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Was Iraq’s football history stolen in 1974?

On 18 August 1974 the decision from the Iraq Football Association to annul the Iraqi League of Clubs and Institutions (“Dawr Al-Nadi wa Muassasat”) and implement a nationwide League of Clubs would change the local football landscape of the country.

The Iraqi FA backed by the Ministry of Youth and the Iraqi Olympic Committee wanted to form a club system for the Iraqi League as in the rest of the world and at the same time lessen the financial burden on the state by attaching each club to a ministry, instead of several teams being linked to one ministry.

However there is also a theory that the motive was partially political, as the ruling Arab Socialist Baathist Party were attempting on stamp their authority on the domestic game with the Iraqi Olympic Committee through the Minister of Youth, by dissolving teams linked to the two largest unions in the country, Sikak Al-Hadeed (“Iron Railway”) and Al-Bareed (“Post”), and fracturing the powerful sports bodies of the Directorate of Army Physical Training and Sports and the Directorate of Police Sports Games, who oversaw several teams in the country and were financially backed by the Ministry of Defence and the Ministry of Interior.

The Police teams Aliyat Al-Shurta (“Police Machinery”), Shurta Al-Najda (“Patrol Police”) and newly promoted Kuliya Al-Shurta (Police College) and Army sides Quwat Al-Salah-Al-Deen (“Salah Al-Deen Forces”) and Quwat Al-Nasr (“Al-Nasr Forces”) were stripped of their licenses to participate in the new Iraqi League as they were not sports clubs nor registered as such with the Ministry of Interior nor the Ministry of Youth. The ruling meant the two sports bodies would only have two teams or clubs in the new Iraqi League, with two new clubs Nadi Al-Shurta Al-Riyadhi (“Police Sports Club”) and Nadi Al-Jaish Al-Riyadhi (“Army Sports Club”) founded to play in the new 1974-75 season.

The resolution was met with fierce opposition from the top teams representing the country’s institutions, such as the powerful sports lobbies of the Army and Police, who made several unsuccessful attempts to pressurise the FA from various channels to back down from its decision, but the insistence of the FA members – with full backing of the Ministry of Youth – was resistant to all pressure, and thus for the first time in the history of Iraqi football, an Iraqi league of clubs was introduced, involving ten clubs. Several top teams were renamed or merged and turned into sports clubs. Three provincial teams, Babil (“Babylon”) Sports Club from the province of Babil, Al-Rafidain Sports Club and Samawa Sports Club in Diwaniya province had been sports club from the year they were founded in the Sixties, and were financed by the local governorate administrating the provinces where they were located. The Iraq FA while wanting to follow the leagues in other countries around the world with its decision, failed to look into financial matters of the clubs and club proprietorship of stadiums or match day tickets as a serious source of revenue for the clubs in the league.

The 1974 ruling was merely superficial, with the only change being turning football teams – with no administration or boards – into sports clubs with a board of administration, and introducing the suffix Nadi Al-Riyadhi (“Sports Clubs”) into the Iraqi sports vocabulary. The clubs however remained financially reliant on the state’s ministries as they had been prior to 1974. Over the years the ruling made by the Iraq FA on August 1974 also created a lot of confusion over teams such as Sikak Al-Hadeed and Aliyat Al-Shurta, and whether Al-Zawraa and Al-Shurta were considered extensions of those old teams which had participated in the league formed of Baghdad teams before 1974. Some even state only the names were changed, however these teams mentioned were never merged in 1974 nor were their names ever changed. The history of some of the old teams were never forgotten by their loyal fans, with the names of Al-Bareed (founded 1992), Al-Kahraba (founded 2001), Al-Maslaha Naqil Al-Rakab (founded 2003) and Sikak Al-Hadeed (founded 2011), returning to the sports arena after an absence of almost a quarter of a century.

