How Gaelic football became a fixture on Seoul’s amateur sports scene

Seoul Gaels women compete at a tournament in Jeju in November 2023. [TOM COYNER]

The 2002 FIFA World Cup is remembered as being a breakthrough moment for Korea, who defeated heavyweights Italy and Spain en route to the semifinals, and for cementing football as one of Korea’s most played and followed team sports. A round of 16 game between Ireland and Spain brought tens of thousands of Irish football fans to Suwon, Gyeonggi, and some would return to Korea as expats in an English-teacher boom. Expats brought with them their beloved sport, Gaelic football, opening their first club in 2002 — so goes the Gaelic-in-Korea lore, according to multiple long-time members of the Seoul Gaels, Korea’s oldest Gaelic football team.

Now, the club holds twice-weekly practices around southern Seoul, one on a weekday morning and another on a weekend, and is gearing up for the North Asian Gaelic Games, set to be held in Jeju in May.Kim Na-na, who grew up in Jeju, stumbled into Gaelic about a decade ago. She had wanted to play football, the Premier League kind — she’s a longtime Manchester United fan — but said she struggled to find a women’s club.o, when she saw a flier for Gaelic football practice in Seoul, open to women and players of all skill levels, at a Moroccan restaurant in Haebangchon, she decided to turn up, alone.“It was kind of scary because I’m not really extrovert person and then my English wasn’t perfect,” Kim said. “I remember there was only one or two Koreans there and then mainly Irish people and some Americans.”Ten years later, Kim is a fixture at the Seoul Gaels and regularly travels with the women’s team to compete at international tournaments in Asia and Ireland.“They really welcomed me,” Kim, now 37, said. “I had no expectation for myself, but everyone 토토사이트 really encouraged me.”

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