Fans show true colorsKorean rooters' strategy
"Be the Reds" is the campaign slogan that the Red Devils, the official supporters for Korea's national soccer team, have been promoting since last summer, when Korea and Japan hosted the Confederation Cup games as a sort of trial run for the World Cup. The campaign aims to encourage all Koreans attending the national team's games to wear red - either the soccer team's jersey or a red shirt.
The Red Devils started in 1997 when fans of Korean professional soccer teams joined forces to cheer on the national squad. The group, with more than 60,000 members, strives to cultivate an upbeat and wholesome cheering culture among Koreans.
Shin In-cheol, who was elected the group's new president last April, said that the Red Devils' objective is to make cheering as inclusive as possible. "We will do our best to root in a way that's easy for everyone to join in," he said.
Oh Yo-han, a coordinator of the cheers, said, "We're coming up with chants that can be done by everyone together, not just by the Red Devils." The group wants an atmosphere in which anyone in the crowd can start a chant or song and the rest of the crowd can naturally follow.
The Red Devils decided recently to trim its repertoire of basic chants from 20 to 10, and make sure that all have easy words and rhymes. Last month, they held a contest called "Create a Red Devil Chant" to collect more ideas. Nearly 5,000 people submitted entries.
If last November's game between the national team and Croatia at Seoul's World Cup Stadium is any guide, Red Devil fever is catching. In years past, Korean fans tended to root only when their team scored or when the final gun confirmed a win.
But at the Croatia game, the Red Devils handed out some 65,000 red flags to fans entering the stadium. The flags waved throughout the game, and the crowd bellowed out the traditional folk song cum rooting song "Arirang" as well as "Dae-Han-Min-Guk," the name for the country in Korean.
Japanese rooters' strategy
The Japanese cheering section lacks the formality of its Korean counterpart. "Ultra Nippon is not an organization, it's a movement," said Asahi Ueda, the de facto leader of the supporting group for Japan's national team. Indeed, Ultra Nippon has no organization - no presidents or vice presidents. The group merely consists of Japanese soccer fans in blue shirts who root for their national team.
There are no perks in being a member of Ultra Nippon, like discounts for purchasing tickets in bulk. All members have to buy their tickets individually. The group has no choreographed chants, and doesn't plan to make any for the World Cup. They use simple chants like "Nippon" followed by three short claps and popular songs that can be done by any Japanese in the crowd.
The Japanese rooting in last year's Confederation Cup was led by the supporters' groups for respective teams in the J-league - the professional soccer league in Japan. Most of these Japanese spectators wore the national team uniform or blue shirts. The fans brought signs and banners, and Ultra Nippon volunteers sold inexpensive blue balloons at the stadium entrances for Japanese fans to display.
Unlike the Red Devils, Ultra Nippon has no plans to crank up its cheering energy for the World Cup. But it is concerned about ensuring the smooth operation of the World Cup games. Its members are planning novel ways to greet fans from other countries and to make them feel at home. Ultra Nippon will send about 200 volunteers to each World Cup stadium in Japan to help out with practical matters.
For example, the Japanese supporters are planning to greet English soccer fans by saying "Beckham," in reference to the English soccer star David Beckham, rather than a simple "Hello."
Another side event they are planning is the "Supporters' World Cup Futsal Competition," referring to Futsal, a five-player minisoccer game. They plan to hold the competition in Tokyo to make the capital Japan's 11th World Cup host city, since Tokyo is not hosting any World Cup games.
Though the Red Devils and Ultra Nippon used to get along swimmingly, relations between the two groups came to a grinding halt last year. After the two cheering organizations collaborated to make an album last April, discord reared up when the controversy over the Japanese history textbook boiled.
Nevertheless, the members of Ultra Nippon say they are ready to re-establish the friendship anytime should the newly elected leaders of the Red Devils call with a new, collaborative project.
by Lee Chul-jae