[SPORTS VIEW]Daejeon soccer team rises from ashesAmong the top 10 strikers in the K-League, not one plays for the Daejeon Citizen. Among the top 10 K-Leaguers in assists, not one suits up for the Citizen. Yet as of Sunday, the team that is “run by the people” is in second place, behind the Seongnam Cheonma and ahead of 10 other squads, posting a 7-2-3 record.
Since its creation in 1996, Daejeon is a team that placed no better than seventh (in 1997), while during the last two seasons it finished in 10th place. To give you an idea of how popular the team has become, sales for season tickets stood at a mere 48 million won ($40,000) last year. In just the first quarter of this season, ticket sales have already reached 450 million won.
The team is on a six-game winning streak at home, and thanks to this achievement, the average attendance at those matches has been hovering around 21,000. Officials at Daejeon have big plans for June 18, when the team hosts the Ulsan Tigers at the Daejeon World Cup Stadium. The team administrators want to fill all the 45,000 seats available. On that June date just a year ago in Daejeon, the national team upset Italy to advance to the final eight in the World Cup, and Citizen officials plan to make the most out of the historic occasion.
A year ago, no one could have sold me on the idea of a full stadium in the K-League. But now, I must admit, if it happens, and the Citizen will be the first to do so, making history.
On May 4, almost 35,000 Daejeon fans showed up at for a home game against the Suwon Bluewings. Even the lowest attendance this year was a good crowd -- 13,000 -- for a match against the Pohang Steelers.
You may recall that at the end of last year this team was on the verge of extinction when Gyeryong Construction gave up operating the team for financial reasons. Suddenly, support groups popped up all over, and the citizens of Daejeon city and local companies chipped in to save the dying franchise. All told, 250 organizations contributed to relaunch a team that everyone had written off at the beginning of this season.
Coach Choi Yoon-gyum, who previously coached Bucheon SK, has succeeded in turning a below average squad into a unit that knows how to play controlled soccer in an aggressive style. The Citizen's strategy of applying pressure in the midfield while keeping the distance between its defense and midfield to a minimum, has given much trouble to other teams.
It appears that the newly found love between the Citizen and Daejeon fans is going to last for the season. Undying support has given the players an extra edge, and with funding coming in from the local community, the team's financial woes should be over this season.
Other recent changes include a modernizing of the Citizen’s homepage, reorganizing a complex seating system and coming up with numerous opportunities for fans to participate in special events.
Improvements and alterations have taken place in accordance with Daejeon fans' needs and wants, lessons other teams should take to heart if they wish to copy the Citizen's success. Only a team for the fans will be loved by the fans, and only a team loved by the fans will succeed.
by Brain Lee
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