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The 3 stadiums where Suwon Bluewings' fate could be sealed

Suwon Bluewings have endured another desperate season in K League 1. They avoided relegation by the skin of their teeth 12 months ago, but has time finally run out for one of Korea's most storied football clubs? The next three games could be the most intriguing of the entire football season.

In 2022, the season's main story was Ulsan Hyundai's long overdue championship win. The Tigers hadn't lifted the K League 1 title since 2005 but once they overcame Jeonbuk Hyundai on October 8th with 2 goals after the 90th minute by Martin Adam, it was just a matter of when, and not if. 

Hong Myung-bo's side needed two more games to secure the championship. It was Round 37, the penultimate of the season, and a trip to a wet Chuncheon Songam Stadium. They fell behind midway through the second half but with the ghosts of previous failures beginning to emerge, Um Won-sang and Martin Adam struck late in front of the away end.

It was an incredible experience to be there, seeing how much that win meant to the players, staff, and, of course, fans of Ulsan Hyundai. A week later, despite losing at home to Jeju United, 23,000 fans watched them hoist that trophy at last. Ulsan finished three points clear of Jeonbuk, Hong won the Manager of the Year award and four of his players made the K League Best XI.

There was another big story that year but at the opposite end of the table. Suwon Samsung Bluewings, one of Korea's most successful and best-supported clubs, never climbed higher than 8th and spent much of the campaign in the relegation zone. When the music stopped, their place in the relegation/promotion playoffs was confirmed. A 10th-place finish, two points adrift of their great rivals FC Seoul, meant a two-legged decider with FC Anyang. 

The first leg was a very tense affair at Anyang Stadium. The Bluewings unsurprisingly sold out their allocation behind the goals and, with the home supporters, helped create a really good midweek atmosphere despite the poor quality on the field. In the end, Anyang and Suwon looked relieved to get out of Bisan-dong with a 0-0 draw. 

Anyang are my local team but I was there to see the Bluewings. Could this renowned Korean football institution really suffer the indignity of a first-ever relegation, especially in a city that was once home to their biggest rivals? I couldn't make the return leg but watched on my phone from the top of a mountain as Oh Hyeon-gyu's 120th-minute winner kept Suwon in the top flight.

Had Suwon's dangerous flirtation with relegation sparked a revival? Not so, as it turns out.

Twelve months later, Suwon's situation is even more precarious. With Ulsan coasting to back-to-back titles, the Bluewings are this season's biggest story. There are three games to play, and Yeom Ki-hun's side are bottom of the table. Their run-in is unkind, too, featuring successive away games to two teams (Suwon FC and FC Seoul) they have a poor record against. 

And just as it was fascinating to be there when Ulsan finally won the title in Chuncheon, for neutrals in Korea, being present for the Bluewings' probable demotion is surely a must-see event. The players and fans undoubtedly deserve better but that's not how sport works. Big clubs suffer relegation all the time, especially in Germany and Spain. Even if Suwon avoids the ignominy of automatic relegation, their place in the playoffs cannot be ignored.

Would Suwon Bluewings be the biggest club relegated from K League 1? Back in April, this possibly was being discussed online and in the stadiums. Paul Neat, writing for K League United, broke down the list of potential candidates for that dubious award. It came down to Seongnam FC (7-time K League champions, 3 domestic Cup titles, and 2 AFC championships to their name) and the Bluewings (4 League titles, 5 Cups, 2 continental triumphs, and a total of 22 major honours).

Part of the attraction of seeing the Suwon Samsung Bluewings relegated (as awful as that must sound for the players and staff whose livelihoods could be threatened by relegation, and their long-suffering fans) is watching the club move around the second tier, taking with them their impressive away following. Having seen the Bluewings' fans takeover Ansan Wa~ Stadium in the FA Cup, football matches in, say, Chungnam Asan, Cheongju, Bucheon, and Anyang will be a lot more fascinating.

At best, their season will run to Saturday, December 9th when they host the second leg of the playoffs. At worst, their relegation will be confirmed one week earlier, when Gangwon FC, the only team they can realistically catch, departs Big Bird in the relative security of 11th.

These are the confirmed games and stadiums that will determine Suwon Samsung Bluewings' fate. Will they go down automatically in the next month, or will they live to fight another day through the relegation/promotion playoffs? There's only one way to find out.