The 1974 decision some believe cancelled the past history and record of the top teams who participated in the old league administrated by the Central Iraq FA and featured only teams from Baghdad. The Iraq FA considers the 1974-75 season as the first-ever nationwide league and results prior to 1974 to have been scratched from official records, with teams in the leagues or championship only featuring teams from Baghdad. In the Iraqi sports media the leagues or championships prior to 1974 have been labelled as the League of Institutes to differentiate from the Iraq League which started in 1974, however the league at the time had been known under various names from Division One, to the Dawr Al-Mumtaz (“Premier League”), the FA League and even the Honour League. Additionally with the lack of institutional and newspaper archives in the country, very little is known about the history of the teams and leagues prior to 1974 and there is even some debate over what year the Central Iraq FA had formed its first championship. Some regard the first tournament to have started in 1956, however articles from the old English language newspaper The Iraq Times feature reports on a Baghdad League organised by the Central Iraq Football Association from 1948. The set-up of the Iraq Football Association from its inception has also caused confusion or whether the leagues prior to 1974 should be considered national leagues or championship. When the Iraq FA was formed in 1948, it had branches in Basra and Kirkuk, the Basra FA and the Kirkuk FA, and later expanded to Mosul and other liwas or provinces in the country, and each had their own league and cup tournaments. The central Iraq Football Association administered football in Baghdad and represented the country internationally, and so the league or championship while featuring only teams from Baghdad, considered the strongest in Iraq, bore the name of the central Iraq FA. In the Forties and Fifties, there had been a separate tournament named the Iraq Liwa Championship organised by the Central Iraq FA and their branches in Basra and Kirkuk, which featured the select teams of Baghdad, Basra and Kirkuk, with the winner considered the Iraqi champions.

The Baghdad Football League organised by the Central Iraq Football Association. Here is a league table from the early 1950s. Some historians claim the first league format was introduced. However the author has discovered a Baghdad League organised by the Central Iraq FA and leagues in Basra and Kirkuk set-up by the Iraq FA's branches in Basra and Kirkuk.

The Baghdad Football League organised by the Central Iraq Football Association. Here is a league table from the early 1950s. Some Iraqi football historians claim the first league format was introduced in 1961. However the author has discovered a Baghdad League organised by the Central Iraq FA and leagues in Basra and Kirkuk set-up by the Iraq FA’s branches in Basra and Kirkuk, in reports published by the old The Iraq Times newspaper.

Mergers and name changes before the season:

Al-Tayaran

Al-Tayaran in 1975. The team was formed as Al-Quwa Al-Jawiya in 1931 and renamed Al-Tayaran from 1974 to 1991.

Al-Quwa Al-Jawiya (“Air Force”) were founded on the British Airbase RAF Hiniadi in July 1931 and after the decision in 1974 were renamed Nadi Al-Tayaran Al-Riyadhi representing the Civilian Airlines and attached to the country’s Internal Security.

Aliyat Al-Shurta in their famous purple colours. The team formed in 1961 won the FA League formed of Baghdad teams on four occasions.

Aliyat Al-Shurta in their famous purple colours. The team formed in 1961 won the FA League of Baghdad teams on four occasions.

