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Column: Daejeon's Day in the Sun

Spring is most definitely here in South Korea, temperatures are well into the teens on some afternoons and skies are blue. The same could have been said for Daejeon Hana Citizen., too. After a long and cold winter of trying times for the Purple Arena faithful, the Hana Bank green shoots of recovery have started to show and all that is left is for the season to start so that Daejeon can have their day in the sun.

The Daejeon faithful have been through the mill for the best part of a decade now. FA Cup glory in 2001 and AFC Champions League football, as well as sneaking into the playoffs in 2007 will be a distant memory for some supporters, a mere dream for the younger generation of fans.

In 2013, Daejeon were relegated to K League Challenge (K League 2) after finishing bottom in a 14-team league. Whilst relegation to the second tier will have stung, it also allowed the Purples to then go on and clinch what is, to date, only their second piece of silverware, the second tier title. The following year, under the stewardship of the late Cho Jin-ho, and largely thanks to Adriano’s 27 goals, which remain as a second-tier record, Daejeon cruised to the title,

What has transpired since then, though, has been tough to take. In 2015, despite high hopes, Daejeon finished rock bottom of the K League Classic (K League 1) and did so with what is a record-low points tally of 19 with just four wins all season, two in 33 pre-split.


The 2016 campaign was mediocre at best, despite having the league’s top scorer Kim Dong-chan, the Purples finished 7th and missed out on the playoffs by nine points. It was in 2017, though, when Daejeon truly hit rock bottom. In what was their 20th anniversary year, complete with a new badge to mark the occasion, Daejeon finished bottom of the second tier, making it two last-place finishes in the space of just three years. No other team has finished bottom of both K League divisions.

Whilst the team reached the playoffs in 2018, the season was blighted by fans revolting against the club’s hierarchy. Attendances were low for a team challenging for promotion with large sections of the support being firmly against CEO Kim Ho, a former Daejeon manager, but also a polarising figure due to concerns surrounding his general conduct.

The appointment of Ko Jong-soo was also met with skepticism, there was a hint of 'jobs for the boys'. Ko was eventually dismissed after a dismal start to 2019 which also coincided with an investigation into the former K League MVP’s alleged falsifying of trialist assessments.

In truth, the club became something of a figure of fun amongst rival fans and the media. “Is this really a professional team?”, some media outlets asked. On the opening day of the 2019 season, Daejeon picked up a 2-1 away win over Ansan Greeners but the result itself was something of a footnote.

Not only did Daejeon have no other coaching staff on the bench, due some lacking the relevant qualifications, one player had his name scribbled on a piece of paper and stuck to the back of his shirt. Uzbek attacking midfielder Sanzhar Tursanov changed the name he was to have on the back of his shirt from "Tursanov" to "Sanzhar", only for the league to be seemingly unaware of this and the kit man having to stick a piece of paper on his back with his name crudely written in marker pen.

Then there was the leaked medical records fiasco where personal information about a potential signing was leaked to the press and even made the national news in the United Kingdom. It was reported that Alessandro, a Brazilian forward, who was due to arrive on loan, had signed before the club had fully completed a medical, or were yet to receive the results of his blood test. His contract was terminated less than a day after the signing was announced. Humiliating for the player and an ordeal which left a sour taste in the mouths of many.

On the field, it was a mess too. 2019 was a waste of time, that was until Lee Heung-sil came in and steadied the ship and, at the tail-end of the season, Hana Financial Group completed their takeover at the club. The next chapter in Daejeon's rocky history ought to be one of enjoyment and success, the fans deserve that.

Whenever the 2020 season does kick off, Daejeon fans deserve to have their day in the sun. Lord knows, they’ve suffered enough. Hana are ambitious, the appointment of Hwang Sun-hong as manager, and the signings of Connor Chapman, Kim Dong-jun, Park Yong-ji, Bruno Baio, and André Luis, just to name a few, are testament to that. If the fans can back their team then this could be the start of a prolonged period of success for Daejeon Hana Citizen.


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