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july 31, 2012 • 12:29 PM

Soccer: British Marxist roots for North Korean women

Members of the North Korea team warm up before their women's football first round Group G match against the U.S. at Old Trafford in Manchester during the London 2012 Olympic Games July 31, 2012.
Foto: Andrea Comas / Reuters
 

North Korean fans were nowhere to be found at Manchester's Old Trafford stadium an hour before the pariah state's women's soccer team were scheduled to take on the United States in an Olympic pool match on Tuesday.

But the North Koreans could count on the support of at least one fan: British pensioner David Greenhough, 70, an independent Marxist historian proudly carrying the North Korean flag.

"There are 22 million North Koreans and they're not all Kim Jong-il, they're not all a scheming axis of evil," Greenhough told Reuters outside Old Trafford.

Former U.S. President George W. Bush once called North Korea part of an "axis of evil" with Iran and Iraq.

"They are trying to make sense of life, working hard, trying to improve their lives, and they deserve our respect," said Greenhough, who lives in the small town of Bacup.

A few thousand spectators, many of them dressed up in the colorful regalia of U.S. fans, were in the stands at Old Trafford, 75,000-seat home of English Premier League club Manchester United, an hour ahead of kick-off.

Just outside the ground, souvenir vendor Brandon Garlick was hoping for an upsurge of support for North Korea.

He had ordered 36 large U.S. flags and six North Korean ones ahead of the fixture, and while the Stars and Stripes were selling well, he had only managed to sell one North Korean flag, "to a couple of young lads" from the local area.

"You'd have thought there would be at least five or six North Koreans living in Manchester and some of them would come to the match," he said.

Greenhough, for his part, had no need to buy a new North Korean flag as he had one already, carefully preserved from another sporting fixture many years before.

"There's a great tradition of supporting North Korea in the north of England," he said, reminiscing fondly about the 1966 World Cup, when the North Korean men pulled off one of the greatest upsets in sporting history by knocking out Italy.

The feat took place at a now demolished ground in Middlesbrough, a northern English town that has retained links to North Korea ever since.

"SOMEONE'S GOT TO"

However, few other North Korea enthusiasts could be found in the stands.

One British family did have a North Korean flag, but their support was less deeply rooted than Greenhough's.

Asked why they were supporting the Asian side, Bernie Hughes said: "Someone's got to."

She was at the match with her sister-in-law Nicky Hughes, whose twin sons had both wanted a flag, so they had bought one American flag and one North Korean one.

"You've got to support the underdog," said Nicky Hughes, expressing a typically British attitude.

Tuesday's match comes after a politically charged incident last Wednesday when the same North Korean team walked off the pitch before a match against Colombia at a stadium in Scotland because screens mistakenly displayed the South Korean flag.

"I was spitting feathers over the flag incident," said Greenhough.

He said he hoped that the political situation would evolve in North Korea following the death of former President Kim Jong-il last December and the ascension to power of Kim's son, Kim Jong-un.

"They've got a new leader, a young man, just married, educated in Switzerland. Maybe things will change," he said

Greenhough had no problem whatsoever with being in a tiny minority amid a crowd of enthusiastic U.S. fans.

"History tells us we are not always right. And minorities are not always wrong," he said.

But at 8 pounds ($13) each, Garlick's North Korean flags were proving a hard sell.

"They'll be going down to 5 pounds shortly," he said with a smile.

($1 = 0.6372 British pounds)

(Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)

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