Wrestling is still the most traditional sport in Iran, and until 70s the most popular, too: about forty years ago football has started his ascension, catching attention and supporters. Every year you can find a combo of wrestling and football passions in Iranian people, when in Tehran they fight to find a ticket of the Shahravard, that means the Tehran derby.
I didn’t know that the Iranians are so passionate about the game
said Carlos Queiroz after one year as Team Melli head coach; in an interview with Footballasia, the Portuguese added: –
I was completely surprised when I saw Azadi stadium with 90,000 people there to see a league game.
«Abì-t e ya ghermèze-t e?» that sounds like «Is it your blue or red?»
This is the first question, and – be careful! – could be the last one, since your interlocutor may become your friend or may be disappointed by your answer: someone will invite you for an Iranian tasty dinner with all his family; someone else will make fun of you due to your inflection. Why? The reason is that colour identifies your favourite team: red Persepolis or blue Esteghlal. You can compare this situation with wearing an ethnic, political, religious, symbol since you will see 100,000 supporters chanting inside Azadi Stadium during the derby between Abi-ha (Blues) and Ghermez-ha (Reds), meanwhile 20,000 people will be waiting outside because of sold-out.
Today we will see a new match between Persepolis and Esteghlal at 2:30 p.m. CEST, on 6th week of the current Persian Gulf Pro League, that will be the 83rd Tehran derby.
At the beginning, in 60s, the game was played at Amjadiyeh (now Shahid Shiroudi) stadium between Shahin and Taj. Shahin (“hawk”) were very popular among Iranian fans, so that football federation of Iran declared the team dissolved in 1967. Taj name means “crown”, so they were admired by the monarchy establishment: after revolution in 1979 the club was renamed to Esteghlal (“independence”).
The dissolution of Shahin helped Persepolis to become the most famous team of Iran, because nearly all of the players came from Shahin. The Reds became the rivals of Taj, and in 70s faced the Blues in the new Azadi stadium: both clubs won Takht-e-Jamshid Cup, the national league. Their talents were called up by Heshmat Mohajerani, the Team Melli head coach, and reached the first FIFA World Cup qualification in 1978: from Taj, legendary goalkeeper Hejazi, striker Rowshan, defenders Danaeifard and Eskandarian (his son Alecko played in DC United and Chivas); from Persepolis, playmaker Ali Parvin and midfielder Ghelichkhani, the latter had won three Asian Cups but was excluded from Argentina ’78 squad, due to his involvement in political activities against shah.
Persepolis became Piroozi (“victory”) after the revolution, since it was the name of Persian ancient Achaemenid empire: recently the traditional name was permitted, although the official name is Piroozi.
After the Iraq-Iran war, in 90s football league and Shahravard started again to summon the fans, not just inside Azadi stadium.
Thanks to satellite Iranian National television broadcasted live the match, watched by many Iranians from abroad, especially from North America and Europe. Both teams received sponsorship by Asian big companies such as Samsung, Canon and LG: their billboards surrounded the pitch in the same way you can see in AFC Champions League knock-out rounds. Shahravard has become the most important derby in Asia, followed by millions of football passionates from Middle East to Indonesia.
On the other side, the match caused disorders in the ground and in the city: pitch invasions, hooliganism on the bleachers and in the streets.
After a match in 1995, football federation of Iran decided that Tehran derbies should be refereed by non-Iranian officials in order to calm down the players and to avoid any pressure by media and supporters: in about 10 years referees arrived from Germany, Spain, Italy, and other countries.
But in the 49th derby, on 29 December 2000, it took place the worst episode: Esteghlal goalkeeper Broumand punched in the face his opponent Rafat, and then the same did Persepolis midfielder Hamid Reza Estili (who scored against USA in France ’98) with Navazi, starting a massive fight. Broumand, Estili and Navazi were sent to jail for three nights, the Blues goalkeeper was initially suspended for 18 months, and lost his starting place. Hooligans destroyed 250 buses and smashed a lot of shops.
Recently the two squads use to have dinner together the night before the match, in order to facilitate fairplay and prevent new hooligans episodes.
In addition, Iranian officials have again the possibility to referee the Shahravard: this time will be Alireza Faghani, who refeered the men’s Olympic football final at Rio 2016, considered the best among his colleagues in Iran.