Thursday, 21 June 2007

Thursday 21st June

After being stuck in a classroom all day with the windows closed in order to get the room nice and chilly via the aircon, I often have no idea what the weather is like outside. I often hear the odd noise, a advertising lorry blaring James blunt or something equally shit or the smash of 2 cars colliding ( in fairness this has happened only once) but I cant see anything and so the weather usually eludes me.

Until today that is.

Rain has been on the cards here for a while, the rainy season has been threatening and the newspapers have been predicting its start of a number of weeks now. Well it started today and I could hear the noise outside that signalled around a month of almost non stop rain with tropical temperatures (I am British remember). I didn’t actually look out of the window as rain is rain, but when I finished work at 8pm I decided to go to the supermarket and so made my way down to the exit and ran across the road to the relative shelter of a shop awning. I realised that If I wanted to get a taxi I would have to stand at the edge of the road and worse still, on the way back would have to wait on the road outside the supermarket, laden with bags, or a box nowadays (I try to do my bit for the environment) and wait until a taxi ventured my way. It can take some time to get a taxi at homever and I was sure today would be a record breaker. Sensibly I decided not to go and instead ran home. A futile effort as within seconds the biblical rain had soaked me to the skin. I looked like Dr Foster not long after his ill fated trip to Gloucester. The rain seemed to be coming down in sheets instead of drops and there were torrents flowing at the side of every road, how the drains will cope I don’t know. Funnily enough the word for rain in Korean is Pi (pronounced Pee) and so it was fair to say it was literally Pi’ing down!
I wonder what kind of things I will see flowing around in the coming month as Korea seems to have a drop where you like policy when it comes to the various categories of waste and recyclables.

Now I know what incy wincey spider felt like after he had been dumped from the water spout by the rain.

And to cap it all off I was actually singing, in the rain. What was I singing? Agger do of course. Albeit a slightly altered version that pays homage to the left back dynamo that is Daniel Agger of Liverpool FC. What are the words? Ok then, they are:

Agger do, do, do
Chase the cockneys up a tree
Agger do, do, do
Just like Carra, Sami too
To the left, to the right
He brings defenders to their knees
To the Kopites delight
To the man signed from Brondby.

Tuesday, 12 June 2007

Korea V Netherlands

As I travelled from Jeonju to Seoul on my way to watch Korea V the Netherlands at the Seoul world cup stadium little over a week ago, I reflected on a few things. Why are the buses and trains in Korea so much better than in the UK? They are cheaper, quicker and more comfortable. Why does it feel like the people who own businesses don’t consider the financial bottom line to be the most important thing in the world? The fact that side dishes are free and you can eat until you drop in most places with refills a plenty doesn’t seem to bother anyone and why is Korean football so different from European football or should I say the Korean attitude to football?

I go and watch the home games of Jeonbuk Hyundai motors, my local team. I love football and so watching a game of football, any game is better than not watching one; even if the standard is not great. The standard of the game on the pitch isn’t great in Korea when you compare it to Europe or England in particular but there is something else, a little je nais se quoi as they might say in France, which makes it better in a different way. I go with a few friends, we have a few beers, watch the game, chat intermittently and we love it, usually on a Sunday afternoon or evening as the summer approaches. It is the highlight of the week sometimes.
Football matches in Korea can act as a window on Korean society, you see all sorts of people there from all walks of life, the old, young, married, single, men and women and usually with hundreds of kids running around the stands. The patriotic attitude of Koreans is embodied in football matches too, especially at the Korea national games but football in Korea is a real family affair. You see families waddling into the stadium carrying bags of various bits of equipment they might need for the game including an array of food and drinks as well as umbrellas/parasols and all sorts of other things you never thought you’d see in a football stadium. The families sit together and get the Soju flowing and the packets of dried squid open, they then cheer, drink and eat until half time when they go for a walk to stock up on more food and drinks in anticipation of the second half.

When we arrived in Seoul we headed to Itaewon to procure some lodgings for the evening; 30,000 won in a clean but basic motel did the job, located around the corner from the wolfhound it is the perfect place to fall from the pub into bed. I would rather spend my money on nicer things in Seoul than a bed so the cheap price suited my taste but in hindsight maybe a room with at least a window would have been better in the stifling heat!

The tube to the stadium was predictably full but his time there was an odd mix of everyday Koreans going about their business and the football fans heading to the game. But there was something different about these fans, they weren’t all drunk and singing songs and being abusive as football fans in Europe have been known to be on occasion. No, they were families, men, women and children of all ages dressed in their team colours, all going to support their country.
We emerged 30 odd minutes later from the station to be greeted by a wall of steps leading up to the stadium. Each step had people sitting, talking, eating and drinking with everyone sporting some kind of red or orange piece of material on their bodies or orange hats made from balloons in the shape of the crown, signifying the Dutch royal connection.

