New Malden’s South Koreans, the World Cup, and me
Back in a previous life, I used to blog about my home town of New Malden. New Malden may have lost many of its unique selling points (MJM records, best Wimpy in the country, me) but it’s still a blessed place, and home to the largest population of South Koreans in Europe. So it felt only right and proper to head back to my spawning ground to watch South Korea play in the World Cup.
We watched the first half in a Korean restaurant on the high street. When we arrived the waitress asked “Are you here for the match?”, and presented us with a table right underneath an enormous flat screen. We managed to get most of our order before the match started, and as we watched all the waiters and waitresses formed a tight little knot in the middle of the room, screaming maniacally whenever a Korean player kicked the ball or gamely chased a ball heading out for a corner.
We got our bill at half time then headed down the highstreet to The Fountain pub, which despite being something of a shithole has an important part in New Malden community relations. Back in 2002 they were the first pub to advertise they were showing the Korea matches – in Korean – and quickly became a magnet for the local community. With South Korea’s unlikely passage to the semi finals came local and then national news crews, and for about ten minutes New Malden had its fifteen minutes of fame.
So, fast-forward eight years and we arrived in the Fountain’s beer garden to find four enormous samsung televisions placed in a row along the back wall, with the place absolutely packed with whole familes of Koreans, all dressed in red, waving their flags and clapping together their inflatable clappers. There were also a decent smattering of non-Korean New Maldeners, one of whom I later overheard drunkenly asking a friend “Why can’t we get an atmosphere of 1,500 people like this when England play?”
So to the second half. The place went absolutely bonkers when Korea scored to make it 2-1, with each replay getting almost as much applause as the goal itself, like they’d scored four times in quick succession from a variety of camera angles. Other notable crowd differences when compared to English fans was how they’d shreik in fear when the other team were bearing down on goal, only to cheer wildly when the ball missed the target, which seemed a bit unsporting – up there with cheering double faults in tennis – but no less funny for it. Nigeria’s equaliser was met with a kind of strangulated horror, but then out came the drums, and the chants, and the atmosphere was back to what someone like Nick Hornby would probably describe as fever pitch.
Due to events in the other group match (Argentina beating Greece), South Korea were through even if Nigeria scored again*, and as the mathematical permutations filtered through to the crowd the atmosphere became a bit more relaxed. At this point a van full of police turned up, presumably having been tipped off by some nimby numpty. Two coppers got out, decided against baton charging the large, happy, well-behaved crowd, and instead stayed to watch the rest of the match.
When the match finished, the guy with the drum led a slightly disjointed march in the direction of the high street. Everyone else tidied up after themselves – fifteen minutes later a barwoman came out with a binbag, looked a bit confused, then went inside again.
Tonight, we’re in search of a Bavarian bar where we can watch Germany vs. Ghana. Tomorrow, we’re off to a Japanese bar in Soho to watch their final group match. This is the great thing about being in London for the World – every match can be a ‘home’ match.
Unless you’re supporting North Korea.