Belfast Telegraph

North Korea 'posed 1966 headache'

The government hoped North Korea would fail to qualify for the 1966 World Cup finals as they believed the state's presence in the competition could cause political "headaches", documents have revealed.

Previously secret records released by the National Archives, shed light on the fraught exchanges between government officials over the possibility of North Korea attending the finals.

The Foreign Office even considered refusing to grant visas to the North Koreans as a way to solve the diplomatic problem.

Britain, the hosts of the 1966 competition, did not at the time, officially recognise North Korea, which referred to itself as "The Democratic People's Republic of Korea".

Officials worried that allowing the country to attend would cause diplomatic shockwaves, particularly with anti-communist South Korea.

Korea was divided into Soviet and American occupied zones in 1945. Five years later, with massive Soviet assistance, the North embarked on a three-year war with South Korea.

The conflict drew in countries such as the US, the UK and China and cost hundreds of thousands of lives. With the Vietnam War looming and the Cold War in full swing, the relationship between North and South Korea and its ramifications for the rest of the world, was seen as a potential political tinderbox.

A Foreign Office memo written in the months before the World Cup reads: "The simplest way to solve the problem might be to refuse visas to the North Korean team.

"But if we do this the consequences could be very serious. Apparently Fifa has made it very plain to the FA that if any team has won its way through to the finals is denied visas then the finals will take place elsewhere. This would be a disaster for the FA. You can imagine what the papers would make of this.

"We would be accused of dragging politics into sport, sabotaging British interests and so on."

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