Kim Yong-sik: the original Korean football superstar

Kim Yong-sik: the original Korean football superstar

Aug 4, 2010

On Sunday July 25th 2010 a combined total of almost 25,000 spectators turned out at the Daegu World Cup stadium, Pohang Steelyard and Gwangyang City stadium to witness live professional football action, a little under a month after the Korean national team had exited the 19th FIFA World Cup Finals tournament at the last sixteen stage, the majority paying little heed to the fact that the date held real significance in the history of football in Korea.

Exactly one hundred years prior to the K-League matches kicking off that afternoon chuch minister Kim Ik-du celebrated the birth of his son Kim Yong-sik, unaware the youngster would go on to have a profound influence in the growth and development of the global game in his native country.

Born in Sinchon, a county in South Hwanghae province in modern-day North Korea, young Kim first began playing football as a seven year-old but was almost lost to the game when his family relocated to what is now Seoul so that his father could take up a ministerial position at a church in the city. Kim was forced to attend, and was later expelled from, a church school in the city but his real passion was for football, a sport he continued to play throughout the rest of his formal education at Gyeongshin High School and Boseong Technical School.

At the age of twenty-three Kim joined up with the newly-formed Gyeongseong FC, and in 1935 he was part of the side that travelled to Japan and triumphed in the Japanese Emperor’s Cup tournament that year in Tokyo. His undoubted ability caught the eye of the Japanese football selectors and Kim was one of several Korean athletes called up to compete for Japan at the 1936 Berlin Olympics in the football tournament.

In 1937 a Japanese football scout offered him the opportunity to study at Waseda University in Japan, a move engineered more with a view to improving the fortunes of the football side than to offer Kim any educational advancement, and after one semester he returned to Korea. He had spells with Boseong All-Stars, a side made up of graduates of Boseong Technical School, and a short stint with Pyeongyang FC, but the expansion of the Pacific War in 1942 saw all sporting competitions halted throughout Korea and his playing career went into hiatus.

Kim began playing for a reformed Gyeongseong FC after the end of World War Two, and was finally able to represent Korea in international sporting competition when, aged thirty-eight, he led South Korea to the 1948 Olympic Games in London as a player/coach of the national team that beat Mexico and lost heavily to Sweden. He then stepped up to take full charge of the national team in 1954 and led his country to the World Cup finals in Switzerland, suffering a 9-0 reverse to Ferenc Puskas’ side in the opening match and a 7-0 defeat to Turkey in their second outing.

His post-playing career involvement with the Korean Football Association was a long and varied one, serving as main national team manager on three occasions, 1954-55, 1960 and 1969, as well as being Wi Hye-deok’s main coach when South Korea won the Asian Cup in 1960. He took charge during qualifying campaigns for the 1960 Rome Olympics and the 1962 FIFA World Cup, and was in charge of the victorious Korean squad at the Asian U-19 championships in 1963. In addition to his coaching positions, he became Korea’s first officially-recognised international referee in 1951, and had a spell as vice-president at the KFA from 1962-1965.

Domestically his managerial career saw him take charge of Yangzee FC from 1968 to 1970, a ‘super club’ that had been created by the South Korean Central Intelligence Agency in direct response to North Korea’s achievements at the 1966 World Cup Finals, as well as managing the Sintak Bank side from 1972 to 1974. He also had the honour of becoming the first professional club manager in Korea when he took charge of Hallelujah FC in 1980.

Following his death at the age of 74 on March 8th, 1985, Kim was posthumously awarded the Order of Sports Merit medal, and in 2005 he was one of the seven inaugural inductees to the Korean Football Hall of Fame in recognition of the massive influence Kim had on the development of football on the peninsula throughout his life.

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  1. Jitevra /

    This is a brilliant article Holyjoe. Well written and truly inspiring.
    Well done.

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