The story behind United Koreans in Japan
One of the key purposes of CONIFA is to shine a light on forgotten players, unloved regions and unrecognized collectives who just want to play football as a unit. When it comes to some of the places in the world that are harder to reach, this aim can become more difficult.
With various media stories from around the world often coming across with completely different information about the same event, it can be hard to accurately piece together what is really happening in some regions of the world.
When it comes to North Korea, known as one of the world’s most secretive nations, accounts from the football team that played at the 2010 FIFA World Cup indicate that their version of events are nothing like those described in some other published stories, including that they were not allowed to play football again for their country because they lost.
While some aspects may or may not be true, the aftermath of this period was still causing major issues for Korean players only a few years ago.
A bumper crop of talent arose around this time, and its culmination led to the creation of the United Koreans in Japan team, which is headed by one of the 2010 North Korean World Cup stars.
These players want compete in the 2020 CONIFA World Cup in Somaliland if they can qualify, and they may surprise many with the talented players they have at their disposal.
Due to political constraints in North Korea about diplomatic relations with other countries, young academy players were only allowed to play in Europe if they went through the ISM Academy in Corciano, Italy.
Han Kwang-song is one of the best players of this crop, and he has been scoring at a solid rate in Italy’s Serie B. However, despite his progress, he has yet to make the step up to the top club level.
An Yong-hak, the United Koreans in Japan manager for CONIFA tournaments, spoke of how it has been hard to get across the story of North Koreans wanting to play football. A series of accounts from journalist James Hendicott, who has been profiling several CONIFA teams in recent weeks ahead of the launch of his book about forgotten footballing regions, paints Yong-hak’s origins in a new light.
Yong-hak maintains that the North Korean government has been entirely supportive of developing football in the region, and he hopes his United Koreans in Japan side is the one that can attract the best players to turn out next summer.
Words: Jonah Farrell