BRA 2 PRK 1: Cheers from Portsmouth

BRYAN Clark is this week enjoying more media exposure than he has ever had in his life, thanks to being perhaps the only person in the world to support both Portsmouth and North Korea.

Clark, who lives in Portsmouth, has travelled all over the world to watch North Korea’s football team – even North Korea. He was, by his own account, their only supporter in the stadium when they clinched qualification with a draw in Saudi Arabia.

His story has been told by several national newspapers, and on TV. But it’s not the first time Clark’s interest in North Korean sport has got him into the papers.

Two years ago, the Daily Telegraph told of his exploits in organising the first cricket tournament ever to be held in the country, a Twenty20 competition featuring Shanghai-based ex-pats from England, Australia, South Africa and Holland.

Clark – a project manager for DHL, which has an office in the North Korean capital Pyongyang – organised the tournament with help from the Shanghai Cricket Club. He has continued to take a keen interest in the country’s sporting fortunes. The fortunes of the football team have made him a story, too.

That is undoubtedly in part due to the lack of access the Western media have had to North Korea’s team and management in the build-up to the tournament. The difficulty for those media outlets is trying to judge the balance between the sporting and the political when reporting on the team.

And so for every reference to Pak Doo Ik and 1966, there’s another to Amnesty International and the country’s appalling human rights record. Maybe before the group stages are out, we’ll see the clip from Team America in which a Kim Jong-il puppet sings ‘I’m So Lonely’ and drops Hans Blix into a tank full of sharks, thus combining comedy and political comment.

North Korea’s football team arrived in South Africa as outsiders in more than one sense. The curiosity surrounding the team only intensified over Goalkeepergate. Striker Kim Myong-won was registered as a keeper. And FIFA have ruled that he can only play as a keeper.

He didn’t feature at Ellis Park tonight – instead it was first-choice Ri Myong-guk behind a five-man defence that thwarted Brazil during a first half memorable largely for the attempt by ITV’s Chris Coleman to set a new record for the number of times a co-commentator has used the phrase “I tell you what” during one match. (A record set by Sky’s Andy Gray during the 1993/94 season.)

We may be hearing a lot more of Coleman now that Robbie Earle has been eliminated from the tournament for passing on tickets which ended up in the hands of a group of orange-clad blondes allegedly trying to beat FIFA advertising rules with a bit of ambush marketing for a beer company. Gray’s record may yet be under threat.

A touch of genius from Maicon – a bending cross-shot with the outside of the right boot which beat the keeper at the near post – gave Brazil the lead after the break, before Robinho set up Elano for the second goal, put together and finished with an ease that may have left a few Manchester City fans scratching their heads.

There was a moment for North Korea to cheer, though. Ji Yun-nam’s very smartly taken goal with two minutes left was the least they deserved for their performance.

I doubt it will be quite as famous a goal as the one Pak Doo Ik scored against Italy 44 years ago – it wasn’t a winner, for a start – but it has undoubtedly made Clark’s journey from Portsmouth to South Africa a worthwhile one.


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