Southeast Asia Malaysia

Do Dong-Hyun: The South Korean who breathed life into Kota Bharu

Kota Bharu is an absolutely beautiful place. But it hasn’t been a pretty place to visit on Matchdays involving Kelantan FA in recent times. Attendances haven’t been that great, constant negative press surrounding the club hasn’t helped either.

Despite a flurry of major signings during the off-season, including the highly-rated Bruno Lopes from Persija Jakarta and Ferdinand Sinaga from PSM Makassar, they failed to win a single game out of their opening three fixtures. A 2-1 defeat at the hands Melaka United on opening day was followed by a drab 1-1 draw at home against rivals, Terengganu.

But the nail in the coffin for head coach, Sathit Bensoh as well as the patience of thousands of Kelantan fans was the 0-3 defeat against Pahang in Kuantan. There was no structure, no cohesion, let alone desire in that fixture. That night, Kota Bharu truly felt separated from the rest of Malaysia – not just by the Titiwangsa mountains.

Sathit Bensoh was sacked, Mohammed Ghaddar was snapped up for the fourth time, and Yusri Che Lah was appointed as caretaker boss. In the same week, Football Malaysia LLP also revealed that Kelantan could face punishment for failing to comply with bureaucratic deadlines.

So when Perak’s combative squad arrived in Kota Bharu for Matchday 4, there was very little excitement in the air. In the midst of all the doom and gloom, one man kept his head down, scored a hat-trick and helped Kelantan clinch a dramatic 3-2 win over Perak for their first three points of the season. And he goes by the name of Do Dong-Hyun.

“He’s one of those players you rarely notice in a football game, because of his diminutive figure. But he comes up and makes a difference when it matters,” renowned Malaysian football commentator, Dez Corkhill said in a casual conversation, recently. And he couldn’t have been more right.

Do broke into the Malaysian football scene with UiTM FC last year and bagged 13 goals in 22 Malaysia Premier League matches. However, very little attention was paid towards him for several reasons. Firstly, he was playing in the second tier of Malaysian football, and for a university team with minimal fanbase. But more importantly, Do’s achievements were subconciously undermined by a large number of local football observers, given that he clocked them in the second tier of Malaysian football.

But the former South Korean U-20 player was once a highly-rated teenager in Korean football and he was snapped up by Brisbane Roar at the tender age of 19. He became the youngest player to occupy a visa spot in the A-League, back in 2012. After only three substitute appearances, he was shipped off to FC Gifu in the second division of Japanese football, before making the move to India, where Do was able to show a true glimpse of his potential and ability.

He netted 19 goals across two seasons for East Bengal FC, and is famously remembered for scoring two derby braces against arch rivals Mohun Bagan. And even when he announced his departure from the club, Do spoke about the first brace he scored against Mohun. “Scoring those two goals against Mohun Bagan will always be special for me as it was my first derby,” the South Korean said.

Last Saturday, Do was as instrumental for Kelantan as any player has been in recent times. He was one of the smallest players on the pitch, but leaped high enough to convert Badrul Radzi’s cross with his head to score Kelantan’s first goal.  The second one involved his ability to read the game and get himself into the right position. As they say, if you find yourself inside the box, you are bound to score a goal.

But the third goal was classic Do Dong Hyun. Fantastic first touch, followed by a sudden burst of pace to outsmart Perak’s Amirul Azhan, before beating Hafizul Hakim from an acute angle to seal a momentous 3-2 victory, against all odds, for the Red Warriors. That very moment, after so long, Kota Bharu was alive again.

Now that he’s playing in the top division and for a team with a proper fan base, the South Korean winger might just get the attention and credit he deserves. As for Kelantan, they still have a long way to go before a ‘revival’ can be on the cards. But in Do Dong-Hyun, the Red Warriors’ fans may just have someone they can count on for a tiny bit of joy, in times of indubitable trouble and despair.