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“I Will Play My Dead Friends’ Part as Well”

Posted November. 28, 2004 23:17,   


“It’s been a long time since I last saw them, and I’m happy to see them in healthy and happy faces. They’ve grown a lot since then! Ji-hwan even has a mustache,” says Hong Myung-bo, 35-year-old former LA Galaxy player.

Forty-four young soccer players gathered in Son Gi-jeong Sports Park in Seoul on Sunday to attend Hong Myung-bo’s Soccer Clinic. Out of 44 youngsters, Hong’s eyes were on three former Cheonan Elementary soccer team members. Jeong Ji-hwan, second grader at Yonmu Middle School, Jeong Han-ho, fourth grader at Seonggeo Elementary School and Ji-hwan’s younger brother, and Gang Min-woo, second grader at Daehwa Middle School, lost their friends and brother when fire broke out and claimed nine lives in the training camp of Cheonan Elementary soccer team in March, 2003.

First, the participants learned basic techniques of different positions, and played a mini game with eight people on each team. Ji-hwan and Han-ho were in the same team, and Min-woo was on the opposite side. Dark shadows of last year’s painful memories disappeared from their faces as they were chasing the ball.

Hanho, whose both legs were burned in the accident, never fully recovered his health, but after he transferred to a different school, he resumed playing soccer.

Ji-hwan, who even thought of quitting soccer after his brother nearly lost his life, returned to soccer thanks to the encouragement of Hong. In June 2003, at the invitation of Hong, Ji-hwan and Min-woo visited the United States. “His words of encouragement made me to play soccer again,” said Ji-hwan.

Min-woo, also a former member of Cheonan Elementary School’s soccer team, lost his younger brother, Min-soo, in the fire accident. His last encounter with his little brother was when he handed him the cookies that he bought for him right before the fire broke out. Min-woo said, “I want to play on behalf of my little brother and friends whose lives were taken away by the fire.”

After receiving a completion certificate, Han-ho said, “I had a great experience of learning basics of soccer, and meeting a great player like Hong,” with his husky voice. His voice got husky as a result of damaged lung by poisonous gas in fire.

Hong Myung-bo Scholarship Foundation is providing tuition and soccer-related supplies to these three students since June 2003.

Sung-Kyu Kim kimsk@donga.com