'A little bit weird': Home United's head coach, captain recount experience in North Korea

'A little bit weird': Home United's head coach, captain recount experience in North Korea

Home United in North Korea
Home United players line up at the start of the match against North Korea's April 25th SC. (Photo: HUFC)

SINGAPORE: Surviving on canned food, being served pork biscuits, and being watched constantly.

These were some of the experiences the Home United team had in North Korea during their trip to play the second leg of the AFC Cup Inter Zone play-off semi-final against April 25 Sports Club.

The Protectors lost the game, which was played on Tuesday (Aug 28), by a 9-1 scoreline to lose the tie 11-1 on aggregate. 

Calling the experience "weird" several times, Home's head coach Aidil Sharin told Channel NewsAsia on Friday that it was one that the entire team could learn from. 

The team, of which 15 out of 18 players are Muslims, did not have proper meals throughout the six-day trip, as they were not served the halal meals which they had requested from the club. 

"They didn't have a chef who knew how to cook halal meals. They just catered whatever food they had for us," said Aidil about arrangements at the Sosan Hotel, where the team was staying. 

"It was difficult for the players to have meat, because it needed to be halal. The players ended up eating just rice and vegetables during mealtimes and that wasn't ideal. 

"Some of the players weren't eating at mealtimes too."

In the end, the players relied on canned food and cup noodles that they brought with them on the trip instead.

"It's not wise for your players to have that kind of food daily ... but you can't really stop them. Otherwise, how are they going to have the energy to play?" Aidil said. 

Home United in North Korea 1
The Home United team posing for a photo in Pyongyang, North Korea. (Photo: Home United Football Club)

Home United's captain Izzdin Shafiq added that the whole team did not eat much on the trip.

"They even served pork for our meals. We definitely can't eat that," he said. 

The team was also served pork biscuits as part of their pre-match high tea meal. 

"In other countries, there's always snacks and hot coffee. We asked for sandwiches, fruits and hot coffee, but they provided canned milk coffee that was cold.

"When we reached the dressing room, they provided pork biscuits. Some of them took it and vomited," said Aidil, noting that the team only realised it contained pork after its South Korean player, Song Ui-young, read the list of ingredients. 

STRINGENT CHECKS

Aidil also said that he had his laptop seized at Pyongyang International Airport, following the 18-hour journey from Singapore, which included a transit stop in Beijing. 

In the laptop was footage of the first-leg match Home United played against April 25 at the Jalan Besar Stadium. He had several videos cut so that he could prepare his players for the match in Pyongyang. 

However, Aidil said he was singled out at the airport and had a "100 per cent search" done on him. 

The laptop and a USB thumb drive, which contained a Malay movie, were found on him and subsequently seized. The items were only returned when the team flew out of Pyongyang. 

"Without the laptop, it was like we were totally handicapped. The videos were to show the players the areas they could improve upon and what to expect from their opponents in the next game," said Aidil. 

Izzdin meanwhile, added that South Korean Song also had his book confiscated at Customs, where the team took about one hour to clear. 

"It is something new to us, something totally different which we never expected," the Singapore international said. 

"We had to surrender our phones; they checked our luggage, but I have no idea what they were looking for."

Home United in North Korea 3
Song Ui-young, Home United's South Korean forward (number 8), walks off the pitch with his teammates dejected after a heavy defeat at the hands of April 25th Sports Club. (Photo: HUFC)

Their mobile phones and tablets were also subjected to checks during their stay; one of the checks on a club official's laptop and hard disk took as long as 20 minutes. 

The team also thought they had lost their yoga mats in transit, until midfielder M Anumanthan, who arrived in Pyongyang four days later, saw them at the baggage area together with his luggage. 

Communication also became an issue for the team in North Korea, as the players had no access to wifi or the Internet - which meant that they could not communicate as they normally would have on overseas trips. 

"We are used to having wifi and this trip we didn't have it," said Aidil.

"The TV had only four to five channels, and none of them was in English. We couldn't do anything in the hotel ... it was just eating, resting and sleeping." 

The team was also afraid of heading out of the hotel, as they "feared for their safety". 

Song was also followed everywhere - even to the souvenir shop at the hotel - by men who appeared to be from the police.

The Sosan Hotel apparently only had one functioning lift during the team's stay, according to Aidil.

Home United were given rooms on the 26th and 27th floor, and when club officials asked why they could not stay at a lower level, hotel employees said it was because they were "full house". 

"But it was really weird, because when we were there, we saw it was just us and a few other Koreans," said Aidil. 

Source: CNA/ng(rw)

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