'We will cheer for the team, but no one can support the regime,' say N Korean fans

Britain's tiny group of North Korean expats met last night. Kevin Rawlinson joined them

North Korea: a football team in need of fans. The regime in Pyongyang – unwilling to let its citizens leave the fatherland lest they abscond – recruited Chinese nationals to travel to South Africa to pretend to support its players. Kim Jong-il has also put a block on live broadcasts of the country's World Cup games lest events not go to plan.

Yet last night, an intrigued outside world looked on as the players of North Korea – or the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, as it likes to call itself – stepped up to the pinnacle of sport, and came within at least an imaginable distance of pulling off the unthinkable, before losing 2-1 to Brazil.

For those North Koreans who have fled the regime, yesterday evening's game prompted mixed emotions. One former mid-ranking North Korean military official who now lives in Britain, and who did not want to be named, told The Independent that he missed his family and his country and longed to return – but doing so would mean execution. He said he feared death if the regime caught up with him here. He said that, to many expat North Koreans, the national football team was a symbol of the regime. "The team is under the influence of the government and we see it as a symbol of what we had to leave behind," he explained. "No one can support the regime."

But, he added, "our feelings are complicated. We cheered for our team. We wanted them to beat Brazil because the team is also a representative and a reminder of our homeland. Even if we do not support the government, we are proud of our country."

In south London yesterday afternoon, at the inaugural meeting of the European North Korean Residents' Association, which The Independent attended, North Korean emigrants stood with hands on hearts and eyes closed. They pledged to help their countrymen, to work to bring democracy to North Korea and unification with its neighbour to the south. One member wished the North Korean team success and invited his fellow members to toast a glorious North Korean victory over stylish Brazil.

"I had to leave North Korea, the country of my birth," explained one man. "I left for China but it was not safe for me there, so I had to keep moving until I finally arrived and settled here [in the UK]. I am very happy living here. They would kill me if I ever went back so I am staying here. I want to help other Koreans gain their freedom."

He told of an odyssey by train, bus, car, plane and long stretches by foot, beginning in China, Myanmar and Thailand before making his way across Asia and Europe to the UK.

North Korea's journey to the 2010 World Cup finals has also been remarkable. The team is the lowest ranked of the 32 present in South Africa.

Since arriving, players have been made to conduct unorthodox training sessions in a public gym. In one session, instead of practising penalties or corners, the players were seen heading a ball between the legs of all of their teammates. In another, they had gone down to the local gym and were doing shuttle runs in the aisles between the weightlifting equipment, dodging confused regulars as they went.

The facilities this time round were at least better than those afforded the players during the country's last appearance at a World Cup finals, when they trained at the ICI chemical works near their Middlesbrough base for the 1966 tournament in England.

That year, there were rumours that the North Korean team had suffered retribution from the authorities after going out of the finals.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
musicBand's first new record for 20 years has some tough acts to follow
News
peopleAt least it's for a worthwhile cause
Voices
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
voicesMaybe the new app will make it more normal to reach out to strangers
News
Liam Payne has attacked the media for reporting his tweet of support to Willie Robertson and the subsequent backlash from fans
peopleBut One Direction star insists he is not homophobic
Life and Style
healthFor Pure-O OCD sufferers this is a reality they live in
Life and Style
Sexual health charities have campaigned for the kits to be regulated
healthAmerican woman who did tells parents there is 'nothing to be afraid of'
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments