An obituary with a tenuous link to football: Arsenal fan and global terrorist Osama Bin Laden

The death of one of the most famous faces around the world has dominated news coverage over the past week.

Terrorist Osama Bin Laden, who was top of the US’ “most wanted” list and is believed to have ordered the attacks on New York and Washington on 11 September 2001 and a number of others, was assassinated by US Navy Seals on Monday.

Having hidden from view for ten years following the attacks on America, his killing has created a media storm that has thankfully kicked aside the coverage of a wedding between two hideously rich people.

The impact the terrorist made on the world has been scrutinised and analysed in the press over the past few days, but rarely has his tenuous link to football been mentioned.

Yeh sure, The Sun has taken peculiar delight in the banal story of children kicking footballs over the 15ft high walls that surrounded Bin Laden’s compound and the how the terrorist allegedly kept them – presumably so he could play his beloved game.

But, the fact that The Sun neglected to add a question mark to their headline, is not the most pressing issue in the terrorist’s association with the beautiful game.

In fact his union with football goes further, as according to Adam Robinson’s biography of the former al-Qaeda leader, entitled Behind the Mask of Terror, (below right) the terrorist was allegedly an Arsenal fan.

Yes, the man known for a fondness of arms was also and quite fittingly a Gunner. When he was living in London he reportedly attended matches at Highbury, in particular during their victorious European Cup Winners’ Cup campaign of the 1993-94 season and he allegedly bought an Ian Wright replica shirt for one of his sons.

Some might have been fearful of having a terrorist amongst their midst, but fan’s website Arseblog are clearly lovers of all supporters, no matter what their profession.

The club were understandably less hospitable.

“We’ve seen the reports in the papers. Clearly he wouldn’t be welcome at Highbury in the future,” a club spokesman told BBC Sport.

In the wake of the terrorist’s death former colleagues, associates and school friends have emerged to talk about the horrific impact that the former al-Qaeda leader had on the world, and of course his association with football.

Childhood pal Khaled Batarfi told the Mirror: “In summer, early in the morning, after mosque, we’d come together to play football. We would argue amongst ourselves – ‘this was a foul, that was a goal’. He was the only one who wouldn’t argue, wouldn’t fight. He would play just for the pleasure, but he refused to get into any argument with any of us.”

It’s unclear whether that was the first memory of the terrorist that popped into Mr Batarfi’s mind, but it’s equally vivid as anything that’s been portrayed of him elsewhere.

The fact a terrorist enjoys the everyday delights of football seems at odds with someone who is universally known for mass slaughter. What next? People will be saying he was a considerate man who brought tuna and cheese sandwiches to games for other players and enjoyed pleasantries such as lunchtime cakes.

“When they played soccer, Osama would bring along tuna and cheese sandwiches for the other players, even on days when he was fasting” claimed Lawrence Wright’s book The Looming Towers (left).

The author continued: “His commitment and composure commanded respect. Out of modesty, he stopped wearing regular soccer shorts and took to playing in long pants. In deference to his beliefs, the other players followed suit.

“They would often go to play in the poorer districts of Jeddah. During lunch, even if he was fasting, Osama would divide his team-mates into different groups, named after companions of the Prophet, and quiz them on the Quran. ‘The Abu Bakr group wins,’ he would exclaim. ‘Now, let’s have cakes.’”

John Spurling’s book Death Or Glory: The Dark History Of The World Cup (right) places Bin Laden in more familiar terrorist shoes.

The book alleges al-Qaeda planned to use an affiliated Algerian Islamist terrorist organization, the Armed Islamic Group, to stage attack during England’s 1998 World Cup match with Tunisia in Marseilles, which has a large Arab population.

Another al-Qaeda member, Ahmed Zaoui, revealed in the book: “The Sheikh, may God bless him, asks that we observe the movements of David Seaman, the goalkeeper, Alan Shearer, the most famous player, and the trainer, Hoddle. Also, thanks be to God, his attention has been drawn to two younger players who are becoming well known, David Beckham and Michael Owen…we suggest that the point man for the mission should make his way to Seaman and blow himself up. This will be the signal for the other Brothers to start the rest of the operation.”

Bin Laden’s death will only serve to heighten the fervour with which conspiracy theorists spout such ideas about the terrorist, knowing that irrefutable evidence to the contrary is unlikely to emerge, although whether or not he used to hang with 2Pac (left) is questionable.

The truth about the mass murderers pass times are unlikely to be revealed in any great hurry, as other aspects of the terrorists life may be deemed more important, but his association with football will remain an amusing side note to a life that was dominated by unbelievable terror.

Tags: , , , , Arsenal, Premier League

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dawleylad 29 May 2011 at 4:13pm

That had to be the most one sided Champions League final ever.

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