Game of Their Lives

by Nick Bonner, Associate Producer of Game of Their LIves, 26/11/2008

In 1966 the North Korean football team shocked the world by knocking out Italy. Using archive footage and interviews with the seven surviving players, our award-winning documentary for the BBC tells the story this amazing team. It took four years for Dan Gordon and myself to get permission to make the film. In October 2001, we went to North Korean to make the film.

Game of their Lives was the first film Dan Gordon and I made- what I thought would be an impossible film to make since, on their return to North Korea the team members were supposedly imprisoned (for womanizing and drinking!) and apart from one of the players Pak Du Ik, they had never been heard of again.

The North Korea squad of 1966 were already legends in the West- at every World Cup, their defeat of Italy is shown on TV highlights. They came to England for the 1966 World Cup as 1000 to 1 outsiders and they were not welcomed by the British Government, who only 13 years previously, had fought as part of the UN forces, for a bitter truce with the communist country.  To me, the real beauty of the film was the player’s character and that of the English town of Middlesbrough. Middlesbrough adopted the team as their home side and helped/supported the players during their incredible matches – so much so that 2,000 Middlesbrough fans travelled across the country to support them. 

The twists and turns of this film are splendid but it wasn't until I was sitting in Pyongyang, North Korea at the film studio watching the footage of the Korean athletes and their trip, that my heart really started beating...and it sunk in- what i was doing, who they were and what their success, trails and tribulations meant for this small country. 

What was even that much more incredible was that we were able to peer on the other side of the fence so to speak, and talk to the players and hear about their experience in the World Cup along with their reception and return home to the country...something no one in the West had seen...something that many had speculated on.

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