Incheon Utd v Ulsan Horang-i, 6pm, Sat 27th March

After watching the National League game between Incheon Korail and Yesan, I had an hour to spare before the match between Incheon United and Ulsan Horang-i kicked off and so I walked back around to the front of the stadium to get a ticket and something to eat. The baseball match that I had passed on the way in had just finished and plenty of the fans from that game were still milling around, reliving the match and not quite ready to go home. A lot of them, particularly the groups of young lads, or the father and son combos, were throwing a baseball between them, usually managing to catch it in their baseball gloves. They weren’t always successful though, quite often a throw would go astray and the ball would either bounce off into the distance with a small child scurrying after it or else it would clobber an unsuspecting passer by as he made his way towards the subway. I found myself having to watch a number of balls simultaneously in an attempt to avoid being knocked spark out by an errant return.

 Having passed up the opportunity earlier to get something to eat at the station, I had a look around the outside of the stadium for some food. The best that I could find was a stall that served something about the size and shape of a fun size Mars bar, but with the texture of a marshmallow flump. I was given a large paper cup with about eight of them in, submerged in what could possibly have been some sort of stock, but might just as easily have been simply hot water. They were beige, tasted of nothing and were hot enough for me to burn my tongue. I doubt Ronald MacDonald would lose any sleep over them.

 Generally I’ve enjoyed the Korean food I’ve had so far in my time here. I eat in my works canteen every day with a colleague, Mr. Park, and with neither of us being particularly faddy eaters we always just take pot luck and join the shortest queue. This means that we don’t find out what we are going to get to eat until we reach our particular serving counter. It works pretty well and I haven’t had a bad meal yet. There’s usually a main dish, perhaps some bits of fish, squid or meat, a bowl of very watery soup and a few side dishes of rice, bean sprouts, seaweed, radishes etc. It’s usually all very spicy with the exception of the boiled rice. The other day I started eating what I thought was seaweed, but Mr. Park pointed out that they were fish, undoubtedly the tiniest fish I’ve ever seen, never mind eaten. If you, or your children or your dog has ever had worms, you know, those little white things that don’t seem to have a head and just wiggle? Well, these were about that size, but silver and with a black spot at one end that might have been an eye. I certainly wouldn’t like to have to try and gut one. They were quite crispy and I could pick up about thirty at a time with my chopsticks. That’s how small they were. You could probably get five hundred of them in a matchbox. In the canteen after collecting your lunch you serve yourself with Kimchi from a pot at your table. Kimchi is cabbage in a spicy red sauce. It’s taken me forty five years to finally discover a way to enjoy cabbage, so I’m quite pleased. I’ll be even happier if they start selling it at football games in place of the hot beige flumps.

 I took my burnt tongue off to the ticket office and bought a ticket for the East Stand for eight thousand won, which is about a fiver. I could have got one for behind the goal in the North Stand for four thousand, but I knew that this was another stadium with a running track around it and I didn’t fancy the extra distance from the action that I would have been if I had gone behind the goal. I dodged the remaining baseballs that were still flying around and went into the ground.

 I noticed that a lot of the people entering the ground were bringing takeaways in with them and a few cans of beer. There didn’t seem to be any restrictions on what people could bring through the turnstiles or into the seated areas although I didn’t see anyone with a cup of the beige flumps. I was still hungry after my earlier poor choice and so had a look at the options inside. I didn’t fancy the bags of corn snacks and so it was a choice of dried octopus or a cup of something that looked like very thin chips, a bit like the ones that you get in MacDonald’s but much thinner. I watched someone reheating the dried octopus on a small camping stove provided for that purpose and suspected that as you just seemed to throw it over the naked flame that I’d struggle to do it successfully. I went for the skinny chips instead. Bad choice again, they were rock hard, as if they had been inadvertently fried twice, and tasted of nothing but cooking oil. Next time I’m bringing a couple of matchboxes full of those tiny fish.

 As kick off approached, the ground was still pretty empty. I’d have guessed that there were a couple of thousand in there, mainly in my stand, with two hundred or so behind the goal in the North stand. To my left, there were about twenty Ulsan fans and straight across the pitch the West Stand was virtually empty. It was a shame really as it was a very impressive stadium with a capacity of just over fifty thousand, two big stands with much lower ones behind the goals and a roof that appeared to be made of a series of pointy canvas tents.

 The Incheon fans behind the goal were making a fair bit of noise despite there only being about sixty of them involved in the singing. They had a couple of drums to help them and it looked like some megaphones too. They also had some cracking banners, one of which said ‘TERROR AND TREMBLING’ which I took to be a reference to peoples mental state after the pre-match dodging of the baseballs. The other banner was a little odd; it was stretched out behind the goal and read ‘MEET YOU HALL!  BOYS!’. Yes that’s right, ‘MEET YOU HALL!  BOYS!’. I couldn’t decide whether the banner had been ordered over the phone and the line had been particularly bad that day or whether they really were suggesting a meeting in a hall somewhere, a sort of rainy day wet playtime for hooligans.

