Tees

Middlesbrough women footballers head to North Korea

Middlesbrough Ladies football team with manager Marrie Wieczorek at the front
Image caption The players say they are excited about the visit

A team of women footballers from Teesside is setting off for a visit to one of the world's most secretive societies.

Middlesbrough Ladies has been invited on a four-day trip to North Korea.

They will stay in the capital Pyongyang and play two North Korean women's teams and hold children's coaching sessions.

It is the latest event in a link which dates back to North Korea playing at Middlesbrough's former ground Ayresome Park in the 1966 World Cup.

The special relationship has existed since the group stage match at 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.

Unique event

Centre back Rachael Hine, 23, said the team was aware of the special relationship and they all knew it would be a completely different experience.

She said: "You have just got to go there and take it as you get there really. We have looked it up on the internet; we know it's different, the culture is very different.

"But you don't quite know what to expect until you get there and it will be right there first hand."

She said the team members had been told they would have to hand their mobile phones in at the airport but said she was sure there would be enough going on that they would not miss them too much.

She said: "It is something to get excited about. It is something that's going to make history."

The group of 14 Middlesbrough Ladies players and three coaching staff will be in North Korea between 18 and 23 September. They will travel via Moscow and Beijing.

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

The visit will include a reception where the Middlesbrough players will meet surviving members of the 1966 World Cup squad.

Koryo Tours director Nick Bonner said: "This is the first time a football team has visited North Korea purely on the basis of friendship so it is quite unique."

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