Kim Young-kwang, the oldest goalkeeper in the K League
Kim Young-kwang in the Seongnam FC clubhouse.메이저놀이터 He suffered a bone-crushing injury while blocking a strong shot in high school, causing his left fourth finger to bend significantly. Choi Young-jae
‘Fatherland in front, glory behind’
This is the title of an article I wrote for the JoongAng Ilbo on 7 November 2003. The Korea Under-20 National Team played Colombia in an exhibition match, with frontman Chung Jo Gook scoring two goals and goalkeeper Kim Young Kwang making an incredible save to preserve a 2-0 victory. The sentence ‘Glory to the Fatherland’ was coined after the two players.
Twenty years later. Chung retired after scoring 121 goals in 392 K League games and is now the head coach of Jeju United. Kim Young-kwang has yet to hang up his goalkeeping gloves. He played six games for Seongnam FC, which was relegated to the K League 2 this year, and conceded 10 goals. The oldest active player in the K League (40), Kim has played 594 professional matches, second only to Kim Byung-ji (retired – 706).
Kim is a ‘hard worker’. To overcome the handicap of his short stature (183cm) as a goalkeeper, he trained extensively to develop his quickness and jumping power. Even now, he is confident that his speed is second to none. I met him at the Seongnam FC clubhouse in Jeongdong-dong, Bundang-gu, Seongnam. Located between the Hyundai Heavy Industries headquarters and Korea Job World next to the Gyeongbu Expressway, the land costs more than $100 million per square metre. It’s the most expensive clubhouse in the world. “The football field is about 2,000 pyeong, so it’s like playing on a lawn worth more than 200 billion, and I hope the players feel a sense of pride and responsibility and work harder,” Kim laughs.
Overcoming a handicap of 183cm for a goalkeeper
Q: You played 32 games last year, but you’ve played less this year.
A: “It’s not because I’m out of shape or injured, but it depends on the team’s performance or the coach’s preference. If you don’t play, you shouldn’t be unhappy, but you should have a desire. If you don’t have a strong desire to play, you should stop playing football. You should prepare with that mindset and grab the opportunity when it comes.”
Q: You’re famous for your ‘I’ve lost my country’ look after a goal, what goes through your mind?
A: “It’s disappointment and self-blame, like, ‘I couldn’t stop that goal,’ or ‘I should have checked the defender’s position a little bit better,’ and I tell the defender, ‘It’s not your fault. If you get a goal, just blame it on your brother and play more confidently’. If you’re in a good team, you can make one or two saves and shine, and if you’re in a bad team, you can make all the saves and still not win the game.”
Q : You’ve been a big help to Ji-Soo Kim (18-Brentford), who has gone on to play for England.
A: “I’ve seen a lot of defenders in my 23 years of professional football, and I know how to improve quickly, so I often tell new defenders that. Ji-Soo has a good physique (192cm) and a lot to offer. I encourage him to do what he wants to do and not be afraid to make mistakes. He doesn’t panic at all when attackers put him under pressure, which is a big strength in the build-up. He has a similar style to Kim Min-jae (Bayern Munich), but his speed is a bit off, and now that he’s in a good team, he can improve his quickness and footwork.”
Q : With six more outings to go, you’ll have played in 600 K League games.
A : “When I go to the stadium, the coaches of the opposing team come and greet me (laughs). I can’t believe I’ve been doing this for so long and there have been so many twists and turns, but one thing is for sure. If I could go back to any time, it would be that I’ve worked out and taken care of myself to the point where I couldn’t work harder. I don’t have any ambition to play 600 games, and if I decide I can’t do it anymore, I’m going to hang up the gloves.”
Q: How the hell did you work out and how did you do it?
A: “It was crazy, I think. I’d lay down to sleep, and then I’d go, ‘I can’t do this part,’ and then I’d go out. If I couldn’t jump, I’d do double jump and hurdle, if I couldn’t dive, I’d dive by myself. If I couldn’t see the ball, I’d deliberately go to a dark place and ask someone to kick it to me, and then I’d get hit in the face….. In a way, I was ignorant, but I think I was just trying to push myself, so that’s the worst part about being injured.”
