Baghdad, IRAQ – Christan and Muslim Iraqis mourn the passing of one of their countryman’s sports heroes. Emmanuel Baba Dawud, better known as Ammo Baba (Uncle Father). He was known as the Arab world’s Pele, the “Sheikh of Iraqi coaches”, and a winged angel. He scored the first ever international goal for Iraq against Morocco at the second Pan-Arab Games in Beirut in 1957 and coached the Iraqi national football team to various victories.
Ammo Baba led Iraq to three titles in the Arabian Gulf football tournaments and the gold medal in the 1982 Asian Games in India. He was revered as a hero in his homeland.
Ammo Baba was born in Hinaidi, Baghdad during a time when Muslim and Christian relations were civil. Dawud was a reluctant pupil at the base’s school. “I used to run out of school,” he recalled. “I was very lazy in my lessons, but I was very good at sports.”
So good that, for a time, he held the record as one of Iraq’s fastest 400-metre runners.
Hours spent watching British and Iraqi soldiers playing matches around the base and practicing with his “football”, a sock stuffed with strips of fabric, paid off.
Selected by Iraqi coach Ismail Mohammed, Dawud made his debut with the Iraqi schoolboys in the second Pan-Arab School Championship in Cairo in 1951. For the rest of the decade, he played for the Iraqi Air Force football team, consolidating a reputation as the best forward in the country.
During the ambitious pan-Arab movement, masterminded by Egypt’s Gamal Abdel-Nasser, he was one of two players selected from Iraq to take part in the Arab national team, which proved to be a short-lived exercise.
With regime change in Iraq in 1958, Dawud’s career became less certain, especially after his refusal to join the Baath party in 1964. He moved from club to club, and never quite recovered from a serious injury in 1965. In 1979, he was appointed coach of the Iraqi national team. It was a challenging position that necessitated dealings with the mercurial Uday Hussein, the president’s son and minister of sport, and Dawud was imprisoned on several occasions on spurious charges.
His later years were plagued by diabetes: two toes were amputated and he suffered increasingly from poor vision. Earlier this year, he was diagnosed with prostate cancer.
His wife and son had lived in exile for many years though Dawud himself seldom left Iraq. Latterly, he had devoted his time to developing a football school for underprivileged children in Baghdad.
Emmanuel Baba Dawud was born on Nov 27, 1934. He died on May 27.