When Kanoute scored and Iraq exploded—a Spurs’ supporter’s prison diary

Editor’s note

As literary football clubs go, few claim a stronger legacy than Tottenham Hotspur. Emad Nimah in the selection from Tottenham ’Til I Die: The Voices of Spurs Supporters, part of the ’Til I Die series from Legends Publishing in Middlesex (UK), mentions that his first contact with Spurs occurred the same year as Salman Rushdie‘s (see Rushdie’s article on Spurs, “The People’s Game,” The New Yorker, 31 May 99). Characters in The Satanic Verses fall into debate about the “double” Spurs side of the early 1960s; they ask themselves whether Danny Blanchflower was a “cream puff.”

Other literary backers of the North London team have included Frank Doel, the antiquarian bookseller at the erstwhile Marks & Co at 84 Charing Cross Road. The address became the eponym for a collection of correspondence by Helene Hanff, as well as a film starring Anthony Hopkins. Doel bemoans Spurs’ relegation prospects in Jan 1956.

Like other England clubs, Spurs have also had a poet in residence. In 2004 this was Sarah Wardle. Her 2005 collection Score! was dedicated to the side.

Emad Nimah

by Emad Nimah

In 1961 I had pursued my education in England where I saw Tottenham on television. I was completely captivated by the club, and my passion has grown over the years despite the frustrations. However, it was another captivation that affected my life even more dramatically.

It seems that Third World countries all too easily dive into needless conflicts and it was during the Iraq-Iran war that I was held in captivity for 3,080 days. My grief was made worse due to total ignorance of how Tottenham were getting on. No radios were permissible and violators would risk life-threatening punitive measures including 60 lashes. I took the risk and it was in 1984–85, almost three years after falling captive, when I was at last able to acquire some Spurs news. If I had been caught my punishment would have been vicious, as other prisoners with radios found

to their cost.

After seven years of captivity, I decided to give up smoking and I was able to trade my tobacco savings for a gold necklace and a ring from other prisoners. These were given to an Iranian soldier with an appetite for gold items. He was good and brought the radio set, which he concealed inside a packet of salt. One prisoner, who had been a professional mason before the war, was used extensively by the authorities for construction work at the Iranian quarters inside the camp. Upon his daily return he was always allowed to make a stopover at the Iranian canteen to buy whatever he could afford as a reward for his contributions. On that day, he was told to take the packet of salt inside the camp without knowing of its real contents and to hand it over to a certain prisoner. That he did without any notice, particularly from the prisoners’ side.

The radio set was smaller than the palm of my hand—a black Lucky brand made in Hong Kong with two extra-small batteries and an ear set. I impatiently waited for eight o’clock when the night curfew always started and all prisoners were inside their respective tents. Only then could I possibly put the radio on and listen to my favourite stations using the earphones, while covering my head with my two blankets in the freezing-cold weather conditions. Even my tent-mates, with whom there was full trust, had no knowledge of what was going on. At the same time my plans would allow only 30 minutes’ use of the radio per night, twice a week, for battery conservation.

But on that night it was the first time in more than two years since I had listened to a BBC news bulletin, and I was not surprised that nothing drastic had changed in content or presentation—the fact that nothing in the nine-minute bulletin mentioned the Iraq-Iran war did not surprise me either. However, I felt overwhelmed listening to news linking me with the outside world. I felt, at least momentarily, as if I was part of the civilised world; “living” like a human being.

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