Q: What was your biggest injury?
A: “When I was doing well at Ulsan Hyundai and starting to establish myself in the national team, I injured my calf. I had a 7-8cm tear in my calf muscle that I couldn’t handle because I was working out too much. I took six months off, and Kim Seung-kyu, a junior, took over. I used to do 2,000 double jump ropes a day from middle school to the pros, but I couldn’t do that because of the injury. The hospital told me that I couldn’t play football anymore, so I switched to weights.
Convincing parents: ‘If you do well, you’ll be a star like Kim Byung-ji’
Kim Young-kwang’s left fourth finger is heavily bent outwards. During a training session for the 16-year-old national team, he took a hard shot and crushed the bone. “The team doctor who gave me first aid said I needed surgery and a cast. The Asian Championships were just a week away. He said it was fine, put a splint on the fracture and taped it up so it wouldn’t bleed. I played in the tournament and saved a penalty shootout with it. After the tournament, I went to the hospital and it had hardened. They said it would look better with surgery, but it would be hard to move, so I left it like that. I can’t even wear a wedding ring? I can wear it on my right hand, haha.”
Q: What inspired you to become a goalkeeper?
A: “I’m from Suncheon Jungangcho, which is a prestigious football school, and I was originally a field player. In the fifth grade, the goalkeeper got injured, so I offered to play, because I wasn’t very good at the game at the time (laughs). At the time, goalkeeping was a ‘bad-mouthing’ position, so my parents said, ‘If you’re going to play goalkeeper, quit football.’ I told them about Kim Byung-ji, who was a star at the 1998 World Cup in France, and convinced them, ‘If you’re good at goalkeeping, you can become a world star.”
Q: Many people are cynical about the idea that you can achieve anything with hard work.
A: “That’s because they haven’t done it, I know because I’ve done it, you just have to do it differently, and after a year or so, you’ll see the difference. The body doesn’t lie, you just have to remember to do it, and it will respond automatically. I think it’s the same with studying and other things, I made my professional debut, I worked like nobody’s business for a year and a half, and then I became a starter. So when you’re training for two or three hours a day, you have to give 1000%, not 100%. It’s about trying to be efficient, strong and big.”
“There’s a saying that goes, ‘A bent tree saves the day.’ It means that what seems to be lacking is actually working. Kim only played 17 matches for his country. In the latter part of his career, he bounced around from team to team and conceded a lot of goals, but he stuck with it. There are people who love his hard work and dedication.
Twenty years after ‘Fatherland in front, glory behind’, we present to you another sentence. ‘The crooked tree protects Seonsan, and the crooked finger protects Seongnam.
Nicknamed ‘Little Khan’… Olympic record of 1000 minutes without a goal broken with 34 minutes to go
Kim Young-kwang trains before the Korea Olympic football team’s match against Greece at the Athens 2004 Olympic Games. [Centrefoto]
Kim Young-kwang’s nickname is “Little Khan”. This is because of his resemblance to the legendary German goalkeeper Oliver Kahn. He has the same gruff expression and lean physique. His super reflexes, his super saves, his charisma, and his defensive reads are also similar.
Kim was nicknamed Little Khan because of his clean sheet record. Khan kept 800 clean sheets in the German Bundesliga when he played for Bayern Munich. Kim Young-kwang also attempted to reach 1,000 minutes without conceding a goal at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens (including qualifying). His clean sheet streak came to a halt at 966 minutes when he conceded in the 32nd minute of the first match of the tournament against hosts Greece. Despite the record being broken with 34 minutes remaining, Kim said, “We played well with one defender sent off. We tied 2-2, but it was the most memorable game in my football life.”
Kim said he has “only one regret” in his life. When he was with the Jeonnam Dragons, he would go to the national team and play a game, but the coach wouldn’t let him play in the league. He thought, “There must be a reason,” but when it kept happening, one day he took off his goalkeeper’s gloves in front of the coach and threw them away, saying, “I don’t play football,” and went back to his hostel. “Not being able to control my emotions for a moment left a big stain on my football career, and my career went downhill from then on,” he laughs bitterly.