AFC WimbledonSport

Family’s struggle in Iraq – including father’s imprisonment and torture – helps drive on AFC Wimbledon new boy Ali Al-Hamadi


AFC Wimbledon’s new signing Ali Al-Hamadi has spoken about how his father’s imprisonment by Iraq dictator Saddam Hussein has helped provide extra motivation in his football career.

The forward was one when he and his mother were forced to flee his native country after war broke out.

Al-Hamadi’s father Ibrahim, who was studying to be a lawyer, had to be left behind after he was jailed after a peaceful protest against Hussein’s regime.

“As I got older, I took a lot of time to just reflect on what my family had really been through,” Al-Hamadi told the South London Press.

“To hear the stories from my father and mother, it gives you that extra drive to appreciate where you are, what you have come from, and also not to let any opportunity pass you by.

“My father has a few scars on his body from when he was tortured in prison – it was the first time he had shown me anything. He used to tell me stories about getting waterboarded and horrible things.

“He showed me the letter that the UK embassy had written to the Iraqi embassy. It said that there was an asylum seeker who has been through a lot, and we needed to let him in this country.

“The first time I read that letter, it was quite emotional. Ever since I read the letter, it has given me a real drive. I’m human, sometimes you can’t be bothered, or you’re not feeling the best, but I always look back to those moments or that hardship to push you through.

Picture by: Chris Thorpe AFC Wimbledon

“I’ll always be in debt to them for the sacrifices they have made for me to get me where I am now. I need to make sure I do my part.”

The family were granted asylum in the UK and settled in Toxteth, with Al-Hamadi playing football in the streets of Liverpool, idolising the Reds and the likes of Luis Suarez, Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres.

“It was tough,” said Al-Hamadi. “Liverpool is a special city with good people – it’s a really good footballing city. But Toxteth was not the best area to live in, so it came with its challenges – diving in with the wrong things or hanging around the wrong people.

“But I have always had a good backbone with my family and my upbringing to help me through that.

“In the end it was just about managing those challenges. Thankfully, it’s paying off.”

Along with securing four A*s, four As and a B in his GCSEs, Al-Hamadi’s footballing career kicked on. He joined Swansea City in 2018 and turned his two-year scholarship into a professional deal.

After just more than a year at Wycombe – with a loan spell with Andy Woodman’s Bromley in between – Al-Hamadi left Adams Park to join the Dons on a permanent deal. He became Johnnie Jackson’s third signing of the January window.

“Seeing the likes of Jack Rudoni and Ayoub Assal go on and do things in the Wimbledon first team is encouraging,” said Al-Hamadi. “The manager really stood out. The gaffer is ambitious. With a bit of time and trust, he can really push Wimbledon in the right direction.”

Picture by: Chris Thorpe AFC Wimbledon

Al-Hamadi spoke with Dons defender Chris Gunter before joining and sought advice from fans’ favourite Adebayo Akinfenwa – an ex-team-mate at Wycombe.

“He was always good with the young players,” said Al-Hamadi of the 40-year-old, who retired from the sport at the end of last season.

“With my time at Wycombe, he helped me a lot, just with the advice and insight he had from playing for so long. He told me it was a really good club to come to and to enjoy my football. He gave rave reviews about the club.

“He said the fans were unbelievable and I saw that the other day in my first game.”

The forward is now a member of Dick Advocaat’s Iraq national side, making five senior appearances for the country of his birth since he made his debut in 2021 in the 1-1 World Cup qualification draw with Syria.

“The first time I made my debut for the national team, that was a huge moment for my family,” said Al-Hamadi.

“To play for the country that you were born in and where your parents grew up and fought for, it was something that I’ll never forget.

“With the good group of young players that we have in Iraq, we can maybe push towards the World Cup next time round.”

Al-Hamadi made his Wimbledon debut in the final 23 minutes of last Saturday’s 0-0 draw with Bradford. The Dons are five points off the play-off spots heading into tomorrow’s clash away to Newport.

“This is no disrespect to Wycombe by any means, but it felt different coming on the pitch [vs Bradford] – you could feel how much the fans care and they love their football club.

“I just can’t wait to get down to playing games and getting into the thick of it.

“Moving in January is tough. I do want to hit the ground running, but at the same time, I am patient with myself and I don’t want to get too ahead of myself.

“But football is ruthless, so with the games coming around fast, I need to be ready for that.

“I’m excited to see what we can achieve this season.”

Main Pic: Lucy Dixon

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