If you are looking for the oldest expat football team in South Korea, Seoul International Soccer Club (SISC) is about as close to a founding father team as you can get. First formed all the way back in 1983, the “old boys” of the team were responsible for setting up the Saturday league and have made a team with some real history and character. And when the football is all done, as the team motto goes, they have no sponsor and they drink where they want.
The SISC has long been part of the expat community and over the last 36 years have had players from over 20 countries and from as many different backgrounds as you can imagine. From those in Seoul teaching to state agents and even ambassadors, the team has been a second family for football enthusiasts and those looking for a weekend escape. The only requirements to join are at least a basic level of skill, time to make it to as many games in the season as possible, and most importantly an enthusiasm to get fully involved with the team socially as well.
Back when the team started, expat football looked very different. Jacques Bastiani, the George Washington of the team and a man with a history in South Korea that would take up its own article, founded the team under the name Seoul International Soccer Club to immediately poke fun at the Brits who had already set up an expat team here.
“The name Seoul International Soccer Club was chosen because we are just that, an international team. We have players on the team from Japan, Korea, Hong Kong, USA, Ireland, Ivory, Zambia, France, Uzbekistan, England, Germany, Italy, Romania, and more” highlights Scott Finch, one of the longest serving players. All of the players named the variety of backgrounds on the team as its greatest strength.
For the best part of 20 years they only played friendlies, refusing to join the Sunday league because of the preference of having a free evening after the game to celebrate victories or drown out losses without having to worry about the rigours of work the next day. That all changed in 2003, when finally SISC brought together five other teams to form a Saturday league. Originally, other squads were generally made up of players of one nationality like the Russian and German teams, or by area or group like the Itaewon team or the “Soccer in Love” Christian team, but now the teams are much more diverse.
The league has grown quickly, and now there are two divisions made up of eight teams each and a league sponsor that will provide kits to all first division teams. Games on dirt pitches have been virtually outlawed, and there are two seasons a year running in the spring and autumn. “The league level has gone up, not so sure about our team!” according to Dan Ciura, the team’s Romanian representative since he came to South Korea right around the time of the formation of the league.
But it is not all about footballing glory for the SISC. Although they want to win and play with a competitive spirit, the history of the team and the mixed group means it is just as much about being part of a small family as it is about prowess on the pitch. “As long as you are half-decent but you’re willing to come out, we will take you on” states Paul Bourke, this year’s captain. “It’s a social team,” he continues.
Despite other teams accusing the SISC of bias because Jacques and Scott continue to administer the league and keep it running smoothly, SISC have won the league first division championship once since 2003 and have even bounced between the first and second division a couple of times. If they have been rigging the league, they haven’t been doing a good job of it. The SISC will even put players in touch with other teams if they can’t find a space for them in their own line-up.
The attitude of the team can be summed up by the chants about the players and the club. They most famously sing, “We have no sponsor; we drink where we want,” a nod to the team refusing to take deals with bars and restricting their social venue for evenings after the game. A brief flirtation with sponsorship ended quickly and the team is now back to its roots. The team’s motto is also, “It’s about the club not the cup,” and have even rejected a top player who left the team for another and then asked to make a return. The jokes now made between the team and player that will remain nameless are probably not printable, but the relationship between everyone remains close.
The team is currently looking for players for the upcoming season beginning in March, with friendlies organized for February for players to come along and see if they enjoy being part of the team. Joining SISC is good for everyone from the hardcore football lover to the casual player looking for a good time on the weekend, and it won’t just mean being part of a team, it will mean being part of a family as well. In the words of team-veteran Scott, “We often celebrate holidays together, take trips together, and help each other when needed. I can’t imagine what I would do on the weekend without SISC.”
Contact: To enquire about joining the team, email firstname.lastname@example.org or contact Paul Bourke on Kakao ID paulyb. Fees are 120,000 a season (80,000 for students), which includes kit and the cost of pitch rental for 14 games.