A Little Zoom Goes A Long Way – North Korea 1966
1966. Swinging London, the Stones, and all mod cons, the World Cup was coming to England and in Middlesborough in the north of the country, it was still raining. Ayersome Park, the city’s stadium, would have been better named Tiresome Park. Middlesborough FC, the local team, were dire. The fans had been carrying gloom and doom for years. Out of sympathy for the forgotten far north, FIFA had chosen the city as a venue for the first round of the tournament. They stuck North Korea there.
The British had no idea how to handle the DPRK in 1966. This was the Cold War and North Korea had no diplomatic relations with the UK. There was no band to play the Korean anthem, as Britain refused to recognize them as a country, thanks to the need to keep up the “special relationship” with the Commie-hating Americans. But the burghers of Middlesborough had other ideas. They took North Korea to their hearts. They came to games with North Korean flags, mobbed the players after the match, and threw civic receptions for them. Girls in lipstick lined up with bright eyes for the Korean players. The Teesiders knew a hungry underdog when they saw one. They needed something to cheer. And Korea was about to gnaw on some big bones.
Italy was chewed up first, devoured by the Korean style of all-out-attack. Only the goalkeeper stayed in front of enemy lines. They bombed their way through to the quarter-final in Liverpool against European powerhouse, Portugal. Thousands traveled from the North East to Merseyside to support the Koreans. After twenty minutes, the world was in shock – 3-0 to North Korea. A blistering display of speed football brought Portugal to its knees. Korea continued shifting up the gears. They had no inclination to slow down and hold on to the lead. They didn’t know how to. This let Portugal back into the game, and Eusebio took command, pulling Portugal to a 5-3 win.
Before they left their homeland to travel to England, their great leader Kim il-Sung, had told them to win for the glory of Korean Communism and the colored people of the world. Speed, teamwork, and bravery had carried them far, and pedestrian European football had learned a lesson. Zooming waves of attacks paid off, if you could defend too. The origins of the seventies Dutch game of Total Football can be found in North Korea, 1966.
A fabulous documentary titled The Game of Their Lives by Daniel Gordon tells the story of the 1966 North Korean team. Well worth finding. Check out highlights from the famous quarter-final against Portugal here.
Magic stuff, great commentary.
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