Golden anniversary of when Pak Doo-Ik's strike shook the world

FOR many of a certain age who reside in Yorkshire's North Riding, the most evocative World Cup memory from that feted summer of 1966 was not neccessarily the sight of Bobby Moore lifting the gleaming Jules Rimet Trophy at Wembley.
North Korea v Italy.North Korea v Italy.
North Korea v Italy.

The epochal events transpired not on July 30, 1966 but 11 days earlier in front of 18,729 fans at Middlesbrough’s old Ayresome Park home, with the cries of ‘K-O-R-E-A, K-O-R-E-A’ resonating not just by the banks of the River Tees, but across the globe – and most definitely in Rome...

The mother-of-all World Cup footballing upsets occurred 50 years ago tomorrow when debutants North Korea obliterated the footballing order by knocking Italy out of the World Cup and inflicting the most grievous wound in that country’s sporting history.

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Mention the name Pak Doo-Ik and it will receive the darkest of looks from seasoned Azzurri supporters from Turin to Trieste and Pisa to Palermo, to this day.

It was an army corporal from Pyongyang whose goal-scoring intervention heaped a torrent of shame upon the Old Country as North Korea prevailed 1-0 in stupendous fashion.

While hearts were broken in Italy, Teessiders took those in the red of North Korea to their collective buxom, with an unlikely love affair consummated.

North Korea’s World Cup story of ’66 is all the more remarkable given that there were initial doubts they would even be allowed to enter England, who refused to recognise the secretive communist state, having backed the South in the Korean War of 1950-53.

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A frenzied round of diplomacy led by world governing body FIFA smoothed the path for their participation, with the North Koreans offering a sign of things to come by virtue of their remarkable qualification.

After qualifying through the Eastern regions, they were the beneficiaries of FIFA’s controversial decision to allow only one qualifier from Africa, Asia and Oceania, which prompted 20 nations to boycott the tournament with North Korea and Australia being the last teams left standing.

It was the former who sealed their World Cup ticket thanks to a 9-2 aggregate play-off win in the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh – with the next destination being Middlesbrough – complete with a message of support from “eternal” president Kim II-Sung urging them to ‘win one or two matches.’

The early omens were not good, with the North Koreans, who stayed at the St George Hotel close to Teesside Airport, finding it hard to acclimatise on and off the pitch with airport noise among one of their compliants.

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In a group also containing Chile and the USSR, the minnows were written off by all and sundry and events in their opener at Middlesbrough against the Soviets further crystallised that feeling.

A crowd of 22,568 who convened at Ayresome Park, redeveloped to the tune of £100,000 with seating increased to 13,000 and a roof erected over the East Stand, witnessed a one-sided contest on July 12, 1966 with USSR easing to a 3-0 win.

But perceptions started to change three days later, with a late goal from Pak-Seung-Yin earning the North Koreans a plucky 1-1 draw with Chile and winning Teesside affection.

That proved the entree to the events of July 19, 1966 where the Italians, driven on by the incomparable Gianni Rivera, needed just a draw to secure their qualification for the quarter-finals with the Soviets.

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Three thousand expectant Italian supporters in the crowd were expecting a comfortable passage, only for fate to inexorably intervene on the half-hour mark when influential Giacomo Bulgarelli had to come off after aggravating a knee injury in a sliding tackle on Pak Seung-Yin, who backed into him.

With no substitutes allowed, Italy were a man down for the last hour and 12 minutes later, they suffered a colossal blow.

An Italian clearance was latched onto by Pak Doo-Ik, whose angled low shot beat goalkeeper Enrico Albertosi in front of the Holgate End, most of whom were willing on the North Koreans, with the Teessiders’ predilection for an underdog and a team wearing red kicking in.

The second half proved a backs-to-the-wall exercise for the North Koreans, but with a reservoir of Teesside goodwill in their corner, the underdogs had their day – and headlines across the planet – after sealing an incredible victory in front of an ecstatic home support.

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It prompted Frank Bough to tell BBC TV viewers: “They never cheer Middlesbrough like this.”

Summing the events up eloquently in the round, Daily Express writer Arnold Howe wrote: “Pak Doo-Ik detonated one of the great explosions in soccer. He scored the goal that hurled the Italians out of the World Cup that sent the Land of the Morning Calm into a Middlesbrough night of frenzy.”

Bonds were brokered. So much so that 3,000 Teessiders were among the crowd of 51,780 at Goodison Park who incredibly witnessed the North Koreans race into a 3-0 quarter-final lead against Portugal.

But a four-goal salvo from Eusebio blew the minnows away in an eventual 5-3 reverse. Beaten they may have been, but North Korea were far from unbowed.

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They were greeted as heroes in a rapturous reception back in Pyongyang, whereas in contrast, the Italians, after their ignominious exit, were pelted with rotten tomatoes on their return to Genoa airport.

In bid to escape fans’ fury, the Azzurri arrived in the middle of the night in the hope of avoiding a special ‘welcoming committee’. But they were never going to get away with it that easily.

The events also proved fateful not just for Pak Doo-Ik, promoted to a sergeant from a corporal, but also for Italy manager Edmondo Fabbri, who was soon sacked.

Events left Italian footballing pride at all time-low, with the disgrace of the ‘Battle of Santiago’ in Chile 1962 compounded by that summer night by the Tees. Several players never represented the Azzurri again.

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To this day, the sporting flame of North Korea – whose only other World Cup appearance came in a forgettable showing at South Africa six years ago –still burns strongly on Teesside.

An embroidered picture of a crane bird presented by the North Korean party is still on display at the Dorman Museum, while seven members of their all-conquering side, including Pak Doo-Ik and coach Myong Rye Hyon, made a poignant return to Middlesbrough in 2002.

Even though Ayresome Park had been closed over seven years earlier – demolished to make way for housing – the memory of one night in ’66 will forever live on with Pak Doo-Ik’s famous goal commemorated by a bronze casting of the image of a football boot present on the housing estate – on the very same spot from where he scored his goal.

Some story.