Pak Doo Ik, Cambridge United and other labours of love

PAK DOO IK is so revered in North Korea that he cannot get arrested. “If I have a traffic offence and the wardens see Pak Doo Ik on my ID card, they let me go straight away,” he told film maker Daniel Gordon.

Gordon’s story of how he got permission from the authorities to speak to and make a film about Pak Doo Ik and the rest of North Korea’s 1966 World Cup heroes is just one of a series of fascinating articles in Backpass, a quarterly magazine aimed squarely at the football nostalgia market.

Backpass is now into its second year, and has built its success on solid, well-written and affectionate articles about the football matches, heroes and villains of yesteryear.

That the magazine has made it into print at all is a tribute to the dedication of Mike Berry, its publishing editor.

When Berry started the magazine in the late summer of 2007, he had no distribution deal to sell it in high-street outlets. Early issues were sold almost entirely by subscription, with a few football clubs and the National Football Museum in Preston also agreeing to stock copies.

However, having sent a few copies to regional evening newspapers and people within the game, he got a positive enough response to convince him that he was on to a winner. The magazine has grown, and Berry finally won some hard-earned high-street shelf space last summer.

Backpass is an engaging read for two reasons: One, its writers know their stuff – if they weren’t there to witness events first hand, they have researched the hell out of those events. Two, the magazine goes about its business with a smile, rather than a sneer.

The result is the kind of attention to detail that pops up in Gordon’s piece, which reveals not only the North Korean authorities’ leniency over Pak Doo Ik’s traffic offences, but also the genuine sorrow of his 1966 team-mates on learning that the mayor of Middlesbrough – who had made them so welcome during their stay in England 43 years earlier – had died.

There are other gems in the latest issue: Notably an article explaining how the Cambridge Evening News’ football correspondent Randall Butt got a congratulatory e-mail from Nick Hornby (yes, that Nick Hornby) on his retirement, and an eye-wateringly vivid portrait of life as a reporter on a Saturday football Pink.

The Pink article, written by the Coventry Telegraph’s Alan Poole, contains the most striking sentence in the entire magazine: “Working conditions at the lower end of the pyramid weren’t exactly luxurious – you’d watch the game through the nicotine-encrusted windows of an ancient press box that reeked of flatulence and stale pork pies, and if the telephone allocation was over-subscribed you’d perhaps have to shimmy over the gate and sprint to the nearest call-box to dash off your three-quarter time instalment.”

(That might sound like something from another age, but I know of at least one reporter who had similar problems filing from Macclesfield’s FA Cup tie against Everton last Saturday. Admittedly, he didn’t have to suffer the pork pie/flatulence issue, but that was because he couldn’t get into the press box at all. That’s a story for another time, though.)

I’ll be honest. I came across the magazine for the first time only because Berry was kind enough to send me a copy. That’s a reflection of my ignorance, rather than any flaw in the magazine. Anyway, I’m glad he did, because it’s a hugely enjoyable read.

The least I can do in return is point you in the direction of his website – www.backpassmagazine.co.uk – and tell you that issue 5 is on sale now.

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