Soccer Saturday (and Sunday)
Amateur devotees of the beautiful game, both Korean and expatriate, regularly flock to the soccer pitches of Seoul on weekends to test their skills in a friendly but still highly competitive atmosphere. Both the Seoul Saturday Soccer League and Seoul Sunday Football League have been offering competitive action over three divisions for those seeking to get out onto the pitch and with clubs looking for players in the upcoming close season, there will be plenty of opportunities for those looking to get involved.
Although the standard in the top division is high, almost anyone can find a team that matches their ability and personality. Jarred Pellat, the captain of Seoul Saturday Soccer League Division Two team Deportivo Seoul joined “because I was seeking an environment in which I could play soccer while not having to worry about my technical ability. Deportivo made me feel comfortable.” Deportivo’s inclusive nature – no rollicking each other over mistakes and no trials to test ability – was also a large part of his decision to join the team. Deportivo’s goals at the start of this season were modest, with Jarred being quite candid here; “the original objective was to simply do our best and not finish last.” In fact, it now looks likely that Deportivo will finish in the top half of the table and qualify for the league cup.
Although most of the players in the weekend leagues are male, there are also plenty of opportunities for female players to get involved. Sunday League Division Two side Seoul Fury took inspiration from an all-women’s soccer team which used to play in the league. Captain Angel Yon explains that “we wanted to continue to provide opportunities for anyone – male or female. I think most teams are open to new players regardless of their gender.”
While the leagues provide a chance for Seoulites to play soccer and get some much needed exercise, they are also a great opportunity to meet like-minded people. When asked about the other benefits of joining a team, Angel replied that “The Sunday League is a fantastic way to meet a community of good people. I think each team aims to offer support to their players, and not just via information pertaining to soccer. It’s a great way for expats and Koreans to get involved and meet new people.”
One of the biggest difficulties for teams is finding pitches locally as the demand is so high. Many teams have had to show real dedication to fulfil their fixture lists with some matches being played in Seoul’s satellite cities. Maintaining a team that can provide eleven players every weekend is a huge problem with people’s busy lifestyles. Jarred highlights the need for a core group of players as the key to doing well. “The biggest difficulty is being consistent. Sometimes teams fail because they lose a lot of players.”
Two teams left Deportivo’s league at the start of the season, and one of the remaining six teams has struggled to put together a full team and complete its fixtures, leading to a plea from the league’s organizers for new players to join them and help them provide eleven players for one of their matches. Even teams like Deportivo, who have a large squad, can face sudden shortages in key positions. One of Deportivo’s matches against rivals Dreamfriendz took place when both goalkeepers were out of town so outfield players had to take turns in goal. “We went 1-0 up shortly after kick-off and everything seemed fine. Suddenly they figured out our keeper situation and we were down 4-1 after only 30 minutes. Our guys showed some real character and we used the final 60 minutes to claw our way back to 4-4.”
This is a problem echoed in the Sunday league. While Angel can’t speak for other teams, she feels that finding players that can commit to an entire season is a team’s biggest challenge. “It’s especially difficult when players have families, jobs, business trips or other commitments. Many players are expats who want to travel and have limited vacation time. It’s definitely worth it though, and props to all the players who make the commitment.”
Players who can manage that commitment will certainly enjoy the experience. Like many soccer teams going on tour, teams from the Saturday and Sunday leagues are invited to enter the Ulsan Cup, a competition held in the city every May, and includes teams from all over Korea. This year Seoul Fury is entering the competition along with fifteen other teams and Angel is very excited about their debut. “Basically it’s a long weekend with a lot of soccer… I’m excited to check out the teams from other areas.”
Leagues run twice a year, in the spring and in the fall with teams playing between ten and fourteen league matches a season. Most teams are looking for players in the pre-season period (July/August and January/February). For more information, visit the league website at:
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