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Incheon the Underdog: a Documentary

Posted April. 13, 2006 03:16,   


Scene 1: A club without a star

No media outlets expected much of Incheon, a soccer club without a star, and made up of players dumped by other clubs.

Lacking a proper training ground to call its own, Incheon United drifted from Gyeonggi to Gangwon. Naturally, the sports media projected Incheon at the bottom of the league rankings before 2005 league’s first term started.

Manager Jang Woe-ryong drew the numbers he was going for on a whiteboard in the locker room: “Seven wins, three draws, and two losses. We’re going to the playoff.” But his players did not think much of their manager’s bravado at first.

Jang spent many sleepless nights analyzing opponents’ games, editing his findings on video. He showed the video to his players and assigned each of them an objective. As the days passed, the confidence of his players grew stronger.

Amazingly, the team achieved the exact number it set out to achieve at the end of the first term. Jang presented the team with another set of projected numbers: six wins, three draws, and three losses; this was exactly what the team achieved in the latter term, in which Incheon ended up on top of the league’s combined rankings.

Scene 2: Anonymous patrons

Someone started sending snacks and drinks for Incheon supporters whenever they traveled to cheer for their teams at away games. The identity of the anonymous patron was never revealed. Last August, Seomun Girls’ High School teacher Bae Seok-il brought his class to cheer for his favorite team. The diehard Incheon fan said, “As we live in a society that only recognizes the winner, everybody is important, and strength will triumph over financial riches. These are the lessons Incheon teaches us.” He nicknamed his homeroom class “Inyu,” after his favorite team. His pop quizzes have questions such as: “Who’s the player who scored an assist in the most recent Incheon game? When was Jang Woe-ryong born? What is Seo Dong-won’s number?”

Scene 3: the leadership of its manager and captain-

In the first round match of championship finals against Ulsan last November, a free kick from Lee Chun-su went into Incheon’s goal after deflecting off Yim Jung-yong’s face. Yim, who joined Incheon after drifting from team to team, had been fatigued to the extreme by the responsibility of the captain’s role and from playing match after match. Carried off to a hospital, he was diagnosed with temporary vision loss due to deteriorated liver function.

In order not to affect his team’s morale, Yim’s condition was kept secret from his teammates and opponents alike. Jang and the team doctor bit their fists and they sent Yim out on the field. Yim later said, “I could feel the ball flying in my direction, but I couldn’t see it. That’s when I got hit in the face.”

The movie opens in June-

Starring Jang Woe-ryong, Incheon players, and their supporters, Korea’s first soccer documentary for commercial distribution will hit the theaters soon. Director Yim Yu-cheol and his 11-member production crew followed every step of the team since last September. The production crew, Tube Pictures, specializes in TV documentaries and decided to make a feature movie out of their fascinating subject matter. The film will contain the scenes of strategy meetings in the locker room, supporters, and the manager, players and their families. Ninety percent of shooting is finished. The film will open in June, in time for the Germany World Cup.

Jae-Yun Jung jaeyuna@donga.com