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Postcard from a half-day trip to Cheongju

Cheongju-si isn't the geographic center of South Korea but the city's football club is one of the most centrally located in the country. With good transport options from almost every corner of the mainland, Cheongju is an easy half-day trip for any football fan. Here's my maiden trip to see Chungbuk Cheongju FC.




The weather for most of Korea's Children's Day long weekend was atrocious. This would have been wasted seeing a club located near a beach, or next to mountains with good hiking paths and views of the countryside. I decided to visit a new stadium to tick off for Futbology and one in a city perfect for a quick day trip.

Of course, most football trips in Korea are worth turning into a full weekend. Cheap and convenient transport and accommodation options mean any distance over 200km from home is automatically a night away. There's the possibility of a football doubleheader, a swim in the ocean, a coastal bike ride, or a hike.

Cheongju-si, however, can be done in a single day. In for the game, and out as soon as the referee blows for full time. On Saturday, May 6th at 4pm, Chungbuk Cheongju FC hosted Cheonan City FC in a battle of the basement dwellers. With train tickets bought and an umbrella in hand, I made my way to the capital and biggest city of Chungcheonbuk-do.


13:37: KTX from Gwangmyeong Station to Osong Station. Cheongju is served by the slower and cheaper Mugunghwa train but for a day trip, the high-speed KTX is ideal. These stations are approximately 126 km apart but the KTX does the journey in 29 minutes. And it costs just 16,000₩.

Waiting for my KTX at Gwangmyeong Station (Image: instagram.com/groundhopping_korea)
Were there other football fans on the train? Unlikely, but I did notice several Hanwha Eagles baseball jerseys in my carriage. The stop after Osong is Daejeon and that's where the Eagles were due to host KT Wiz at 5pm. It seemed like a risky decision to travel as the Korean Baseball Organization will call off games when the field is waterlogged or heavy rain is falling.

No such concern, thankfully, in football but as the KTX sped through the rural Gyeonggi-do countryside, it was apparent how much flood damage had been caused to farms. It was reminiscent of summer deluges in July and August, not May. And sure enough, not long after my train arrived at Osong, and before the fans completed their journey to Daejeon, Saturday night's baseball was called off. It would be interesting to see what state the football pitch would be in.

14:06: Arrival at Osong Station. After one scheduled stop at Cheonan-Asan (a good disembarking station to see Chungnam Asan FC or Cheonan City FC), we arrived at Osong Station. The rain was pouring down again and a chilly wind blew down the platform from the open ends of the station. Had we slipped back into March? Not for the first time today, I wondered why I was going to watch this game.

For train enthusiasts, Osong is a marvel of engineering, like so many others in Korea. From a distance, you see the express trains approaching along the middle track. There's a noise wall but how much impact that makes I don't know. The speed with which they thunder through Osong is frightening but exhilarating. The platform under your feet reverberates and everyone notices the same thing. 와우.

14:15: Osong isn't in downtown Cheongju. The station services Cheongju and Sejong and therefore it has good bus connections to neighboring towns and cities outside Exit 7. From Bays 5 and 6, buses 500 and 502 make the trip to Cheongju Stadium in 40 minutes, passing Chung Cheong University, Bus Terminal, and downtown Cheongju.

I got out one stop early at 시계탑 (Clock Tower) a short walk from the stadium, in search of food. 100 meters back, in the middle of the road, stands an odd landmark in this town. A gold clock tower that's not especially impressive in size. I was determined to take a closer look after the game but now it was time to go in search of what turned out to be an unsuccessful hunt for a quick pre-match meal. 

15:00: The stands and floodlights are not yet visible, hidden behind office blocks and a KT building. There was no sign of a football game about to take place, either. Normally at K League grounds, team flags and player profiles hang from street lamps on the way to the stadium. Perhaps these exist when arriving from an alternative route, but at Clock Tower Intersection, there was nothing.

Undoubtedly influenced by the depressing weather, the neighborhood around the stadium appeared quiet and uninteresting. Restaurants, cafes, and stores were closed and only the sound of rain dropping from gutters and roofs was noticeable.

For a brief moment, I wondered if I was at the wrong stadium or, more likely, the game was off. The first sign of a sports complex was the scoreboard behind center-field at Cheongju Baseball Stadium. It was wet and dark, but the floodlights at the adjacent football stadium weren't on. Surely the game must be canceled.

This ballpark was built in 1979. It was my first glimpse of the Cheongju Sports Complex. (Image: instagram.com/groundhopping_korea)
Thankfully, the sound of music relieved my stress. I still couldn't see any fans, but the beating drums in the distance were confirmation that a game of football was due to take place.

15:45: Cheongju Football Stadium is owned by the local city government so supporters who have been to numerous K League 2 grounds will find it familiar. There is one big screen/scoreboard, a running track, minimal roof coverings, and exterior walls covered with English slogans (This Is Our Time), upcoming fixtures, and giant posters of players and coaches.

