‘Ian Porterfield, 1-0, after 32 minutes, for second-division Sunderland!’
Ian Porterfield remains a legendary Sunderland AFC figure 13 years after his death, thanks to his goal that won the 1973 FA Cup Final. However, Sunderland fans may not be aware that after he retired as a player, Porterfield enjoyed a 28-year spell as an accomplished football manager, much of it abroad.
A new book, Who Ate All the Squid?: Football Adventures in South Korea, charts the Scot’s time in charge of K League club Busan IPark, as well as his broader career in football as both a player and a manager.
John Ian Porterfield was born in Scotland in February 1946, conceived just weeks after the surrender of Nazi Germany. He was the son of a coal miner, but his mother refused to let him work down in the pits. After dropping out of school at age 15, Porterfield quickly attracted interest from football clubs across the British Isles.
The youngster was invited to trials at prominent Scottish teams including Rangers and Hearts, and was even courted by Don Revie’s eminent Leeds United, where Porterfield slogged for a month before succumbing to homesickness. Porterfield ultimately signed for Raith Rovers as a part-timer because it was closer to home, still painting and decorating on the side to earn sufficient income.
‘I played against him when he was with Raith Rovers,’ Alex Ferguson, then manager of Manchester United, wrote in a 2007 statement. ‘He was an exceptional footballer, blessed with a lot of natural talent.’
Porterfield became known as ‘the Bull’ at Raith, powering through opponents as a physical midfielder. According to the Scot, he was soon courted by Liverpool, Manchester City and West Ham United.
Eventually he signed for top-flight Sunderland, convinced by Mackems manager Ian McColl, despite Porterfield having never seen the Tyne and Wear region of England. He would initially return to Scotland every other weekend to avoid missing home.
Porterfield would experience a baptism by fire on his debut for the Black Cats, inserted into the late 1967 Tyne–Wear derby. Mere weeks later, McColl was sacked as manager, replaced by rigid disciplinarian Alan ‘Bomber’ Brown.
Like many of the Sunderland squad members at the time, Porterfield didn’t appreciate Brown’s strict regime, and during a pre-season match in 1969, the Scot had the cheek to question the tactics of the ‘Iron Man’ in front of other players. As a result, Porterfield was banished from the first team for the entire 1969/70 season, instead playing with the reserves and training on non-league grounds. Porterfield was convinced he was made an example of, claiming that Brown demanded complete obedience from his players. Sunderland would be relegated that season.
Porterfield was welcomed back into the squad for Sunderland’s campaign down in the Second Division. Just two years later, with another relegation potentially looming, Brown would be sacked for a poor start to the 1972/73 season, in which the club only earned a single victory during the 13 games between mid-September and early December. Bob Stokoe took over the talented but demoralised team Brown had built, eventually leading the Mackems to a sixth-place finish in the League.
But most memorable under Stokoe’s first season was an unexpected FA Cup Final victory for second-tier Sunderland over mighty Leeds United, a top-flight club competing in Europe and managed by the same Don Revie that Porterfield had trialled for a dozen years earlier. Left-footed Porterfield scored a rare goal with his right foot in the 32nd minute, which he partially credits to receiving balance coaching from champion ballroom dancer Len Heppell, who instructed the Scot about standing on the balls of his feet.
Just 19 months after lifting the FA Cup, in December 1974, Porterfield was involved in a car crash that fractured his skull and shattered his jaw. Initially it was thought the Scot would succumb to his injuries, but medics at Newcastle General Hospital were able to save his life. However, Porterfield’s playing days at Sunderland were over. The club was keen to receive an insurance payout stemming from the crash, and refused to give Porterfield playing time until the matter was settled.
With Sunderland back in the First Division in 1977, but Porterfield frustrated at not receiving any playing time, he went on loan to Reading for a handful of games. He then transferred to Sheffield Wednesday, where he saw out the reminder of his playing career before pivoting to football management.
As a young manager, Porterfield secured three promotions in just four seasons at Rotherham and Sheffield United. He then succeeded Alex Ferguson at Aberdeen and soon took the top job at Chelsea.
Although Porterfield was idolised on Wearside for his FA Cup-winning goal, he ultimately proved just as human as the rest of us. The Scot turned to alcohol to escape the pressures of the Aberdeen job, which would cost him his first marriage and result in a drink-driving conviction. When his following stint at Reading wasn’t successful he again turned to the bottle, costing him the job and concluding in a several-year driving ban.
Porterfield subsequently ventured abroad, taking over the Zambian national team after a tragic airplane disaster that killed most of the squad. The Scot assembled a new team and took the grieving nation to within a single point of qualifying for their first World Cup, and then to the African Cup of Nations Final, both within a year of the crash. As reward, he was bestowed with the Freedom of Zambia by the country’s government.
Porterfield’s overseas accomplishments continued. He led Trinidad and Tobago to lift the Caribbean Cup, and helped them win their group in the penultimate round of North American qualifying for the World Cup, including a defeat over fancied Mexico. He would later inspire former Soviet republic Armenia to their finest-ever form, including a shock draw against juggernauts Portugal in European Championship qualifying.
But football management wasn’t entirely smooth sailing for Porterfield: he was the first Premier League manager to be fired, had to report to Robert Mugabe’s nephew while working in Zimbabwe, and was allegedly assaulted and had his life threatened by a club CEO in Ghana.
Seeking a more stable environment, Porterfield accepted a job in South Korea: managing Busan IPark of the K League, Asia’s oldest professional football league. This was a country with a reputation for paying on time, where chairmen typically kept their noses out of squad selection and managers were given plenty of opportunity to build a competitive team.
South Korean football proved to be a uniquely curious world. The K League had been set up by a former dictator who wanted to use sport and sultry entertainment to distract young men from democratisation protests. One team was owned by a cult leader who had been imprisoned in two countries. Club supporters covered their team’s bus in graffiti – with full approval – and often unleashed ill-gotten military flares in the stands. Foreign goalkeepers were banned, and one eccentric netminder had a penchant for wearing formal top hats during matches.
Unfortunately, working in South Korea proved to be more turbulent than Porterfield had anticipated. Busan IPark’s corporate owners, Daewoo, had recently collapsed under US$80 billion of debt, triggering the largest bankruptcy in world history. The club was transformed from K League behemoths to minnows overnight.
Porterfield was surprised to inherit a bipolar squad of ragged veterans and unpolished youngsters. When the Scottish manager attempted to bring in new players, no transfer money was available – instead, he would have to sign out-of-contract players.
Busan fans still hadn’t accepted their club’s recent decrease in stature. Their impatience and anger ballooned. Porterfield would need to be a cunning diplomat to avoid being scapegoated for the team’s malaise.
Porterfield privately admitted that this South Korean job was the most difficult of his entire career. Considering the tribulations he had persevered over the years, that was quite the admission.
After winning his first game in charge of Busan, Porterfield was shocked when his team was mauled 5‑1 the following match. It was obvious the former Sunderland hero would need to once again summon wizardry for Busan to lift any Korean silverware. But despite myriad obstacles, he was stubbornly determined to make champions out of his ragtag team.
Porterfield would lure three players from British football out to South Korea: Jamie Cureton (England youth, Norwich, Reading), a striker who rejected 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 at the San Siro, as well as hold Juventus to a first-leg draw.
Would the European footballers be able to 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 meant being apart from friends and extended family, while Porterfield and Cureton both had children living back in the UK. Half of the group were also arguably running from their individual pasts, but would Korea provide the escape they desperately sought?
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, is available for GBP 12.99 in paperback and GBP 9.99 as an eBook. To order a copy, click here.