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Life changed on a Korean bus

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Life changed on a Korean bus

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About 20 helicopters flew over our training session at Suwon Samsung Bluewings a couple of weeks ago.

 

All the foreign boys looked at each other a bit worried. ‘What’s going on here?’ Then we looked at the Korean boys and they were all having a laugh and playing one-touch.

 

Life in Suwon has been an eye-opener for me.

 

All the headlines around the world about Kim Jong-un, Donald Trump and the situation between North and South Korea can be a bit unnerving when your apartment is a little over 200 kilometres from Pyongyang – about the same distance from Sydney to Nelson Bay.

 

My family live in Australia and see the headlines on the news. They call and ask, ‘Is everything OK over there? Has anyone said anything to you?’

 

I try and calm them down, but then I’ll go and ask my translator just to be sure.

 

‘No, normal,’ he says. ‘Everything’s normal.’

 

But sometimes I wonder. You sort of get the feeling that they’re anticipating something might happen.

 

The whole military conscription thing is completely new to me. As I understand it, the law here applies to all men between the ages of 18 and 35 and they have to serve in the army, navy, air force or marines for about two years.

 

Three of the boys in our team just came back from military service about a month ago, and there are a couple others about to head off.

 

I try and ask questions here and there. They just say that they will do whatever they need to do. They don’t complain or ask questions about it. That seems to be the Korean way. You respect what you’re told by your elders and your seniors and you do what they tell you.

 

And that’s what it’s like here at the moment. Everyone is just getting on with their lives. For us foreigners, you’re not quite sure whether the whole thing is being pumped up in the media or is a real concern.

 

Like I said, it’s an eye-opener.

 

 

 

HELLO = ANNYEONGHASEYO

Suwon is one of the better places to live in Korea. It’s 40 minutes from Seoul in no traffic.

 

It’s a whole different culture. It can be tough at times and there have been plenty of ‘lost in translation’ moments.

 

Sometimes people don’t understand it when I’m trying to say, ‘Hello,’ in Korean. Obviously my language skills need a bit of work! The facial expressions I get when I’m trying to explain something can be pretty funny. You don’t know whether to give up or try to get the translator on speed dial.

 

And the kimchi! Wow. The boys absolutely love it. We were in Marbella, Spain for pre-season and the place we were staying didn’t have any kimchi in the first week. That didn’t go down well. The guys eat it breakfast, lunch and dinner. The hotel must’ve ordered it from somewhere. It was pretty much always there after that first week. And if it wasn’t, the boys would have a go at the people running the place!

 

It’s also been a big learning curve communicating with my teammates on the pitch. The translator at training helps a lot with what the coaches are saying. But on the field, it’s a different story.

 

I try to learn the words that I’ll need through the game. As a defender, you need to have an understanding of what the other guys are saying so you don’t get caught out.

 

The facial expressions I get when I’m trying to explain something can be pretty funny. You don’t know whether to give up or try to get the translator on speed dial.

 

There have been other things that have taken getting used to. For instance, at Sydney FC there was a big focus on sports science – we would have to fill in an app every day about how we were feeling, which would be relayed onto the medical and coaching staff – whereas in Korea it’s pretty much up to you tell the team doctor if you think there’s an issue.

 

Getting used to the refereeing has taken a while, too. If you tap someone, even very softly, you get a foul pretty much every time. It can be difficult for foreign players to adapt. It has been frustrating at times.

 

There have also been occasions before big games or after a few ordinary results where the coaches insist the team stay in the clubhouse two days before the game. You’ve got to have breakfast, lunch and dinner together. I haven’t experienced that before.

 

Suwon is a special club. We have the best fans in Korea. They are so loud and passionate. The support they’ve given me since I arrived has been phenomenal.

 

Every game in the K-League is a massive battle.  You can be playing the team that’s coming last and you know you’re going to have a difficult game. Promotion-relegation is a big thing.

 

After every game I play here, at least five players drop to the ground exhausted. They’ve given everything they got. I remember when I first started playing here I was like, ‘Wow, these guys play with incredible intensity.’

 

In the A-League, especially in my Sydney FC days, teams try to build up more. Here it’s back and forth the whole game. You have to concentrate the whole 90 minutes or you’ll concede.

 

 

 

THE CALL-UP & DEBUT

I was on the team bus heading to a game against Incheon when I got a WhatsApp message on my phone.

 

It was from the Socceroos team manager. I knew they were announcing the 23-man squad to play Syria. My heart started beating really fast. I was like, ‘Shit, what is it? What is it?!’ It took me a couple of seconds to work up the courage to open it.

