Adventurous career of FA Cup hero Ian Porterfield explored in new book

By Devon Rowcliffe

“And Porterfield! Oh, Porterfield has scored! And Sunderland, the underdogs, are in the lead.”

The late Ian Porterfield remains a legendary Sunderland figure for scoring the only goal in the remarkable 1973 FA Cup Final upset. But many Mackems may be unaware that the Scot also attained success during a 28-year run as a manager, much of it overseas – and a new book aims to explore the extraordinary details.

Who Ate All the Squid?: Football Adventures in South Korea chronicles Porterfield’s time in charge of K League club Busan IPark. It also explores his broader management career, which included spells in Africa, the Middle East, the Caribbean, North East Asia and Eastern Europe. Porterfield achieved three promotions in just four seasons as a young manager with Rotherham and Sheffield United. He was quickly in great demand, succeeding Alex Ferguson as Aberdeen boss and becoming the first Premier League-era manager at Chelsea.

In his initial overseas posting, Porterfield nearly qualified Zambia for their first World Cup and took them to the African Cup of Nations Final, less than one year after the country’s national team was killed in a tragic airplane crash. His accomplishments with the Chipolopolo earned him formal government recognition: the Freedom of Zambia.

The Scot remained abroad for most of his subsequent managerial career, bolstering Trinidad and Tobago to unprecedented heights – including a World Cup qualifying win over fancied Mexico – as well as propelling former Soviet nation Armenia to a draw against high-flying Portugal in European Championship qualifying.

Porterfield’s career perhaps serves as a cautionary tale that football management can be as perilous as it is glamorous. Despite making progress with a resurgent Chelsea – including their only win at Liverpool in 56 years – he became the first Premier League manager to be fired when irascible chairman Ken Bates grew impatient.

Assignments became increasingly treacherous overseas. Porterfield needed to report to the nephew of infamous autocrat Robert Mugabe while leading Zimbabwe’s national team, and during a brief club spell in Ghana, Porterfield alleged that the chairman attacked him in the dressing room and threatened the lives of both him and his wife.

Perhaps seeking less turbulent employment, Porterfield’s next destination was South Korea, a country with a reputation for paying on time, where chairmen didn’t interfere in player selection, and managers were granted years to galvanise a struggling team, not months.

Football in South Korea brandished an idiosyncratic history and culture, unique unto itself. The professional league was created by a dictator intent on using sport and sultry entertainment to hypnotise young men away from democratisation protests. Club owners included an international cult leader infamous for organising mass weddings, who was imprisoned in two countries and banned from entering Germany. Team supporters frequently discharged military flares inside stadiums, and were requested to cover their club’s buses in “fan graffiti”. One outlandish goalkeeper loved to don a formal top hat as match attire.

However, working in South Korea proved more arduous than Porterfield expected. The Scot was appointed manager at Busan IPark, a club battered by the Asian financial crisis of the late 1990s. Their benefactor, Daewoo, had collapsed under the largest corporate bankruptcy in history. Under new owners, Busan’s budget was diminished to a fraction of its former size. The former juggernauts of Korean club football were reduced to underdogs in the blink of an eye.

Porterfield was startled to realise he had inherited a team of injury-ravaged veterans and unrefined youngsters. When he endeavoured to augment the squad with new players, he was told the club had no transfer budget – instead, his signing options would be limited to out-of-contract players. The few talented squad members the club had produced were quickly tempted elsewhere by more lucrative offers.

Busan fans still hadn’t accepted their club’s recent decrease in stature. Their impatience and anger ballooned. Porterfield would have to be a tactful ambassador to avoid becoming their scapegoat.

Porterfield admitted in private that this South Korean job was the most difficult of his career.

Considering the tribulations he had persevered over the years, it was quite the admission.

After winning his first game in charge, Porterfield was shocked when Busan collapsed and were routed 5-1 the following match. It was evident the Scot would need to perform minor wizardry for Busan to lift any Korean silverware. And yet, despite numerous obstacles, Porterfield was stubbornly determined to make champions out of his team.

Interestingly, Porterfield’s managerial disposition changed during his time in Korea. The Scot was known for his unassuming and disarming nature throughout most of his career, perhaps consciously modelled after how former Sunderland boss Bob Stokoe had treated his Mackem squad that lifted the 1973 FA Cup. But rather unexpectedly, as pressure increased, Porterfield began to adopt the disciplinarian approach of a Black Cats manager he had loathed: Alan “Bomber” Brown. Porterfield soon brought in three players from British football: Jamie Cureton (Norwich, Reading), a striker who turned down an offer from Alex Ferguson to play for Manchester United’s “Class of ‘92”; Andy Cooke (Burnley, Stoke), who began his career building cowsheds whilst playing semi-pro in Wales; and Jon Olav Hjelde (Nottingham Forest), who achieved UEFA Champions League heroics by helping Norwegian club Rosenborg knock out AC Milan and hold Juventus to a first-leg draw.

Could the Western footballers adapt to life in Korea, with its unfamiliar culture and alien language? The Britons and Hjelde all had spouses; success hinged partly upon the ability of their partners to settle in North East Asia. Living abroad also meant being apart from friends and extended family, while Porterfield and Cureton both had children living back in the UK. Half of the group members were perhaps running from the ghosts of their individual pasts, but could Korea provide the escape they desired?

Would Ian Porterfield, Sunderland’s 1973 Wembley hero, be able to orchestrate another sporting miracle three decades later, this time with a slumbering giant of South Korean football?

Who Ate All the Squid?: Football Adventures in South Korea by Devon Rowcliffe, published by Pitch Publishing at GBP 12.99 paperback and GBP 9.99 eBook. To order a copy, click here.