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Last Updated:  Thursday, 3 April, 2003, 22:00 GMT 23:00 UK
Marines taste defeat on football pitch
A member of Juliet Company of the British forces 42 Commando Marines watches one of the local Iraqi players
The game was played in soaring temperatures
UK military forces may be making strides on the battlefield in Iraq, but it was a different story on the soccer pitch for 11 Royal Marines.

The British soldiers suffered defeat on the dusty streets of Umm Khayyal, when they took on the local football team.

A thousand spectators came from all ends of the town to watch the match, with the players wearing full strip, boots and squad numbers.

The home side was rallied to a 9-3 victory by throngs of screaming men and children, who marked out the boundaries of the pitch.

In truth, they thrashed us
Leading Airman Dave Husbands
In the face of such passion, Leading Airman Dave Husbands said the Marines were beaten from the start.

"We turned up to play and there was no one around, just a few kids messing about," he said.

"Then suddenly, out of nowhere, came this kitted-up football team together with a referee and two linesmen.

"The boys thought they must be the Iraqi international side or something. In truth, they thrashed us."

Children chanted

Amid a dusty old market square, 11 of 42 Commando's K Company's finest struggled to gain supremacy in stiflingly hot conditions.

There were no jumpers for goalposts here - even the referee had a whistle and cards in his pocket, two linesmen proudly carried flags.

British Marines versus local Iraqis on the football pitch
At times the action on the pitch was fierce

Hundreds of children chanted, some sporting the red shirts of Manchester United or Arsenal, carrying playing card pictures of David Beckham and David Seaman.

Behind the "pitch" were old defensive military positions, trenches used two weeks ago by the Iraqi army.

By Wednesday they had become dug outs, sand pits for children to play in.

'Mister Beckham'

The Marines' game plan could be described as a game of hustle, bustle and long ball.

While the Umm Khayyal XI made merry, skipping around the robust tackles and passing the ball around with glee.

As the Marines shook the dust from the hair, the throngs of men and children on the sidelines grew as news filtered through the town of the Iraqi triumph.

Locals came by foot, on bicycles and pedal-carts.

Football is their passion and, needless to say, "Mister Beckham", Manchester United's star midfielder, is their man.

Rematch?

"Beckham is best, Beckham is best!" shouted Mohammad, a 21-year-old spectator.

"You need him," replied his friend, pointing to the pitch. "You lose bad."

Meanwhile, the commander of the unit, Lieutenant Colonel Buster Howes, attempted to be magnanimous in defeat.

"We want a rematch," he said with a smile.




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