Saturday, December 29, 2007

Gruesome Christmas Sequel In Korea

In South Korea, Christmas Day is a time for young couples to spend time together. Restaurants and especially movie theatres in Seoul are hardly quiet at any time of the week but they are full to bursting on December 25.

Over this particular festive period, there has been no equivalent of that fantastic film ‘Old Boy’- the comic-inspired account of a man who is imprisoned in a shabby room for 15 years without explanation and then seeks revenge upon his release. Nominated for the Golden Palm award at Cannes in 2004, the Korean film is a classic though at times it does make for some uncomfortable viewing, as does its (vague) sequel, ‘Sympathy for Lady Vengance’.

Old boy imprisoned

If those movies were not for the faint of heart, they have nothing on the gruesome sequel that has been jointly produced by leagues both N and K in the Land of the Morning Calm over the past month leaving K-League fans feeling as bewildered as the main character Oh Dae-su as he suddenly stumbles back into Seoul life after a decade and a half.

The N-league is Korea’s second tier. Regular readers may remember that 2006 saw promotion introduced. Unfortunately, Goyang Kookmin Bank, the team that won the play-off, decided to stay where it was rather than pay the $2-3 million that the K-League demands for entry. This money is earmarked for some sort of ‘K League development fund’ although perhaps the best way to ensure development would be to allow promoted clubs to spend such substantial sums on improving their squads.

Anyway, to put an end to such rude refusals, all N-League teams were asked at the start of the season whether they would accept promotion if it was to happen. Some said yes, others no.

With the football gods as perverse as they are, it was perhaps inevitable that of the two teams that qualified for the 2007 promotion play-off, only one actually wanted to go up. Ulsan Mipo had dreams of the K-League while Suwon City Hall was quite happy where it was. The sensible course of action would have been to simply allow Ulsan to go to the K-League. The promotion play-off is, as its name suggests, is designed for one purpose only.

The two-legged fixture went ahead regardless and the first leg was one that will stay in the memory forever. City Hall scored first. Ten minutes before the break, the referee gave a penalty to Ulsan. He sent off a Suwon player for protesting. In the next four minutes, he proceeded to show the red card to another three Suwon players. Incredibly down to seven at half-time, one City Haller deliberately got himself sent off at the start of the second game forcing the referee to abandon proceedings. Ulsan took the first leg 3-0 by default.

The second leg took place the following week. KBS TV decided to drop its live broadcast of the game claiming it was too controversial. Unsurprisingly, Ulsan won 4-1. Despite the unseemly scenes that had gone one, it was hoped that Ulsan’s victory and subsequent promotion would at least enable fans to look forward.

Ulsan celebrate their 'triumph' - image courtesy of Ilgan Sports

With the champagne still fizzing, Ulsan dropped a bombshell. The club was not sure that it actually wanted to move up a division after all.

“We are studying the problems of promotion and whether to go to the Pro League or not. We haven’t finished looking at the financial implications," Ulsan owner Noh Hong-seob told reporters.

An N-League official was having none of it. “There is no reason for Ulsan not to go up,” he told the press. “There is no problem.”

It was wishful thinking. Just before Christmas Ulsan confirmed that they would stay in the second tier and wouldn’t be clambering up the chimney to the snow-covered rooftop of the K-League.

Stay tuned for the last part of the trilogy.

Copyright: John Duerden & Soccerphile.com

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