For Koreans, Soccer Is a Family Affair
The spicy scent of kimchi and rice cakes mingled with that of nachos and popcorn near the entrance of Staples Center on Sunday, where about 20,000 mostly South Korean soccer fans gleefully watched a televised World Cup match even though their team only tied France, 1-1.
The crowd chanted “Daehan Minguk,” -- the formal name for South Korea -- to a distinct rhythm of drumbeats. After the game, drivers honked their horns to the same beat -- four short honks, one long one.
“They have so much spirit for this team,” said usher Robin Harris.
To the dismay of some fans, they had to leave food from the outside at the entrances. Still, they brought with them a cultural subtitle different from that of the usual sporting events and music concerts. Korean pop music, known as “K-pop,” drifted through the loudspeakers, and many attendees brought their children with them, hoping to involve them more in Korean culture.
“This is about carrying on Korean traditions, connecting my children with their Korean identity, and soccer does that,” said Keith Yang, 39, who brought his daughter Jennifer, 6, and son Christopher, 2. “Right now, my daughter considers herself more American, and I don’t want her to lose that Korean part of her.”
Other parents echoed similar hopes as they dressed their children in bright red shirts, one of the team’s colors, some labeled “Reds Go Together” and “Korea Cool.”
“I want my son to have experienced all things Korean, and everything about Korean soccer is unique,” said John Chung, 39, bouncing his 4-year-old son, Anthony, to the beat of a Korean cheer. “See, even the cheering itself is unique.”
Korean media and nonprofit groups contributed more than $20,000 in donations to host the free viewing, organizer Jay Won said.
Fans who didn’t nab one of the 20,000 tickets joined a smaller gathering hosted by a local radio station at Wilshire Park.
Like most of the chants, the game was televised at Staples Center in Korean.
But not everyone was cheering to the tune of the Korean fight songs.
Tsuyoshi Yamasaki, 27, and his wife, Mariko Yamasaki, 29, erupted in a short-lived round of applause when France scored its only goal.
The rest of the crowd was mostly silent.
“I’m Japanese, but I lived in France, so I guess I felt like I had to represent” French fans, said Tsuyoshi Yamasaki, who had been invited by some fans of Korean soccer.
When Korea tied the game late in the match, the crowd was on its feet celebrating for at least five minutes. Fans lifted a large South Korean flag over their heads and passed it around the arena.
“I literally feel the culture being passed down to us,” said Jennifer Yi, 23, a UCLA student who was visiting South Korea during the World Cup in 2002. “My parents were pretty shocked when I got into Korean soccer, but I know this is part of our culture.”
Won said another viewing at Olympic Boulevard and Normandie Avenue has been scheduled for the soccer team’s third game Friday.
Southern California is home to one the world’s largest Korean communities outside of North Korea and South Korea.
“When Korea went up to the quarter finals in 2002, it gave Koreans here in the U.S. a sense of pride. It brought families together,” Won said.
“In so many ways, it was great.”