J&F 100: Loyola Hall World Cup

In an article from summer 2002 Issue 52, Paul Nicholson SJ looks back to the heady days of the 1966 World Cup and discovers an unusual souvenir.

Summer 2002, the World Cup finals, and Korea has a major role as one of the joint venues. England has disappeared from the tournament at the quarter final stage and the country quickly returned to normal after a build-up of excitement.

Back in 1966 the picture was different. England had hosted and won the World Cup, and (North) Korea again played a major role - as the under-dogs who slew the giant Italy. And Loyola Hall, the Jesuit Spirituality Centre on Merseyside, had a part to play in that story, a part that is only now being told.

It was a mere thirteen years after the end of the Korean war, in which British forces had fought the Communists, and at the height of the Cold War, the government of the United Kingdom had been embarrassed when the North Korean football team beat Australia to claim the one place in the final 16 allocated to the whole of Africa, Asia and Oceania. In turn the Korean team, unknown and underated, had been surprised by the warm welcome they had received in Middlesbrough, where they were to play their first three games.

After losing the first game and drawing their second, they needed to beat Italy - one of the favourites for the competition- to proceed to the quarter-finals. To everyone's surprise - not least that of the Italians  - that's what  they did . Which is where Loyola Hall enters the story. The new wing of the retreat house had just been completed, but had not yet been brought into use, The quarter- final Italy expected to play in was to be staged in Liverpool. And the Italians, confident of victory, had arranged with Fr Peter Blake, the director of Loyola Hall between 1947 and 1972, to stay there before and after their game. They had even brought an engraved chalice to present to the house in thanks. All those plans fell through when they lost in Middlesbrough and immediately returned home.

The Koreans, by contrast, had made no plans, as they hadn't expected to progress to this stage of the competition. Which is how the team and its 70-strong entourage from the aggressively atheistic Communist nation came to be the first people to stay in the rooms of Loyola Hall's newly-completed wing. 35 years later, Daniel Gordon, film-maker from the VeryMuchSo production company, has travelled to Korea and tracked down seven of those who played in the l966 squad. One of them, Pok Dolk (the number 7 of the squad) who hasn't left his country again since those days, remembers Loyola Hall well, though not perhaps, in the way we on the staff here today might have hoped!

The Koreons, he exploins in the film, had always slept in team dormitories, now they were put in single rooms. It took a lot of persuasian before they were allowed to sleep two to a room, The rooms had 'strange pictures' - no doubt the religious pictures favoured at the time - which he and his companions found unsettling, lt again took some negotiating to have them removed. Worst of all was the chapel - floodlit at night and dominated, then as now, by a huge crucifix, Having no particular religious connotations for the Koreons, Pok Dolk remembers a figure of a man in pain with 'scary nails' in his hands and feet. With all this, it's no wonder as he recalls, they all had difficulty sleeping. It is perhaps, then, no surprise that in their next game the Koreons lost 5-3 to Eusebio's Portugal (despite having a 3-1) lead at half-time), and that it was England, and not North Korea, who went on to win the competition, So perhaps Loyola Hall con claim a little   credit for this.

Daniel Gordon's film, 'The Game of Their Lives', with archive footage of the Korean squad limbering up outside Loyola Hall, plus contemporary film of the refurbished rooms, was shown by the BBC in the lead-up to the World Cup.

Pity the Brazil team couldn't have stayed at Loyola Hall this time around! And the chalice? The Italians passed it on to the Koreans, who in turn presented it to Loyola Hall.  Even though its inscription mentions ltaly.  ln using it today we are conscious of it being a unique gift from communisit North Korea.

The picture is of Fr Peter Blake SJ with the North Korean team at Loyola Hall