Park: I had to go on hunger strike to play football
Former Manchester United midfielder Ji-sung Park says he had to go on a mini-hunger strike to persuade his parents to let him play football as a kid.
In an engaging appearance on the UTD Podcast, the South Korean – who played 100 times for his country – explained how he got into the sport.
The most successful Asian footballer in history, Park made his first steps into professional football in Japan rather than Korea, signing for Kyoto Sanga after playing for school teams in his teenage years.
“I didn’t play at all, nothing at all,” Park said of his early childhood.
“When they built the football team [at school], then I just joined it. I started to learn the football from that time.
UTD Podcast: Park’s hunger strike
Ji opens up on when he first started playing football and the moment his father wanted him to give it up…
“I’m not sure if I was good at the beginning; not bad, probably average or something like that. I was too skinny and small but I enjoyed it.
“I liked school because of the football team. But after one year, they just got rid of the football team. It was a new town and the parents didn’t like their kids playing football, they wanted more studying.
“Then the football coach tried to bring five players from that school to another school, where he moved. One of them was me. I was the only one who was at that age, the other three [one rejected the chance] were older than me. It was a good sign for me to keep continuing playing football.
“My father wanted me to stop. He didn’t like it because I was coming back quite late every day. I said no, I want to keep doing my football and my father promised me that if you won’t give up, I will let you play football. And I said, I won’t give up, so please let me keep playing. That was the deal.
“Even my grandad didn’t want me to play football because many people said if you’re playing some sports, you can’t go to university, some of the bad things they hear. They pushed me to stop but I loved it. The the one thing I did, I just didn’t eat. I don’t want to eat if you don’t let me play football. When I was young, I did that. Kind of a hunger strike.”
It was a decision vindicated. Park spent three years playing in Japan before earning a move to Europe with PSV Eindhoven. A further couple of seasons with the Dutch team, in which Park won two Eredisivie titles, impressed Manchester United scouts and he enjoyed a brilliantly successful seven-year career at Old Trafford, winning four Premier Leagues and the UEFA Champions League.
Park's episode of UTD Podcast will be available to stream from 17:00 BST on Monday, exclusively in our Official App.