Posts tagged ‘Sports’

Chronicling the latest instalment of the Assyrian-Syriac Derby

Prior to kick off:
Despite living in Sydney and hence being thousands of miles away from the action, I was left with the impression that the build-up to this fierce derby was a little more timid than usual.  I quickly attributed this observation to the fact that, with both Assyriska and Syrianska within touching distance of the Holy Grail of football – promotion to the top flight, local bragging rights and the promotion of nationalistic ideals were merely subplots to the bigger scheme of things – the pursuit of three points.  While a derby victory for Syrianska is typically used as propaganda by the separatist pseudo-ethnic Aramean/Syriac faction intertwined within their organisation to iniquitously demarcate an already divided Assyrian nation, the simple sporting objective of progressing upwards in the league table and moving one step closer to promotion was the dominant thought for the vast majority of their Gefe fans.   A victory for Assyriska meanwhile obviously promotes the more mainstream notion of an Assyrian identity, yet in similar fashion this was of little significance to myself and the rest of the mighty Zelge fans who for the past 2 months have watched in dismay as our seemingly triumphant procession to the Allsvenskan has been left in tatters.

In the weeks prior to kick off, there had been serious talk from Assyriska supporters about a boycott of the derby (which eventually came to fruition).  There were two main reasons for this:
–   Protesting against board and sporting committee’s poor handling of transfers both in and out of the club (in particular, the sale of Aziz Corr Nyang to rivals GIF Sundsvall midway through the season)
–   The simple fact that some did not want to provide a single Krona (Swedish currency) to Syrianska’s coffers.

The result of this was a dishearteningly small presence of Assyriska supporters in the stadium (approximately 2,000 compared to Syrianska’s 4,900+).  As such, we were heavily outnumbered and the Zelge fans were accused of “abandoning” their team.

Did I mention Assyriska had fired their coach Roberth Johansson just days before the derby and new coach Conny Karlsson had the luxury of a grand total of 4 days to prepare his team for the match?

The 90+6 minutes:

First half
As usual, thanks to the dismal state of cable internet in Australia (which is about 300 years behind the developed world), the match resembled a slideshow for basically the entire first half.  The commentary, however, could be heard perfectly and as such I was leaping with unexpected joy when I heard “Llumnicaaaaa” *insert Swedish word for goal* and “Assyriskaaaa *some other Swedish words*”.  A quick check of the livescores confirmed that I wasn’t dreaming – Assyriska were off to the greatest of starts with a goal barely after kick off (4 minutes to be exact).

You could hear the euphoria among the brave group of Zelge fans present in the stadium, chanting “Tihe Assyriska” in delirium.  All week, I was stressing to mostly indifferent and uninterested souls about our new coach, what he had previously achieved with Assyriska (Swedish Cup final in 2003) and how common it is for a team to suddenly embark on a winning run when a new coach is appointed.  For once, my foresight proved to actually manifest to reality (the opposite tends to always happen). The generally cagey, feisty and messy nature of the first half added infinite importance to the early goal. Subconsciously, although we continued to attack, playing a stylish and attractive game, I felt this goal could be enough to win the match.

Syrianska were stunned by this early uppercut, and Assyriska dominated the opening periods. Like I said, it was a cagey start, but not without chances. Llumnica found himself through one-on-one, but with all the time in the world to round the keeper or conjure up a simple lob, he timidly sidefooted the ball straight into the arms of Syrianska’s relieved goalkeeper. A glorious chance wasted, but the only time Llumnica put a foot wrong in the derby.

In their only chance of the half, Syrianska’s leading scorer Michael Mensah went close, nodding a free header wide after a delightful cross from the left. Not much else occurred of note, other than some tasty challenges by a fired up Assyriska team – such as Llumnica hacking down an Syrianska player just over the halfway line, luckily escaping with only a gult kort (yellow card).  Trying to outdo Assyriska’s Albanian striker, Philip Bergman (or was it Lorentzson?) left Robert Massi lying in a painful heap after a ball-and-all tackle for which the referee erroneously awarded a free kick. Massi spent the rest of the first half limping and looking helpless, summoning all of his energy and creative wit to pulling painful facial expressions for the camera in an unsuccessful attempt at detracting from the reality that Assyriska were simply playing at another level.

