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.

Listening to English football commentary for a few minutes, due to the limitations of the situation, was the icing on the cake—regardless of the fact it did not involve Tottenham. However, I was now able to listen to the football results and realised, at last, why the Swiss International Red Cross delegate could not, despite my persistent questions on their visits, tell me anything about Tottenham news even though he was more conversant on Manchester United. Tottenham were still not the team they once were under the late Bill Nicholson in the early ’60s, and specific news was non-existent it seemed.

After repatriation to Iraq in 1990, I found bans imposed on satellite TV, with prison terms and hefty fines threatened. The Iraqi regime had imposed a penalty of $400, which was then the equivalent of an annual salary or even more for a mid-level government employee. In addition, there was a prison term of six months, and the satellite receiver and dish would be confiscated. But again, I paid no attention.

After 2003 I was at last able to watch all games without fear, or this was what I had thought. I will always remember a very memorable goal scored by Frederic Kanoute against Everton at the Lane. It could not have been more well-timed because, just as the ball crossed the line, there was a huge spontaneous explosion near my home which blew a thick wooden door at the front of my house right to the back of the property.

Today, I am a grandfather. One of my sons is a Tottenham fan and I am sure one of my grandsons will follow suit. To me Tottenham remind me of my youth, and I feel very much attached to the club. My deep memory takes me back to the time when White Hart Lane was a fortress no other team could conquer. Although I have never been to White Hart Lane, and attending a home game is still a far-fetched life’s ambition, both my son and I buy T-shirts, caps, publications and other items for the kids annually. It is the least support we can provide for the club we are so much devoted to.

Nimah’s story is taken from the book Tottenham ’Til I Die. Copyright © Legends Publishing. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

About the book series

The ’Til I Die series started in 2005–06 as a trial project at Brentford Football Club in West London, with the aim of encouraging Bees fans to write passionately about their experiences following the club, to share memories with fellow supporters and to celebrate local pride and family tradition.

Following production of several additional club-based books, in 2008 the National Literacy Trust secured funding through its Sport Stories campaign. Grants from the Football Foundation, Arts Council England, Professional Footballers’ Association and the Department for Children, Schools and Families allowed publication of more collections. Now, 600 copies of each book on publication are given free to local schools. By the end of 2010, more than 30 club-specific titles will have been produced for teams of all shapes, sizes and regions.

Contact Legends Publishing for additional information.

About the Author

Educated in the UK, Emad Nimah discovered one of his enduring life passions in 1961 when he saw Tottenham Hotspur on television. He continued his support even during 3,080 days as a prisoner during the Iran-Iraq war. He has never been to White Hart Lane, but his grandsons support Spurs.

Comments (2)

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  1. Steve Jones says:

    What an amazing story—it really does show the length and risks that some people will go to when following a team. I’m not sure if there is another sport in the world which prompts such life-threatening decisions just to keep up to date with scores and news.

  2. Rick says:

    Very interesting story. I don’t think I’ve come across anyone who is so passionate about their club until now. Really good read!!

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