These days, a housing estate stands where Ayresome Park, the old home of Middlesbrough FC, once resided. But within that development, there is a bronze cast of a football boot’s imprint, and it is not there to commemorate any of the local club’s most celebrated achievements. Instead, it marks the exact spot where Pak Doo-Ik struck the shot – captured in the photograph above – that secured a famous 1-0 win for Korea DPR over Italy at the 1966 FIFA World Cup™, taking the Chollima through to the last eight at Gli Azzurri’s expense.
The result still ranks as one of the tournament’s biggest upsets, with Italy – holders of a then joint-record two world titles – having been expected to make light of the tournament debutants. Indeed, while North Korean football is currently on a high thanks to the recent World Cup-winning exploits of their women’s U-17 and U-20 teams, their men’s side arrived in England 50 years ago as pioneers, unknowns and, so the media believed, cannon fodder for their heavyweight group rivals.
A preview in Britain's Times newspaper typified the tone of the press coverage they received. "Unless the Koreans turn out to be jugglers, with some unexpected ploy like running with the ball cushioned in the crook of their necks,” its correspondent wrote, “it looks as though Italy and the Soviets should have the run of the place.”
When the Asian novices lost 3-0 to USSR in their opening match, such scepticism seemed justified. But a glimpse of their spirit emerged in the next fixture against Chile, when a valiant comeback and 88th-minute equaliser from Pak Seung-Zin won the acclaim of the Ayresome Park crowd.
Even at this stage, before their famous win over Italy, Korea DPR had won the hearts of the local fans in England’s north-east. As one report noted: "Rarely have supporters taken a team to their hearts as the football followers of Middlesbrough have taken these whimsical orientals." And while the players’ stature – their average height was just 5ft 5ins – and the fact they played in red, Middlesbrough’s colours, undoubtedly helped, it was their courage on the field and courtesy off it that did most to spark an unlikely love affair.
The win over Italy cemented that bond, with 24-year-old Pak Doo-Ik responsible, in the worlds of the Daily Express, for “detonating one of the great explosions in soccer”. Yet despite the violent metaphor and the significance of the victory, the goalscorer himself – who went on to become a gymnastics instructor – said the match taught him something far more important. "It was the day I learnt football is not all about winning,” he said, speaking in 2002 on a return to Middlesbrough with the surviving members of the 1966 Korea DPR team. “I learnt that playing football can improve diplomatic relations and promote peace."
Indeed, while the Koreans – having gone 3-0 up – lost 5-3 to Portugal in the quarter-finals at Goodison Park, they did so roared on by 3,000 fans from Middlesbrough who made the coast-to-coast journey to support them. Pak and his team-mates had made their mark on a town and a region, and written their names into World Cup folklore.
Did you know?
A match ticket from this famous upset at Ayresome Park features among the unique items in the 1966 exhibit at the FIFA World Football Museum in Zurich.