In Cheongju, however, there's a fire station built within the walls and a replica KOREA LEGEND jersey unfurled over the rear of the scoreboard. One of the food trucks was selling boneless seasoned chicken with rice cake for 12,000₩. Yummy! With a late lunch sorted and obligatory photos were taken, it was time to buy a 10,000₩ seat in the unassigned stand. Kick-off!

The screen and scoreboard at Cheongju Stadium, draped in a KOREA LEGEND supporters' jersey. (Image: instagram.com/groundhopping_korea)
16:00: The game is underway and almost immediately, the effects of 2 days' rain are evident. I couldn't see patches of water but the ball didn't travel well along the ground, and passes were in danger of being cut off when they lost pace. Overhit passes and crosses stayed in field and players impressed the watching public by engaging in exciting slides across the pitch when making last-ditch tackles or blocks. 

The majority of fans were in the North Stand, huddled together in the back few rows under whatever roof shelter they could find. The Cheongju Supporters Club, meanwhile, didn't look for shelter. Banging drums and waving flags, they brought some much-needed atmosphere to this dreary day. 

Occasionally, one member would break free from their zone and try to pump up the other fans in the North Stand. Politely, they responded with momentary bursts of CHEONG~~~JU F~C~ before quickly going back to their chicken and snacks.

In the opposite stand, fans in the general seating area also crowded at the back under the roof. Supporters who bought one of the many table seats near half way had to suck it up and get wet. The visiting Cheonan fans, numbering around 60 in total, were penned into a small section in the South-East side, diagonally across from the Cheongju fans.

Chungbuk Cheongju FC supporters wave flags and bang drums in the North Stand. (Image: instagram.com/groundhopping_korea)
16:45: Unsurprisingly, this was a game of low quality. Cheongju and Cheonan are the two newest additions to professional football in Korea, taking their place in K League 2 for the first time. They sit second last and last respectively, with poor Cheonan recording only 1 point from their opening 10 games. And they trailed at the break. Cheongju's Jorge Luiz opened the scoring for the hosts.

With the rain easing off during the break my return train now departing at 19:40, I knew I'd get to see the entire game and, for the first time, I was content with the decision made to come. Better still, the second half was more entertaining. 

17:00: Cheongju doubled their lead shortly after the resumption of play. A ball down the left wing was overplayed and on any other day, harmlessly rolls out of play. But the surface water was particularly evident in that corner. The left winger had time to pick out his man and deliver a beautiful cross. Hong Won-jun headed home from 6 yards.

A moment of genuine class, assisted by mother nature, briefly spoilt by a seemingly unnecessary VAR delay.

Cheonan didn't have long to wait for their goal after Axel Bakayoko took a tumble in the box. The penalty decision was probably harsh and another VAR delay irritated the fans. The decision stood but Bakayoko hammered his penalty off the underside of the bar. Oh Yoon-suk was on hand to nod in the rebound. Chances came and went, especially for Cheonan, who were unlucky to lose 2-1.

The exterior of K League grounds are often covered in giant banners and tarping featuring player profiles, upcoming fixtures, and slogans. (Image: instagram.com/groundhopping_korea)
One moment that really stuck with me came midway through the second half. Cheonan's former Suwon Bluewings midfielder Damir Sovsic was substituted in the 67th minute. Instead of sprinting off to meet the replacement, he exited on the far side and proceeded to walk around the pitch. I don't know why, but I followed him the whole way back to the dugout. He picked up bottled water and glanced to see what was happening.

Then he made his way to the corner where the away fans were watching. They applauded his efforts and briefly chanted his name. I don't know if he acknowledged them. At the dugout, Damir put on a jacket and did a couple of high 5s. He sat in his seat for the remainder of the game.

What was he thinking at this moment? It must be hard traveling halfway across team the world to play for a club that has one point in 11 games. There can't be too many teams globally with a worse record in professional football. Is this what he imagined before arriving? 

18:00: The sound of 900 triumphant Cheongju fans sent me on my way to find the Clock Tower and bus back to Osong. I ended my day almost like I had begun it; marveling at the non-stop KTX trains roaring through the station. I had also added a new stadium to my Futbology profile and am one step closer to a second completed league badge.

Cheongju's Clock Tower. Maybe there is more to this than I am aware of. Football fans can get off the bus here or at the following stop to watch a game. (Image: instagram.com/groundhopping_korea)
19:40: Goodbye Cheongju, and thanks to their fans and both teams for putting on a good show in those conditions. I don't know when I'll be back again, but despite my incessant complaining at first, I was happy to be there for the day.

Cheongju Expenses:
Return train tickets 32,000₩
Match ticket 10,000₩
Chicken 12,000₩
2 beers at Osong 5,200₩
Local bus 2,000₩

FNR

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