“How take in steam
Recall your dream
Your favourite shirt is on the bed
Do a somersault on your head”
Favourite Shirts (Boy meets Girl) – Haircut 100 – 1981
I thought I would never get to mention Haircut 100 and football in the same post but earlier this week I thought I had lost my favourite football shirt. We all have one don’t we? (worried look around the room), one that holds special memories for us, that we wear to remember a special moment or occasion. It is like a comfort blanket, a superstitious chattel that only we know why we have kept it and what the rules are in terms of wearing it.
So back to my shirt. My favourite shirt is a South Korean shirt. It is a sort of pinkish/orange colour and was the exact shirt won by the Tigers in their 2002 World Cup campaign. It is made of a starchy material, completely unlike the shirts of today but designed to repel the sweat from the near 100% humidity. And the reason why it is my favourite? Because how I came to get it.
Back in 2002 I was working for an American Internet company. The pay was fantastic, the perks were brilliant and my travel was all Business Class. With offices to look after in Frankfurt, Amsterdam and Paris I was raking up air miles like there was no tomorrow. Alas, it appeared that the company was more concerned about the bonsai tree fridges for the 7th floor than paying people like the tax man and so on the last day of May 2002 they went bust, owing hundreds of millions of Euros. We were all out of work, as we were told by the administrators at 11am. Was we upset? A bit but we had the small matter of the World Cup due to start in a few minutes in the pub across the road. Senegal v France, a few pints of Guinness and a full English and the world was alright.
I acted quick. A couple of phone calls to competitors and I had sorted a new job by the time that Papa Bouba Diop had scored the opening goal. The only downside was that I couldn’t start for 2 weeks. What would I do? I called CMF and told her the news. She jokingly said “why don’t you go to the World Cup”. I laughed but then opened my wallet and that Lufthansa Miles and More card just smiled at me.
Less than 72 hours later I was on a flight from Heathrow to Seoul via Frankfurt. B-U-S-I-N-E-S-S Class thank you very much. I had turned left. It was the longest trip of my life. I would experience every emotion known to man in the next ten days. I was leaving behind a two year old daughter and a wife who probably didn’t really believe me when I said things would be “all right” – after all I was now unemployed, with very little chance of getting my latest wages (and the thousands owed in expenses and bonuses). And I was going to a country where I couldn’t even understand a word of their language on a bit of paper.
I landed a day later, confused, lost and bloody hot. I had never experienced humidity like it as I walked out of Seoul’s Gimpo International Airport. As luck would have it a German chap was also lost. We just stood and waited whilst the Koreans went about their business around us. A kindly lady dressed in a tracksuit approached us and opened up a picture book, pointing to a bus. We nodded. Then a picture of the stadium in Suwon, a suburb of Seoul, which again we both nodded at. It transpired we were both off to see Portugal v USA. I didn’t even have a ticket but that didn’t seem to matter.
I had never been to a place where the locals were so welcoming, starting from when I arrived in Suwon when a helpful young lady walked me to my hotel (and didn’t then try and rob me), like I was a lost dog, to an overcrowded (yes, South Eastern, there is such a word) train where my reserved seat sat empty until I arrived. Everywhere I went in the first week I was met with smiling locals who went out of their way to help. Even when I was sitting in the park in Daegu having some lunch (Kimchi with some strange seaweed) I was approached by some school girls who wanted to interview me. Oh course I didn’t say yes straight away – I waited at least 3 seconds.
I took in games in Daegu, Busan, Jeonju, Suwon, Incheon and Seoul during the next few days, using the fantastic train service to commute around the country. But the crowning moment came in Daegu on the 10th June. Korea’s 2nd biggest city was hosting one of the most anticipated games of the tournament as the hosts, on the crest of a wave after their 2-0 opening game win over Poland were playing USA and I had a ticket. What made this even more interesting was a huge amount of Anti-US sentiment in the city after an incident with a US serviceman involved in a fatal drunk-driving incident. For once, being English was acceptable in a foreign city.
