The Assyrian Wizard: Youra Eshaya Pera
Posted: Monday, August 27, 2001 at 06:10 PM CT
Youra Eshaya Pera, was a strong, skillful playmaker, with magnificent stamina. He was the undoubted star and leader on the field whether playing for Iraq or for “Al Jawiya”, capable of having a shot at goal one minute and tracking back to help out the defence the next, to slide tackle an opponent near his own penalty area. Youra was “total football” even before the term had been invented, one moment he would be defending in his own penalty area, the next he would be organising his midfield, the next scoring from the edge of the opponents' six-yard box. The Iraqi international maintained his extraordinary stamina through his cross-country running. The talented Assyrian forward was one of the most outstanding Iraqi players of all time, a tactically astute dribbler with an instinctive eye for goal.
Youra was born in Iran in 1933, one of six children of Eshaya Pera and Batishwa Benyamin. During the mid-30s his family moved to Iraq and settled in Maharatha Lines in Hinaidi in the outskirts of Baghdad, where Youra's father found work in a NAAFI (Navy, Army & Air Force Institutes) canteen, a commercial supply corporation for the British Military Services. In 1937 the family then moved to Habbaniya along with the rest of the Hinaidi Assyrian and Armenian civilians and the Assyrian Levies employed by the Royal Air Force. Youra started playing football at Raabi Yacoub’s R.A.F. Union School in Habbaniya, kicking a tennis ball around the playground and neighbourhood with his schoolmates. The youngster played for his school team and was hardly into his teens when observant eyes began to notice him giving Captain Aram Karam, an Iraqi international, no choice but to select him to play for his Levy Civilian team at the age of 15. During the same season, Youra also captained the junior team of the R.A.F. Employees' (Assyrian) Club, which won the R.A.F. F.A. Youth Cup. Realising his talent and potential, the Employees' Club snatched him for the following season, where he helped the club to the R.A.F. F.A. League and Knock out alongside Captain Hormis Goriel and the Shimson Shallou brothers Sargis and William.
During his time at the Habbaniya based club, Youra, made a big impact, making a reputation for himself as one of the clubs best attacking players and also their irrepressible prodigy and matchwinner during the early 50s. With Hormis Goriel as Captain, the team dominated during the clubs short-lived existence, from its foundation in the late 40s until the mid-1950s. A year after making his debut for the Employees’ Club, he was selected to represent the C.C. team (Civil Cantonment), a select team that represented people living on the Civil Cantonment in Habbaniya, the team played with Iraq's elite clubs such as Baghdad based teams Police Club (Al Shourta), Royal Iraqi Air Force FC (Al Quwa Al Jawiya Al Malikiya Al Irakiya) and the Royal Guards (Haris Al Maliki) and featured players like Edison Eshaya, Aram Karam, Ammo Samson, Youel Gorgis, Zia Shawel and was Captained by Employees’ Club Captain Hormis Goriel.
In April 1953, Youra hit a hat-trick for an Iraqi Command team, made up of players from R.A.F. players from Iraq and the C.C. select team of Habbaniya against an all-professional Canal Zone side from the Suez Canal in Egypt. In the crowd was a Bristol Rovers Football scout, Flight Lieutenant R.K. Weston, a Command Transport pilot shuttling between Britain and the Middle East. He was so impressed by Youra’s performance in the game, that he offered him a trial at the Football League club. The manager of Bristol Rovers Football Club Bert Tann, who was usually against bringing in foreign talent into the English game was gradually persuaded to give Youra a chance by the pilot, R.K Weston and a group of R.A.F officers at Habbaniya. The R.A.F. officers at Habbaniya chipped into help Youra with his expenses, when the travel arrangements were made.
In August 1954, Youra left for England, through Marseilles, France, to make a name for himself in English football league, giving him the chance to grace a bigger stage where he could parade his wide range of goal scoring and creating skills. At the age of 19 (that was the age he said he was but he was actually 21), Youra became the first Iraqi and Assyrian footballer to play in Europe and also the first player from the Middle East to play in Europe after being signed-up by English 2nd Division side Bristol Rovers, who were first known as the Black Arabs (because the team wore black shirts) when the club was first founded in 1883 then later known as Eastville Rovers.
After a chaotic arrival after getting lost at Victoria station in London, where he was supposed to have been greeted by a man from a travel agency to escort him to Paddington to catch a train to Temple Meads in Bristol. But the man managed to miss him in the crowd! .Youra finally arrived at the club on the 26th August 1954, and made his debut for the Rovers 3rd team, known as the Bristol Rovers Colts, in a 1-0 away defeat to Portland United, 2 days later. As Youra was only admitted on a one-month work-permit, he was ordered home by the Home Office, after his second one-month extension ran out. The "Go Home" order to Youra in October 1954 after only 8 games for the Bristol Rovers 3rd team created an uproar in both the press and the football circles. The Bristol Rovers club and the local newspaper Bristol Evening World enlisted the help of members of parliament. The Rovers manager Bert Tann saw Sir Walter Monkton, Minister of Labour and MP for Bristol West, and Mr. W. A. Wilkins, another MP and a football fan, both of whom had a talk with the Home Secretary to help Youra stay in England. The Home Secretary finally agreed to let Youra stay permanently and play football and was also granted employment by the National Coal Board and he started working as a miner at Pensford Colliery, Somerset, on November 7, 1954.
