Soccer's roots here run deep

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Soccer's roots here run deep

Before there was the World Cup, the Asian Cup or any soccer cup at all, there was a vacant lot by Seoul's Dongdaemun Gate where Korean students and British sailors ran, passed and kicked their way through the first international match that included Koreans in the lineup.

Soccer came to Korea in 1882 when sailors aboard a British carrier, the Flying Fish, arrived at Incheon's Jemulpo port and began to kick a soccer ball to pass the time. When the ship departed, however, a few balls were left behind.

Korean soccer gained popularity and structure when it became part of the physical education curriculum at the Royal English High School in 1896. Like other foreign groups in Seoul, the British set up a high school in the 1890s where approximately 150 Korean boys ranging in age from 8 to 20 received an English education provided by a largely British faculty. Because the school placed a high value on athletics, when a "foreign friend" of the school's, Reverend Arthur B. Turner, a Protestant minister from the English Mission, asked to teach the boys soccer, the Royal English agreed.

The game caught on, as did the boys' passion for it. According to The Independent, Seoul's only English-language newspaper at the time, the boys soon began to play "with such vim and earnestness that they won praise and admiration."

A challenger sailed into Korea aboard a ship en route to the British consulate in Seoul one year later. The crew of the British warship Narcissus likely heard about the Royal English High School because Mr. Turner soon arranged a game between his students and members of the British crew.

On March 26, 1897, seven Korean students and four British faculty members took the field for Korea. They played against 10 British sailors following the rules set by the Soccer Association in London.

When the game was over, just one goal had been recorded, though the name of the young Korean who scored it has been lost. Even so, the Royal English High School defeated the British Navy, 1-0, in the first soccer match in which any Koreans played.

In the 105 years since, Korea has gone on to compete in six World Cups and become an established member of the international soccer community.

by Robert Neff, Daniela SantaMaria

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