As a multi-sport cheerleader, Hong Chang-hwa is sometimes cheered backwards. Baseball fans often say they wish the “I’m happy” chant would become a reality in other sports. Nowadays, the success of Daejeon Hana Citizens on the soccer field is also talked about as “Changhwa’s healing. But Hong believes that you can be happy in any sport. It’s just that soccer is doing a little better these days.
Hong is a celebrity in the world of sports, known as the Changhwa God. He has been leading cheering squads in baseball, basketball, volleyball, and other professional sports for more than 10 years. He always leads the cheers with enthusiasm and receives great support from the fans of his teams. Since 2021, he has also been supporting soccer. As the head of the Daejeon cheerleading squad, he interacts with fans in seat E at the Daejeon World Cup Stadium.
“My role is to connect E and S seats”
It’s no coincidence that Hong started cheering for soccer late. Soccer has a different cheering culture than other sports. Supporters of each team, not cheering squads, lead the cheering. At the Daejeon World Cup stadium, the Daejeon Lovers, a group of Daejeon supporters, lead their own cheers in the S section. Recently, several K League clubs have introduced a new cheering culture by organizing separate cheerleaders, but cheerleaders are still unfamiliar on soccer fields.
Now in his third year, Hong has found a way to integrate himself into the somewhat ambiguous role of a soccer cheerleader. Based on his respect for supporters’ culture, he helps spectators in the E section to embrace it and cheer for the players alongside supporters in the S section.
“Soccer has a long tradition of supporters. “When you watch the supporters cheer, they are so good at it, you’re blown away. There’s a lot to learn. In my section, E, there are a lot of people who are new to the stadium or who are not used to the S-side culture of soccer support. I think it’s my role to connect the two sides in the middle. I want to promote the cheering culture of the Daejeon supporters, and I’m trying to make sure that even those who come to the E seats occasionally can sing the ‘Son of Daejeon’ chant.”
The cheerleading squad led by Hong and the supporters, the Daejeon Lovers, work together to ensure a harmonious cheer. “During the game, I keep looking at the S seats. There’s a tone to the supporters’ cheering. When they take a break, I shout a cheer and join in. We also try to cheer back and forth, such as ‘mate’ in the S section and ‘goal’ in the E section. When the whole stadium is surfing together, we communicate with each other and coordinate our breathing. Last time, I was asked, “Let’s do a wave,” and I sent a wave in the direction of the S seats. If the S and E sections play separately, it’s not as meaningful. We try to make the most of the supporters’ cheers and complement them in the middle.”
Daejeon won promotion to the K League 1 last year. After an eight-year absence, the team has exceeded expectations at the start of this season. Despite a recent lull, the team is still in fifth place in the table. They are three points behind second-place FC Seoul.
By playing competitive soccer in the top league, they are naturally regaining their “soccer specialty” status. Last year, the total attendance for their 20 K League 2 home games was 45,411, but this year, after just seven games, 95,832 people have visited Daejeon World Cup Stadium, more than double last year’s total. The average attendance is 13,690, third in the league behind Seoul (26,504) and Ulsan Hyundai (16,943).
Hong, who lives and breathes the crowd, feels the excitement in Daejeon firsthand. “The crowd is definitely bigger. They’re even coming to the second floor of the E section. It’s not just our fans, but also the away fans. The E seats are in between the home and away sections, so you can hear both teams’ supporters cheering, which is really different from before. Last month, Ulsan Hyundai came to play away. As a popular team, there were a lot of away fans. When the away team cheers loudly, it creates competition, so we try to cheer even louder. I think it’s a good thing. The Ulsan fans were very loud, but in the end we won. We handed Ulsan their first loss.” 안전놀이터
The Daejeon World Cup Stadium is the largest of Hong’s multi-sport home venues. Hong dreams of the day when Daejeon World Cup Stadium sells out. “There are about 40,000 seats here. It would be ‘awesome’ if it was full. I love cheering for waves. 40,000 people surfing? That would be amazing.”