Incheon has a new stadium this season. The one that they had built for the World Cup ten years ago at Munhak was deemed a bit dated and in a perfect illustration of the pace at which everything changes in Korea, a brand new ground was built.
It had been over a month since I’d last watched Jeonbuk in their away game at FC Seoul and I’d been waiting for Incheon’s fixture with Jeonbuk before paying my first visit to the new ground. Jeonbuk has had a relatively poor start to the season and last season’s champions went into this game in fifth place. Lee Dong Gook has been doing pretty well though, his two Asian Champions League goals against Chinese club Guangzhou Evergrande in mid-week taking his total for the season so far to thirteen.
Jen and I got the subway from Yeoksam, changed at Sindorim and then took Line One to Dowon. It’s over thirty stops and it took us around an hour and a half. The new stadium looked impressive as we approached it. There’s an uncovered end behind one of the goals and as you walk up from the station it looks like a three-sided ground.
At Incheon’s opening home game the ticketing arrangement were a fiasco, with two-hour queues and people walking away when they couldn’t get in until after the game had started. I suspect that a lot of those fans won’t bother coming back, which is a shame. It worked out nicely for us though as it meant that we could buy our tickets without any trouble.
We took our seats in one of the stands down the side of the pitch. The East one I think. We chose it because it was bathed in sunshine so those of you who know about sun movements will probably be able to tell if I’m right or not. There were more families around than normal which I put down to it being Children’s Day.
When my kids were young they would often ask me on Father’s Day when Children’s Day was. “Every day is bloody Children’s Day” tended to be my less than gracious response, possibly prompted by having to appear enthusiastic about another pair of novelty socks.
In Korea though, they do have a special day when you are not supposed to beat the little darlings quite so much as you normally would. Instead parents will mark the day by taking their offspring somewhere exciting, like a K-League fixture between Incheon and Jeonbuk.
As part of the celebration there were about a hundred small kids on the pitch before the game. Orphans I imagine, probably hoping that someone who had celebrated Children’s Day with too much soju might just take them home with them.
As the players came out, I noticed that Lee Dong Gook wasn’t starting. Maybe at thirty-three, two games a week is a little much for him. With Incheon being bottom of the league I imagine that his manager thought that they could get a result without him.
I reckon that there were about four thousand fans in the twenty thousand capacity ground, including around four hundred from Jeonbuk. The visiting fans had a section of the open end to our right, whilst at the other end the more vocal of the home supporters were congregated in a safe-standing area at the bottom of a single tier stand. When you add in the decision not to include a running track, I’d say that the Incheon stadium is probably the best football stadium in Korea.
Incheon took the lead in the second minute when a direct free-kick from the edge of the box was put straight into the top corner. Jeonbuk have recently been starting with the forty-one year old ex-Daejeon Citizen keeper Choi Eun Sung. It’s a hazard of being that age that every time you let one in people will wonder if you are still up to it. I doubt he’d have stopped that one twenty years ago though.
A quarter of an hour in, Jeonbuk equalised when the Brazilian Eninho’s free-kick was deflected in. There has been a bit of a fuss lately over the attempt by national team and former Jeonbuk manager Choi Kang Hee to have Eninho nationalised and brought into the South Korean team in time for the latest round of World Cup qualifiers. There have been a few basketball players given citizenship but I suspect that the difference with them is that they look Korean. Maybe Eninho should celebrate his goals by posing as if in front of a bathroom mirror and flicking at his hair for two minutes whilst people wait behind him to wash their hands. That should convince people that he’s sufficiently integrated into Korean society.
With a few minutes left in the first half a shot from the edge of the box was parried by Choi and the rebound went straight to Park Joon Tae who knocked it in to put Incheon back in front. I’d have to question the ageing keeper for that one, he should really have palmed it to one side of the goal.
At half-time I went to replenish my beer supplies and found that they had run out. Or at least they had at the bar nearest to us. The bloke serving did his best by tipping the barrel forwards and he even gave me a free cup of what turned out to be ninety percent froth. Fortunately the bar further along had stocks left so it wasn’t the crisis that it might have been. I’d recommend taking a few cans though, just in case.
The prospect of losing to the bottom club was sufficient to see Lee Dong Gook brought on at the start of the second half. Incheon defended well though and then with ten minutes of the game remaining they broke down the left and scored to make it three-one. I don’t think anyone was expecting that.
Jeonbuk are one of those teams that fight to the end though and with two minutes left Eninho did his case for citizenship no harm with the visiting fans by pulling one back. Jeonbuk threw everyone forward and in the third minute of the four that had been added for stoppages Lee Dong Gook showed his worth by heading home the equaliser and his fourteenth of the campaign.
As the final whistle went it must have felt like a defeat for the home players and fans. Not quite the Children’s Day treat that some of the kids thought that it was turning out to be. One fella was so annoyed that he slapped his season card down on the table in front of Jen and stomped off. Well, it’s the perfect day to behave like a kid.
Season cards are cheap here with the Incheon ones starting at eighty thousand won for twenty-two games. That’s about two quid a game as opposed to the fiver that you’ll pay on the day. Even so, I wonder if he’ll ring the club up and tell them that he’s lost it or whether he will be another one that’s gone for good.