From Newcastle to North Korea: The Aussie striker poised to play in front of Kim Jong-un

Harrison Sawyer
One match he might not want to score a hat-trick in...

When Harrison Sawyer left Newcastle Jets in 2017, no-one would have predicted he could soon be playing in front of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

But that's now a distinct reality for the Australian attacker after he guided his Hong Kong side Tai Po into the AFC Asian Cup group stages at the expense of North Korean outfit Ryomyong. 

The clubs couldn't be split across the two legs with neither team finding the back of the net until a decisive penalty shootout where Sawyer and his four Brazilian teammates made no mistake from the spot.

Having already played one match in North Korea just a week ago, Sawyer will now return to the communist country in May for a group match against April 25 - the reigning North Korean champions. 

Belonging to the Korean People's Army, April 25 boast the support of Kim Jong-un, who is often spotted attending games. 

Whether the infamous leader will turn up on May 15 remains to be seen but it's a prospect Sawyer is savouring - though he admits he won't be celebrating too hard should he score. 

"It’ll be good, but I’ve seen Kim Jong-un actually attend April 25 matches so it’ll be interesting to see if he shows up to one of the group stage games," Sawyer told Goal.

"If I do (score), I won’t be celebrating too much." 

Harrison Sawyer After facing Ryomyong in North Korea in early March, Sawyer will have some idea of what to expect come May.

The 22-year-old made the intimidating trip to the country last week with his journey there eye-opening itself. 

"It was crazy, we got there on the sole flight of the day," Sawyer said.

"It was just our team and the referees. When we got to the airport there was just a handful of people there.

"It took us an hour to just get our team through the baggage check. Everyone got their phones checked, I had a book checked.

"It was only a David Beckham book so they checked every page and there wasn’t anything too bad on there obviously. They flicked through 80 percent of the pages and scanned them."

Before touching down in North Korea, Sawyer and his Tai Po teammates were given some guidelines to ensure they didn't fall foul of their hosts. 

"We weren’t allowed to call it North Korea. We weren’t allowed to talk to the bus driver," he said. 

"We were told basically to keep to ourselves and not talk to the people. We just wanted to get back to Hong Kong."

Once safely in the country, Sawyer then experienced an unnerving 90 minutes in front of the Ryomyong faithful.

With the match ending 0-0, there wasn't a whole lot to cheer about but the well-organised crowd made sure they were heard at intervals throughout the match . 

"They all cheered at random points of the match together, it was a bit weird," Sawyer said.  

"At random stages of the match they all cheered together no matter where the ball was.

"They had the North Korea flag showing. Big signs of the North Korea leaders inside the stadium and on a lot of the buildings around the city."

Harrison Sawyer

Having been largely restricted to the confines of the hotel during his stay, Sawyer did get the chance to visit a gift shop on his way back but his choice of item may never actually arrive Down Under.

"There was one little North Korean gift shop we were allowed to go to and that was it," he said.

"Other than that we were staying in the bus or the hotel.

"I sent my family some postcards but when we were leaving the hotel that day we were told they might not be sent."

Now safely back in Hong Kong for the time being, Sawyer's football journey to date is a unique one.

Despite making a handful of A-League appearances for the Jets, the Aussie jumped at the chance to test himself in Asia and has so far reaped the rewards of his gamble.

"When I left Newcastle in the A-League I played a number of games for Western Pride in the off-season and I got approached by a club in the Philippines and decided to just go on a whim," he said.

"I went there, my first season wasn't bad, scored some goals and Tai Po came along.

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"Going to Asia it’s not very typical and it does take mental grit to come here with the expectations of a foreign player. Not only on the field but off the field it’s strengthened me.

"For the moment I can only play where I am and if I’m doing well things will come." 

Just one of those things is that potential match in front of Kim Jong-un - one man the Aussie might think twice about scoring a hat-trick in front of.