Gone but not forgotten

Current Schalke forward Edu is guaranteed the warmest of welcomes whenever he visits Suwon. But why? Welcome to IBWM, Yeon Sik Yoo.

Every football fan must have a special goal celebration that will never be forgotten, and I am sure that everyone who was at the “Big Bird“ Suwon World Cup Stadium on 6 September 2009 will forever remember one very special moment.

Fans of South Korean side Suwon Bluewings still have a place in their hearts for FC Schalke 04 striker Eduardo Gonçalves de Oliveira, or simply Edu. The Brazilian striker joined the Suwonite giants, one of the most successful and famous football clubs in Asia, in 2007. Since their foundation in 1995 as the ninth professional football club in the peninsula, Suwon have became a powerhouse of Korean football with the funding of the country’s biggest conglomerate Samsung Electronics, finishing second in the league in their debut season in 1996 and winning back to back league titles in 1998 and 1999 with Coach Kim Ho at the helm. They also won two consecutive Asian Club Championship titles, currently known as the AFC Champions League, in 2001 and 2002 under the former national team coach.

Cha Bum-kun, arguably the country’s most successful player and another former national team coach, took over from Kim to become the club’s second ever coach in 2004, and, despite some controversies which led to the boycotting of the supporters in 2006 added two more league titles as well as winning the now annulled A3 Champions Cup. Suwon have also won the most number of FA Cup titles along with Chunnam Dragons and Jeonbuk Motors, by first winning the competition in 2002 and adding two more in 2009 and 2010.

Edu quickly became a fan favourite at the club for which the first ever official supporters group in South Korea was formed, the Grand Bleu. Not only was he the most effective foreign striker since fellow Brazilian Nádson Rodrigues de Souza, he worked tirelessly with effort and dedication, something that is rarely seen from foreign players in South Korea. Edu’s influential performances, including twelve league goals, led his side to their fourth league title in 2008, but Suwon struggled massively the following campaign. Approximately six months after the start of the season in September, Suwon found themselves challenging for a top six finish, which would have still given them a glimmer of hope to defend the title; under the K-League's system.

The K-League is formatted to include a single season and play-offs. Since 2007, teams who finished in the top six can still challenge for the title with the sixth placed team playing away against the fifth, whilst the winners of the fixture play against fourth and so on. The Final is played over two legs, home and away, with the team who finished first in the table hosting the eventual winners of the play offs in the second leg.

On 6 September 2009, Suwon welcomed Gangwon FC, who were in their debut season, to their home ground. It was a must win match for both sides as they were looking to turn things around and finish top six. Football, however, was not the most important thing in the stadium on that day. Many questionable songs are played in football stadia these days, but you rarely get to listen to something as depressing as Josh Groban’s You’re Loved (Don’t Give Up). It was perhaps the right choice of music, though, as Shin In-ki, the club’s honorary photographer and fan, had been diagnosed with gastric cancer and had had only one month to live. He was in no condition to come to a football match and his doctor told him it was crazy even just to think about it.

However, the man who had been taking photos of his beloved team for more than a decade decided to put himself on a wheelchair and attend his last ever Suwon Bluewings match. He was looking pale and helpless, but as the match kicked off he put his pains aside and began taking his last pictures of his heroes.

It was a very open match between the two sides – perhaps the most entertaining one of the 2009 season. Suwon’s Bae Ki-jong opened the scoring and Gangwon striker Kim Young-hu equalised. Edu then scored a wonderful freekick to give his side the lead once again just before half time, but Suwon were just not the same side that dominated the 2008 season, as Gangwon completed a great come back with goals from Masahiro Ohashi and Kim Young-hu in the second half. The clock was ticking for the home side and, despite the players working extra hard for their special fan, the score line still read 3-2 to Gangwon.

Just as the fans started to think it was all over, with the players squandering precious goal scoring chances, Edu completed the drama by equalising in dying minutes. A draw would not have been a good enough result for Suwon and normally in these situations the scorer tends to pick up the ball from the net. Edu, however, knew that winning is not the most important thing at that moment. As the Brazilian ran toward the photographing Shin In-ki, held his hand and dedicated the goal to him, the whole stadium, including the travelling Gangwon fans, knew that they may have witnessed the most memorable and touching goal celebration in the history of Korean football.

Mr Shin always wanted to hold his own photo exhibition exclusively about Suwon Bluewings, and his wish was granted by the club and the fans before he eventually passed away. During the exhibition held at Saint Vincent Hospital at Suwon, he said “I spent the happiest day of my entire life at the Big Bird.” One of the many pictures exhibited was understandably out of focus, as it was a picture of Edu just seconds before the striker held his hand.

Follow Yeon on Twitter @yooyeonsik.