It was a fairly grey and miserable day in Seoul when I set off for this one so I was hoping this wasn’t going to turn in to me wandering haplessly round a suburb of Hwaseong looking for the stadium in the pouring rain. As it happened, I needn’t have worried. It was a surprisingly easy trip all in all.
A quick subway run down to Sadang on Line 4 (via a change at Chungmuro) and then fingers crossed that a rumoured 8155 bus would take me right there. No problems finding the bus stop this week – its right at the #4 exit of Sadang station – and the bus turned up within 5 minutes. The driver even asked me where I was going and when I said 화성경기장 he seemed to nod in agreement which gave me a bit of confidence that I was going the right way.
We were making pretty good progress down the highway and it looked as if I was going to be nice and early. Then we hit the inevitable traffic. I still can’t work out what caused it other than there must have been something going on in the middle of nowhere because once we hit the edge of nowhere we ground to a halt. We lost about 20 minutes sitting in this queue before we obviously passed through the middle of nowhere and started heading somewhere which allowed us to pick up the pace.
A few stops in places that seemed to have nothing in them except bus stops and we were there. I could see the big silver cockroachy-looking stadium on my left and the bus stopped a minute later at the Hwaseong Culture Centre – who knew Hwaseong had culture?
A small town seems to have popped up around the ground and as luck would have it there’s a huge Homeplus on the opposite side of the crossroads to the bus stop. Time for a quick stop for supplies…
…followed by the inevitable disappointment of discovering Homeplus yet again has no Cass Lemon. This is simply not good enough. The management are missing out on as much as 3 or 4000 won a month from visiting 48 clubbers. Once more I was left staging my silent protest of buying a Japanese beer instead.
Time to head to the ground. It looked quite impressive so I was looking forward to seeing it in all its unoccupied glory. However, it was also looking quite shut. Very shut. Deserted. And not your usual kind of deserted that Challengers League games are known for. Properly deserted. There seemed to be more people heading for the IBK Altos Womens’ Volleyball arena and they didn’t even have a game on today! I was starting to wonder if I’d come on the wrong day, gone to the wrong stadium or whether the KFA had just cancelled the Challengers League.
Just when I was about to give in and ask someone I remembered that this place also had an auxiliary pitch. But surely they wouldn’t be sensible enough to use that for the match? After all, it was appropriately sized and equipped for a Challengers match – what would we do without 34,500 empty seats to spread out in? Rounding the corner, I spotted some signs of life. They’d only gone and done it! Auxiliary stadium here we come!
Outside there was the TV van, a small stand selling Hwaseong tat (and the word tat was appropriate in this case – even I managed to keep my money in my pocket this time round!), a shop and what looked like people collecting tickets at the entrance. But as far as I could tell there were no tickets to buy so I just wandered on in. Mind you at half-time they were pulling numbered somethings out of boxes for the raffle and I didn’t have one, so who knows?
Inside there was a smallish but decent enough crowd, even a couple of lads with drums trying to make some noise. The Hwaseong supporters seemed to be mostly kids kitted out in orange scarves (I refuse to call them mufflers) while the Icheon fans seemed to be about a dozen or so mums and dads of players.
I have no idea what the capacity of this little ground is but it was a perfect size for Challengers – if they did away with the running track it would be ideal for lower league football. By the time the crowd had all trickled in I would say it was about 50-60% full.
I managed to nip down onto the running track to grab some quick photos – no sign of any KFATV ladies this week, only the two standard-issue commentator blokes. I did notice though that the official area seemed to consist of a laptop and a printer set up on a desk at the front of the stand – the bit not covered by the roof! Soggy teamsheets today then.
It was 2pm now…time for kick-off.