The origins of football on the Korean peninsular

Robert Neff in Ohmynews:

According to popular belief, football was first introduced into Korea in June 1882 when the British warship, HMS Flying Fish, arrived at Chemulpo (modern day Incheon). Allegedly, while Admiral Willes was concluding the British-Korean treaty, several crew members of the HMS Flying Fish went ashore, played soccer, and then left the soccer ball with a group of Korean children. During the 2002 World Cup, this story was often repeated as a fact. Sports Illustrated wrote: "Incheon is said to be the birthplace of soccer in Korea. A group of children imitated crewmen from a visiting British warship playing kick-about in 1882. The sailors left a couple of leather soccer balls behind when they left."


According to The Independent, Korea's first English-language newspaper, football was introduced in late November 1896 when Korean students at the Royal English School in Seoul were taught how to play football by an unnamed "foreign friend of the school." The following month, the editor of The Independent enthusiastically wrote: "The boys go at it with such vim and earnestness that they have won the praise and admiration of their instructor. It was a pleasure to see them in their natty uniforms, with their faces flushed, chasing after the leather sphere with such agility and in such a whole-souled manner, appearing as if their lives depended on the game."

Reverend Arthur B. Turner, an energetic Englishman well known for his prowess in football and cricket, springs to mind as the possible "foreign friend of the school," but Sergeant Boxwell, a member of the British Legation's guard who taught drill and ceremony at the school might also have been this anonymous soul.

Undoubtedly in the months to follow, the students had many matches among themselves, but the first international and public match took place on Saturday afternoon, 26 March 1897, in a field near the East Gate. Crew members of the British warship, HMS Narcissus, challenged the students and their coach to a friendly game of soccer ... While the names of all the participants of both teams are readily available, it is the Korean team that we are primarily interested in. The team was made up of Reverend Turner and several other Englishmen, but more than half the players were Korean. One particular player, Song Keung-san was noted for his excellent ability which "would not have disgraced an English public school boy."

The game was "well fought," but in the end, the Korean team was victorious with their single goal. The newspaper noted that it was "the first match in which any Koreans have played." But it wasn't the last game. On D16 December 1897, another game was held near the East Gate and once again the Korean team won both the match and praise from the "considerable number" of "enthusiastic spectators" who braved the bitterly cold weather to cheer on the Korean students. The final score was 6:2 but, as the newspaper editor noted "the most prominent feature of the game was the plucky way in which the Koreans tackled their stronger and heavier [English] opponents."

While there apparently is no evidence or questionable evidence at best, that the history of soccer began in 1882 with the coming of the British navy to Korea, there is no question that the first soccer matches between Korean students and English sailors were played in 1897. Matches that ... were won by the Koreans.