There was actually a distinct lack or orange or white shirts but certainly no lack of non-Korean faces, there were huge groups of foreigners all sporting red shirts, here to support the land that currently hosted them. The atmosphere was fantastic, a sea of street vendors selling their wares, mekju, kimbap and tokk being amongst the biggest sellers as well as the obligatory Korea paraphernalia from t-shirts to head scarves. We stood around and savored the atmosphere, drank some beer, posed for photographs and waited to go into the stadium.

Inside the stadium the atmosphere was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced, the Koreans seem to have a fun at all cost policy and receive their hosts with emphatic friendship and admiration, from the individual foreigner to entire national football teams from other countries (although I’m not sure how warmly received Japan are). Football is different in Korea, I’m not going to say better but it certainly makes a change from football in the UK. People like us who are obviously not Korean were welcomed with such enthusiasm it almost made me want to cry, especially when I think about what might happen to someone if they admitted to a group of European fans something similar. This hospitality culminated with a group of several lads in front of us turning to us when a Dutch substitution was made. My friend and I wore our Liverpool FC shirts to the game, I don’t have a Korea shirt and my Liverpool shirt is red so I thought it was appropriate. There were many other Liverpool shirts around the stadium too.
Dirk Kuyt came onto the pitch and immediately the few Koreans boys in front turned to us to almost congratulate us when they realised he came on because he plays for Liverpool, they actually applauded him along with us and they seemed happy for us. That made my night.

Koreans have the right idea when to comes to football, play for the love of the game, support your team with passion but never cross that line, the line of taking the game to seriously. Koreans have no problem with that. At most stadiums in the UK there is a dedicated family section where people who want to take their kids can go and not fear for their children’s safety if the result of the game doesn’t go the right way. I looked for a family section at this match but failed to see one. I quickly realised that they don’t need one, indeed the stadium was the family stand, kids were every where and everyone was having fun with the smattering of Dutch fans mixed in.
The level of patriotism inside the stadium made me a little bit homesick and for a brief moment I wished I was home, in front of a crowd of my own people being this patriotic and supporting my country with such desire.

There was an incident that shattered the atmosphere momentarily. From what I could gather a young man had asked another, older man if he would mind sitting down instead of standing as he and his friends couldn't see, the older man took exception and a small scuffle broke out. This system of unquestionable respect towards ones elders has its strengths and its weaknesses and is open to abuse from people who demand respect yet give nothing in return and I’m sure this is not what Confucius had in mind! The incident was resolved and in case anybody spent too much time looking at the arguing group a man started singing and encouraged all around to join in, which we did.

Korea lost the game 2-0 but you would have never have guessed from all the smiling faces exiting the stadium past the small queue that had formed to have their photograph taken with myself and my friend in our Liverpool shirts.

European football teams and countries could learn a lot from Korea and they would only have to spend a short amount of time in the country in order to experience the hospitality. I will be sad to leave Korea when the time comes but then I will probably do what a lot of foreigners do and return here as soon as I can. The kim chi and hospitality are both addictive and I'm not sure i could lead a life without either.

Tuesday, 5 June 2007


The recent revelation by glorified UEFA press officer William Gaillard that Liverpool have the worst fans in Europe is slanderous at the very least, ridiculously sensationalist and fails to address the state of football in Europe in general. His comments are in contradiction with others from within UEFA (and himself) and I think he has embarrassed UEFA and taken away any creditability they had, if, indeed they had any.

It is true that Liverpool have a diseased element following the club but this is true of all top flight clubs throughout Europe, without exception. These people are partly to blame for the trouble and I would like them to take their share of the blame, whether they were getting in with forged tickets or without tickets at all and denying people with genuine tickets a place in the stadium. These “fans” could easily be from other clubs (I’m not suggesting they were) or the kind of people who aren’t real Liverpool fans at all. There is no law forbidding the wearing of a football shirt from any team but putting one on doesn’t automatically make you an ambassador of that club. It is said time and time again that football hooligans aren’t really football fans and the general, law abiding football population shouldn’t be tarred with the same brush.

There are a few key contradictions with what Mr. Gaillard said and they come from the very organisation he is trying to cover up for. Michel Platini, former footballer and current president of UEFA commended Liverpool for the atmosphere after the semi final game with Chelsea, the clubs fans were honoured by UEFA at a gala dinner in Monte Carlo in 2001 as joint Supporters of the Years with Alves after the UEFA Cup final in 2001 and then there is the comment from Mr. Gaillard himself on the eve of the final that Liverpool supporters 'have a tradition of good behaviour'. Worst fans in Europe? Since when?

The club itself had produced a report for UEFA a week beforehand predicting, sadly, all of the things that did go wrong. The clubs intelligence suggested there were 5,000 forged tickets in existence. UEFA knew and the club knew that thousands of fans would travel without tickets and the need for a proper check at the outer cordon was stressed.

