Thursday, May 15, 2008

Governor Getting Gangwon Into Gear

Gangwon Governor Kim Jin-son

For as long as anyone can remember, Gangwon Province has been a great place to visit. Millions of cars head east from Seoul every summer for the beaches and the mountains; millions more do the same in the winter for the skiing. Autumn isn’t bad either when Seorak Mountain comes into its own in a kaleidoscope of color. Throw in Chuncheon’s famous chicken dish and a strong shout of hosting the 2018 Winter Olympics and you have a region with a good deal going for it.

The one thing that has been missing is football. Since the K-League was established in 1983, the competition has spread to include all the regions and the major cities of South Korea; even Jeju Island has a team. Gangwon has been left behind but that is all set to change. From 2009, the northeastern province, the only one split into two at the end of the Korean War in 1953, will provide the home of the K-League’s 15th team.

“Gangwon Province has traditionally been a province that loves football very much and we are establishing the club for the pride of Gangwon,” Kim Jin-son, the Governor of Gangwon Province told me at the Lotte Hotel in downtown Seoul.

“We have produced many good national team players who were very famous at the 2002 World Cup, for example Seol Ki-hyeon, Lee Young-pyo and Lee Eul-young and we take great pride in them and our football. Football can energise and promote our province.”

The new Gangwon team will be the fifth civic-owned club in the league and, in the words, of Governor Kim, intends to follow the model set by Incheon United which formed in 2004. Presumably he wasn’t talking about the example set by Incheon when the club sank to bottom of the league with weeks and then saw coach and star player leave.

Kim was referring to the fact that Incheon is a well-run club. It is the only one in the league to make a profit, is preparing to build its own soccer-only stadium and even intends to float on the stock market sometime in the next couple of years.
That is a long way in the future for Gangwon. It hasn’t been the easiest of journeys to get this far.

“The most difficult part has, of course, been money,” nodded Kim. “The big question was how to finance and operate the team. Encouraging people to become stakeholders and sponsors was not easy but it is a challenge that we have overcome and now we are looking forward to the future.”

For potential fans there is much to get excited about – the matter of the name, the colors and, perhaps, most importantly, which players will they be cheering on next season. “There is money. We are considering the possibility of signing famous World Cup stars such as Lee Eul-yong. With the draft that we have in place, we will be able to get at least five players. Also if we have to, we will consider signing foreign players.”

There is one aspect that will differ from Incheon and all the other teams in the league. It is planned that the club will play its matches in the three main cities of the region –Chuncheon, Wonju and Gangneung and perhaps more besides. The most recent addition to the K-League Gyeongnam FC sometimes plays games outside its main base of Changwon but that usually is because the city-owned stadium is needed for other attractions. Gangwon’s plan is a unique one; an attempt to take the team to the people of the province.

“The cities are not big cities and it would be hard to have a citizen team in each city,” said Kim who also explained that he expects 10-20,000 people to attend each game. “Gangwon Province wants every city and every local government to participate. Home games will be held in the three cities because they are the biggest cities in the province and they have their own stadiums.”

It promises to be an exciting adventure.

Copyright: John Duerden & Soccerphile.com

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