The horrific story of the torture of Iraqi footballers is told by Suzanne Goldenberg in the Guardian today. Terrible though this story is it is no shock that Saddam’s son Uday took the game under his grip – football has always had an irresistible attraction to dictators and their sons.
Nicola Ceacescu’s village team managed somehow to climb four divisions to the Romania top flight before a rapid descent back down again which came, curiously enough after the 1989 revolution. On their way up from the second division they needed to win their final game of the season by 12 clear goals to get promotion – funnily enough they did it.
Serbian paramilitary thug Arkan was president of a Yugoslav first division club, the KGB had their own team in the Soviet Union as did the Stasi in East Germany. Football’s mass appeal, particularly among the working class, the mixture of local pride and/or nationalism that the game thrives on and the international profile success can bring is a combination that makes football a sport dictators cannot leave alone.
The story of what became of the great North Korean side that beat Italy in the 1966 World Cup still remains a mystery though.
According to French author Pierre Rigoulot, the players were jailed upon their return home. In his book ”The Last Gulag,” Rigoulot says North Korean leader Kim Il Sung blamed defeat against Portugal on a night of partying after the Italy game, accusing them of being ”bourgeois, reactionary, symbolic of a corrupt Western imperialism and not worthy of a Communist country.”
Rigoulot says everyone, except one player who missed the party due to sickness, was sentenced to 20 years in an internment camp. To refute the charges, North Korea displayed Myun and the seven surviving players from the ’66 team, all decked out in medals in a BBC documentary shown just before last years World Cup finals in South Korea and Japan.
As with the Iraqi players, it will not be until the fall of the regime in North Korea that we find out the true story.