Travelling down from my hostel in Jongno-Gu, across the Hangang River which splits the city in two, I arrived at the magnificent Mongchontoseong-the World Peace Gate to Seouls's Olympic Park. As I discovered over the next few hours, the park and all its stadia were still in excellent condition considering the games had been held there in 1988.
It was one of those sunny, chilly and windy days. The square immediately beyond the World Peace Gate was filled with kite fliers, mini-baseball games, people on bikes and unicycles and parents pulling their small children round at high speed in little trolleys.
Jay, the receptionist at my hostel, had earlier helped me to compose a letter in Korean to explain my mission. I spotted a group of lads, showed them the letter and the game was on! Using a space to one of the sides of the main square, to shield ourselves from the high winds, a 3 v 3 game began.
Moon Kee Je, Kim Donk Yu, Lee Jae Won, Park Yoon Su, Young Ji Wong and Lee Gyoung Jun were all 17 years old. I thought the lads looked younger to be honest, but in Korea you are regarded as 1 year old as soon as you are born, then aged 2 years as soon as your first January comes around. In England, these chaps would have been aged 15-16 years old.
One thing was for sure, they could all play a bit! They were all fans of their local team Seoul FC, and also supported either Barcelona or Real Madrid. They had obviously been watching their heroes as they put on an energetic display of flicks, tricks and skills. The match was competitive without ever getting dirty. One team raced into an early lead as they had the slightly faster and more technical players. I decided to go in nets for the underdogs. Bad mistake. Within 5 minutes I'd twisted my knee, fallen over and headed a ball with my sunglasses on my head, breaking one of the lenses! One of the worst substitute appearance ever! I quickly returned to my role as official photographer and left them to it.
The game was first to 10 and the score had reached 6-6, with many disputed goals as the lads were playing the overhead height rule. I had to toss a coin at one point to decide if a goal should be awarded. The team with the quicker players ran away with it in the end 10-6. Talking to the lads after, through Moon Kee Je (who interpreted) it was clear that the lads loved football. They spent many an afternoon having a kick-about and, unlike the national obsession with rounders for grown-ups (baseball), they saw footy as the best game in the world. A really intense, skilled, competitive but fair game, just what the olympics should be about too I guess! Thank you chaps!!