There was a moment that made reporters tilt their heads at the media preview of the “40th anniversary exhibition of the K-League” held at Times Square in Yeongdeungpo, Seoul on the 21st. It was when Ahn Jung-hwan, Lee Dong-guk and Ko Jong-soo, the “handsome troika” who led the K-League renaissance right after the 1998 World Cup in France, were mentioned.
The exhibition described the 40-year history of the K-League as “Universe” and sheds light on various ways in 13 sections. Among them, the HORIZON section lists photos along the 30-meter-long wall, allowing visitors to look at the 40-year history of the K-League in order. From 1983 to 2023, the emblem of the championship team by year is engraved, and major photos were arranged along with photos of the time in each period. A total of 83 cases and 74 photos were inserted, and several were provided by the databases of each media company. Sports Seoul provided the largest number of 30 photos. And one of the photos that attracted attention was former Busan Daewoo’s Ahn Jung-hwan and Pohang’s Lee Dong-gook posing ahead of their showdown at the Asian Club Championship on Feb. 11, 1999.
In that year, the Korean soccer team shed tears amid crushing defeat, losing 0-5 to the Netherlands in the group league of the World Cup in France. However, Korean fans moved to K-League stadiums to seek to save Korean soccer. Along with Lee Dong-gook who participated as a teenage player in the French World Cup, “Terius” Ahn Jung-hwan and “Genius Midfielder” Ko Jong-soo (then from Suwon Samsung) were at the center of success in the league. Not only his outstanding talent but also his appearance that stole the hearts of female fans attracted tremendous attention. Busan Gudeok Stadium, the home of Ahn Jung-hwan, was an unusual sight to attract fans with chairs for track and field beyond capacity. Thanks to them, the K-League surpassed 2 million spectators for the first time in 1998 and successfully attracted spectators until the following year. However, as Lee Dong-gook left for Germany and Ahn Jung-hwan left for Italy, the era of “Troika” within the K-League ended.
One interesting thing is that despite their tremendous presence, it is hard to find photos of “three shots” taken together. “In order to obtain photos of the early days of the league, I received films from media companies including DBs and other places that have not yet been converted into DBs and printed them,” said Won Wi-seok, director of the Korea Football Association and former editor-in-chief of Sports Seoul. “Lee Dong-guk, Ahn Jung-hwan and Ko Jong-soo led the K-League renaissance, but I couldn’t find any photos of them anywhere else.” “I tried to prepare a project to highlight the three of them at various media companies, but it was not easy to cast them at the same time. If you find three shots of them, it’s a special news,” he added.
Since its inception in 1985, there are many “Troika” materials in this paper, which has systematically held photo DBs, but only photos taken separately by Lee Dong-guk, Ko Jong-soo, Lee Dong-guk and Ahn Jung-hwan remain.