Red Devils leader remembers excitement of 2002 World Cup
This week marks the 20th anniversary of the opening of the 2002 Korea-Japan World Cup, the global festival of football that saw support for the Korean national team reach fever pitch across the country.
Korea, who co-hosted the World Cup with Japan, reached the semifinals for the first time ever, an achievement that still marks the only time the national team has made it out of the group stage.
At the helm of that historic feat we head coach Guus Hiddink. Korea finished fourth, after losing to Germany 1-0 in the semifinals and to Turkey 3-2 in the third-place playoff.
But behind Hiddink there was another power at play. The Red Devils, the nickname for Korea's infamously fanatical supporters, were out in force throughout the World Cup. As cries of "Daehanminguk" rang out across the country, practically the entire population invested in a "Reds" shirt.
While Hiddink ably managed the Korean team, the Red Devils found their own figurehead to lead the 60,000-strong crowd. Yoo Young-woon, decked out in his Taeguk Warriors kit with megaphone in hand, took that role.
The JoongAng Ilbo sat down to talk to Yoo about his experience in 2002 as the Korea Football Association prepares to hold a commemorative Football Week from June 1 to 6 to mark the 20th anniversary of the World Cup.
Q. How did you become the leader of the Red Devils?
I love football of course, but I never played professionally. I was a Pohang Steelers fan when Hwang Sun-hong, Choi Moon-sik and An Ik-soo played. I often went to Pohang to cheer for their matches while still living in Seoul, and they let me be the leader of the Pohang Supporters. When the Red Devils were created, I got to lead the chants at the international matches. Then 2002 came.
Q. What plans were made before the World Cup?
We wanted a cheer that could get us to the round of 16. Since the matches were at home, we were able to prepare well. We prepared a huge Taegeukgi and cards that could be used to deliver messages, and we used the gongs and samulnori [traditional Korean percussion instruments] because the sound overwhelms the stadium. At the time, the supporters from the 10 K-League clubs also joined forces to form a dream team.
Q. Tell us about the first game against Poland in Busan.
I could never forget the "orange shock" that I felt when Korea faced the Netherlands at the 1998 France World Cup.
That was what we wanted to achieve, so we started the "Be the Reds" campaign a year before the World Cup. On match day, we started preparing two hours ahead of the game, but even an hour before kick off the entire stadium had already turned red. I was sure that we would win that day.
Q. Hwang Sun-hong and Yoo Sang-chul both scored in that game. What was the atmosphere like?
Usually, if the team is ahead by more than two goals, we do the wave because it feels like we can relax and start celebrating while we enjoy the remainder of the match. But I just couldn’t do it.
Korea had never won a World Cup match before and you never know what's going to happen until the final whistle blows. So, I ignored the requests for a wave and just stuck to the "Daehanminguk" chants and singing Arirang. I apologize for not doing the wave back then.
Q. How did you make the large Taegeukgi?
It took us days to make the giant flag in the square in front of Daegu World Cup Stadium. It cost 15 million won ($12,000) just for the cloth and paint. It's 40 meters wide and 30 meters long and it took 40 to 50 people to carry it. I opened it up during a friendly and it was so big that the flag didn't fit on one tier of the stadium.
The flag was to be used during the national anthem, so I was worried that the people underneath it would not be able to see anything.
But it was actually a huge success thanks to everyone's cooperation. I heard that the national flag is in storage at the National Museum of Korea, and I hope it will be unfolded again in time for the 20th anniversary of the 2002 World Cup.
Q. During the time you led the Red Devils, you often had to travel to away matches. What was it like cheering for Korea overseas?
I cheered at about 60 games overseas. Before those matches, I gathered the cheering squad and said, "Our job is simple, we just need to cheer, win and go back home. But there are many Korean residents coming today who live here and will live in this country for the rest of their lives. So, cheer hard, but don’t forget to be on your best behavior, be modest, clean up after yourselves and be polite." I could see that the Korean people living there were proud of us.
At the 2004 Athens Olympics, we played the first game against the host Greece in Thessaloniki. Despite scoring the first two goals, Korea conceded two, one at the very end of the game, to draw 2-2. The Korean fans were very disappointed, but even so, they stayed until the end and cleaned up after themselves. The next day, the foreign media reported on this, saying it was unbelievable.
Cleaning is part of the Red Devils culture. To exaggerate a little, in some Southeast Asian countries, they said the stadiums were cleaner when we came out than when we went in.
Q. What does the 2002 World Cup mean to you?
I think it was an opportunity for Korea's brand value as a country to rise tremendously.
I think the Taegeukgi demonstrates that change. Before the World Cup, the Taegeukgi was considered a more serious object because it stood for dignity, but after the World Cup it became much more familiar to the people. Women even made skirts with the Taegukgi and wore them after the 2002 World Cup.
I don’t think anyone had ever shouted "Daehanminguk" so hard before the 2002 World Cup. I think the 2002 World Cup was a chance for the people to express their love and pride for this country.
BY JUNG YOUNG-JAE, YUN SO-HYANG [email@example.com]