South Korea vs. North
Korea football, pre-1945
| Seoul vs. Pyongyang

The pre-1945 Seoul-Pyongyang football rivalry.

South Korea vs. North Korea football, pre-1945 | Seoul vs. Pyongyang

On 18 July 2019, FIFA announced the schedule for the 2022 Qatar World Cup Qualifiers. Both the DPRK and ROK — North Korea and South Korea — are in Group H, which means the two Koreas will face off in a qualifier match. FIFA has scheduled the match for 15 October in Pyongyang, meaning the venue will be Kim Il Sung Stadium. Koryo Tours will be there (check our FIFA World Cup Qualifier Tour)!

The grounds of what is today Kim Il Sung Stadium has seen fierce North-South rivalry before, albeit before the division of Korea.

Formally known as the Pyongyang Athletic Field (평양공설운동장 | 平壤公設運動場) or Kirim Field (기림운동장 | 箕林運動場), today's Kim Il Sung Stadium was one of two venues for football matches between the two fierce rivals, Seoul and Pyongyang, during the 1920s and 30s — a regular intercity battle known as the ‘Kyong-Pyong Football Match’ (경평축구경기 | 京平蹴球競技) or alternatively the ‘Kyong-Pyong Battle’ (경평전 | 京平戰).

(At the time, Seoul was also known as Kyongsong (경성 | 京城 ), or capital city, so the match name takes the first character of each city’s name. As the capital, Seoul came first in order. Such as also the case in the naming of the Seoul-Pyongyang Marathon.)

So how did Seoul and Pyongyang fare against each other?

It was through the Seoul-Pyongyang Match that not only the people of both cities but all the people of Korea came to know the fun of football and feel the pride of their own hometown and their own teams.

— Kim Yong Sik, Seoul Team

Results of the Seoul vs. Pyongyang Rivalry

According to newspaper records (and some Korean Wikipedia), the event was held in 1929, 1930, thrice in 1933, 1934, 1935, and 1946 with 2-3 matches played on each occasion, often over consecutive days. Pyongyang only hosted the event twice, both times in 1933 — April and October.

In total, Seoul and Pyongyang played 21 matches, with Pyongyang winning 9, Seoul winning 5, and 7 draws. Pyongyang outscored Seoul 43-37 in the matches.

(Pyongyang no doubt developed a hated reputation in Seoul. In a 1991 South Korean historical drama The General’s Son, the hero (villain?) beats up the entire Pyongyang Football Team in a barroom brawl for being too loud.)

In 1939, a similar intercity event, but also including a visiting team from Hamhung, saw Pyongyang and Seoul both took one additional win against each other, making the grand total 10-6 in favor of Pyongyang.

What else do we know about the Seoul vs. Pyongyang rivalry?

South Korea’s TBS TV made a short video on the games based on archival newspapers and testimony from former players.

Both teams fielded Korean players in from Tokyo, Shanghai, Beijing, and Chongjin in addition to hometown heroes.

Seoul players wore a red jersey with a white ‘V’ crossing the chest from each shoulder. Pyongyang players wore blue jerseys with the character for ‘Pyong’ (as in Pyongyang) in white on a black patch above the chest.

Turnout to the games was large. In 1933, as many as 20,000 spectators came out to watch one of the matches in Pyongyang. In 1985, Kim Yong Sik, a former Seoul player reminisced:

It was through the Seoul-Pyongyang Match that not only the people of both cities but all the people of Korea came to know the fun of football and feel the pride of their own hometown and their own teams.

The rivalry between the cities was so fierce that it even spilled over to foreigners living in Korea at the time and their own games. Eloise Reid Frary wrote in her account of childhood in Korea that Pyongyang Foreign School (P.Y.F.S.) students would cheer: ‘We gotta lick Seoul this year!’ and ‘Pyengyang* [sic] spirit’s never dead, Dem bones gonna rise again. Hit ‘em in de eye, knock em in de head.’

Following the liberation and division of Korea, a match was held in March of 1946. It’s said that a 1947 match was planned but never took place due to the deteriorating relations between north and south.

Since 1946 the DPRK and ROK men’s and women’s teams have met in international numerous matches, carrying on the north-south football rivalry. This October, they’ll face off again in Pyongyang on the same ground as their predecessors in 1933.

*Many pre-1945 foreign documents refer to the city’s spelling as ‘Pyengyang’ (or some variant), which is based on the pronunciation of the city’s name in the local dialect.

Koryo Tour has 5-night and 3-night tours planned for this year's North Korea vs. South Korea FIFA World Cup Qualifier in Pyongyang. See you in Pyongyang!

Sources

Reid Frary, Eloise. 2007. Elevy: Growing Up as a Missionary's Child in Korea in the 1920s. Biltmore Press, Asheville, NC.

Photo source: The Donga Ilbo archives

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