 

I was in. My club would be notified. I was given a departure date to join the squad in Malaysia.

 

It was one of the biggest moments of my career.

 

I was pretty emotional, but I couldn’t do much about it on the bus. I told my best mate in the team who was sitting next to me, Damir Sovsic from Croatia. He gave me a little fist bump and said, ‘Bravo!’ Then I called my family and told them the good news.

 

I’ve got to admit, in a moment as significant as that in my career, it felt a bit weird being so far away from my family – the ones who moved from Wollongong to Sydney for my football, who took me to all those training sessions and games, who made all those sacrifices through the years.

 

It was from the Socceroos team manager. I knew they were announcing the 23-man squad to play Syria. My heart started beating really fast. I was like, ‘Shit, what is it? What is it?!’ It took me a couple of seconds to work up the courage to open it.

 

I had been in the Ange Postecoglou’s 30-man squad for the games against Japan and Thailand, but I still hadn’t made my debut for the Socceroos.

 

I always had belief that I could represent my country at the highest level. But I’m turning 28 this year and, while I was always working towards that goal, sometimes you think it might not happen.

 

I made my debut in the first game against Syria in Malaysia. If you’d asked me a few weeks early that I’d be playing the most important games in World Cup qualification, I’d have thought you were joking.

 

Ange spoke to me after the last training session and said, ‘You’re good enough to play at international level. You might be a bit nervous. There’s no perfect time to make your debut. Just go out there and play like you have been in Korea.’

 

I was nervous. It was a massive game. But I was ready for it. I felt like it was something I had been working towards since I was a kid.

 

I didn’t really have too much time to think about the fact that the games were knockouts. In the back of your mind you know if you don’t win, you’re not going to the World Cup and you’ve let the country down, but really you’re just out there trying to execute your role as best you can.

 

I’ll always be thankful to Ange for handing me my debut.

 

 

THE ANGE NEWS

The next few days were crazy.

 

I’ll never forget the feeling at fulltime against Syria in Sydney when we knew we were through to the next – and last – stage of World Cup qualification.

 

It hit me all at once how quickly life has moved. It wasn’t so long ago I was a Sydney FC player doing my best in the A-League. Now I live in Korea and I’m representing my national team. I couldn’t have imagined it.

 

I looked up in the stands and saw my family and friends there. My Mum, Dad and Sister. My Girlfriend and her family. My best mate and his family. Some of the lads I grew up with in Wollongong and played alongside at school and for the Wolves. The Jurman contingent took up a fair chunk of ANZ Stadium. I had to ask for more tickets!

 

They told me how proud they were of me after the game. It meant everything.

 

I was a Socceroo. We were through to the next stage. And we’d done it in Sydney, in front of everyone who helped me get there. Wow.

 

 

I was on a plane back to Seoul the next morning and the story about Ange possibly stepping down after the Honduras game broke when I was in the air.

 

I only saw it when I landed in Korea. I wasn’t expecting it at all, to be honest. It was out of the blue.

 

I read what Maty Ryan wrote here that week and I feel the same. I didn’t see or hear anything from Ange in the aftermath of the Syria game that made me think he was leaving.

 

Ange spoke to me after the last training session and said, ‘You’re good enough to play at international level. You might be a bit nervous. There’s no perfect time to make your debut. Just go out there and play like you have been in Korea.’

 

I haven’t been in the Socceroos squad for very long but I’ve known Ange for about a decade. I don’t really know what to make of it all. But we can’t really think about it too much. We have a job and that’s to get Australia to the World Cup.

 

That’s the most important thing as players.

 

 

NEXT STOP: HONDURAS

It’s incredible to think I might be involved in a knockout World Cup qualifier like the one against Uruguay in 2005.

 

I was 16 at the time. I went to high school with Aaron Mooy. Every year there was a Bolton Wanderers scout who would come out. That year he took Aaron and I away to Bolton on trial.

 

Scott Jamieson was over there with us, too, on a scholarship. We’d just finished training in Bolton. Scott spoke to his Dad who was at the game at Homebush and he told us the result.

 

I didn’t get to watch the game live, but I still get goosebumps every time I see the replay and Johnny Aloisi’s penalty.

 

Aaron and I haven’t spoken about Honduras. I have to get selected first.

 

The fans and the stadium where we’ll be playing will be different to anything we’ve experienced before.

 

It’s exciting to play in another country where probably no one from the national team has played.

 

It’s something to embrace and look forward to.

 

We’ll concentrate on the job at hand and work hard to the result we need.

 

Hopefully, a few days later in Sydney, we can be celebrating with the home fans.

 

Matt Jurman  -  Contributor

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