There is no good going to come of playing the blame game but nobody wants to accept responsibility and someone has to. But who? The so called fans who instigated the melee or UEFA who should have had plans in place to combat what happened, especially as they had been briefed by the club itself as to what could and did happen. Had the people trying to get in been Greek locals would we be discussing this now, is it a grudge against Liverpool, English football or do UEFA stand by the deluded Mr. Gaillard?

To think that the supporters of other clubs in England do not have the same, hooligan and scum elements is to be incredibly naïve. I will never condone the actions of those fans but to say that it was only Liverpool fans who could have acted like this is beyond naïve, it’s ridiculous. When the England national team play they are usually treated with caution and this phobia seems to have crept down to a club level, add this to the cock eyed, stereotyped view that people have of Liverpool and the citizens of the city and the bile spouted by certain media organisations it is no surprise that people like Mr. Gaillard comes out with such ridiculous and contradictory comments. People from outside Liverpool base their knowledge of the city and its people on ridiculous stereotypes and second hand knowledge and judge an entire community with their half assed, ill informed views.

Ultimately, the question is of blame. The club cannot be held responsible for what people do in its name; anyone can don a shirt and do anything they please. Are Liverpool fans to blame? Yes and No. The kinds of people who use forged tickets or try to get in without a ticket aren’t real fans of the club; they are pretenders who think only of themselves. Does putting on the shirt of a team really make you an instant fan? If I put on a Manchester united shirt and throw a brick at a police car outside Old Trafford does that make all Manchester united fans unruly thugs? No of course it doesn’t. Im not suggesting that the problems were caused by people imitating Liverpool fans, rather people who think they are Liverpool fans but clearly not knowing what a fan is.

Are UEFA to blame? I have to say yes. It is their responsibility alone to arrange all the security and to police these high profile games. They knew what might happen, they were told by the club. The venue was unsuitable, a stadium not designed for football without turnstiles. The security was lacking and the Greek police were heavy handed, I fear UEFA are a group of over paid ego maniacs and wont learn from this. The next final is due to be held in the similarly unsuitable Luzhniki stadium, Moscow. There was a crush disaster there during the UEFA Cup match between FC Spartak Moscow and HFC Haarlem on October 20, 1982. The official number of deaths is 66.
As for Liverpool fans being the worst in Europe, I think on reflection Mr. Gaillard will regret saying those words. He must have a very short memory if he has forgotten already the Italian policeman killed in Italy as a result of rioting, the fact that games have had to be played behind closed doors more than once in the champions league in the last few years as well as numerous instances of violence and unruly behaviour in Spain and Italy, severed pigs heads being thrown onto the pitch, racist chanting, flares being thrown around and players giving Nazi salutes on the pitch. This with the corruption scandal in Italy that saw Juventus get relegated and other clubs, including the holier than thou AC Milan almost miss out on the champions league all together until they were mysteriously reinstated. Not to mention this seasons incidents with Manchester United, Roma and Lille.
The problems that happened were predicted by some when the ticket allocations were announced, they were absolutely unsuitable and an insult to both clubs. It was Liverpool however who had more of a problem with the paltry ticket allocation because there are always so many supporters who want to attend the games. It affected Liverpool more than Milan, simple. The 11,000 tickets that were eventually offered to fans is a pathetic amount and the ticket situation needs to be looked at as the starting point for this madness and learnt from.
Lessons need to be learnt from this and I hope UEFA come to their senses and admit some responsibility and the situation is resolved with out the need for further discussion and finger pointing.

There are many things in hindsight that could have been done to prevent the kind of fraud that happened and people getting in with anything from paper napkins to nightclub fliers and UEFA seriously need to look at what happened and never let it happen again. The fact that paper tickets are still the norm for such high profile events is baffling, why can’t we go more hi tech? The tickets should only be available to people registered with the respective clubs and so why cant some kind of electronic ticketing be introduced, much like the e-tickets you can get with airlines. The Glastonbury organisers have recently introduced a pre registration scheme with photo ID, why couldn’t this work? All you need nowadays to book cinema tickets online is your credit card, you then you swipe it when you arrive to get your tickers, why can’t they have swipe card readers at the grounds in future?
In the world cup in Germany, only last year the tickets were imbedded with pinhead-size radio frequency microchips with ID codes unique to the holder. Aren’t UEFA and FIFA supposed to be part of the same big football family? Maybe they are the kind of family that doesn’t talk to each other much.

To prevent people with no ticket at all getting in why can’t the security be more streamlined and better organised, we need to do away with the need for temporary police barricades made by over zealous police officers.
A cordon around the stadium with all the facilities inside the supporters need to enjoy an afternoon before what might be the one and only time for some fans to a see their team in a champions league final is another idea. The tickets could even have a designated time to be inside the cordon for, stagger all the times and the authorities will have time to thoroughly check all the tickets.

Finally, just allocate the majority of the tickets to the fans and not to corporate big wigs who leave at half time or sit in their box sipping champagne and eating prawn sandwiches.

What would Roy Keane think?

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