Alan Pattullo's Euro 2020 diary: The Maradona of the Carpathians, feta cheese and when North Korea came to stay in Darlington

Scotland are only the latest international side to be able to claim to have stayed in Darlington, or at least a few miles outside it, during a major international football tournament.

Former Romania captain Gheorghe Hagi (right). Likes feta, apparently.  \ Mandatory Credit: Ben Radford /Allsport
Former Romania captain Gheorghe Hagi (right). Likes feta, apparently. \ Mandatory Credit: Ben Radford /Allsport

Romania caused a bit of a stir when they based themselves at Redworth Hall hotel during Euro 96. Included in their party was Rangers player Ianis Hagis’ father Gheorghe, then known as the Maradona of the Carpathians. As The Independent reported at the time, one of the few special pleas made to the hotel was “for the right kind of feta”.

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There’s no question about the most famous previous international football team to stay in and around Darlington as well as most beloved – North Korea. Not many knew much about the team before they arrived in the North-East of England for the 1966 World Cup but a 1-0 win over Italy at Ayresome Park in Middlesbrough changed all that. They became ‘local’ heroes.

The players were billeted at the St George Hotel, next to what is now the TyneTees Airport. The hotel is still there and was able to host the seven surviving members of the squad who made a return trip to England in 2002 for a documentary about their achievements during that summer, when they reached the last eight. Pak Doo-ik, who scored the famous winner over the Italians, was part of the trip and is still alive and living in Pyongyang at the ripe old age of 77. Cultural links have been maintained between the area and North Korea, with Middlesbrough Ladies football team going on to visit Pyongyang on tour in 2010.

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Away from Darlo, which is how locals refer to Darlington, there was consternation last week, the Diary understands, among Edinburgh politicians and civil servants when a high-powered meeting with their Westminster counterparts was scheduled for... 2.30pm today. A tentative request for the meeting to be rescheduled for a time when the Scotland male football team’s first major finals game for 23 years was not also taking place was politely but firmly refused. The business of government, it seems, must go on.

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