The big match unites a country of two halves


Artykuł pochodzi z pisma "Guardian"

Luke Harding, in Irbil, sees a top Baghdad soccer team take on Kurdish rivals

Saturday March 1, 2003
The Guardian

It is well known in Iraq that the country's most devoted football fan is none other than Uday Hussein, President Saddam's eldest son. Unfortunately for Iraq's hapless sportsmen, Uday is also known for torturing players who fail to perform on the pitch.
So it was hardly surprising that when a football team from Baghdad made a rare trip yesterday to opposition-controlled northern Iraq they expressed their complete support for Uday's beleaguered father.
"We love President Saddam very much. We will stay with him to the end," Baghdad's 20-year-old goalkeeper, Saif Aldin Zammer, explained before yesterday's match with the Kurdish side Irbil.
"If there is war we will go and join the fidayeen Saddam [the Iraqi president's volunteer militia]," Mista Qalan, a defender, said in the away team dressing room. "We will fight to the death."
Saif's team is Al-Nafid, the Oil team. Their opponents yesterday, Irbil, are the best Kurdish side in Iraq's national league.
The country may be divided into two distinct chunks, but Kurdish and Iraqi sides play each other most weekends.
To reach Irbil, the Baghdad players had to travel across a reinforced Iraqi frontline, past freshly dug army trenches filled with oil, and up into the mountains of Kurdistan.
Were the players worried about an impending war?
"We will defend ourselves against any attack by America," Saif said. "We are not afraid. All the players in the squad are ready to fight. We know how to use Kalashnikovs."
Before running out on to the pitch, Al-Nafid's players broke into several chants for the television cameras, including "1234, we don't want a war" and "We give our blood, our blood for you Saddam".
Outside, several thousand Kurdish home fans had gathered in the afternoon sunshine, apparently unperturbed by the threat of conflict. One waved a Leeds United scarf, held upside down. Others expressed their admiration for David Beckham, and said they supported Manchester United.
As the game kicked off, the Kurdish crowd appeared to have forgotten its traditional enemy: Saddam Hussein. Instead, they broke into a long chant of "Fuck the Turks", a protest against an American-backed plan that would see thousands of Turkish troops pour into Kurdish Iraq.
Most ordinary Kurds now regard the Turks as more of a threat than the Iraqi army. After a few minutes of play it was clear that Irbil, ninth in the Iraqi league, were the slicker side.
Their star player, Ahmed Judea, turned out to be not Kurdish at all, but a Baghdad Arab bought from another club four months ago for a transfer fee of 1400 dinar (£120).
Shortly before half-time, he scored the only goal of the match, an elegant header. He had bagged two goals the previous week against Kirkuk, the government-controlled oil city a short drive west from Irbil into Saddam-controlled territory.
America's fourth infantry brigade is expected to liberate Kirkuk in a few weeks' time if the war goes to plan.
Football remains hugely popular in Iraq, and is one of the few pastimes that appears to unite the country's ethnic and religious factions.
Iraq is even a member of Fifa, but only just.
In the mid-1990s several members of Iraq's national squad alleged that Uday Hussein ordered them to be tortured after they lost a crucial World Cup qualifying match 1-0. The players claimed that they were locked in cells beneath the Baghdad headquarters of the Iraqi Olympic Committee (the director is Uday Hussein) for five days and beaten on the soles of their feet.
Fifa investigated the allegations but concluded that Iraq could carry on playing football.
Yesterday Saif Aldin Zamman, the Baghdad goalkeeper, was sanguine in defeat. "We have good relations with the Kurds," he said. "We are not fighting them any more."

To bag – to shoot a goal
Beleaguered - otoczony
Chunk - piece
Devoted - oddany
Hapless - unlucky
Impending – about to happen
Pitch – sports field
Sanguine - optimistic
Slicker – skilled, sprawny
Trench - okop
Unperturbated - nie niepokojony


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