were never going to find a ₩25 billion newcomer, the Seoul government agreed to cut ₩10 billion from what was owed in the form of a sponsorship for any new team. Additionally, the KFA agreed to pay ₩10 billion of their share to lower the amount a new club would have to pay down to merely ₩5 billion.
But still no one came.
Instead the league sent a relocation proposal to every K League club and a few declared their interest in moving into Seoul World Cup Stadium. The then Busan I'Cons showed enthusiasm in becoming a Seoul club, and to the surprise of their fans, so too did the forcefully relocated Anyang LG Cheetahs. The catch for both Busan and Anyang, however, was that any existing club moving into Seoul would be on the hook for the ₩10 billion the KFA was willing to cover for the formation of a new club. So the total a team had to spend to relocate was up to ₩15 billion. This was enough to get Busan I'Cons to officially withdraw their interest and with the backing of LG Group the Cheetahs were officially awarded the right to move back into the city they never wanted to leave. Hence the addition of 2004 to FC Seoul's crest to join its founding year 1983. 2004 marks the "rebirth" of the club within Seoul.
While the move made sense for LG and arguably the team on the field, the decision to abandon Anyang incensed the rabid fanbase that drew the team to the city in the first place. The fans had done nothing but support the club from the moment they arrived, and had even backed the team to domestic glory with the 2000 K League Cup. And their reward for this, just four years after claiming the title, was for the team to hightail it North of the Han River and leave the city without a professional club.
That is until 2013 when the Anyang City Government formed FC Anyang to take over the long vacant Anyang Stadium and play in the second tier K League Classic. The team has had a largely up and down run in Challenge and has yet to find themselves even in the conversation for promotion. Remaining stuck in the second tier, the only chance FC Anyang had at facing the team their fans felt abandoned by was the FA Cup. And this year, through the luck of the draw and a narrow 1-0 win over Honam University, Anyang at long last has their on field shot at revenge.
Seemingly in preparation for this encounter, FC Anyang are on a hot streak having won four out of five in all competitions. Their only loss during the stretch came last week when Challenge leaders Gyeongnam scored twice late to steal a 2-1 win. Meanwhile, FC Seoul struggled out of the gate in 2017 and have never truly picked up steam. They managed to get their first win in four tries in AFC Champions League last week when they beat Western Sydney Wanderers for the first time on Australian soil, but followed it up with yet another Jekyll and Hyde performance vs Ulsan that saw them quickly lose a one goal lead and settle for a draw.
With Seoul still struggling to find its footing and Anyang on the up, are we primed for a giant killing in the FA Cup? Can Anyang take advantage of this extremely rare opportunity and exact the revenge their fans so desperately covet? I'd highly recommend tuning in Wednesday night to find out what the first official chapter in this new rivalry holds.