Round 36 Sunday November 12th 14:00

Suwon FC vs Suwon Samung Bluewings
Suwon Stadium.

Where is it?
Suwon Stadium is the former home of the Bluewings; a simple multi-purpose arena where the vast majority of Suwon's trophies around the turn of the century were won. Slightly modified since the Bluewings' time here, Suwon Stadium has one temporary stand and a lot of seats without roof cover. It is only 3.5 km north of the Suwon World Cup Stadium. 

What's at stake?
For Suwon FC, survival. Jeju United, in 10th, are seven points clear of Suwon FC but the two sides meet on the final weekend. Because Jeju United host FC Seoul next Saturday, Suwon FC will know what's at stake when they welcome the Bluewings. A Jeju win confirms a playoff spot for Suwon FC so they will be desperately hoping to keep their survival hopes intact for the final round. They're not safe from automatic relegation, either. A Bluewings victory will narrow the gap to just three points.

The Bluewings have survival in their own hands. If they win all three games, they can not finish in 12th spot. That's unlikely given their form, so they will be relying on other teams to help them out. Gangwon FC have a very tricky trip to Daejeon on Saturday.

Potential permutations?
No matter what happens, Suwon FC will end the weekend in 10th. A win will guarantee they can not be automatically relegated. The Bluewings can jump to 11th if results go their way. A defeat will not send them down, yet.

How to buy tickets?
Tickets for Suwon FC games are sold on the Interpark site. Despite what's at stake, buying on the day won't be an issue, except for the away end. The cheapest seats cost just ₩15,000.

Round 37 Saturday, November 25th 16:30

FC Seoul vs Suwon Samsung Bluewings
Seoul World Cup Stadium.

Where is it?
Seoul World Cup Stadium is, by far, the biggest stadium in K League 1. Located in Mapo-gu, the stadium has a stop on Line 6 of the capital's subway line. This is also Korea Republic's nominal home ground with a capacity of almost 70,000. The home fans will be in the north end of the ground with the visitors from Suwon opposite them. It'll be a magnificent occasion.

What's at stake?
Nothing for FC Seoul. Secure from the threat of relegation and out of the Final A standings, Seoul are likely to end a disappointing season in 7th (although Daejeon Hana Citizen can catch them). For Seoul, then, the motivation is watching their biggest rivals suffer a first-ever relegation on their home turf. They'll never, ever, let the Bluewings forget it.

Alternatively, with wins over Suwon FC and FC Seoul, the Bluewings can celebrate in front of their fans at Sangam knowing automatic demotion has been avoided, even if the playoffs could bring about the same outcome. Everything, therefore, is at stake.

Potential permutations?
We won't know until the Round 36 fixtures have been completed. Gangwon FC will host Suwon FC at the same time as the Bluewings make the 30 km drive north to Seoul. In Gangneung and Mapo-gu, supporters will be glued to their phones for updates as they bite through their fingernails watching the on-field action. 

Is this the day when K League 1 waves goodbye to the Bluewings?

How to buy tickets?
Ticketlink is the official provider of FC Seoul's games. The cheapest tickets online are ₩16,000, a saving of ₩3,000 compared to buying at the stadium.

Round 38 Saturday, December 2nd 14:00

Suwon Samung Bluewings vs Gangwon FC
Suwon World Cup Stadium.

Where is it?
The magnificent Suwon World Cup Stadium, also known as Big Bird. This ground wouldn't look out of place in every major European league. It is made up of four double-tiered stands and boasts an incredible roof covering the West Stand. Korea Republic sparingly uses this stadium and it has a capacity of 44,000.

What's at stake?
We'll know after Round 37. As both clubs have struggled for wins all season (a combined 10 in 70 games) the smart money would be on this game deciding who goes down immediately and which team is rerouted to the playoffs. As things currently stand, Gangwon FC would need to avoid defeat but there's too much football between now and then to worry about that.

Potential permutations?
Theoretically, Suwon FC could also be dragged into this battle as their next two fixtures are against the only teams below them in the table. 

How to buy tickets?
The two Suwon clubs sell their tickets on Interpark. There won't be much demand, despite the significance of the match. 13,000 supporters paid in to watch Suwon's second-leg playoff against Anyang last year. The cheapest seats are just ₩15,000.


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