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Living, Dying and Cheering for Soccer

Posted August. 03, 2005 03:05,   


Representatives are supporting North Korea on behalf of its own people, a battle is going on between South Korea’s scale and Japan’s organization, and China has a relatively small number supporting its soccer team.

These were the current trends for each country’s soccer program on the eve of the 2005 East Asian Soccer Championships, which opened on July 31 in South Korea.

North Korea did not bring its own set of supporters, but members of the General Association of Korean Residents in Japan (Chongryeon) have showed up in force to show their support. Lee Kang Hong (42), who identified himself as the deputy clerk of the North Korean Soccer Federation, said, “Around 150-200 people will come from Japan. Many will come on August 4 (for the match between South and North Korea).” They have been obliged to root for their team without making much noise, due to a pledge they made to the Ministry of Unification that denies them the use of cheering appliances, such as flags. Some South Korean civil groups and soccer fans are voluntarily helping the North overcome this weakness. In a women’s soccer match held on August 1 in Jeonju, Jeonbuk, 200 members of the Jeonju Life Gymnastics Group and 100 supporters of the Chonbuk Hyundai-Motors FC (also known as the Mad Green Boys) rooted passionately for the North Korean side, sporting T-shirts and waving flags depicting the Korean peninsula.

Under these present conditions, the supporters of the South Korean soccer team, the “Red Devils,” have proclaimed they will refrain from officially supporting the North Korean side. The declaration has made their position clear leading up to the match between the North and South. The strictly harmonious support backed by hundreds of loyal members is a distinct quality displayed by the “Red Devils.” In addition to the regular gigantic Taegeukgi (the Korean National Flag), a portrait of martyr Ahn Jung-keun labeled “the great Korean” has also made an appearance at games.

Meanwhile, a debate over banter directed at Chinese players during the match between South Korea and China is taking place on the web. Opinions regarding the act as “unsportsmanlike,” and those regarding it as “a way of cheering” are locked in a tight confrontation.

Japan is South Korea’s rival, even when it comes to cheering. Kenichi Kuboda (30), a member of the Ultra Nippon fan group, said, “I’ve heard that around 300 have come.” Apart from the phrase that reads, “Let’s win the Championship we failed to achieve in 2003!” colorful placards, including one quoting a saying from the Art of War: “Stay calm, moving swift,” could be seen.

China, where tens of millions of soccer fans reside, is also doing its best to cheer for its team with fans ardently waving flags and stick balloons, but their supporters are outnumbered as only dozens of fans have come to Korea.

Won-Hong Lee bluesky@donga.com