Nadi Al-Shurta Al-Riyadhi (“Police Sports Club”) were founded in 1974 as a new sports club and attached to the Ministry of Interior, however the Iraqi Olympic Committee has the year 1978 registered as its foundation. The first Police team had been formed in November 1932 and for the 1948-49 season, between 1950-1952 and from the 1963-1964 season were renamed Madrasa Al-Shurta (Police School), this team ceased being a team in the top flight in 1965. A second police team Quwa Al-Siyar (Mobile Force) was formed in the Forties and was a founder member of the Iraq FA along with Madrasa Al-Shurta. In 1960 with the foundation of the Police Sports Games Committee, later to become the Directorate of Police Sports Games, new football teams were formed, Shurta Al-Murour (Traffic Police) in 1960, Aliyat Al-Shurta (Police Machinery) in 1961, Al-Tahriyat Al-Janaiya (Criminal Investigations) in 1961, Shurta Al-Najda (Patrol Police) in 1960, Kuliya Al-Shurta (Police College) in 1966. There were also other Police teams in the provinces of Basra, Amarah, Diwaniya, Arbil and Sulimaniya. With the foundation of the Al-Shurta Sports Club, the other Police teams based in Baghdad having lost their licences to play in the Iraq FA League, participated in the Dawr Al-Quwat Al-Masalha (“Armed Forces League”) for the 1974-75 season while Nadi Al-Shurta took part in the Iraqi League. The Directorate of Police Sports Games took exception to the August 1974 ruling and in an act to disrupt the new league and send the message of their disapproval to the authorities decided to form a team of new players who had never played league football. Al-Shurta Sports Club were founded in 1974, however only post-2003 did the club begin to identify 1932 as its year of foundation, despite there never having been a merger of the police teams. The only links between the Police teams of pre-1974 and the new Police Club formed in 1974 was the teams came under the authority of the Directorate of Police Sports Games and the Ministry of Interior and because of this, the current Nadi Al-Shurta has been seen as an extension of the old Police teams. However in football terms, Nadi Al-Shurta, the Al-Shurta side of the 1930s to the 1960s (under the name of Montakhab Al-Shurta or Madrasa Al-Shurta) and Aliyat Al-Shurta are all separate teams.

Shurta Al-Najda (Patrol Police) in the mid-Seventies.

Shurta Al-Najda (Patrol Police) in the mid-Seventies.

The Police Club had begun the new 1974-75 season with a completely new team formed of employees and student officers of the police force, with unknown players such as Fawzi Khalil in goal and Kadhim Hamed, Ibrahim Jejan, Qais Salman and Qasim Karim in defence and a midfield and forward line of Ali Al-Shawi, Jamil Qasim, Saad Mukhlaf, Wahab Abdul-Razzaq, Essam Khalil and Husham Numan. The heavy defeats in their opening two league matches to Al-Muwasalat (0-3) and Al-Naqil (11-0), prompted the Directorate of Police Sports Games to avoid further embarrassment and form a new team of players from Kuliya Al-Shurta and Shurta Al-Najda who were incorporated into the Shurta side however without any players from the top Police team Aliyat Al-Shurta with a view to continuing its protest against the FA’s decision. The team for the remaining matches of the season featured Raad Hammoudi (Kuliya Al-Shurta), Abdul-Amir “Amouri” Dhahir (Shurta Al-Najda), Tahsin Assel (Kuliya Al-Shurta), Adnan Mohammed Ali (Kuliya Al-Shurta), Talib Mutar (Kuliya Al-Shurta), Sami Jassim (Shurta Al-Najda), Jassib Fahad (Kuliya Al-Shurta), Mohammed Hashim (Kuliya Al-Shurta), Hussein Ali (Kuliya Al-Shurta) and Mohammed Mutar (Shurta Al-Najda). At the start of the season Shaker Ismail, the ex-Shurta and Aliyat Al-Shurta winger, was appointed head coach of the new Al-Shurta Club however after the heavy defeats in their first two matches, players from Kuliya Al-Shurta (Police College) and Al-Shurta Al-Najda (Patrol Police) were selected for the remaining matches, with the Kuliya Al-Shurta trainer Younis Hussein, a former Police player in the Fifties and Sixties assigned as coach and the club finished in a respectable fifth place at the end of the season.

Aliyat Al-Shurta with team captain Abid Kadhim, goalkeeper Sattar Khalaf, Douglas Aziz, Riyadh Nouri and Basher Rasheed who was executed in 1978.

Aliyat Al-Shurta with team captain Abid Kadhim, goalkeeper Sattar Khalaf, Douglas Aziz, Riyadh Nouri and Bashar Rasheed who was executed in 1978.

