After 50 years, cherished soccer shoes return home

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After 50 years, cherished soccer shoes return home

A pair of ankle-high, thick leather soccer shoes with rounded toes and leather studs that recently returned to Korea are the oldest ever worn by a Korean.
The faded and worn shoes, made in the 1920s, have many tales to tell of their 50 years overseas. They were the cherished possession of former striker Choi Jeong-min, known as “the Golden Legs of Asia” in the 1950s and ’60s, who died in 1983. Lee Jae-hyeong, a 43-year-old soccer buff, bought them in England late last year and revealed them to the public last week.
The shoes are heavy, each weighing 450 grams (1 pound), particularly in comparison to the latest soccer shoes, which weigh a mere 196 grams. The shoes have white laces, and on the outside of each is a clear print of Choi Jeong-min’s name. The six studs on each shoe are made of three layers of leather and fixed in place with nails. Soccer players used to carry a small hammer to pound the nails in when the studs came loose.
Mr. Lee found out about the pair in 2001 from the soccer collectors’ magazine “Offside,” which is published by Italian Claudio Pasqualin. According to the magazine, a British collector had a picture of Choi, newspaper items and the soccer shoes. After many inquiries, Mr. Lee met the collector and succeeded in persuading him to sell the items.
According to Mr. Lee, Choi, who was born in Pyeongyang in 1926, received the shoes from a relative. The handmade shoes were the work of the only soccer bootmaker in Korea at that time, Seoseon Yanghwajeom (Western-style Shoe Store).
At that time, they were valuable items sought by players. Choi cherished the shoes so much he did not wear them often during games. In the Korean War, Choi took the shoes among other articles when he escaped from the North.
When he took part in the first Asia Football Championship in Hong Kong in 1956 as a member of the national team, Choi gave the shoes to a British fan and never saw them again.
Coincidentally, some parts of the traditions of Seoseon Yanghwajeom, which was originally in Pyeongyang, still continue in Seoul. The late Roh Jong-young, a clerk at the shoe store, came to the South and opened Seogyeong Cheyuksa (Sporting Goods Store) here. Mr. Roh produced sports shoes, and now his son, Roh Ji-ho, 48, owns a store, Seogyeong Sports, near Dongdaemun Stadium.
Mr. Roh recently saw the shoes and was very impressed. “I can feel the energy of Seoseon Yanghwajeom, where my father used to work,” Mr. Roh said. Then, he brought out a pair of old soccer shoes that were worn by Kim Yong-sik, who took part in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, saying he inherited them from his father.
“Looking at the shoes, Choi Jeong-min’s shoes seem to be older than Kim Yong-sik’s,” he said.
Kim’s shoes have a half-moon-shaped steel spike on the front outsole, while on the instep are four lines that assisted in spinning the football, considered advanced features at the time.
The oldest shoes kept by the Korea Football Association are the pair worn by Jeong Byeong-tak in the 1960s, which were manufactured by Adidas.

by Jeong Young-jae
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