For veteran striker Lee Jung-hyeop of the Gangwon Football Club, the 25th of October was an unforgettable day at home against Suwon FC.
On the morning of Gangwon’s 2-0 victory over Suwon FC at Gangneung Sports Complex, Lee woke up to find out that his father-in-law had passed away.
After losing his father-in-law, Lee scored the game’s first goal in the 19th minute to spearhead the victory.
It was a much-needed win for Gangwon.
In the K League 1, the last place finisher in the regular season is immediately relegated to the second division next season, while the 10th and 11th place finishers are relegated through the promotion playoffs (PO).레모나토토
A loss would have seen 10th-place Gangwon (33 points) drop to the bottom of the table, behind Suwon FC and Suwon Samsung (both on 32 points) with one game remaining.
His father-in-law, who was a huge fan of Gangwon during his lifetime, always gave Lee a lot of encouragement, and Lee described his father-in-law as someone he admired.
It was on the night of the 24th that Lee received the news that his father-in-law, who had been battling pancreatic cancer for about a year, was in critical condition.
When he received the news on the morning of the race, he decided to play for the sake of his father-in-law. His wife wanted to play as well, so he put all his sorrows aside and focused on playing on the field, and it paid off.
His goal against Suwon FC was his second goal of the season.
However, the emotions that he had pushed to the back of his mind for the game could not be contained.
After running onto a penetrating pass from Kim Dae-won, Lee beat the defense, fell in front of the penalty spot, and slotted home with his right foot to rock the net.
After the goal, Lee knelt on the ground with his face covered and began to sob.
Unable to lift his head for a while due to the overwhelming sadness, Lee wiped away the tears and raised his hands to the sky, performing the “tear serenade”.
A prolific frontline player, Lee was a favorite of former national team coach Uli Stielike.
He was dubbed the “crown prince of Stielike’s ship” for his performance at the 2015 Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Asian Cup, where the team finished as runners-up, but he fell out of favor with successive national team managers.
Under former coach Paulo Bento, he was overshadowed by the likes of Cho Kyu-sung (Meatwillan) and did not feature for the national team after 2021.
Lee joined Gangwon via trade from Gyeongnam FC during the 2021 season, and despite being deployed as a frontline striker, he struggled to score goals.
After scoring just one goal in 18 regular-season games in 2021, Lee scored just five goals in 31 appearances in 2022. This season, he has two goals so far.
Nevertheless, Gangwon’s sixth-place finish last season with a wing pairing of Yang Hyun-joon (now at Celtic) and Kim Dae-won was due in no small part to Lee’s diligent work up front, drawing defenders and creating space for the duo to operate.
After scoring his first goal of the season in a 1-1 draw away to Suwon FC on June 25, Lee Jung-hyeop opened the scoring against the team he hadn’t seen in five months.
For Gangwon, who were still facing relegation worries at the end of the season, Lee’s goal came at a time when they were in desperate need of goals.
But before he could celebrate, Lee went to the funeral home in Gangneung immediately after the game.
As his wife was in full-term labor, Lee Jung-hyeop was a resident and welcomed mourners, including club officials.
“This happened on the day of the game, but he played as usual and even did a ceremony after scoring, which surprised everyone at the club,” said a Gangwon official. “He cried so much that he complained that he had a sore throat during the game and found it difficult to play.”