Youra played for Bristol Rovers Colts in the Western League, the clubs 3rd team made up of inexperienced young players where the players were given time to develop their skills and talent before they were released to explode into the Football League, to play for the first team. He played as an amateur because he was not allowed by the Football Association to play as a paid professional until he had had at least two years' qualified residency in England. In a short time, the clubs officials were delighted by Youra’s performances and future potential, even though some thought his 5’4 build might be a problem. He quickly proved his worth and was promoted to the Rovers reserves, their 2nd team after a scoring his first goal in his 14 appearance for the Colts, in a 4-2 win over the Bath City reserves on the 11th December at the Douglas Sports stadium, the Colts home stadium. On the 18th December, he made his debut in a 4-3 win over the Watford reserves and his second appearance for the reserves on the 25th December against the Fulham reserves, helping the team to a 2-1 win. These were the only appearances, he made for the reserves in the Football Combination League, but he also made one appearance, scoring a goal in a 4-3 friendly win over Paulton Rovers in September 1955. Youra continued to play for the Colts scoring 3 goals in 22 games in the Western League, and also made an appearance in the Western League Cup in a 1-1 draw with the Gloucester City reserves during the 1954/55 season. In his 2nd season in England, Youra made 4 appearances for the Colts scoring 1 goal.
Youra decided to return to home after 16 months in England. He was persuaded to return after "come-back-home" pleas by his family and by the Royal Iraqi Air Force Commander, Brigadier Kadhum Abbadi, who offered to obtain for Youra and his family members Iraqi naturalisation and a place for him on the Force as a warrant officer provided he play for the Royal Iraqi Air Force FC (Al Quwa Al Jawiya Al Malikiya Al Irakiya). Youra and his family members were Iranian subjects, and obtaining Iraqi naturalisation wasn't a particularly easy procedure. At first Youra resisted, but finally relented and returned home to Baghdad in December 1955, after making his last appearance for Bristol Rovers Colts in the 3-1 win over Frome Town on the 10th December, only months short of his eligibility to play professional football in England and a month before Bristol Rovers most historic victory beating the great “Busby Babes” Manchester United managed by the legendary Scot Matt Busby 4-0 in the F.A. Cup 3rd round. Within a short time, the President of the Air Force Club Brigadier Abbadi arranged for Youra and his family’s papers to be processed and Youra was admitted to the Air Force as a warrant officer and joined the Royal Iraqi Air Force FC, later known as Air Force FC after the 1958 revolution.
Youra was called up into the Iraqi national team soon after returning, making his debut in January 1956 in a 6-0 win over Mersden Club of Turkey. The game was broadcasted live over Baghdad radio and was watched by tens of thousands of fans, all waiting in anticipation for the arrival of the little Assyrian wizard, who had come all the way from England. Royal Guard star forward Ammo Baba hit a hat trick in the game, as Youra in his 1st game for Iraq helped overrun their opponents. A week later, Youra orchestrated a 5-3 win over Tehran Select in the Scouts stadium in Baghdad with Ammo Baba scoring 4 goals.
On the 20th June 1956, Youra played for the Assyrian Combined team against Taj Club of Iran alongside Royal Guard (Haris Al Maliki) forward Ammo Baba, Iraqi Petrol Company of Kirkuk duo Youaresh Isaac and Captain Aram Karam, Public Transport Service FC(Al Maslaha Naqil Al Rakab) players Youel Gorgis, Hormis Goriel and the Shimson Shallou brothers Sargis and William and goalkeeper Mohammad Thamir, the only Arab in the team and Youra’s Royal Iraqi Air Force FC(Al Quwa Al Jawiya Al Malkiya Al Irakiya) team-mates Edison Eshaya and Ammo Samson. The Assyrian team organised by the Assyrian Sports Club(Al Nadi Athori Al Riyadha) of Baghdad, won 5-3 with a hat-trick from Aram Karam. The eventful game ended in as the Iranians walked off the pitch at the protest of the 5th goal being allowed to stand, only a few minutes before the end of the game. Youra played a number of times for the team in Iraq and abroad during 1956 and 1957 playing in the return game against Taj Club in Tehran, where the Assyrians lost to the Iranians and in Beirut, Lebanon against Racing Club.
Youra represented Iraq in a number of tournaments in North Africa, Europe and the Middle East, playing in a team including Jalil Shahaib, Hamed Fawzi, Jabar Reshak, Abbas Hamadi, Hisham Atta Ajaj, Kadhum ”Zawiya” Mahmoud, Edison Eshaya and Ammo Baba. Due to political problems involving Israel, which restricted the development of Iraqi international and domestic football, many Iraqi players such as Youra, Ammo Baba and Hisham Atta Ajaj were all prevented from making a name for themselves in World Cups, Asian Games and many other competitions due to the Iraqi F.A. withdrawing from international or club competitions involving Israeli teams, this international isolation which involved all the Arab countries and also the Muslim countries in East Asia, began in the 1950s and lasted until the mid-70s, when Israel left the Asian Football Association. Youra was one of the most talked about players in Iraq due to his unique talent and ability, which he displayed week in and week out for both his club Al Quwa Al Jawiya and the Iraqi national team. He was more of a creative player than a natural out and out goalscorer, who helped a successful Al Quwa Al Jawiya side to obtain a cabinet full of Iraqi Cups and League Championships during the mid-Fifties and through the 60s.
In 1971, Youra was suspended from the Air Force after marrying a Swedish women, this was because the Iraqi Baath Government had introduced new laws forbidding Iraqi military men marrying foreign women from non-Arab countries. Youra was later "unfrozen" and transferred to the Habbaniya air base, which had been controlled by Iraq since 1955, working as a sports officer to coach and oversee the training of military sportsmen. Realising his playing days were over, he resigned from his post shortly after. A year later, Youra emigrated to Gothenburg, Sweden, where he took up coaching youngsters, while bringing up three children, Magdalina (b.1973), Maria (b.1977) and Younis (b.1979) with his wife Elizabeth. Youra passed away on July 21, 1992 at the age of 59, when he collapsed and died of a heart attack while coaching a group of Assyrian youngsters.