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From The Stands: Pride of Pusan (Part 1)

Busan IPark, Pride of Pusan, Romulo
After four years of rising home attendances, many new supporters have recently discovered the joys of watching Busan IPark, but there has been a group of hardcore supporters that have always been behind the club, even during their darkest times. Todd Wilde spoke with Lee Dowon, an active member of Busan IPark's number one supporters club, the Pride of Pusan. 

Group Background?

Who are 'Pride of Pusan'?

The Pride of Pusan are the main fan group for Busan IPark, and represent the most fanatical supporters of the team. We follow the team home and away, make our own merchandise, and design banners to help cheer on the team. We have a good relationship with the club, and look to support the club to make a better atmosphere at each home game.

We also campaign as a voice for our supporters. One banner that we have made recently is campaigning for a new football specific stadium just like in Gwangju or Daegu. Busan City recently held discussions aimed at starting the process of building a new stadium, and Pride of Pusan have been present at debates, trying to present the supporters point of view.

Where did your name come from?

The Busan supporters group was once known as the 'Royals Family', back from the time when Busan were more successful and known as the Daewoo Royals. When Daewoo sold the club to HDC, the club name changed to Pusan I'Cons. So, we changed the name to P.O.P (Pride of Pusan) to pay homage to the city! To this day, it makes more sense to go by the old city name of Pusan (the city's official English spelling until 2000, and still used by many institutions within the city) since it sounds much better than P.O.B!

Pride of Pusan, Busan IPark

How did you personally get involved with the fan group / supporting IPark?

I first went to a game with my ex-girlfriend when we played Suwon Bluewings in an FA Cup semi final in 2017. I loved the atmosphere and the attractive football Busan played, so when I broke up with my ex, I decided to get a season ticket in the main stand for the 2018 season. At the end of every game, I'd walk over the chanting section behind the goal, and ended up meeting some P.O.P members. They were very welcoming and interesting, so I decided to abandon my premium seat to stand behind the goal at every game instead!

Any custom gear?

Every year we have a limited edition piece of apparel for those who enrol in our club. Our enrol fee is 20,000 won per year, which pays for banners and an opening ceremony each season, where we hold gosa rights behind the goal.

This year we have custom P.O.P slippers, which cost 15,000 won. But we also give gifts with any budget left over, for example every member got a branded tumbler last season, engraved with each player's signature. We also sell our own scarves with the P.O.P. name, they are 20,000 won and limited edition. Romulo was nice enough to pose with one!

At the Stadium

Do you have your own section? Do you share your section with others?

We sit in the north stand of the stadium, behind the goal. There's typically about 100 fans in this area, which is the chanting and singing section. We also have some drums, so it's a little bit like a European football culture in this area. Anyone can come and watch with us, but you'll have to hear us chanting and singing for 90 minutes if you stand here! Most of the supporters in the Pride of Pusan group are over 30, and have been involved with the club for decades, however we are always open to welcome other supporters.

What does game day look like?

We usually go to a dweaji gukbap (a pork soup dish that is extremely popular in Busan) restaurant called 'Masanjib' before the game, right by the stadium to eat and drink soju. We don't have a proper HQ, so this is kind of the closest thing to it. We usually meet five hours before the game to set up everything in the stadium, including banners that we put around the stadium. We'd then eat, chat and hang out, before going into the stadium two hours before the game.

After the game, we go to the bar street close to exit 5 of Dongdaesin station and drink into the early hours. We often have strong debates about the performance of the players, the manager's tactics and of course the referee!

What chants are you famous for?

We are of course known for 'Strongest Busan' and 'Allez Busan', a Busan variation on a famous football song. However, we often adapt other chants to mock our opponents.

One of the most memorable chants is the one from the 2018 Playoff Final against FC Seoul. We were joined behind the goal by the fan groups of other clubs including Daegu, Ulsan, Gyeongnam and of course Anyang and both Suwon sides. We changed Suwon Bluewings's 'paeryun' (which means 'immortal') chant so that a collection of K League supporters that hate FC Seoul could sing together the line: 'Dogs and immortality cannot enter the first division'.

There is one chant from the past I must mention... in the season when we were relegated by Suwon FC in 2015, the supporters chanted in the stadium an equivalent of "If you're playing football like that, [expletive] off", amongst other incidents which I can't tell you in an interview! We are just as passionate as fans at clubs better known for their strength of feeling and fandom like Suwon Bluewings, we are just less well known.

Tell me about P.O.P's relationship with the players?

We actually are quite well known by the players because of our unique banners. We celebrate and mock the players using funny photos and slogans. For example, we put Lee Dong-jun's face on a picture of Cardcaptor Sakura, a cute 1990s female anime character well known to Koreans, with the caption 'Cardcaptor Dong-jun'.

We told Lee that he needs to get 15 attacking returns to remove the banner, as motivation for him to improve his performances. He succeeded, so we made another banner that says 'Dong-jun: the taster's choice', which kind of parodies his status as a poster boy beloved by young women within the city.

Another banner for Lee Jeong-hyeop says "Busan's stupid number two, Lee Jeong-hyeop", which is photoshopped with the Korean international's teeth pulled out for comic effect. This might sound silly, but the player really liked it! He was shocked at first when he saw the banner close up after a game, but he said that the banner gives him laughter and made him feel valued by the supporters.

Actually some of our supporters are worried about us, because the banners are outrageous, they don't want us to be sued for defamation! But, we always get the players to sign the banners because that means we have their permission - I think the players appreciate that we really support them and want them to do well.

We often celebrate our youth products with banners and internet memes, because that is Busan IPark's strength - we want to support and appreciate (and joke about) the local players who have graduated from the youth academy, something the club and city should be proud of. We even support our former and loanee players when they have left the club - for example, last season some of our supporters went to watch Kim Ik-hyun in Hwaseong's win over Gyeongnam in the FA Cup Quarter Final.

Part 2 of the interview is available here, and was initially available for Early Access to Patreon subscribers, who pay as little as $1 per month.

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