A single car races down Goyang City’s normally bustling main drag. The pedestrian walkways are barren. The only people on the sidewalk stand still with their eyes quietly fixated on the televisions in corner stores or pubs. It’s 10:00 pm and in businesses that have been closed for an hour employees are huddled around a miniature TV or a TV-enabled cell phone. Then, a cheer erupts from every apartment building, bar and corner store in Korea and the previously motionless observers are jumping up and down and screaming. The Red Devils have scored a goal. This is the World Cup in Korea.
Korea’s soccer dreams revolve around repeating 2002, the year when Korea both hosted the World Cup and exceeded everyone’s expectations by making it to the final four. In 2006, Koreans were disappointed to see their team ousted after the first round. However, Korea’s hopes were high again for 2010 when they entered the World Cup as the only team unbeaten during the qualification tournament. (Most of my information about Korea’s recent soccer history is gathered from students’ essays and Wikipedia, so please correct me if any of this is inaccurate.)
Seeking to both profit from and fuel the excitement, stores quickly filled up with Korean-themed T-shirts, tattoos, bandanas, and blinking devil horns for fans to wear while cheering on Korea. Big Bang, one of K-pop’s biggest brands, teamed up with Kim Yuna — AKA: Queen Yuna — to create The Shouts of Reds Part 2, an official cheering song with accompanying dance moves. It’s catchy, but the dance is surprisingly difficult to pull off without looking like an idiot. Not that I’ve tried . . .
As a foreigner, cheering for Korea nets high praise. My students would ask me, “Teacher, Canada have soccer?”
“No,” I explained, “we don’t have a team in the World Cup. I’m cheering for Korea.”
Their eyes inevitably lit up when they heard that last part. “Oh! Very good, teacher!” They would say.
Despite the enthusiasm, Koreans are not unrealistic in their expectations. When I asked students and co-workers if they planned to watch the next soccer game they always said yes. They would then tell me the stats and rankings of Korea’s opposition, and whether or not Korea was expected to win. So when Korea was slotted to play Uruguay for a knockout game on Saturday night, the atmosphere was enthusiastic, but perhaps not as electrifying as the first-round games.
Nonetheless, I took a bus into Seoul and joined about 60 000 other people around City Hall to cheer in the rain. The video above is just a snippet of the cheering and yelling that was going on. I apologise for the Blair Witch camerawork. Clearly my future is not in documentary filmmaking.
Korea ended up being eliminated that night but I’m still so grateful that I got to cheer with the masses. There were times that I was a bit sad to be abroad during Canada’s Olympics, especially since nobody in Korea cared about the gold medal Hockey games. However, being in a soccer-crazed nation during the World Cup has been an amazing ride. Here are some pictures of the experience: