Middlesbrough Ladies footballers back from North Korea

The squad were invited after a team from the communist country played in Middlesbrough in 1966

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Women footballers from Teesside have described their visit to one of the world's most secretive societies as a "whirlwind".

Middlesbrough Ladies have just returned from a four-day trip to North Korea.

They said it had been an amazing trip and that they had been given a warm welcome by the North Korean people.

The invitation was the latest in a special relationship dating back to the 1966 World Cup when North Korea played in Middlesbrough.

Centre-back Rachael Hine, 23, said: "It's just been a whirlwind. It has been an absolutely amazing trip, it really was."

Football taken seriously

During their visit to the capital Pyongyang the team played two matches, losing 6-2 to April 25 and 5-0 to Kalmaegi.

Middlesbrough Ladies coaching at a North Korea school The team also visited local schools

But the players said they had not been aware before they arrived they would be playing professional teams.

They said women's football was taken very seriously in North Korea and their games had been watched by millions of people, because the highlights were broadcast on television.

About 6,000 spectators went to each of the games. The team's highest attendance previously was 1,000 when they played Arsenal Ladies.

Ms Hine said: "Even when we went to the schools with the young children from the ages of 12 down, they taught us a thing or two."

As well as the matches, they visited a school to give coaching sessions, went on a sightseeing tour and went to a reception hosted by British Ambassador Peter Hughes.

Parmo

The special relationship has existed since the 1966 group stage match at Middlesbrough's former ground Ayresome Park, which was one of the competition's biggest upsets when North Korea beat Italy 1-0.

In October 2002, surviving members of the giant-killing team returned to Teesside for a visit.

The Middlesbrough Ladies met surviving members of the 1966 World Cup team and delivered a letter from Middlesbrough chairman Steve Gibson in which he spoke about the "unique bond" between the two places.

Middlesbrough players greet people at one of their matches The players said they were given a warm welcome

Manager Marrie Wieczorek said: "The people we met were fantastic and most people remembered 1966 and Middlesbrough."

She said the whole point of the trip had been football and friendship and that is what they had got.

She said despite the language barriers, they had managed to communicate with the North Korea players.

"We found it absolutely brilliant. People are so warm and friendly," she said.

She said they even managed to talk about Middlesbrough delicacy the Parmo - a chicken or pork fillet covered in breadcrumbs with Bechamel sauce and cheese.

She said: "They are aware of the Parmo, definitely. They have been told about that. That came up in our conversations."

The football and cultural exchange followed an invitation from the British Embassy in Pyongyang and specialist travel agency Koryo Tours.

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