A world on a soccer field

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A world on a soccer field

WONDANG, Gyeonggi
“C’mon boys, let’s go!” shouted the Han River Harriers’ goalkeeper during a recent Sunday afternoon game of futsal ― a variation of soccer played between teams of five, on a smaller field.
The players, both the Harriers and their opponents from Dream Time FC, were sweating under the scorching sun as they passed the ball swiftly along. Players shouted at each other, yelling “Pass here!” and “Stop him, stop him!” Two referees in yellow sternly observed as the physical contact grew more intense. Other team members cheered and shouted from the sidelines, and leaped up in sheer euphoria every time a goal was scored.
This was the final game of the Seoul Super 6 tournament, a pre-season futsal tournament held by the Supersunday Football League, an amateur soccer league made up of expatriates living in Korea. During the regular season, they play regular soccer, but for the time being, it’s futsal.
A Brazilian player for Dream Time, who had once played for a K-league team, displayed the skills of a professional as he passed the ball to his teammates. Some of the team’s Korean players ― many of the expat league’s teams have at least a few ― shouted in Korean to their foreign teammates.
After the final whistle blew, the score was tied 3-3, and the game moved into the penalty stage. The mood got serious, and the players watched each other grimly. One of the Dream Time players missed the last shot, and the Han River Harriers won the game, and the tournament, 5-4 on penalties. They danced and shouted for joy and took group pictures. This mini-tournament may have involved more casual competition than during the regular season, but the taste of victory had never been so sweet to the winners.
Founded in the spring of 2002 by a number of expats living in Seoul, the Supersunday Football League now boasts 17 amateur teams, with nearly 300 members. Eight teams play in Division I, and nine play in the less competitive Division II. Teams are assigned to divisions based on their performance during the previous season.
Until this organized league was established, amateur soccer teams made up of expatriates were few and intermittent in Korea, and usually played against neighborhood ajeossis. All that changed three years ago.
“The purpose was getting a regular game going, to have a competitive structure,” says league president Wayne Gold, who owns Jester’s Bar in Itaewon.
The league has a spring and a fall season; the latter begins this week. More than a hundred games are played in each season. The league follows FIFA rules, playing two 45-minute games with 11 players on a team.
Each team contributes to the covering the costs of renting fields and getting trophies made; the games are played on various public and private football fields around the Seoul and Gyeonggi province area.
Although no prize money is given, winners get trophies and plaques at the end of every season, at banquets held at the Hard Rock Cafe in Gangnam or the Hamilton Hotel in Itaewon.
The names of the teams are as diverse as the nationalities of the players. There are the Incheon Red Dogs, the Lokomtiv Goyang, the Hongdae Shooters, Osan Mustang (made up of U.S. military men and women), Real Samgyupsal, the Cheongju Tigers and the Suwon Globetrotters, among many others.

The oldest team in the league is the Seoul British Football Club, which has been around since the mid 1970s; St. Patrick’s FC and Seoul Celtic, made up of Irish expats, followed not long after that.
The uniforms display the names of the teams, the players’ names (some in English, some in Korean) and the sponsors’ logos. The navy-blue uniform of the Gecko’s Blues carries the logo of the well-known Gecko’s Terrace bar in Itaewon.
Most of the league’s players are in their 20s, though there are some teenagers and some men in their 40s. The Osan Mustang team has a few female players.
Christine Beyea, 19, shot a beautiful goal from the half line during this tournament, which won her praise from all sides of the field. “I like being able to travel around the country [to play], and I just like to be active,” says Ms. Beyea.
The Supersunday Football League is as international as it gets. The Han River Harriers alone have players of 23 different nationalities; there are also some homogenous teams, like the Malaysia Student FC. Players hail from North America, Europe, South America, Africa, Asia and New Zealand.
“I joined at first because it sounded interesting,” said Anas Alamir, a Jordanian member of Dream Time FC. We foreigners can get together to become friends.” His team members include players from Brazil, Iraq and Egypt.
Evan Hale of the Han River Harriers says players are mostly recruited by word of mouth. “Usually, people we come in contact with get to join,” he said. “We have tryouts, since we play first division.”
“Because the expats in Korea move in and out of the country often, there is so much transition with players in the teams,” says Brian Fingler of the Misfits FC, a spinoff of the Cheongju Tigers. There are English teachers, bar owners, embassy staffers and businessmen among the expat players.
So when do they get together to practice? “We meet at the pub to discuss the game,” Mr. Fingler laughs.

by Choi Jie-ho

For more information on the Supersunday Football League, visit http://groups.msn.com/thesupersundayfootballleague.
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