What's it like to play in a Super Match?
There have been 99 previous K League Super Matches, there have been goalless draws, high-scoring encounters, and even games played behind closed doors, but what's it like to play in a Super Match? Ahead of Saturday's 100th K League Super Match, in Round 8 of the 2023 Hana 1Q K League season, K League United spoke to Dejan Damjanović, Adam Taggart, and Dave Bulthuis to find out.
K League legend Dejan Damjanović has played in more Super Matches than most, 32 overall and 24 in K League but even he finds it hard to put into words what it's actually like to play in this fixture:
"It's hard to explain it. I think the best feeling is when you get that chance and you go out (onto the pitch), you feel a lot of pressure and expectations [are] huge. Fans, they look at it like double or triple with that importance and even if you are playing good in the league and you lose the Super Match, they hate it.
"They make always, you know, this pressure, stop the bus, complain and this kind of things. If you are like having a bad season, but you win Super Much - especially if you win away game - everything is forgiven and you have a few weeks of freedom and without pressure. So yes, it means a lot."
"I think the best feeling is when you come on the pitch, when you get this chance to play the Super Match, you can see many players getting a lot of stress playing, behaving differently, playing below or over expectations. It brings a lot of focus on you and, of course, can bring some bad things and bad comments on you. So yeah, huge, huge game in Korean football generally."
Australian international striker Adam Taggart, who managed to score six goals in the five Super Matches he played, says it's an experience like no other:
"It's unbelievable. It's probably up there with my favourite fixture that I've ever played in, in my football career so far. I think just the whole experience, the week leading up to it, there's a massive buzz around the place and there's so much on the line that it almost it doesn't even matter where you are on the table at that point. It's all for bragging rights. It's two big clubs in Korea going head to head. So, it's a massive buzz and a lot of excitement.
"Definitely has a unique feeling about it. And I think up until I was at Suwon there wasn't too many, apart from when I was in Newcastle, versing Central Coast, there's not that many teams that I've played in that has such a big rivalry in the league because, obviously, to me, it feels as though that rivalry between Suwon and Seoul is probably the biggest one in the country."
"It's just such a good vibe, that atmosphere because two cities really close together with two clubs that have such a big history. So, it was always an extra special feeling, and the anticipation leading up into that match I think just creates that bit of extra energy around the place so that when game day comes it's, you know, absolutely pumping."
"The atmosphere is perfect and you, from the beginning of the match, you always see the rivalry between the teams. Although it's always fair though, but everybody tries to give more than 100% in this game. And yeah, I think for both of the teams [it] is the, is the best or the nicest match from the year."
Fans play their part
The role the fans play and the impact they have on this fixture and the two clubs, in general, was a common theme throughout the conversations with Dejan, Taggart, and Bulthuis. Super Match crowds are usually the biggest of the season, made up of two sets of passionate supporters that will each bring their own colour and flavour to the Super Match melting pot.
Dejan Damjanović - "Different hate"
When asked about how the Super Match feels compared to another fixture against a big K League club, Jeonbuk for instance, Dejan said it's a different level of "hate."
"Different hate man, different hate. I'm the player I think who felt that the biggest. I say the biggest pressure and biggest feeling and biggest attention. I felt that some things cannot be forgiven, but okay, I have one example. I think in 2012 we played against them, that season was unbelievable for us, we were like killing everyone in the league. We were unbelievable, magic season, but we lost Super Match. Oh my God, they stopped the bus like we are like losing five games in a row. Like 'how you lose against them, why you didn't win against them?' Even if the season was perfect, fans were furious about why we didn't win against them."
"This is just showing you how much importance the Super Match has and how much pressure and how much attention it brings for everyone who is coming towards the game. Of course we, on the pitch, we have of course, a lot of pressure before the game, but when you come on the game, you know, always it's a little bit different when you start chasing the ball. But for the people who are watching and coming on the game, their expectations are huge. So, yes, it's a lot of pressure and who cannot handle the pressure, can have a lot of problems in this kind of games and can make problems for himself."
Adam Taggart - "Suwon's pretty lucky to have such great supporters"
Adam Taggart scored a hat-trick in a 3-1 win over FC Seoul in September 2020. It was the Bluewings' first win over their bitter rivals since 2015. He says the club is "lucky" to have such a good fanbase.
"I think Suwon Samsung's pretty lucky to have such great supporters and they've always got behind us. So I think, after having such a long time without a win against Seoul it just made that day extra special. and. The whole place was buzzing after that."
Dave Bulthuis - "Our fans are incredible"
"For me, our fans are incredible. Even in such bad times that we are in now, they still support us and sing so loud in the stands for us. I can honestly not believe [it] and every time we get a disappointing result, I feel so bad when I leave the stadium and I see them standing and still yelling at us and bring some positive words to us. It does something with you [as] a football player, you know. Nobody wants to be in these kind of situations and especially the supporters, I cannot say anything bad about them because they're perfect."
Hear what else Dejan Damjanović, Adam Taggart, and Dave Bulthuis have to say about the Super Match on this week's episode of the K League United Podcast.
Where to Listen
Listen to the K League United Podcast wherever you get your podcasts.
All three interviews are available in full on K League United Patreon.