Football in Iran

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Azadi Football Stadium is the biggest venue for Iranian football (soccer). It is also the world's 3rd largest soccer stadium.

Football in Iran is quite possibly the most popular sport, with only wrestling and volleyball being able to match its popularity. Football has been a part of life for Iranians for many decades now and is played in schools, alleys, streets and football clubs nationwide.

History of football in Iran[edit]

A female fan of Iran national football team, watching the match against Angola

Football was played in Iran as early as 1898, when a team of British residents of Esfahan played a team of Armenians.[1] In south western Iran the game was introduced in 1907 by British sailors and workers. At that time they were working at port cities Bushehr, Khorramshahr, Bandar Abbas and major oil refineries such as Abadan and Masjed Soleiman in the province of Khuzestan, the latter area even boasting a football league. The local Iranian employees of the company first looked on, and then began replacing individual players on the teams, until they formed their own teams. These young Iranian football players met some hostility from their social environment for participating in the games of the "infidels," and were at times beaten up and pelted with stones.

1907 was the year that British Ambassador in Tehran by the name of Cecil Spring-Rice founded Iran's first Football Tournament which had only 3 teams Embassy of Great Britain, Imperial Bank of Persia and Indo-European Telegraph Company.

In the same year, Tehran Football Association Club, an organising body for arranging football matches was established. However all teams were made up of British residents of Tehran, although when teams didn't have enough players they sometimes chose Iranian bystanders to come on the field and play. The first Iranian player was Karim Zandi who played from 1908 to 1916. He was the reason other Iranians became motivated and interested in the sport. It became every young Iranian's dream to play alongside these British residents of Tehran. All matches were played at around Mashq Square.

In 1910, Samuel M. Jordan, the principal of American School (currently known as Alborz High School) in Tehran, introduced football as part of the school's curriculum. Four years later 1914, start of World War I put an end to these football matches and football programs.

Elsewhere in the south of Iran, (i.e. cities such as Shiraz) football was introduced by the British officers of the South Persia Rifles (1916–1921) to the Iranian troops they commanded, who then spread the game among the population. Post-Great War (in 1918) saw football matches recommence in Tehran. Then two years later, in 1920, a number of Iranian and British football enthusiasts founded the Iranian Football Association (Majmaa-i Football-i Iran) to encourage Iranian players and to popularize the game. The director of the Imperial Bank of Persia, James McMurray, became its president, and he was assisted by the legation doctor, A.R. Neligan; they each donated a cup to be awarded to winning teams.

Whilst the same year (i.e. 1920) saw the establishment of Iran's first football club called Iran Club. Soon after the alumni of American College and the students of School of Political Science also formed teams. The Iran Club squad consisted of Karim Zandi, Khan Sardar brothers, Amir-Aslani brothers, Mohammad Ali Shokooh, Azizollah Afkkhami, Reza Kalantar, Sheybani, Hasan Meftah, Herand, Galustyan, Khajeh-Noori, Reza Rabizadeh,Hambarson,Ashrafi. This group of players won the Tehran Association Cup in 1923. In the same year a new club was established called Tehran Club, this followed by creation of Armenian Sports Club and Toofan Club, and in 1925 Tehran Club reached the final and defeated British Select Team of Tehran 2-1.

Also in the Post-Great War period, some footballers who played abroad such as Hossein Sadaghiani and Khan-Sardar brothers who played in Belgian Football Leagues returned to Iran. Hossein Sadaghiani for instance after returning to Iran temporarily from Europe, helped to establish the first football club(Ferdowsi Club) in Mashhad. During his one year stay in Mashhad, he arranged football matches between the club and the British Consulate-General. Prior to that, in Mashhad football was only played by foreign residents specially the employees of the Telegraph Office and the British Consulate-General.

To sum up, the British presence in Iran was instrumental in popularizing football in Iran, but other Westerners, like the Americans and the French, also furthered its popularity through the schools they established. In places that had not entertained a significant foreign presence, such as Ardabil, it seems that the game was introduced in the 1920s by young men who had spent some time in the Caucasus.[2]

The Predecessor of Iran national football team[edit]

Tehran XI[edit]

In 1926 Tehran XI (selected players from Tehran Club, Toofan F.C. and Armenian Sports Club) traveled across the border to Baku, USSR, this was the first away football match for an Iranian team. This Tehran Select team is the predecessor of Iran's national football team.

