Huang Bowen played his first match at Worker’s Stadium since leaving Beijing Guoan in November 2011, the “homecoming” of sorts was far from warm, instead filled with vitriol and hatred.
Huang arrived in Beijing as a 14 year old, where he joined Guoan’s youth side, but he developed quickly and at the age of 16 would get his first chance to feature at the senior level. He grabbed the opportunity by scoring a goal and becoming the youngest scorer in CSL history. When Huang left Guoan to join the K-League side Jeonbuk Hyundai, it was hard for fans to take, though most understood that it was for the best, the chance to play in another country would give Huang a chance to develop his skills. Huang made it easier by promising multiple times and in a variety of ways that, without qualification, if he was to return to the Chinese Super League, he must return to Beijing Guoan (“回国必回国安”).
Words are easy enough to say, but actions matter most. After being frustrated by not playing very much in Korea, Huang was looking to return to China during the summer of 2012, though he and his agent only had one team in mind, Guangzhou Evergrande. He failed to contact Guoan about his desire to return to China and by the time they knew and made an offer, it was already too late.
With that, all the good will that Huang had developed over eight years in the capital was destroyed. Huang would forever be seen as a traitor in the eyes of Guoan fans. Last season, as the Guoan-Evergrande match fell on the last day of the season and Evergrande already had the title wrapped up, Huang didn’t travel to the capital.
This time around, Huang made the trip and trouble began at Thursday night’s practice session when a group of Guoan fans showed up to “welcome” Huang. The next day, despite the club’s insisting that fans not taunt Huang during the match, many did.
Post-match, Huang did something that is common in China, but rare everywhere else in the world, taking a lap around the stadium to thank the fans. There are few things that all Guoan fans are unified on, including the treatment of most former players, but one thing they can agree upon is their hatred of Huang. Fans in the East Stand threw whatever they had on hand at the player, including a number of soft drinks.
When he was almost to the North Stand, security attempted to intervene and convince him it wasn’t a good idea to thank fans who’d been insulting him throughout the match, but he tried to break free from the growing security contingent while fans were pushing to the front of the stand waiting for him to come over. Finally, the security guards won out and Huang was walked off the pitch, the end to what was an emotional night for fans.
It wasn’t the end for Huang, though. He went on Beijing Television after the match to issue a tearful apology to Guoan fans, admitting that he “lied to” the fans. Why he waited until after the match to defuse the tension is anyone’s guess. While many in the media have come down hard on Beijing fans for their reactions, fans across China, including Evergrande fans, could understand the outpouring of emotion seen on Friday night.