Steve Factor v Korean Mafia
The summer of 2002 was the greatest summer in the history of man-kind. I did something crazy, and took my first international trip with out my family. Korea and Japan had set a precedent by the first countries to ever co-host a World Cup, and I got to be among my people, at least half, the Mexican half just had to tolerate all the Asians…
There were tons of ‘firsts’ on this trip, such as trying to communicate with a middle aged man who knows no English, and I know very limited Korean, and trying to describe the garbage can. My first, trip to multiple Buddhist Temples, and realized that flash photography is frowned upon, my first dislike of Sepp Blatter, and of course the first time to play soccer against the Korean Mafia.
Korea was going to be playing later that night and having been immersed in the soccer culture for the last 2 or 3 days naturally I had to play.
If you have never been to Seoul, South Korea it is not like Houston, Texas. If you have never been to Houston, it is not like Denver or London…or any of the places I have ever lived. Land is a commodity, and public parks are in places nothing more than just sand boxes…giant sand boxes.
When we arrived, the park, that reminded me of a giant litter box for people, had kids doing soccer practice, and families hanging out. We soon met a high school aged kid who came up to us asking if we wanted to play, in English. He was practicing both English and footy, and asked my friend and I to join in.
Just as we were getting ready to start, black cars with blacked out windows pulled up around the park. Soon, men in well fitted suits, ties, and sun glasses came out of the cars and started kicking people out of our litter box. In my mind I thought that we were going to be playing against a professional team, but it just didn't seem right.
Another caravan of cars pulled up, but this time the guys who came out of the cars were not in suits, but orange jerseys and white shorts. I studied what was going on from a distance, and saw that the jersey players were bowing to the suited men who look like that they can play parts in “Men In Black.”
What was also, odd was that the players were tatted from head to foot. It was actually starting to get a little scary, and then that fear was confirmed by our high school translator who was speaking with one of the suited men. In his broken English and explained that we were going toe-to-toe with the Korean Mafia!
There was no way out. We were kept on the field for the purpose of being the opponent.
“This is it. This is how it ends.” I thought to my self. “Well, at least I’ll die doing something I love.”
Our ‘translator’ came up to us and explained we were not to go in for tackles or score against them. Why not just add, don’t have fun and soil your shorts…?
The game starts, and because I have been playing college soccer I have competition flowing through my veins, and my mentality changes into game mode, which may or may not have been a good thing.
20 minutes into the game we were on the counter attack. Transitioning ball from our defensive third into the midfield, I started my run on the opposite side of the field, left wing. Having seen the gap that my mafia counter-parts had left I called for the ball to be crossed over to my direction.
The ball was crossed over with Steven Gerrard like accuracy, right at chest level enough for me to control with my chest in a twist motion from facing the field, to the goal. As I was running my buddy was a couple steps behind me in the middle of the field catching up offering support as a drop pass.
My mind went blank and instinct had taken over. Once the ball was controlled with my chest, it fell perfectly in stride with my shooting right foot. The defenders were too far off to stop the shot and the goal was in sight, and in my shooting range of roughly 20 yards out.
My right leg was sweeping froward, toes pointed downward, left leg planting and pointing toward the direction of the goal, I make solid contact on the ball and it begins sailing toward the goal with ferocity.
So, lets take a pause here. Quick reminder from what was mentioned above, that I wasn't supposed to score or go in for tough tackles. Wanted to make sure that it was still fresh in your mind.
The second the ball left my foot that thought came across my mind that I wasn't supposed to shoot! It was too late for that…and for me. Certainly, this is how I am going to die. Shot on goal leads to shot in the head, at least it was something that looked like it could end up on ESPN Top 10 and News at 10.
The goal keeper attempted the save narrowly missing it, and in utter silence, you could hear, ‘DINK.’ The ball had hit the post and bounced out! The next thing I could hear was the exhaustive sigh of relief as I collapsed to my knees in relief!
Walking over to me was that orange jersey, that had a bald, tatted Korean Mafia man in it. Not realizing how serious they took the pick-up game I figured he was going to shiv me or shoot me for having the audacity to rip a shot at goal. Instead in broken English I heard, “ Good shot. Good Shot.” (Please read in your best broken English accent)
I bowed in respect and kept playing, and thankfully for only another 15 minutes or so. Apparently the weakness of the Korean Mafia is asthma, and the ‘black lung.’ These guys were smoking almost non-stop the second they got out of the cars, only long enough to play the game.
I share that story to share this.
In life and leadership positions, you are going to be placed in some very unfair circumstances. The key is, how you are going to react to the situation. We are all born with gifts and talents that have equipped us to be able to handle things like this. I don’t speak Korean (shameful, I know) but I do speak soccer. I was able to communicate in a way that no one else could. Play the game, and see what happens, and take your shots, because you just might be complimented for taking the risk!
Hopefully I will soon be able to produce some videos to start training you! One step at a time though…
YOU! Plus a little bit of me. Will continue to change soccer world!
Stay hydrated and I’ll see YOU on the field!