/ 21 June 2010

‘Happiness for our Dear Leader’

The emissaries of the Dear Leader to World Cup 2010 sat grim-faced through a meeting with the capitalist media, writes Marina Hyde

Once you’ve sat through the footballing platitudes, the temptation is to meet the cursory “any questions?” with the response: “Yes. Be honest, you did sink that ship, didn’t you?”

Unfortunately, any meeting with North Korean representatives is preceded by a Fifa suit announcing that “questions that intersect politics with football” will not be tolerated.

Making their first World Cup appearance since 1966, North Korea have been drawn in the Group of Death, but managed a disciplined showing against Brazil on Tuesday night, only losing 2-1 to the tournament favourites.

On Monday it fell to the coach, Kim Jong-hun, and team media officer, Kim Myung-chul, to face the degenerate capitalist media as per Fifa obligations. It would be a stretch to nickname them the Chuckle Brothers.

Who picks the team — the coach or Kim Jong-il? Silence. Will North Korea pursue the same counter-attack strategy they pursued in qualifying? “I believe,” replied an icy Kim Jong-hun, “that we are the Korean DPR, so please do not use any other name for us.”

Their aim in the tournament? “This will bring great happiness to our Dear Leader.”

It would be screamingly funny, of course, were it not taking place on the day it emerged that His Dearness has cut off state food rations to his people.

To more important matters, though, such as North Korea’s attempt to fiddle Fifa rules by listing an extra striker as a goalkeeper. They were rumbled, meaning Kim Myongwon will now have to play as a keeper or not at all.

“He was a striker and now he’s registered as a goalkeeper,” explained Kim. “He is really a goalkeeper but he’s really fast, so we switched him to a striker — But this World Cup, he said he wanted to be a goalkeeper again.”

North Korea’s star striker is Japanborn Jong Tae-se, who plays in Japan’s JLeague and drives a Hummer. Blogging earlier this year, Jong described a stopover on a team trip from Switzerland to Austria, during which his teammates were stunned to discover you had to pay to use the gents in a station.

“They turned to me and said: ‘This is truly what capitalist society is like.'”

Meanwhile, there’s good news for fans back home. Despite his initial refusal to show any games unless North Korea won the tournament, it seems the Dear Leader has relented and state TV has now screened several.

Naturally, they didn’t show the Great Satan v Not-So-Great Satan game — or “USA v England”, as the Fifa programme insists on referring to it. Neither was South Korea’s 2-0 victory over Greece seen.

It might not be an enormous shock to learn that North Korea does not appear to have obtained the footage by formal channels and irate international broadcast officials are apparently investigating.

Frankly, in the great scheme of unlicensed stunts North Korea has pulled, nicking a feed of the France v Uruguay game probably features some way down the list, below the nuclear programme.

As for the rogue state’s chances, you will have been reminded that in 1966 it reached the quarterfinals. The side of North Korea’s World Cup team bus reads “1966 again”.

Their 1966 heroes lacked the opportunity to develop the mercenary skills of, say, England’s Sir Geoff Hurst, but according to Kim they still do the rounds.

“They came quite often to the training camp and they gave us a lot of advice.

“They told us what it would be like, and they gave us a lot of encouragement so we could make our Dear Leader proud.”

Asked if he recalled the 1966 victory over Italy, Kim said he did. He had been 10 years old “and it made me realise that football was very important and could really inspire the people of my country — and at that moment I decided to devote my life to football.”

And with that, a slicing hand gesture indicated he was calling time on the media — or the hacksis of evil, as he no doubt refers to them in private. —