Bleacher Report: Inside North Korea

 

Last year I finally managed to visit North Korea. For over ten years I have been trying to get in to the Hermit Kingdom, by far the most secretive and repressive state in the world, to find out about football there.

Despite its isolation, North Korea has qualified for two men’s World Cups and four women’s finals. How do they do it? And what does football look like in North Korea? What about the league? And were the famous team that reached the quarter finals in 1966 really punished on their return to Pyongyang for carousing with women before the match against Portugal?

All these were answered, and more, in this long read for the Bleacher Report. It was an unforgettable trip, largely because North Korea tested a hydrogen bomb on my second day there.

You can read my story “Inside the Secret World of Football in North Korea” for the Bleacher Report here.

The Blizzard: The Agony Of Doha

Blizzard

Much has been written about Qatar, its rise as a Middle East superpower, its huge wealth and, of course, the fact that it will controversially host the 2022 World Cup. But back in 1993 the emirate was a very different place.

Back then, Qatar hosted one of the most politically explosive football tournaments ever held: the final round of Asian World Cup qualification for USA ’94. Amongst the teams competing over the ten day tournament was North and South Korea, Iran and Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Japan.

North Korea, Iraq and Iran were all under US sanctions and it was unclear if any of the teams would be allowed to compete if they qualified. The US State Department sent an official along and then FIFA general secretary Sepp Blatter sent a special group of top European referees to keep order.

But the tournament was best known for its incredible conclusion, that would plunge Japan into despair, and send South Korea to the finals thanks to the last kick of the final match.

I pieced together the story of the Agony of Doha for The Blizzard, which you can read here.