This is a very strange and odd book, which – wholly unintentionally, I suspect – makes the case for the Allied war against Saddam’s Iraq far better than George W or Tony Blair ever did.
What is so bizarre is that Freeman genuinely set out to write a book about football in Iraq, before and after the fall of the man with the big moustache, but the narrative continually gets hijacked by stories of threats of torture, and of the real thing. The key villain is not the great man himself but his younger son, the psychopath’s psychopath, Uday Hussein. Uday, at his apogee, was a moron armed with astonishing powers. He could drink, steal or fuck anything he wanted, or else his henchmen would pull your fingernails out. Time and again, the book chronicles how this or that star Iraqi footballer missed a penalty or an obvious chance – and was sent off to be tortured on Uday’s orders. It becomes boring to read, like a history of traffic accidents on the M25, but nevertheless there is a morbid fascination about the constancy of the promise of torture. You can’t write good stuff about drama on the pitch when you know that if the star striker misses a goal somebody’s going to beat the soles of his feet. Terror swamps the story.
Take Habib Ja’far, a tiny ball of aggression, one of the most popular players in Iraq, whose ‘agility, sheer talent and fighting spirit’ made him an outstanding footballer. He told Freeman: ‘once I was jailed for five days because I was sent off in a league match’. When Iraq was