The stadium on that baking hot afternoon was amazing. Over 60,000 fans were in one of the finest stadiums built for the tournament and every one was wearing a South Korean shirt. That was apart from the FIFA delegation and me. I didn’t want to appear to be against my cousins across the water so I dressed neutrally, wearing my blue, yellow and green Hawaiian shirt. I stood out like a sore thumb and I couldn’t have said “I’m American” if I had been eating a burger (I was), drinking a Budweiser (I was), with a camera around my neck (I was) and speaking very very loudly (rumbled).
The atmosphere was noisy, but in a controlled way. Imagine the most fiercest hardcore passionate fans being controlled by one Capo and then times that by one hundred. Each section moved in unison, singing a song about an indomitable tiger (so I was told). Waves of the Mexican variety passed around the stadium, polite applause greeted the teams and the whole nation sat glued to the TV. In central Seoul millions crowded into main public places to watch the game on massive screens. street workers in down town “comfort rooms” suspended all of their “jobs” for the duration, donning special Korean “workwear” for a couple of hours, and public workers turned their attention to the TV.
Expectations weighed heavily on Hiddink’s team in the sweltering heat and they didn’t show any of the fluidity that they showed against Poland. The Dutchman had conditioned his team to keep on running, focusing on fitness and teamwork rather than technical ability. However, it was the US who took the lead in the 24th minute when Clint Mathis slotted home from twelve yards. You could have heard a pin drop in the stadium, apart from a small pocket of American fans in the corner of the stadium.
Nerves look to have taken their toll on the team as the half ended and that was a my cue to go and get a beer. I approached the bar and was asked for ID. A smile broke out on the servers face when he saw I was a servant of Queen Elizabeth II and he confessed he was giving any Americans who asked for a beer the non alcoholic version out of spite. None of the Bud-Lite-Free shit for me! I was really falling in love with this country.
Hiddink sent out the tigers with renewed vigour. Knowing that a defeat would mean they would have to beat Portugal in their final group game they upped their tempo and put pressure on Brad Friedel in the US goal (yep, he was even playing that long ago). Finally the chances told and Ahn Jung-Hwan’s header with twelve minutes to go finally beat the keeper to level the scores. Despite a few chances at either end, the game petered out into a draw. I suppose that a draw was a fair result and the whole country could go back to normal for a few days.
As I wandered out of the colossus and wondered how I was going to get back to the city centre, I was approached by a group of young girls all wearing the pink Nike replica shirts. They giggled and pointed at my Technicolor vomit-style shirt. In the recognised international language of gestures I suggested that I swap shirts with one of them. Who was I to say no. I was an international ambassador – a man sent to the far east to bring peace to football fans across the world.
So there I was standing in the middle of the departing thousands of Koreans, stripped to the waist. For one minute I thought they would run away with it, leaving me topless in a country that frowns upon the sight of genitals in pornography. But they were discussing who should oblige. One was chosen, and she took off her shirt, trying to modestly before handing over her beautifully perfumed shirt. A few photos with my new fans and then they disappeared into the masses.
So now you can see why I have an emotional attachment to the shirt. I can still picture the scene now when a young Korean girl goes to the pub on a Friday night in downtown Daegu and is revered for her impeccable taste in clothing. She is soon spotted by a modelling agency, is put on the cover of Korean Vogue (wearing my beautiful shirt) and marries the Korean David Beckham in a wedding where all the guests wear blue, yellow and green Hawaiian shirts. All of the guests ask her where she found the inspiration, and all she can think of is me. We can but dream.
And that is the story of my favourite shirt. Even today the colour is still in fashion (according to my Youngest Fuller who would say anything in pink is trendy), although my upper body muscle bulk (well, that is what I say anyway) means it is a bit “snug fitting”. But it is all the fashion isn’t? Middle age, slightly balding chap whose waistline and age fight a yearly battle to see who can be bigger, wearing a top designed for a size 8 fit Korean girl…I will get my coat.
The shirt wasn’t lost after all. Thinking that it wasn’t my colour, The Current Mrs Fuller had slipped it into one of my daughters ironing piles. It was rescued before any further damage. “My Favourite Shirt was on the bed, do a somersault on my head.”
Now, have I told you about my Fantastic Day?