“Once is happenstance; twice is coincidence; three times is enemy action.” With that quote from Goldfinger ringing in my ears, I weighed up what course of action I should take against this other foreigner who had appeared at FC Seoul’s last three away games. Previously my sole preserve, this imposter had appeared at Gangwon in late April, turned up at Gyeongnam two weeks later and now here he was again skulking in Gwangju only seven days later. We looked each other up and down suspiciously in that way that foreigners often do. He was kitted out in a leather jacket complemented with knuckle-dusters, tattoos and dyed hair; he didn’t look like my sort at all. He spoke first…”Christ!” I thought. “A Yank! He’ll be talking about ‘offense’ and ‘soccer’ and other such gibberish…”
Luckily, despite that inauspicious start, Ryan became one of my closest friends in Korea and co-founder of the Diablos, a club set up for foreign football fans to get together to support FC Seoul. That first day, we agreed to meet to watch the next home game together and soon we were going up to other foreigners wearing Seoul shirts or scarves and inviting them to join us. Within a few short months, we had cobbled together the requisite ten members and in 2013 we officially applied for membership of the FC Seoul Supporters Coalition and were accepted as the 14th member group. (It is now up to 17 groups.) We’ve had an executive on the fan council for the past three years and as a group we get to vote on all things affecting the fans such as deciding new chants, protests against the manager or board and the like.
Managing the group brings its own set of problems. The high turnover of foreigners in Seoul means that we’re on a perpetual recruitment drive and the language gap means that we sometimes struggle to contribute to Fan Club events but I think we are now fully accepted as proper fans by the other groups.
A typical match day involves meeting in front of the GS25 by Exit 2 of the Seoul World Cup Stadium about 90 minutes before kick-off for pre-match libations and banter about our respective teams back home. The foreign fan community in Korea is quite small and close so we often grab a beer with any foreign opposition fans. We troop into the ground around 20-30 minutes before kick-off and shout ourselves hoarse for 90 minutes supporting the team. After the game, we return to the GS25 for a post mortem of the match and a celebratory drink. Often, we’ll also head on for dinner or for a night out.
For local away games (Suwon, Incheon, Seongnam), we normally meet somewhere convenient and travel together and for long-distance away games we’ll normally take the supporter buses provided by the club (a steal at KRW 5,000 return) or gather in one of our haunts to watch it on TV. A couple of times a year we also try and make a weekend of an away game, especially if it’s Busan or Jeju when the weather is warm. We’ve enjoyed great weekends in Ulsan, Pohang, Jeju, Busan and Yeosu in the past couple of years. There are 38 games in the league season in Korea and in the past few years the Diablos have been present at more than 90 per cent of those games. We’ve also been abroad to Japan, China and Australia in support of our team.
Once a year, the fans arrange a futsal tournament for all the fan clubs to take part in, which is always a fun day and we’re also often invited to play 11-a-side friendlies against other fan clubs. Suffice to say that our Sunday League bruiser style doesn‘t always go down well.
There have been some great highlights over the years; seeing our members going just as crazy as everyone else when we got a last minute winner for our first victory away at Suwon for several years was a proud moment for me and seeing our ranks swell to become bigger than some of the more established groups has also been gratifying.
Our membership is made up of English teachers, foreign students, business people, embassy staff and Koreans who’ve studied abroad, so we’re quite diverse. Given that most foreigners in Seoul only stay for a year or two, membership turnover is quite high, but at any one time we probably have about 20-25 active members and most members stay in touch and continue to contribute on our Facebook page after they’ve returned home.
As usual, the end of the year has seen a big exodus of foreigners moving on to pastures new and so we will be looking for new faces to come and join us. We always welcome new members so if you’re missing live football and want to make some new friends, get in touch either through our Facebook group where we post information about upcoming matches, transfers, and chant lyrics or by coming to say hello at the GS25 before or after any home match.
Diablo’s Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/groups/DiablosBlancos/
March 1 @ 14:00 ACL second group game v Sanfrecce Hiroshima
March 20 @ 14:00 KLeague Round 2 v Sangju
April 2 @ 16:00 KLeague Round 3 v Incheon