Korea Republic

Lee Chungyong: We still feel connected to our fans despite empty stadiums

Ulsan Hyundai winger Lee Chungyong in action
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  • Lee Chungyong to Ulsan was one of K League’s biggest off-season signings
  • The 'Blue Dragon' returns to his homeland after a decade overseas
  • “Koreans’ sense of community helped our fight against COVID-19”

After over a decade away from his homeland, the 'Blue Dragon' is back.

While Lee Chungyong - ‘Chungyong’ literally translates as ‘Blue Dragon’ in Korean - has ended his overseas adventure, which included just south of 200 appearances for Bolton Wanderers and shorter stints with Crystal Palace and Bochum, another adventure of a completely different nature has started for the skilful winger.

While some of his surroundings will have certainly been familiar to him on his return to the Korea Republic, playing for a new club and in one of the first leagues to operate during the COVID-19 crisis will in some ways feel like foreign territory once again for the 31-year-old.

"It feels special to come back and play on home soil,” Lee Chungyong told FIFA.com. “It means a lot for the K League to resume while most of the rest of the world’s leagues are shut down. The situation here, that we kicked off again, gives us some sense of pride. We, Koreans, have a sense of community, which helped lead us to unite against this crisis."

Lee made the point to mention that the combination of the public’s willingness to follow governmental guidelines and the devotion of medical staffs across the country resulted in the return of football to the peninsula: “We are lucky indeed.”

Being one of the only leagues in operation brings with it an entirely new level of worldwide attention, so how are he and the players handling that?

“The attention helps us focus even more on our football, both in training sessions and matches so that we can bring some joy to people by playing quality football. We want to showcase the best we have to offer.”

That is certainly evident in Ulsan’s play in the last two matchdays, highlighted by an incredible comeback victory in Suwon after being 2-0 down to the Bluewings.

But aside from the early on-field success, how has it been as a player during the COVID-19 crisis?

“We are using individual water bottles,” Lee said. “We mark our own numbers on bottle caps and that has become routine before training sessions and matches. There is less close physical contact, even when we celebrate goals.

"And although we can’t have the fans in the stadium yet, the sound of supporters’ chants from the speakers has worked out in a positive way. We can’t compare it to the real sound, but it reminded us of our supporters, and we even felt connected.

“Fans abroad may not know the league and players as well as others, but our football is different from Europe’s. I can assure you that the players, clubs, and the league are at a highly competitive level.

"Each club bears its own style, which turns out to be quite an attractive dynamic, so newcomers to the K League will easily find the joy of football here. Also, K League clubs are performing well in the AFC Champions League every season. I hope football fans around the world have the opportunity to get into the K League this season."

Photo courtesy of Ulsan Hyundai

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