Second half
Mysteriously, the entire second half streamed perfectly on my computer, much to the detriment of my heart given the relentless drama that would follow.  The pendulum of momentum swayed furiously.  A few minutes into the second half, and merely seconds after Goran Marklund sent a shot in the general direction of Syrianska goalkeeper Frealdsson, Bergman put his body on the line to block a goal-bound effort deep in the Assyriska box at the other end.  Meanwhile Eddie Moussa, the only Assyrian in the Assyriska starting XI, breathlessly charged up and down the right wing like a bull chasing the blood of his arch nemesis – the matador – continuing in this fashion right up until he was substituted.  Eddie was a vivid example of the passion and fight Assyriska supporters had been calling for from the players all week.  Moments later I and begin questioning the sanity of the referee and his assistants as Llumnica is taken out by a messy sliding tackle in the box.  The Syrianska defender anticipated a corner, Assyriska demanded a penalty, but the referee awarded a goal kick to everybody’s bemusement. Madness.

A few more moments later, and Goran Marklund is put clean through on goal by a long ball from Bergman, and after shrugging off a petty Syrianska marker, smashes a left foot volley goalwards, only for it to be repelled by a solid Frealdsson.  Around the 57th minute Eddie Moussa cements himself into Assyriska folklore by tripping/kicking an unfortunately positioned Syrianska player miles off the ball. Although the referee was oblivious to this, Eddie in all his excitement failed to consider the presence of the linesman (about 3 metres away from the incident) and duly received a yellow ticket for his moment of genius.

By about the 58th minute, I began to notice the match heading down the path of the first half – scrappy, tense and devoid of any real tempo. Proving me inevitably wrong was General Marklund in the 62nd minute, wasting a glorious chance to put the game away. Nafver, having a fine game on the left wing, delivered a pinpoint cross to the far post for a patiently waiting Marklund, only for captain fantastic, with the goal at his mercy, to head wide past the far post. At this point I was beginning to worry. Wasted chances are always an ominous signal of things to come, especially when you’re Assyriska. Tiago Fereira replaced Marklund in the 68th minute, and it took him less than 60 seconds to display his class, delightfully lobbing the ball to an onrushing Nafver, who expressed his gratitude by volleying wide (clearly intending not to out-do Tiago’s fine pass). My heart rate suddenly doubled.

Syrianska’s best chance hitherto went to Mensah, whose header was closer to the local kebab shop outside the stadium than the goal. Syrianska were being blanketed by Assyriska’s high intensity pressing and aggressive tackling, with only Robert Massi possessing the quality to find some room and threaten our defense, which he occasionally did to his credit.

The game’s dynamics changed completely after about the 70th minute mark however. We officially stopped offering any sort of attacking play, with Syrianska initiating an all-out siege on our goal.  With Zatara and Kunic withdrawn, Syrianska’s supporters began looking forlorn (no really they were, I didn’t just add that for rhyming purposes). They seemed amazed that their incessant “Suryoyo” chant wasn’t having the desired effect on the players (nonetheless, they kept at it to their credit and despite its obvious ineffectuality). For the last 20 minutes plus injury time Syrianska would threaten our goal at unhealthy levels (unhealthy if you are an Assyriska fan).

Christoforidis, on for the useless Zatara in the 62nd minute, threatened to single-handedly change the game and thus alter the universe beyond restoration. I refer to the 73rd minute and minutes that followed, in particular, where he was twice put clean through on goal, only for the linesman to rule that he was offside on both occasions (the second was clearly onside).  It was probably three times actually, but I don’t recall as I was recovering from a heart attack and the witnessing of my life flashing before my eyes.  By the 76th minute I was adamant that mountainous Assyriska goalkeeper Oscar Berglund would not be breached.

Syrianska continued to pile on the pressure, forcing Assyriska to summon super-human levels of courage and determination to keep the ball from breaching the wall and turning a momentous victory into a monumental disaster.  Lions against crows – such bravery in the face of a dark enemy hasn’t been seen on the pitch since…..never!

The infinitely dangerous Christoforidis was denied by the Great Wall of Nineveh, Oscar Berglund, in the 81st minute and this was followed by Mensah somehow shooting wide from 20 yards. Something happened after that but I simply cannot remember as I was recovering from heart attack #2. Oscar Berglund saved us again in the 87th minute, this time after a powerful drive from substitute Kanga. From the subsequent corner and ensuing goalmouth scramble, I experience heart attack #3. By this point, the Zelge supporters were going ballistic, with Tiago acting as the chief cheerleader, prematurely gesturing to the Assyriska faithful to get the party started despite the small matter of the match not being over quite yet.

