“Have you ever seen a mackem in Pyongyang?”- A Newcastle supporter (mag) once teased me as I promoted Visit North Korea’s trips to a group on facebook. I certainly have done, and no mackem has been seen in the DPRK as much as I have. It was one summer in Sunderland four years ago where I created “Visit North Korea” in what would begin an innovative attempt to connect the isolated country with the world through promoting travel and cultural exchanges. Only two months prior had I visited the country, donating my 2010 Sunderland Shirt (with Tombola’s Logo on the front of it) to my local guide. The guide, whom identified himself as “Mr Jong” loved the Premier League, he told me Chelsea were his favourite team.
Years later, Visit North Korea would go on to capture worldwide news for a sponsorship deal with Blyth Spartans F.C which attracted shock and amusement. In the interviews which followed, I explained to the media that I did this not just for the publicity of the company, but because also I cared deeply about the success and profile of football in North East England. This is my region, my heritage and something I will always be passionate about. Indeed, one plastic banner saw the eyes of the world descend upon a small town in Northumberland and its cherished football team.
Now however, it’s time do something not just for region, but Sunderland itself. That’s why Visit North Korea are launching our new bid to turn North Korea Red & White. That’s right, we are going to make Sunderland, despite our current plight in league one, the most supported foreign football team in North Korea. How are we going to do it? We are going to slowly accumulate over 2019 an enormous number of Sunderland football shirts by various means and donate them to the locals!
Although the DPRK is the most closed nation on the world, we are going to work to permanently ingrain Wearside into their national consciousness in a way which no football team has ever done before. Going around Pyongyang, I have seen Barcelona Merchandise, I have seen Brazil National Football team merchandise, they are certainly not shut off from the world of football, but this is a whole new challenge.
Will some be concerned by this? Absolutely, will some laugh at it? More than likely. However, we are confident that this effort will be a positive cultural engagement with the DPRK which will improve grassroots engagement with the outside world. In addition, it will also again serve to raise the profile of football in North East England and not least, Sunderland itself.