For the 1975-76 season, ten players from Aliyat Al-Shurta team captain Abid Kadhim, Douglas Aziz, Riyadh Nouri, Sabah Hatim, Razzaq Hatim, Jabar Hamed, Ghanim Abdul-Hamed, Essam Khalil, Hadi Al-Janabi and Bashar Rasheed, moved to Al-Shurta. Other players who moved to Al-Shurta Club that same season included Mohammed Tabra from Quwa Al-Siyar and Abdul-Zahra “Zahrawi” Jaber, Hussein Liabi, Yaqoub Hashim and Qasim Mohammed “Abu Hadid” from Shurta Al-Najda. While Nadi Al-Shurta (Police Club) played in the Iraqi League, the other Police teams Aliyat Al-Shurta, Shurta Al-Najda and Kuliya Al-Shurta remained participating in the Armed Forces League and in competitions organised by the Ministry of Interior and later in the Baghdad Police Leagues.

Al-Zawraa players in 1975. From left Ali Kadhim, Thamir Yousef, Falah Hassan and Hazim Jassam.

Al-Zawraa players in 1975. From left Ali Kadhim, Thamir Yousef, Falah Hassan and Hazim Jassam.

Sikak Al-Hadeed (Iron Railway), formed in November 1937 as a social and sports club for employees of the Iraqi State Railway, were renamed Nadi Al-Naqil Al-Riyadhi (“Transport Sports Club”) and attached to the Ministry of Transport. At the end of the 74-75 season, Al-Naqil had no administration and financial backing and were dissolved by the Minister of Transport Adnan Ayoub Sabri Al-Izzi and their players joined newly promoted Nadi Al-Zawraa Al-Riyadhi (Al-Zawraa Sports Club). Al-Zawraa were a sports club founded in June 29, 1969 by the Minister of Transportation Adnan Ayoub Sabri Al-Izzi and featured a board of members from authorities representing the Ministry. The club had been founded as Nadi Al-Muwasalat Al-Riyadhi (“Transportation Sports Club”) and were renamed Al-Zawraa in 1972, and from 1972 in the fourth tier earned three successive promotions to reach the top flight. Al-Zawraa’s squad for the new 75-76 season featured mainly players from the old Al-Naqil team with Jalal Abdul-Rahman in goal, Ibrahim Ali, Ziyad Abdul-Hamed and Ali Hussein Battush in defence and a midfield and attack of Fattah Mohammed, Hassani Alwan, Hazim Jassam, Ali Kadhim, Thamir Yousef and Falah Hassan – who had played one game for Al-Naqil – and was signed after the Iraq FA gave the green light for him to play for Al-Zawraa after the end of his military service after playing for Al-Quwa Al-Jawiya (renamed Al-Tayaran) the previous season. The coach of the side was Saadi Salih with former Al-Naqil head coach Anwar Jassam as his assistant. Al-Zawraa won the Iraqi league in their first season in the top flight, and would go onto dominate Iraqi football throughout the Seventies with Falah Hassan and Ali Kadhim. The old Sikak Hadeed or Al-Naqil Sports Club had been dissolved by the Transport Minister Al-Izzi, the president of Al-Zawraa, with their players joining with the Al-Zawraa squad. It is because of this, that the Al-Zawraa Club is seen as an extension of its predecessor, the old Sikak Al-Hadeed team, with both clubs having a long ties since Al-Zawraa’s formation in 1969 through the Ministry of Transportation however despite this, Al-Zawraa’s founder Adnan Ayoub Sabri Al-Izzi and the club’s first president was clear to point out in his writings published in 1987 that the two teams were formed separately and were never merged in 1975 after Al-Naqil’s players, coaching staff and some administrative members joined Al-Zawraa. Sikak Al-Hadeed were later reformed in April 2010.

The famous army team Al-Farqa Al-Thalatha (Third Division) led by Iraq's national captain Jamil Abbas "Jamoli". The Iraqi centre half won the 1965-66 Baghdad FA League title and retired at the end of the season.