Almost certainly a tribute to Stuart Hall

 The chanting continued as the teams came out onto the pitch, Incheon in blue and black stripes, Ulsan in the all white kit with the blue tyre tread band that I’d seen them in the previous week at Daegu. The Incheon players each kicked a football into the crowd, one of which came quite close to me and was snaffled by an old bloke who took more delight in his prize than I would have thought possible for someone over the age of ten. As the match kicked off the Incheon fans began a rendition of a song to the tune of I Will by The Beatles. It went on for a few minutes and seemed to follow the structure of the original song. This got them into my good books. If I’d been behind the goal I’d have just joined in and sang the original lyrics.

 The Incheon left back and captain caught my eye early on, which was quite a feat as he only looked to be about five feet tall and the advertising hoardings weren’t much lower than that. He looked a good ten years older than the rest of his teammates and a fair bit harder too. I doubt a stray baseball or a red hot beige flump would have caused him much concern. He actually reminded me of a bloke I used to work with and who coincidentally played left back for the works team. I’ll call him Davie, mainly because that was his name. He was as ‘no-nonsense’ at work as he was on the football pitch and was known for pinning up against the wall anyone who gave him a bit of problem. He had a farm as well as a bit of a sideline and one day he was telling me about a sick sheep he had. I asked him if he had called the vet out and he told me that he rarely bothered with that, preferring to dispatch them himself, coshing them on the head with an old table leg. I made sure I never gave him any trouble either on or off the pitch.

 The Incheon fans continued to be in fine voice and switched from The Beatles to a song called Coast Boy. I know this because soon after they started singing it, the camera was turned onto them and they appeared on the big screen jumping up and down. The lyrics to Coast Boy were then flashed up onto the screen with the title in English. It was wasted on the singers as they were directly below the screen and couldn’t see it, but I was impressed to see that it was the bloke who operated the screen taking his lead from the crowd and not vice versa.

 Coast Boy had barely died down when Ulsan took the lead. The Incheon keeper completely lost the flight of a long range shot and it went straight through his hands. Fortunately he managed to get his face to it, but it was only a temporary reprieve as Ulsan put the rebound away whilst he lay stunned on the turf. Davie, the Incheon left back stood and glared at his keeper, obviously weighing up whether he had time before the restart to nip back to the dressing room for his table leg.

 Fortunately for their keeper’s well-being, Incheon equalized within about fifteen minutes with a deflected shot from the edge of the box after the Ulsan keeper had punched clear from a corner. That was it for the first half. I went for a wander during the break, mainly to try and warm up a bit as the temperature had dropped quite rapidly. The concourse was full of kids playing football and teenagers swigging beer or soju. Soju is a popular drink over here. It’s a rice based spirit that varies in alcohol content but tends to be about the twenty percent mark. It tastes a bit like vodka, you can buy it in plastic bottles in the supermarket for about sixty pence and it’s ideal for swigging when you need to warm yourself up at the match.

 Mind you if any of kids in the concourse had decided to play next goal the winner before returning for the second half, or if the teenagers had decided to have one last nip of soju, it would have caused them a bit of confusion. Incheon had barely straightened up from their pre-second half huddle when Ulsan re-took the lead. Anyone getting back to his or her seat a minute late would have seen Incheon kicking off at 2-1 down and would no doubt have assumed that they were watching the start of the second half.

 Incheon pressed throughout the remainder of the second half despite having their centre half sent off and had a few good chances including hitting the bar with the final kick of the game. But it wasn’t to be and Ulsan won 2-1 to the delight of their twenty fans. Davie and his Incheon team treated us all to deep and remorseful bows as thanks for braving the freezing cold before I headed off into the dark for the thirty two stop subway journey home.

 And what of Lee Dong Gook? Well, Jeonbuk Motors didn’t have a game this weekend, it’s one of the drawbacks of having a fifteen team league. They had, however, played the previous Wednesday night in the Asian Champions League, beating a Chinese team, 2-1 away. The Lion King played the whole ninety minutes and notched his first goal of the season for Jeonbuk when scoring an eighty seventh minute winner. Let’s hope that’s the goal that kick starts his season.

4 Responses to “Incheon Utd v Ulsan Horang-i, 6pm, Sat 27th March”

  1. Cogstar Says:

    You are the phall man , don’t give us this ‘it was a bit spicy rubbish’ just order 3 lagers with it. btw Arran is an awesome place. oh and got my late Sept pass so we need to sort that. nice write up but you need to pick a team this neutral stuff is lacking emotion

  2. onthetrailofthelionking Says:

    I’ve since found out that the tiny fish are anchovies, you can google tiny anchovies and see them, although I reckon mine were smaller than those shown.

    Late Sept will be ideal for that big mountain on the island. I get the 23rd to the 25th Sept off work, so we can do the hill and watch Jeju play at home on the saturday.

    I suppose Jeonbuk is my team, but I dont want to see them every week. I’ve got a few of their away games pencilled in though. I’m off to see 3rd division Seoul Utd this afternoon. They play in black and white stripes so I’ll have no trouble with finding an allegiance in that match.

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