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The Return of Soccer and Superman

The K League is back. You could read a primer written by someone who knows what they’re talking about or you could read about a whacky reality show.

AFC Champions League 2018 - Group Stage - Match Day 1 - Group E - Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors FC (KOR) vs Kashiwa Reysol (JPN) Photo by Power Sport Images/Getty Images

At 3 AM Pacific time on Friday morning high level soccer will return. The K league will be returning to action with a behind closed doors match between Suwon Samsung Bluewings and Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors. It’s phones vs. cars! I know next to nothing about either team. I know Suwon have former Whitecap Doneil Henry and that I once won the Asian Champions League with them in Football Manager. I know that Jeonbuk have a bigger budget than any other K League team and that they win almost every year. I figured I would do some reading about both teams before the game. I began by looking at the rosters of both teams to see how many players I recognized. Unfortunately I still don’t know very much about either team because my attention was caught by this excerpt from the Wikipedia page of one of the names I did recognize:

“Lee, along with his five children, has appeared on the Sunday variety show “The Return of Superman” since 2015. The show is on KBS World TV and can also be viewed on YouTube with English captions. “The Return of Superman” shows famous Korean fathers taking care of their children for 48 hours without their wife. Lee Dong Gook is the first on the show to have five children to take care of.”

That’s right folks; K League legend Lee Dong-Gook has been appearing on a reality show with his family since 2015. In addition to banging in 10+ goals per season well passed what would be most Athletes’ physical prime, Lee has been regularly having camera crews follow around him and his five children for almost five years. I had to know more.

Since 2013 there have been over 300 episodes of “the return of Superman.” The format is a little confusing to me still. It says that fathers have to look after their children without help for 48 hours but the cast seems to stick with the show for years at a time. Perhaps the Mother’s get 48 hours off per week? Surely they don’t leave for five years, that would be a very different show.

Indeed the show raises a lot of interesting questions about the nature of fatherhood. Chief amongst those being; Is it really that odd for a dad to look after his kids for a couple of days?

It also offers some interesting contrasts about the delegation of labour between parents. Lee Dong-Gook’s wife has her profession listed as “housewife/former Ms. Korea runner up.” So one has to imagine she is most responsible for childcare and domestic work. It’s a very old school setup where the father is the main breadwinner and the mother is responsible for the domestic realm. One would suspect he is the sort of dad who would struggle with looking after his kids for 48 hours. But actor Son Il-Gook is married to a high court judge. Both parents have demanding careers and therefore the domestic work has to be shared. One would suspect that this sort of Dad would be more prepared for doing the thing that dads are supposed to do. The wife of hip hop artist “Gary” has her profession listed simply as “unknown.” Is she a secret agent?

Highlights:

I only had so much time to sift through old episodes so I focused on the episodes featuring footballers. Here are some of the segments I have watched and a brief summary therof:

“Hi, I’m Father Donggook, showing off my muscles!”

-Lee and his five children go to a sweet shop and eat a type of sweet called “Poo Candy.” There is a table covered in sugar which the kids eat directly off of, something you definitely could not do now in the age of Caronavirus.

-Lee’s son is mercilessly trolled by being offered sugar repeatedly only for it to be then taken away

-The family then goes to a pool where Lee’s son is trolled once again, this time by having his snack eaten. The editor of the show admires the then 38 year old Lee’s physique and edits a cartoon whale into the distance (did I mention the editor has a very active role in this show? They are constantly riffing over the action with subtitles and animations).

“5 siblings’ house - Nice to meet you, Dongwook uncle!”

-Lee Dong-Gook is away for a road game and so confusingly named actor Lee Dong-Wook is drafted in to look after the kids. D.W Lee is very impressed by the sheer number of awards adorning the walls of D.G Lee’s home.

-The children of never heard of anything D.W Lee has appeared in.

Na Eun is Looking for Her Dad!

-The daughter of Ulsan player Park Joo-Ho (formerly of Mainz and Borussia Dortmund) greets her father after a game.

-She then spots “Sian’s Dad” who is of course Lee Dong-Gook. The two men then have an awkward exchange.

“Naeun ‘Mom, I missed you!’”

-Park Joo-ho brings his kids to work. His daughter struggles to identify him on a poster

-Eventually she finds him and kisses the poster, another thing you definitely can’t do now thanks to the Coronavirus.

-Park and his daughter then have a kick about.

-The family is reunited with the return of Park’s wife, Anna...

and Park says he feels the experience has lead to a greater appreciation for his wife.

Conclusions:

Is “The Return of Superman” a cheap attempt to cash in on celebrity and cute kids? Almost certainly, yes. Is it still kind of fun? At times, yes. Why did I just write almost 1000 words about a Korean reality show? Because we’re in the ‘Rona zone now baby. But at an ungodly hour on Friday morning we will get a brief glimpse of the normal world. No more games from the 90s, honest to god competitive football at a decent level.