The 4th official indicated a minimum of 3 minutes of time to be added on, but some feigning of injuries (by us) and cruel luck (for us) meant that the game would only be over after an additional 3 minutes on top.  In the midst of this 6 minutes of additional time (I cannot recall the exact point) something happened – the heart surgeons of Sodertalje suddenly began gearing up and Sodertalje’s suicide hotline operators stood by for an influx of calls (ok, maybe that was an exaggeration) – as Syrianska’s Denis Velic struck the Assyriska crossbar with a header from a corner or cross or something along those lines. The ball looped over the helpless Berglund (the rarest of sights) almost in slow motion, bounced off the cross bar and into the welcoming feet of an Assyriska defender who was able to clear the ball to safety. It was clear – our goal was leading a charmed life, and no Syrianska player was destined to score today. Assyriska held on for a remarkable and heroic derby victory (after losing the last three). Although Syrianska played well for the final 20 minutes and probably deserved something out of this game, the callous nature of history means that only the result will be remembered in the annals of time.

Cue the “Tihe Assyriska” chant to be repeated ad nauseum.

The Aftermath
The jovial feeling of once again being the “big brother” in Sodertalje was cruelly dashed with the revelation that that some wretched individuals had set fire to Assyriska Association’s Headquarters (club house, offices, function room) causing serious damage to the property.  Dosens of firefighters worked tirelessly in the early hours of the morning to contain the blaze, thankfully managing to prevent the entire complex from ruin.

Of course, I am not going to suggest that Syrianska supporters are responsible for this pathetic crime – that is for the police investigation to decide.  However, I will reiterate that us educated and enlightened Assyriska supporters were hardly surprised something even as malicious as this has happened directly after defeating Syrianska in the derby (the fire started merely hours after the official post-derby celebrations involving the supporters and players no less) for their supporters are generally a violent and unruly set of uneducated clowns notorious for taking defeat like a child being deprived of his favourite toy (oops, did I just inadvertently suggest that Syrianska supporters are responsible for this pathetic crime?).  Justice will be done, and the true face of Syrianska will be revealed to the world.

Long live Assyrians & AssyriskaFF – for we stand for peace and truth, while our evil adversaries aim for nothing other than desolation and ignorance.

By Luka the Assyriska Blogger.


Assyriska FC vs. Assyrian Church of the East

You could argue that the ‘Assyrian Church of the East’, and although not as a corporation, is the richest Assyrian entity in the world.  It has millions of dollars flowing in its coffers every year, Sunday after Sunday.  Assyrian Aid Society and other political movements such as Zowaa, through the contributions of their members, could come second.But what about ‘Assyriska’? Could it rival the Assyrian Church in being the richest Assyrian entity out there in terms of revenue from its followers and fans? It very much could be!  With it being the only and most recognized international Assyrian team, they could be sitting on a goldmine.   Realizing that and actually leveraging it is a whole different story.

With TV rights, ticket sales, merchandise and more, Assyriska could very well be the richest Assyrian corporation out there (profit or non- for profit.) So many Assyrians are dying to get their hands on one of their jerseys, caps and other apparels.  Assyrians from all over the world, whether they belong to the Assyrian church of the East, or any other church, are in love with this team.  So while not suggesting their followers could outnumber those of the ACOE, but for the purpose of statistics and analysis, it is just interesting to make note of these comparatives between the two.

Assyriska though, compared to the Assyrian Church of the East, is less organized and exploitive of making money from its followers.  And we don’t mean to suggest that any of the two entities are or should be extracting money illegally or unethically from their members.  But if you have a following as big as these two do, and if revenues are needed to keep your operations going, then why not?

I bet some of you are still wondering why I would even write such an article and make this absurd comparison? This is more than just a comparison.  It is also a contrast between the two.  By comparing and contrasting the two entities and how they are operated, we may be able to learn a thing or two about how to run a business a little more efficiently.  Sure the church is not a business, but since money is involved, it is similar to a business; although not in terms of profits.  Assyriska could and should learn a thing or two from the ACOE.  And while we wish both of them to get as much money as they can to keep their operations going, Assyriska is the one that should put a better effort in doing this.  They are sitting on a goldmine. They are our Real Madrid.  Not sure if they realize this, as much as the ACOE realizes it is our own Vatican.

