Local fans reacted to everything that Son did, even to a harmless wave of his hand.
“Welcome to Seoul,” the South Korean forward gleefully said to his teammates as they exited the arrivals terminal to begin their summer tour.
What Tottenham have described as a “special” welcome may not be a new experience for the 30-year-old striker.
When Son returned home with his historic Golden Boot at the end of May, the fans who greeted him at the airport shouted, “Heung Min, we love you!” as the cameras flashed and captured the country’s most adored athlete.
From Chuncheon to North London
The son started playing soccer as a child in Chuncheon, about 46 miles northeast of Seoul, under his father’s care.
He was selected as one of the six members of the Korean Football Association (KFA) youth draft FA in 2009 to join the youth academy of German club Hamburg where he eventually moved up to the first team and made his professional debut at the age of 18 years.
In 2015, the South Korean star made a big move from Leverkusen to Tottenham, just three days before the summer transfer window closed.
Since then, he has broken records set by his role models Park Ji Sung, the first Korean to play in the Premier League and the only Asian player to win the UEFA Champions League, and Cha Beom Koon, who has made over 300 Bundesliga appearances for Eintracht Frankfurt and Leverkusen from 1979 to 1989.
In May, Son surpassed Cha’s record of 17 goals as the most goals scored by a Korean player in a European league season. He also became the first Asian player to win the Premier League Golden Boot with 23 goals in a season – on par with Liverpool’s Mo Salah.
After making his 100th cap in June, the forward also plays a vital role in the national team.
Son won gold in the 2018 Asian Games and led South Korea’s famous 2-0 victory over Germany in the group stage of the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
South Korea loves Sonny and Tottenham
Prior to Son’s transfer to north London, Tottenham were known in South Korea as the team played by 2002 World Cup hero Lee Yong-pyo. But nowhere was the team more famous than Manchester United, the team the country adored thanks to Puck.
When Park retired in 2014, Korean football fans and the media were looking for “Next Park”, a player who could lead the Korean game.
Although several other Korean players have joined the Premier League following Park, none of them have reached the level of success of the Red Devils midfielder.
As he settled in north London and began to establish himself as a top-level player, Tottenham also became the most popular and most supported overseas team in South Korea.
Whether they are football fans or not, Koreans are in love with their sensational striker and his club.
Attending a Spurs match has become a must for Koreans while traveling in Europe, son shirts fly off the shelves in an Asian country, and if their hero scores a goal, he is widely covered in the news.
Son’s popularity has led to the establishment of four official Spurs supporter clubs throughout South Korea, including the Gangwon Spurs, his hometown province of Chungcheong.
People were elated when Tottenham announced their pre-season tour to Seoul – the club’s first visit with Son and a full squad – and tickets for Spurs’ two matches were soon sold out.
Apart from Son’s historical accomplishments, fans say they love his humble nature.
Starting playing under his father, himself a retired football player, Son always credits his father for his success.
In his book What I Thought While Playing Football, the footballer revealed that his father often told him to “be humble.” In June, his son’s father, Woon Jeong, told Korean media that he still considers his son a world-class player, even after bringing home the Golden Boot.
When Son posted a thank you post for the Golden Boot on his Instagram, fans cheered, “He speaks beautifully,” “You’re a first grader,” and “I’m so proud of you as a Korean.”
That excitement was on display on a rainy Wednesday night in Seoul when 64,100 fans filled the capital’s World Cup stadium to watch the Spurs play Team K League.
After a rousing 6-3 win in which the local hero scored a brace, “Sonny” thanked the fans for coming out on a late rainy evening, making the fans fall in love with him all over again.
And with another friendly for the Spurs in South Korea when they face Sevilla at 20:00 local time on Saturday, it is likely that Tottenham will gain even more fans in the land of their Asian superstar.