Written and photographed by Giovanni Pieve
Football is called “the beautiful game,” and for good reason. Both on the international and club stage, football brings people together to cheer their teams to victory. Though on a much smaller scale, amateur football is the same. It can bring people from all over a country together to play and make an impact that reaches far beyond the pitch. The 2017 Gwangju Charity Cup exemplified this perfectly as hosts Gwangju Inter FC along with seven other teams came together to play the beautiful game for sport and pride – and for a great cause.Football is called “the beautiful game,” and for good reason. Both on the international and club stage, football brings people together to cheer their teams to victory. Though on a much smaller scale, amateur football is the same. It can bring people from all over a country together to play and make an impact that reaches far beyond the pitch. The 2017 Gwangju Charity Cup exemplified this perfectly as hosts Gwangju Inter FC along with seven other teams came together to play the beautiful game for sport and pride – and for a great cause.
Now who is Gwangju Inter FC? It is our local amateur foreigner-friendly football club. The team practices and plays every Sunday and participates in tournaments whenever possible. They have been around since the early 2000s, and this year the team decided to go an extra step and host its very own tournament. According to the team manager, Wee Sung-je, the tournament was inspired by other cups held around Korea, most notably, the annual Ulsan Cup, which is considered to be the biggest tournament on the Korean amateur football circuit. While Inter FC does participate in roughly six to eight tournaments a year, there were no tournaments in the southwest. The Gwangju Charity Cup was created, in part, to fill that void.
The tournament was brilliantly run as well. Putting together such a large event isn’t easy, but the team had some help and support from organizations and individuals within the Gwangju community. Due to the lobbying efforts of the team manager, the team was able to get help from a few major outside sources. “The Gwangju International Center (GIC) helped us substantially by helping to run the tournament,” said Wee. Additionally, the Gwangju Football Association helped in acquiring the rights to use the facility at a discounted rate. The team’s kit sponsor, Speakeasy Bar in Gwangju, provided some help to the team throughout the year. Finally, the team had help creating posters, thanks to the graphic design skills of Lee Wan-hee.
The facility was the football stadium at Naju Sports Park, which is nestled just behind Naju Station. The teams were able to make use of both the stadium pitch as well as the secondary pitch outside the stadium. The tournament ran a traditional football format with a group stage consisting of two groups of four. The top two in each group advanced to the semi-finals while the bottom two in each group still competed in the lower bracket for 5th to 8th place with the 5th-place team being awarded “the plate.” Each match was 40 minutes. This format allowed for the tournament to be completed in one day and provided each team with a minimum of four games. For the out-of-town teams, this made the trip well worth it.
Speaking of those out-of-town teams, the tournament brought in players from quite a few different cities in Korea. A total of four teams were local while four teams had to make the trip down. One team hailed from Daejeon, while another team was from Daegu. A third had a mix of Daegu and Jeonju players, while another came from Gwangsan. However, perhaps what was even more impressive was the number of nationalities represented at the tournament. Over 16 different countries were represented. This phenomenon is something quite familiar to Gwangju Inter FC. Though initially a team made up of English teachers, Inter has expanded its reach beyond the English teaching community to form a truly diverse team.
That team did not disappoint either. Our boys in yellow, Gwangju Inter FC, had a good showing during the group stage though initially struggling. Their first match was against a local Korean team. The team was full of young players with speed and Inter struggled in the beginning, seemingly overwhelmed. However, they were able to recover in the second half and equalized the game, ending it in a 2-2 draw. Team Co-captain Tom Bevis credited Inter FC’s second half resurgence to a change in strategy and formation. This draw would prove crucial because in the second fixture, Inter could not recover from yet another first half struggle and dropped the match 1-0, despite creating many chances in the second half.
Dropping the second match put Inter in a situation where their backs were against the wall. Nothing less than a win in their third match would help them advance to the semi-finals. Fortunately, Inter dominated the third match, winning it 2-0 with some spectacular goals off of corner kicks headed into the back of the net. The win put Inter in a tie for second place in the standings, but the team advanced to the semifinals on goal differential.
In the semifinals, Inter FC kept their strong day going by playing to a 2-2 draw. In this tournament, extra time was not played, and therefore, the winner would be decided by a penalty kick shootout. Inter won the exciting shootout 4-3, which earned the team a spot in the finals. There they would play the local Korean team, Chunhwan FC. It was a hard-fought match, but in the end, Inter FC came up just short, losing 1-0. Chunhwan FC were then crowned the winners of the first-ever Gwangju Charity Cup.
Now Chunhwan FC won the tournament, but everyone on the pitch would agree that the true winners were the children at MDream orphanage in Gwangju. Why MDream? It goes back to Inter’s weekly practices. Inter FC plays and practices every Sunday, and among their regular attendees are some of the children from MDream who are either still living there or have moved on. For the past three years, the team has practiced and played with many of the children regularly. The youths at MDream have helped the team stay afloat during times when membership had dropped, and through the years, a strong, close bond has formed.
The tournament raised money through team fees, and in the end, each team contributed 100,000 won, for a total of 800,000 won, for the children. In the past, Inter FC has fundraised for them, but this represented a rare opportunity to do something with a huge impact. This was the true goal the team had in mind when it set up the tournament, and it was noticeable. When the total amount raised was announced, the players roared with excitement. Though at that point the tournament had not yet started, the team already felt victorious.
“I’m just happy we can say thank you to them. The amount of help they give us is amazing. We just wanted to give them something for a change” said Co-captain John Wolfer.
Gwangju Inter FC plays inter-squad friendlies every Sunday at Choongjang Middle School (충장중학교) in Gwangju. The team is always looking for new members. If you would like to join, please contact Mr. Wee Sung-Je at [email protected]