The famous army team Al-Farqa Al-Thalatha (Third Division) led by Iraq’s national captain Jamil Abbas “Jamoli”. The Iraqi centre half won the 1965-66 Baghdad FA League title and retired at the end of the season.

Nadi Al-Jaish Al-Riyadhi (“Army Sports Club”) was founded in 1974 as a new sports club and attached to the Ministry of Defence and according to the Iraqi Olympic Committee were registered as a club in 1980. The Iraqi Army and the Ministry of Defence has a long association with football in the country. In 1926 one of the first army football teams was formed representing the 4th and 6th Regiment (“Fuaj 4 and 6”) and participated in the Casuals Cup and over the years further army teams would be formed, such as the Royal Military School (Madrasa Al-Askariya Al-Maliki) in 1926, the Wireless Radiomen (“Al-Makhabara Al-Lasilki”) in 1929, Air Force (“Al-Quwa Al-Jawiya”) in 1931, the Military College (“Kuliya Al-Askariya) in 1937 and the Royal Guards (“Haris Al-Maliki”) in 1947. Each side was assigned a games or sports officer to train and supervise the teams. In 1959, the Ministry of Defense formed the Army Games Committee which oversaw the administration of the army teams and in 1968, it became the Directorate of Physical Training and Games. From the late Forties, football teams of army divisions around the country were formed, from First Division (“Al-Farqa Al-Awola”) in Diwaniya, Second Division (“Al-Farqa Al-Thaniya”) in Kirkuk, Third Division (“Al-Farqa Al-Thalatha”) initially in Baqouba and then moved to Habbaniya and then Tikrit, Fourth Division (“Al-Farqa Al-Rabaa”) in Ain Zala in Mosul and Fifth Division (“Al-Farqa Al-Khamisa”) in Baghdad. Army teams in liwas or provinces with no branch of the Iraq FA in the province and based close to the Iraqi capital, such as Al-Farqa Al-Thalatha in Habbaniya in Liwa Al-Dulaim (later Anbar province) and Al-Farqa Al-Rabaa when it was based in Habbaniya in the early 1960s, took part in the FA League featuring Baghdad managed by the Central Iraq FA. For the 1972-73 season, the teams were renamed, Al-Farqa Al-Awola to Quwat Abu Obaida, Al-Farqa Al-Thaniya to Quwat Khalid Bin Walid, Al-Farqa Al-Thalatha to Quwat Salah-Al-Deen Al-Ayoubi and Al-Farqa Al-Khamisa to Quwat Mohammed Al-Qasim. For the new 1974-75 season the newly formed Army Sports Club was coached by ex-Al-Quwa Al-Jawiya player Kadhim Jabur and like the Police Club featured army conscripts and players from the weaker Al-Quwa Al-Jawiya B team. Like the teams of the Police, the army teams Quwat Salah-Al-Deen and Quwat Al-Nasr took part in the Armed Forces League in the same 74-75 season while Al-Jaish played in the Iraqi League. The following season the Army Club featured young players from Quwat Salah-Al-Deen and Quwat Al-Nasr (previously known as 10th Division until 1972). In 1976, Nadi Salah-Al-Deen Al-Riyadhi, a new civilian sports club, separate from the namesake army team, was founded in Tikrit and incorporated the head coach and several players of Quwat Salah-Al-Deen (“Salah-Al-Deen Forces”).

