In 2001, exactly 50 years after the formation of the Iraqi national team, I made a discovery. I was reading a comment on the old sports forum about a player named Saeed Easho. It was the beginning of the discovery of the history of Iraq’s first national team.
Many years later I contacted the former footballer and through him it seemed like everything had fallen into place. He had spent most of his 60 years living outside Iraq, so no one knew what had happened to the middle half of Iraq’s first national team.
This is how it all began: The sons of a former British Army officer, an Eastern Orthodox priest and an Assyrian soldier Levy were the three men who shaped the side.
The team was formed as the modern nation of Iraq, shaped from the ancient Ottoman vilayets of Baghdad, Basra and Mosul. There was Baghdad’s outside left Percy Lynsdale, Basrawi center-half Saeed Easho and Mosul-born inside left Aram Karam.
Saeed was the son of an Eastern Orthodox priest who retired at the age of 23 to pursue a career in engineering. Just four months after donning the Iraqi jersey, Saeed went to study at Loughborough College in Leicestershire, England. He enrolled in September 1951 and, at the time, teachers in Sheffield were taking classes at the college.
They had heard about the Iraqi national team player and knowing that Sheffield United management were looking for players, they contacted the club and informed them about the center-half.
During the Christmas holidays, Saeed received a telegram from the Sheffield club. They had offered him a trial. So he left with another Iraqi student and they drove 52 miles north to Bramall Lane. On Christmas Day, Sheffield United’s A team were at home and faced Barnsley in the Yorkshire Football League. The 23-year-old Iraqi electrical engineering student from Loughborough College played the 90 minutes winning 5-4 and after the game management called him and asked if he wanted to join us.
As that meant he should have left college to risk a professional football career, Saeed politely declined. The second division club had offered him a good salary for what the players were making during that time and more than he would ever have earned during his playing career in Iraq. However, that was not enough to change his mind. Sheffield United paid the cost of Saeed’s trip from Loughborough and they went their separate ways.
The talented Percy Lynsdale was one of the few British footballers at the time to play for Iraqi teams in Basra like Al-Minaa and BPC. However, Iraq-born Percy is the son of a naturalized Iraqi father of English descent and an Iraqi mother, was eligible to play for Iraq. He became Iraq’s own Tom Finney, the famous Preston North End outside-right, who played for England in the 1950s.
Percy had not been forgotten by officials of the Baghdad education ministry when he was captain of the Baghdad College team in his senior year. He had studied at the Jesuit College in Baghdad on the east bank of the Tigris, Percy having been one of the first names of the school team. He had been one of the boys who had spent their afternoons kicking a ball on the school field, tossing their jackets like goal posts, which were then replaced by benches.
It was only after the intervention of one of the physics teachers, who feared that the students would start taking chairs from classrooms for the goal posts, that real goal posts were built with a football field. In his final year, Percy, the team’s top scorer and key attacking player on the inside left, served as the team’s captain and was one of six players that year inducted into the Hall of Fame. the fame of the school.
At the age of 23, Percy, a regular with BPC and the Basra Select team, was called up to the Iraqi national team and played in each of Iraq’s four matches in 1951. But after one season along with Al-Minaa, Percy, like his teammate Saeed Easho, decided to retire from football and return to the land of his ancestors to study. Percy arrived in England in 1952 and after dropping out of college, he eventually settled in Manchester, where he worked as a freelance market trader. He died in Chorley in 1997.
The third player was Habbaniya-based Aram Karam, an extraordinary footballer known for his incredible ability to score from any angle or distance with either foot. He was a player, coach, team captain and scorer, which is rare in the world.
Aram was an ethnic Assyrian, a descendant of the original inhabitants of ancient Mesopotamia. His ancestors came from Zangelan in the village of Qatouna, northwest of what was then the Persian Empire (now Azerbaijan province in western Iran). His father’s family were forced to flee their home to seek refuge under the protection of the British army stationed in Hamadan after the withdrawal of Russian forces and the entry of the Ottoman army into the area and the massacre of thousands of ‘Assyrians and Armenians.
The son of a Levy soldier, he was raised in the Levy Family Lines at RAF Hinaidi station, the second eldest in a family of seven children. Aram was the footballer’s footballer, forming his own football team at the RAF base in Habbaniya.
Aram was a talented and technically gifted outside left who had the vision and the ability to dictate any game. When he was called up by the Iraq Football Association, he had carved out a reputation as a top scorer in Habbaniya and the teams would go to the RAF base to invite the player to join the teams as a kind of mercenary.
Aram was considered by many who saw him play as one of the brightest and most accomplished finishers of the 1950s and during the Iraqi tour of Turkey in 1951 he scored four goals in the second international match of the team against a team from Ankara Select.
The history of the Iraqi first team and its players is only a distant memory. As revolutions, wars and sanctions passed, subsequent generations of Iraqi football had forgotten their triumphs and defeats and even their names. It didn’t seem fair.
This is an edited excerpt from Birth of the Lions of Mesopotamia. Click here to order a copy.