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Dropping down the divisions for spiders and free ice cream

The international break allows football fans to see new football clubs in towns and cities absent from traditional groundhoppers' wish lists.

It was 33 degrees in the shade shortly after 4 p.m. when the woman banging the drum caused a significant stir in the home end. Yangpyeong FC was handing out free ice cream for everyone in the home section and within a blink of an eye, most of those in the main stand ran down the steps to the coolers. It was hard not to fall in love with the football club immediately.

The fans who didn't make the effort to trudge down the seven rows in the oppressive September heat actually had ice cream thrown up to them by volunteers at the club. The drummer paced along the railings looking for the last holdouts, those among the 120-or-so crowd without ice cream. Satisfied everyone had been found, she went back to her primary duty; the person charged with the responsibility of generating an atmosphere.

Rare to get paper tickets now, especially free ones (Image: This and all images from Instagram.com/groundhopping_korea)

And wouldn't you know, the club has its own version of Twisted Sisters' We're Not Gonna Take It, a chant heard up and down the country, and even has a home in the lower leagues. She did get help from an older man wearing a suit, in this heat, blaring a horn. Otherwise, she was surrounded by screaming kids.

Yangpyeong FC was hosting Daejeon Korail FC in the third tier of Korean football, known as K3. There is currently no promotion to K League 2 but even still, this game featured two teams who wouldn't be challenging for honours. Yangpyeong started the day 15th in a 15-team league, and Daejeon was marooned in mid-table.

FNR

When I checked the Futbology app for the closest stadium I had never previously visited, Yangpyeong, 60 km east along the Han, was the clear winner. At the start of the year, I had hoped to check off every stadium listed in the app currently in use in the Seoul Capital Area. Unexpectedly, I'll fall well short but that goal can be moved to 2024, right?


Yangyeong is classed as a county, as opposed to a city, even though it has the feel of a small provincial city. The surrounding area is particularly popular for hiking, cycling, and even outdoor winter sports, like ice-fishing. Football, rather understandably, isn't high on most visitor's to-do lists, especially as the local club is struggling near the foot of the third division.

The grass bank, as seen from the Main Stand, was a nice spot to watch the game. 
Situated four stops from the end of the Gyeongui-Jungang Line, the journey from Yongsan Station takes 90 minutes, but is spectacular. In spring and autumn, making a weekend of a Yangpyeong FC home game by cycling to the county would be a great experience. For this game, though, I took the KTX. A return ticket from Seoul Station is only ₩16,000 and takes roughly an hour.

The walk from the train station is remarkable only for the sheer number of Nonghyup facilities in sight. You know you're in a quaint provincial outpost when so many Nonghyup banks and marts are dotted along the same road. Unlike grounds in K Leagues 1 and 2, there is no buzz on the approach roads to the stadium. Normally, club crests or bunting featuring players' faces flutter from lamposts.

Entry to Yangpyeong Stadium (or, 물맑은양평종합운동장 to give it its full name) is free but supporters must collect a ticket behind the main stand before gaining access to the seating area. The ticket is ripped on your behalf. Is it done to count how many free ice creams are needed? Once inside, spiders and cobwebs need to be brushed off the seats before any fan gets comfortable.


The stadium is somewhat typical of local civic stadiums in Korea. It features a running track (no temporary seating is needed) and one main stand with a roof cover. The main stand is elevated above the track so the other sporting organizations using the stadium have access to the track and field. There is one big screen that doesn't show replies but features some excellent '90s-era graphics.

Nothing cooler than a black-and-white football flying through the air in a straight line before bursting the netting in the goal.

However, there are some oddities. Behind both goals, there are only three rows of seats at the front. The rest is basically a grass bank with park benches. Opposite the main stand, there's a similar-sized stand, but without modern extras like a roof and a VIP Box. On this occasion, that stand was completely empty, presumably because fans would have cooked in the sun all afternoon.

Soon after the ice creams had been distributed, I left the main stand and spiders to sit on the grass bank. It is difficult to see the pitch from here, but because there was sufficient shade offered by the trees, it was the perfect spot to watch the game. Yangpyeong scored twice in the second half (at the far end of course) and claimed a deserved three points. The female drummer loudly displayed her approval. 

This is, ultimately, where Futbology becomes an essential app. Dates, times, and locations of semi-professional matches to eat through a weekend stolen by international football is a most convenient tool. K3 lacks the talent and stimulation of the top division but it is always worthwhile to check how the game is doing in the country's more remote places.

And let's be honest; Free entry and free ice cream just makes it much sweeter. 

The view of the only covered stand, where almost everyone watched the game.



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