We have narrowed it down to the question: Vatican vs. Real Madrid, who has more following and who generates more money?


An Iraqi Assyrian Soccer Legend has Passed Away: Ammo Baba (1934-2009)

He was regarded as the best coach in the history of Iraqi soccer. More than that, he is credited with taking Iraqi soccer to the next level, and bringing many cups and titles to the country. He is Ammo Baba (officially Emmanuel Baba Dawud) and with heavy hearts we received the news of his death, at the age of 75, after a long battle with illness.

Ammo Baba, who began his career as a player and later as a coach, is one of the most recognized faces, not only for the Assyrian or Iraqi people, but the entire Arab world.  His presence behind the Iraqi team bench was enough to put fear in the hearts of the opponents, which no wonder helped the Iraqi national team win many Arab, Asian and international titles under his coaching.    In fact, his name was so big and respected in Iraq, even the notorious Uday, the son of Saddaam Hussien, would listen to him and obey his final instructions regarding team formations and planning.   Now that is pretty special for a Christian, let alone an Assyrian Christian!

All of which explains why this is such a big loss for the Assyrian, Iraqi and the footballing world in general. He is, with no dispute, the best Iraqi coach in the 20th century, and his record speaks for itself.  As an Assyrian, he has been one of the most popular and recognized personalities in the last 50 years,  if not more popular than such recognized names as Mar Dinkha, Evin Agassi, Agha Petros, Younadam Kanna and others. To be put in the same category as these names says a lot about Ammo Baba.

To read more about this legend and his career, visit one of the following websites:

Preparations are already under way by the Iraqi government to stage a big and national funeral for him, at the famous ‘People’s Stadium’ in Baghdad, a place where Ammo Baba coached thousands of games and players, for close to 4 decades.

As Assyrians, and despite this being a sad moment and great loss, we should still use Ammo’s death to remind Iraqis and others in the region about what Assyrians have given to their country of Iraq. And what better example to demonstrate this loyalty than the great legend? He gave Iraq everything he can, and did everything in his power to keep Iraqi soccer on top of the Arab and Asian world.  Despite being of a very old generation, his ideas were still quiet applicable to today’s fast-paced and athletic soccer.

It is my hope that Iraqis and the Iraqi government in particular recognizes his Assyrian identity, and on the least, put an Assyrian flag on his coffin, beside an Iraqi flag of course.  That wouldn’t be much to ask for.  Realizing that the news of his death and coverage of his funeral will be all over the region, putting an Assyrian flag would send a very powerful message.  A message of appreciation and recognition.

May your soul rest in peace.  With every ball kicked in any Iraqi soccer field, you will be remembered.  That is how great your impact has been.

You truly are ‘the father of all coaches’

You have worked hard enough, and now is time to rest in peace.


An Assyrian Plays a Big Role in Canada’s Third Best Olympics Ever

Canadians should be thankful for what this Assyrian has helped Canada accomplish at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.  Meet Helena Guergis, an Assyrian woman in charge of Canada’s Secretary of State for sports.  She just assumed her post within the last 12 months, and is one of the main reasons why Canada just finished the Olympic games in Beijing as their third best ever.

Said Chris Rudge, COC chief executive officer and secretary general: “The Harper government came through in a big way for us, especially Secretary of State (Sport) Helena Guergis who showed great leadership in bringing the needs of summer sport to the House of Commons.” This is in references to the new funding formula that Canadian athletes will start to receive, starting from this very Beijing 2008 summer Olympics. As a result, this has translated in Canada’s third best performance at all Olympics (non-boycotted), ever!

According to the Canadian Olympic Committee, the new funding, which has become a reality under the leadership of the honorable Helena Guergis, will provide: $8 million in 2008-09, $16 million in 2009-10 and, most importantly, $24 million each year after that – in perpetuity – for the RTE program. In the end, the program could receive far more than the $150 million over five years for which the COC was advocating.

