Leijer right in the thick of it in historic Suwon derby

Korean football history will be made on 14 May when promoted Suwon FC host Suwon Bluewings, one of Asia’s most decorated clubs, in the first ever Suwon derby - and an A-League champion will be centre stage at the less-than-glamorous surrounds of the Suwon Sports Complex.


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It will be the first intra-city derby in Korea since 1995 when three clubs – Ilhwa Chunma (now Seongnam), LG Cheetahs (now FC Seoul) and Yukong Elephants (now Jeju United) – were based in Seoul, after which the league introduced a decentralisation policy, forcing the three clubs to uproot and relocate to new cities in order to spread the game across the country.

Adrian Leijer, whose former side on Tuesday night to , will be hoping to strike another blow to the four-time K League Classic champions by claiming bragging rights in the historic cross-town derby.

Leijer said the build up to the Suwon derby was vastly different to that ahead of the first ever Melbourne derby in 2010, between Melbourne Victory and newly-formed Melbourne Heart.

“The mindset and the culture here is completely different,” Leijer told The World Game from Suwon.

“I remember the build up to the first Melbourne derby, it was huge and for us it was all about the fans and winning it for them.

“I went to see Melbourne Victory versus Suwon Samsung with some (Suwon FC) club officials and players and they were supporting Suwon Samsung. In my experience you’d just never do that, it’s unheard of.

“I think it’s going to be a different type of derby, I think we’ll still go out there and try to win, but I’m not sure it’ll have the same kind of heat I’ve experienced in other derbies.”

Leijer joined Suwon FC on a two-year deal earlier this year, after being released by Chinese Super League side Chongqing Lifan, and the two-time A-League champion is enjoying the challenge.

“It’s been a fresh change after China,” he said. “I’m enjoying the club, enjoying the football and particularly the lifestyle as well.

“I think when you walk into a football club you get a real sense of what its like straight away and for me there’s a huge amount of respect within the football club for each other.

“We’re a small club at the moment compared to a lot of the bigger clubs in Korea but the ambition is there to grow and I’m pleased to be here and be a part of it.”

Suwon FC’s rise to the top division has been rapid. The one-time semi-professional club was formed by the Suwon City Government in 2003 and were originally known as Suwon City, playing in the National League, then the second-tier in Korean football.

“We had had a good reputation for being one of the strong amateur teams,” Jung Won-yup, Suwon FC football manager, told The World Game.

“We laid the foundations in 2009 to get ready for joining K League as a professional team whenever we wanted to go.”

That would come in just a matter of years at the request of the K League as they looked to create a new second division and introduce promotion and relegation for the first time.

“Suwon FC was born as a professional team at K League’s request because we were internally stable and ready to go compared to other citizen clubs,” Jung said.

A third placed finish in 2015 saw them enter the promotion playoffs. After wins against Seoul E-Land and Daegu FC they faced a final playoff against Busan I’Park, who finished second bottom in the K League Classic, which they won 3-0 over two-legs to become the first ever original K League Challenge side to earn promotion to the top flight.

With an average crowd of just 1,355 last year, Suwon FC hierarchy were blown away when 12,825 turned up to their first home match of the K League Classic season against Seongnam.

“Many fans stood in lines over 30 metres long to buy tickets,” Jung said. “Many fans could not enter the stadium and had to return home because the seats were fully occupied.

“In fact, it is first time for me to feel regret that we reduced capacity from 27,000 seats to 12,000 seats in 2011.

“I’m worried that it would happen again at the derby.”

While it might be the first Suwon derby, Jung is well aware of the importance of the match for Korean football.

“The Suwon derby is a special occasion in terms of development of culture and history of football in Korea,” he said.

“It is the first derby in 33 years of K League history, it’s the match that all football fans in Korea, and all Suwon citizens wonder and wait for.

“We hope that this first derby in Suwon will be the start of a local derby and become a world class derby as El Clasico, Milano derby, and other derbies.”

With just one win from their opening eight matches, Suwon FC currently sit 10th, ahead of only Jeonnam and Incheon, but importantly only one point behind seventh-placed rivals Suwon Bluewings.

But being the small club in town, Leijer knows the pressure will all be on the Bluewings going into the derby.

“Yeah it’s a different feeling (playing for the small team in town) and I suppose this time going into the derby the pressure’s all on the big team, so for us any result we get is probably really unexpected,” he said.

A result, particularly a win, will go a long way to helping the club achieve their goal for this season – staying in the K League Classic.

“The two losses have come against Jeonbuk and FC Seoul, who if we’re honest are a class above us,” Leijer said.

“All the other games have been very competitive and that’s a good sign. If we keep picking up points along the way, which we are, hopefully we can stay up.”

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6 min read
Published 6 May 2016 at 12:05pm
By Paul Williams
Source: SBS