I was at Suwon in South Korea on Sunday to see England’s Under 20s beat Venezuela – our first victory at a global tournament since ‘66. Like the twenty million people who claim they were at Wembley in 1966, I now join the exclusive club of fans who can lay claim to seeing England win a World Cup.
Here’s what I learned:
- The physical footprint of the tournament was almost non-existent. The capital, Seoul, hosted no games. Even in Suwon, where the final was held, there was little evidence of the tournament being at home.
- That said, games were fairly well-attended. More than 37,000 turned up to see Korea’s opening game. Even New Zealand’s group match against Honduras attracted a creditable 6,000 fans.
- And the bars of Seoul were full of people watching South Korea play their group games (the side ventured no further than the group stages).
- Esports and trad sports peacefully co-exist. Those who weren’t watching football in bars could tune into any one of at least half a dozen channels showing esports (and even board games).
- For a country as technologically advanced as South Korea (and if you think the UK is saturated with mobiles, pay Seoul a visit), the stadium wifi was abysmal. When will operators begin to understand how vital digital is to the fan experience today? And how valuable it is to clubs as a revenue and fan engagement resource?
- Venezuelans make more noise than England supporters – and got the Koreans to join in.
- No programmes, negligible in-venue catering (the concessions were empty) or stewarding but a full K-Pop performance was deemed in order.
- This was the most direct and skilful England side I can remember seeing. Not necessarily in the final but in glimpses throughout the tournament.
- The Premier League appeal was writ large. Liverpool, United and City shirts were everywhere on Korean shoulders. Even the odd Spurs one. No Wolves, however.
- Venezuela’s star turn, Adalberto Penaranda, warms the bench for Malaga, on loan from Watford. Troy Deeney must be good.
- Next year’s Winter Olympics is a far bigger deal for Koreans, as you might expect. The mascots, a white tiger and a black bear, are ubiquitous. Roads are being carved through the mountains to link the venues and there is already plenty of chatter about South Korean prospects.