Friday, 7 November 2014


The Italian team arrived at Teesside airport looking like they'd just stepped off the set of a Fellini movie. Under their crisp three-button blazers they wore mid-blue sports shirts with the collars buttoned to the top. Lightweight raincoats were draped elegantly around shoulders or across arms. The narrow, cobble-grey and brick-red streets of Sunderland and Middlesbrough seemed an unlikely backdrop for such exotic fauna. To add to the incongruity the Italians were billeted at the School of Agriculture in Houghall, Durham. Giacinto Facchetti and co woke each morning to the sound of the college cattle being herded to the milking parlour.

Perhaps it was the environment that unsettled Italy, for they seemed disoriented from the outset. The Italian league was the world's richest and most glamorous. Internazionale had won the European Cup in 1964 and 1965, Milan in 1963. Inter's Sandro Mazzola was a wiry, skilful striker with the pencil moustache of a gigolo; Gianni Rivera in midfield had the unruffled air of an aristocrat; and defenders Facchetti and Tarcisio Burgnich carried out their defensive duties with such effortlessness it was a surprise when they got mud on their knees. Yet the squad was inexperienced (only three had more than 20 caps, none more than 24) and manager Edmondo Fabbri had spent his career in the lower reaches of the Serie A, both as player and coach. He was no Vittorio Pozzo.

Italy's first match was against Chile. The Chileans were based on South Tyneside and trained at Redheugh Park, home of non-League Gateshead. They had qualified for the finals via a play-off against Ecuador. The team - entirely home-based - had one star, Luiz Eyzaguirre, a right-sided midfielder who was good enough to be selected for the Fifa Rest of the World side that played England at Wembley in 1963 to celebrate the FA's centenary - a team also featured Ferenc Puskas, Eusebio, Alfredo di Stefano, Djalma Santos, Gento and Jim Baxter.

For fans of the physical side of football the match was rich in promise - the last time the two teams had met was at the previous World Cup. The infamous Battle of Santiago was a game of such raw violence BBC commentator David Coleman couldn't quite decide whether to respond with outrage or gleeful laughter and ended up using a bit of both.

If there was any residual animosity between the two nations it did not show. Played in a steady drizzle, beneath a sky the colour of a tramp's vest, the game was totally devoid of blood or thunder.  The Azzuri appeared as uninspired as the weather, but won comfortably thanks to goals from Mazzola and Paolo Barison of Roma. 27,000 fans watched the match, as many of 5000 of them cheering on the victors.

The North Korean team (or 'the little men from the Land of the Morning Calm' as the correspondent of the Times dubbed them) had apparently lived for two years in military barracks, trained ceaselessly and. so it was rumoured, celibately. Their coach Myung Rye-hyun was a full colonel in the People's Army and adopted commando-style methods. The last time a team from South-east Asia had made the finals, South Korea in 1954, they had been let down by a lack of fitness. Myung was determined not to repeat that mistake.

The North Korean team set out with the blessing of the Great Leader, Kim Il-sung, who advised them to embrace the energetic spirit of Chollima, the winged horse of Korean legend and the name given to the Great Leader's post-war regeneration programme, of which the team were seen as a symbol. More worryingly for the players was the fact the autocrat had given strict instructions that they were not to lose all of their games. Given the nature of Kim Il-sung's regime it must have been clear to them he would not react to disappointment simply by throwing the odd teacup.

The Koreans were based in the comparative luxury at Teesside airport's St George Hotel (coincidentally owned by Middlesbrough director Charles Amer, who seemed to be doing rather well out of the World Cup). The team were a total mystery. The only person in England that summer who had seen them play was Fifa president Sir Stanley Rous. They had qualified by beating Australia after every other country in their eighteen team group had withdrawn in protest at the shortage of finals places available to teams from Asia and Africa. Both games against the Australians had been played in the neutral venue of Pnomh Penh, Cambodia. A combined attendance of 88,000 saw the North Koreans win 9-2 on aggregate. So far those 180 minutes were the sum total of their competitive football.

Some would have liked it kept that way. The Korean War had ended just 13 years before. The British Government didn't recognize North Korea. Nato had objected to the North Korean flag being flown at Wembley. There was consternation over what might happen if North Korea's national anthem ('The glory of a wise people/ Brought up on a culture of brilliance' and so forth) got an airing, so Fifa decreed that instead of being played before each match, anthems would only be played before the opening game. In the light of this frostiness, the North Koreans were understandably nervous about the sort of reception they might get. 'We though of the English as the enemy,' Pak Do-ik later recalled, 'but they welcomed us.'

That was particularly true at Ayresome Park, where supporters warmed to the little men in red and cheered their every move in the opening match against the Soviet Union. The North Koreans were certainly small (not one of the squad was more than 5' 8") and they were also freshfaced. At 19 Lee Chan-myung was the youngest goalkeeper ever to appear in the finals, and the average age of the squad was just 22. Against the vastly experienced and physically imposing USSR team, it really did look like men against boys. The Koreans fought hard and played with zip and vigour, but the Soviets were just too good for them. Eduard Malofeyev of Dinamo Minsk scored twice and the Azerbaijani, Anatoly Banishevsky added another in a comfortable 3-0 win.

Only 13,792 fans turned up at Ayresome for the Korean's next match, against Chile. The South Americans took the lead from the penalty spot after Oh Yoon-kyung felled Pedro Araya, but in the second-half the South-East Asian's fitness came to the fore and they took control of the game. Against the Soviets the North Korean's pace had been too frenzied and anxious. Now they slowed down just a little and started to pick out their passes better. In the 88th minute they grabbed an equaliser when Pak Seung-Jin fired in a volley from the edge of the box. Afterwards a massive British sailor in full naval rig ran onto the field, hugged various players and then lead them round the field in a lap of honour. The Koreans wept with a mixture of joy and relief - the Great Leader's command had been obeyed.

The Soviet Union, referred to more or less universally as 'The Russians', were a powerful side. Though they had a number of skilful and creative players including striker Igor Chislenko, their real strength was the defence. Organized by the mighty Albert 'Ivan the Terrible' Shesternyev, the back four had little compunction about dishing out punishment to opposing forwards (against West Germany in the semi-final they battered Helmut Haller so badly he pissed blood for days afterwards). Behind them was another member of the Fifa Rest of the World XI, 36-year-old Lev Yashin. Yashin was one of the game's true superstars, a keeper who, it was claimed, combined the agility of a monkey with the elasticity of a squid and the manners of a gentleman. The slim and handsome Yashin dressed all in black. He had saved over 100 penalties in his career. The Soviets called him 'The Black Octopus'.

Despite Yashin's charismatic presence the USSR, who had finished runners-up to Spain in the 1964 European Championships, were generally regarded as obdurate, dour and - surely term most commonly applied to sides from the Eastern Bloc - well drilled. Fittingly, given their dull reputation, the Soviets were housed at Grey College in Durham.


  1. I was 10 at the time of the World Cup in 1966 and had faithfully filled in all the fixtures in a booklet that came free in one of the comics of the time.
    I was 100% behind Brazil. I really didn't think there'd ever be a greater footballer than Pelé.
    I was given absolute dog's abuse from my elder brother for not supporting England and was in tears when Brazil were literally kicked out of the tournament. Fraternal abuse increased exponentially when my distress was exposed.
    And he was such a good brother I've never had the chance to get him back. Tsk!

  2. I had similar row with my dad in 1970 - I was ten, it must be the age - when I bet him a pound that Brazil would do better than England. After England were knocked out he claimed that the bet was only payable if Brazil won the tournament. I think that was the last bet I ever won...