Expats might hope to find familiar comforts to ease the transition of living abroad. Sometimes, it’s a familiar food. Sometimes, their native language. Sometimes, it’s sports.
For Charlie Robinson, it was the Busan Transportation Corporation Football Club. When the English teacher arrived in Busan in July 2009, he quickly sought a local team he could support.
“I was befriended by some adjosshi (“uncle,” or middle-aged men) in the stands who were sharing their picnic with me,” the England native recalls. “It was a really great, friendly experience and quickly made me realize how much more of a personal experience it was.”
The Busan Transportation Corporation Football Club will host its 10th anniversary opening game on Saturday, March 14 at 3 p.m. at Gudeok Stadium in Dongdaeshin. Entry is free.
Founded in February 2006, the BTC play in the National League, the third tier of Korean football (or soccer, depending on where in the world you’re from). Despite, or in part because of, the club’s lower status on the totem pole of Korean leagues, its fans have remained steadfastly supportive for years.
Adrian Lord, an English teacher here since February 2010, met Robinson while watching Busan I’Park, which competes in the K League Classic, one of Korea’s highest football leagues. “Charlie told me about the Busan Transportation Corporation Football Club and invited me to their next home game,” Lord says. “The description he gave sounded very similar to my hometown team, Havant & Waterlooville, a small club with a loyal community following.”
Hoping to gather more like-minded fans, Lord began posting invites to games on Facebook. “Many people who started coming to games were just like me, expats who followed a team at home and were looking for a Korean equivalent,” he says. “Others were new to football and became caught up in our enthusiasm.”
American Alexander Mann learned about the BTC soon after he arrived in February 2011. “There was a good group of people who would show up to every game,” he says. “We have slowly developed a series of chants and songs to sing during the matches. Everyone sits on the same side of the stadium, so it feels louder than it really is.”
Rhiannon Lewis, a teacher in Korea since August 2011, says the opportunity to meet other foreigners besides those she worked with was an immediate selling point, as well as free entry and “the attempt by BTC fans to make enough noise to fill a largely empty stadium,” the Wales native says. “And the never say die attitude of the players.”
The loyalty of its foreigner contingent has not been unnoticed by the club. “When we go on away trips, the manager will often invite us to ride the bus back to Busan,” Mann says. “The team let us pick the red-and-black stripe away uniform they’ve used the last two seasons (their home colors are blue and white). The company has presented beautiful plaques of appreciation to Adrian and me. And, so many more things I don’t have space to list.”
And, there was the cardboard cutout of Charlie Robinson.
“What a great surprise,” Robinson says of the life-size likeness the club debuted at a home game several years ago. “The first game they had it, I was there with 50 students from my school. They found it really funny, so it was a lovely moment for us all.”
Park Seung-min, infielder for the BTC, says the club’s foreign supporters have stuck with them through good times and bad. “I’m impressed that the foreign supporters will still cheer us on even if we are playing horribly,” he says. “Really, thank you.”
Park recalls an SBS TV report aired in 2013 praising the BTC’s passionate foreigner fanbase “and the other team’s players were jealous,” he says. “I, personally, am very thankful for the support and I always feel proud when I see them in the stands during away games. Personally, their support helps me play harder.”
Lord encourages everyone to check out the club. “Even if you don’t consider yourself to be a football fan, many come for the social side of things over the game itself,” he says. “If you do consider yourself to be a football fan, and are the kind of person who enjoys not only the game itself, but the matchday experience and the camaraderie that comes with it, you will love the Busan Transportation Corporation Football Club.”
Even though some foreign fans are no longer in Korea, many will still cheer the team to victory on Opening Day.
Robinson, who took a teaching position in Hungary in 2013, says he has remained a fan from afar “because the club and all the people involved with it have left a footprint on my heart that can never be washed away. I will bleed blue and white until the day I die,” he says.
The Busan Transportation Corporation Football Club opens its 10th season at 3 p.m. Saturday, March 14 at Gudeok Stadium, Dondaeshin. Entry is free and outside food and drinks are permitted. Take subway line 1 to stop 108, Dongdaeshin. Exit 2, walk straight five minutes.
For more information, visit the soccer club’s expat-supported Facebook page.
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