At the start of the Olympics, and for one whole week, Canada received zero medals. Canadians, including myself, grew very tired and frustrated at this weak and pathetic Canadian display at the Olympics. In fact, at first, I was going to write the very same essay, but with a negative theme about Helena Guergis’ partial role in such a lackluster display. It was very embarrassing to see countries such as Uzbekistan, Togo, Tunisia and others with medals, and nothing for us to show. Now that the Olympics are over, Canada has 18 medals, including 3 gold, 8 silver, and 6 bronze, putting it in the 13th position of countries with most medals. In fact, at the start of the Olympics, CBC had an interview with Ms. Guergis, and she was quiet confident that Canadian athletes would deliver. However, I was very skeptical myself. But boy was she right or what!

Looking ahead to the winter Olympics in 2010, which will be hosted by Vancouver of all places, Canada has a new initiative in place: “Own the Podium” The aim of this initiative is to put Canada on the top of the medal standings. With the games being played in our own backyard, and given the realistic and serious demands of this program, the honorable Helena Guergis will be even harder at work to make Canadians proud. And Assyrians too!


What if Assyrians had their Own Soccer Team?

Having followed the entire Euro Cup 2008, I can’t help but feel some envy when seeing other nations’ flags being waved and flown all over the place. Even in North America, thousands of miles away from the action, people are very passionate about their teams and the players that represent their nations. Can’t really say the same for Assyrians, doesn’t matter what the competition is; Euro Cup, Asia Cup, World Cup, Copa America etc. Assyrians don’t have a team to begin with, so no tournament will give them any consolation.

Of course, for those living in countries that have teams representing them in these tournaments, they may feel allegiance to their host country’s team. An Assyrian living in Australia, would support the Australian team. An Assyrian living in Holland, would support the Dutch team, and so on. Obviously, there are those who have lived in Iraq for most of their lives, and they feel a natural inclination and duty to support the Iraqi national team, a team they have grown up watching and following. However, and talking to a lot of Assyrians, you just sense that something is missing. The loyalty is just not very genuine or sincere. Only an Assyrian team would get their absolute loyalty and fulfill their nationalistic desires.

No Country? No Problem!

Assyriska is our only true international professional team, and it is no wonder that it has the following of hundreds of thousands of Assyrians worldwide. But that is just a club, and not a national team. A national team can only be had if a country named Assyria exists; which it doesn’t. So, do we wait till the day we have our own country, before we can have a team to cheer for? not necessarily. I believe it is time Assyrians put their own team together, even if they are not an independent nation, and remain a part of Iraq. Just look at the Kurds, they have had their own team, that is separate from the national Iraqi team, for a few years now. This team represents the region of Kurdistan in various competitions, albeit not official ones. One such tournament is the VIVA World Cup.

VIVA Assyria at VIVA World Cup!

From July 7 to Jul 13, 5 teams will compete in the the second VIVA World Cup in Sweden, with the winner receiving the Nelson Mandela Trophy. What is interesting and significant about the participating teams, is that they are mostly from non-independent groups and nations, including Kurdistan. Wouldn’t this be the perfect place for Assyrians to start with their own team? An Assyrian team from Iraq can easily be assembled and sent to this tournament, with the help of sponsors and other groups from abroad. The mere thought of an Assyrian team playing, with hundreds of fans cheering and waving our flags, is enough to send chills down our spines. Now imagine the real thing, with our team meeting their Kurdistan counterpart in the final game and beating them. What a great source of pride would that be? Soccer after all has united nations and people in the past, and brought peace to many, so it is only natural that it does the same for us as people.

Many logistical and organizational obstacles will have to be ironed out before such a team can be assembled. Who would be the coach? would it be one of our Assyrian legends like Ammo Baba, Douglas Aziz, Ayoub Odisho, Sadi Toma? or would it be a young local coach? who would sponsor the team? where would the players be selected from? would they be from Northern Iraq where the majority of Assyrians live? or would it be a selection from Assyrians living in Iraq, Syria, Iran, Lebanon etc. To tackle such obstacles, it is important to start from a select team of local players, and expand it later. This could be a big success in the future, and organize their own international tours to cities where Assyrians reside.

The Symbolism and Magic of Soccer

Assyrians shouldn’t wait for a state before they can have their own team. FIFA may not accept us as an official member, and that is expected of course. But who cares? we are not aspiring for such big demands and recognition for now. It is all in the symbolism for now. Soccer has an amazing power, and an Assyrian team would only help our cause and make us more known to the world. Viva Assyria!