I probably would have missed this game if I hadn’t seen it advertised on a banner near to where I live a couple of weeks earlier. It was under twenty-three level and a qualifier for the London Olympics. I took the tube to the Sangam Stadium and paid one of the granny touts the ten thousand won face value price for a ticket as I left the station.
Usually in Korea you can take whatever you fancy into a stadium. At one match that I attended here earlier in the year people had shopping trolleys full of beer that they had just walked in with. Today though, there was a clampdown at the gates and the security staff were confiscating items as if we were boarding a flight rather than going into a football game.
They were quite considerate in the way they went about it, attaching a numbered label to each item so that it could be re-claimed after the game. Quite how many people would go back for a bottle of Gatorade I’m not sure, but as I watched the footballs, flags and vuvuzelas piling up it reminded me of a tombola stall at a particularly crap Summer Fete.
Maybe some of the people planning to attend had turned around and gone home in a huff when faced with the prospect of being parted from their picnic basket, as the crowd seemed smaller than normal for an international match. Maybe it was only my street that had an advertising banner. I was in the east stand where the lower section was about two-thirds full, whilst the north stand lower had roughly half its seats occupied. Everywhere else was virtually empty. I’d estimate that there were about twelve thousand people there in total, with the official figure of twenty-seven thousand being a somewhat wild exaggeration.
I was surprised that hardly any of the crowd stood for the Saudi national anthem, despite being requested to by the announcer. A little childishly I showed my disapproval at the lack of respect by sitting down when the Korean ditty was played. I resisted the urge to accompany it with that underarm farting noise though.
The Saudis were in all green with Korea in traditional red and white. It was a fairly open game and the home keeper made a couple of good stops early on. After twenty-five minutes the Koreans thought that they had taken the lead when the ball was headed across the face of the goal, then onto the bar before eventually being bundled home. The flag was up though, so the celebrations from the home fans were in vain.
There were a couple of kids a few rows down from me, maybe five or six years old and I doubt that they or their mothers saw any of the game. The mothers chose to sit in the two seats directly in front of their offspring, so it’s unlikely that the kids would have been able to watch much of the action even if they had wanted to and unless the women had eyes in the backs of their heads then they won’t have seen anything either. They spent the entire time facing their children and hand feeding them. It was like watching birds passing worms to their chicks. If they had chewed the food for them before handing it over I wouldn’t have been surprised.
During the feeding session they were missing Cho Young Cheol being pretty influential for Korea, with most of his teams best moves coming through him on the left-wing.
Korea took the lead after half an hour when they won a penalty for what looked like it might have been holding at a corner. It’s not often that those are given so I suppose the Saudis could consider themselves a little unlucky. And whilst the Mothers were moving on to sticking funnels in their kids mouths and force feeding them fois gras style, Cho Young Cheol sent the keeper the wrong way to make it one-nil.
At half time I moved to the south stand for a change of scenery and was asked by a Korean couple if I was an Arab. When I replied that I wasn’t, they didn’t seem inclined to believe me and told me that I looked like an Arab. I was tempted to ask them if they were Haruki Murakami and the Dowager Empress of Japan, but I didn’t. I’d have thought the can of Hite in my hand might have been sufficient to cast doubts on any Arabian heritage.
The second half was fairly even with Korea having a few chances and Saudi Arabia putting a bit of pressure on towards the end. They could have had a penalty when one of their blokes was nudged off the ball after a mazy run into the box. The highlight of the second half though was probably the appearance of a player with a mask on. I didn’t recognise him, but I suppose that’s the whole point of wearing a disguise. Perhaps he was supposed to be suspended. Or maybe he’d been out robbing a bank.
Korea held on for the victory which takes them close to qualification for the London Olympics. I reclaimed my camel from the entrance gate and trotted off home.