Nadi Al-Muwasalat Al-Riyadhi (“Transportation Sports Club”) were formed after the merger of two teams Nadi Al-Minaa Al-Basri (“Basra Port Club”) and Al-Bareed wa Al-Barq (“Post & Telegraph”) attached to the Ministry of Transportation. The Iraqi coach Ammo Baba once stated that the team was one of the Seven Wonders of the World, having been formed from two teams in different cities. Before the start of the 1974-1975 season with the formation of the new Iraqi league, the Iraq FA decided to merge Al-Minaa of Basra and Al-Bareed of Baghdad into one club called Nadi Al-Muwasalat Al-Riyadhi, the two teams had been linked to the Ministry of Transportation. However as there was 550km between the two cities of Basra and Baghdad, Baghdad’s players were trained by Al-Bareed coach Mahmoud Noumas while players based in Basra were coached by Al-Minaa’s Najim Abdullah Al-Azzawi, the same went for matchdays, when games where played in Basra, Al-Azzawi coached the team and vice versa when matches were played in Baghdad. The team included Jalil Hanoon, Razzaq Ahmed, Hadi Ahmed, Sabih Abid Ali, Alaa Ahmed, and Abdul-Hadi Mahdi from Basra and Kadhim Waal, Munaim Jaber, Flaih Hassan and Kadhim Shabib from Baghdad. Despite the problems caused by the long distances between the Baghdad and Basra teams, the team managed to compete with the top teams and crave out some good results as they finished in third place – only three points behind champions Al-Tayaran. Though by the end of the season – the FA’s experiment had come to an end, the team folded and months later the Iraq FA reinstated Al-Minaa under the authority of the Basra Port Authority, however Al-Bareed was disbanded. Al-Minaa had been founded in November 1931 by the Basra Port Authority, whose employers had founded the club.

Al-Maslaha Naqil Al-Rakab in 1966. Formed in 1956 and won the FA Cup Championship in its first season. The team would go onto win a second FA Cup Championship in 1961 and further league titles in 1965 and 1971.

Al-Maslaha Naqil Al-Rakab in 1966. Formed in 1956 the Public Transport Service won the FA Cup Championship in its first season. The team would go onto win a second FA Cup Championship in 1961 and further league titles in 1965 and 1971.

Nadi Al-Baladiyat Al-Riyadhi (“Municipalities Sports Club”) were formed by the merger of Al-Maslaha Naqil Al-Rakab (“Public Transport Service”) and newly promoted Al-Maslaha Esla Al-Mai (“Water Board”) and represented the Baghdad Municipality, which administered the Iraqi capital. Al-Maslaha Naqil Al-Rakab had been formed in 1956 and won the FA Cup Championship in its first season in 1956-57. The Al-Maslaha team would go onto win a second FA Cup Championship in 1961 with Qais Hamed scoring the sole winner in the final, and later won league titles in 1965 and 1971. Esla Al-Mai (“Water Board”) had been formed in 1954 and played in the Division One of the Central FA League (of Baghdad) from 1960 to 1963 and had been promoted back to the top flight in 1974. In 1977, Nadi Amana Al-Riyadhi in the lower divisions merged with Al-Baladiyat and the club took the name of Nadi Amana Al-Riyadhi. Amana Al-Asama (“Capital Mayority”) had been founded on July 1, 1957 representing the Baghdad Mayority, the authority governing the Iraqi capital. After the 1958 Revolution and the overthrow of the monarchy, Amana Al-Asama had players from two other teams incorporated into their football side. The side were trained by the legendary player of the Air Force Nassir “Chico” Yousef and went onto win the 1958-59 FA Cup Championship with players such as Tariq “Jaha” Hassan, Shamil Flaih, Jabar Rashak, Jabar Fatah, Mohammed Ridha and Tariq Mohammed Salih, who scored a penalty in a 1-0 win over Nadi Athori in the final, with the opposition later walking off the field in protest. In 2009, Amana Sports Club was renamed Nadi Baghdad Al-Riyadhi and later in 2014, the name changed once again to Nadi Amana Baghdad Al-Riyadhi.

Al-Kahraba (Electrics) were renamed Nadi Al-Sinaa Al-Riyadhi (“Industry Sports Club”). The club had submitted a request to the Ministry of Industry to play in the name of Al-Sinaa for the new Iraqi league, the campaign for the name change had been led by the deputy minister of Industry Qasim Ahmed. Al-Kahraba had been formed in 1965 and were promoted to Baghdad’s FA League in 1970 and had four seasons in the top flight.

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