In 1929 it was time for a return visit, and so a team from Baku was invited to play in Tehran in late November. To impress the visitors, grass had been planted on the state-owned football field. The last of the three games, all of which were won by the visitors, was attended by Abdolhossein Teymourtash, the powerful minister of court. The humiliating defeats, suffered on home ground, caused great consternation,so much so that some young men gave up football altogether. In subsequent years the interest in football waned, and newspapers hardly reported on those matches that did take place. However, all this changed with the return of crown prince Mohammad Reza Pahlavi from Switzerland in 1936 and arrival of Thomas R Gibson in the 1930s to promote the game.

  • Squad:
Hossein-Ali Khan Sardar(Goalkeeper, captain) Ahmad-Ali Khan Sardar Mohammad-Ali Khan Sardar Hossein Sadaghiani Karim Zandi
Hasan Meftah Ali Kani Mohammad Ali Shokooh Amir Aslani Aziz Eqtedar
Akbar Heydari Herand Galusetiyan Naser Enshaa Reza Qoli Kalantar Azizollah Afkhami

The results were as follow:

# Date Opponent Result Score Venue Competition
1 Autumn 1926 Transcaucasian Socialist Federative Soviet Republic Baku XI L 0-2 Baku, Transcaucasian SFSR, USSR Friendly
2 Autumn 1926 Transcaucasian Socialist Federative Soviet Republic Azerbaijan Polytechnical Institute D 0-0 Baku, Transcaucasian SFSR, USSR Friendly
3 Autumn 1926 Transcaucasian Socialist Federative Soviet Republic Baku Youth XI L 3-4 Baku, Transcaucasian SFSR, USSR Friendly
4 Autumn 1926 Transcaucasian Socialist Federative Soviet Republic Taraqi Baku L 1-3 Baku, Transcaucasian SFSR, USSR Friendly
5 Nov 1929 Transcaucasian Socialist Federative Soviet Republic Baku XI L 0-4 Tehran, Iran Friendly
6 Nov 1929 Transcaucasian Socialist Federative Soviet Republic Baku XI L 1-4 Tehran, Iran Friendly
7 Nov 1929 Transcaucasian Socialist Federative Soviet Republic Baku XI L 0-11 Tehran, Iran Friendly

World War Two period[edit]

One man can be remembered, who contributed to Iranian football during the post–World War One period. Hossein Sadaghiani became active in sharing the knowledge of the game and also with growth of football, he became the first head coach of the Iranian national team, who later on went on coaching football teams of University of Tehran. The very first match that the Iranian national football team played was on August 25, 1941 away at Afghanistan.

In 1942, when the Allied Forces were in Iran, Iran national football team defeated a British Military XI team in a friendly match played in Tehran. Match details as follow:

November, 1942
00:00 UTC-3
Iran Iran 1 – 0 United Kingdom British Army XI Football Team
Izadpanah Goal ?'[3] [Report]
Amjadiyeh Stadium, Tehran
Attendance: 6,500[4]

Iran team lineup were: Fathollah Minbashian, Mansour Hajian, Abbas Qarib, Aziz Farzanegan, Abbas Tandidehgar, Jamshid Malekshahi, Bakhtiar, Akbar Toofan, Ahmad Izadpanah and 2 more players. The team's head coach was Hossein Sadaghiani.

British Army XI lineup included players such as Wilf Mannion, Migger and Bick,[5] Bertie Mee, Jimmy McCabe.

Post–World War period[edit]

Teams from Khuzestan were always the most successful was the powerhouse the 50's and early 60's, but the game had become very popular in Iran by then. Tehran slowly started becoming the football capital of Iran, and numerous great clubs emerged from there. Shahin FC, Oghab FC, and Taj, were all Tehran teams established in the mid-1940s which even to this day have a great following. As the number of club teams increased the need for a national league became apparent, and ever since 1960, with the exception of a few years, a nationwide football league has existed in Iran. The Takhte Jamshid Cup, Azadegan League and the IPL being the most important ones.

The first two decades of international football for Iran was uneventful, but the 60's and 70's was when Iran established itself as one of Asia's top sides.

A football field in Tehran

They won the Asian Cup in 1968, 1972 and 1976, the 1974 Asian Games football tournament, qualified for the 1964, 1972, 1976 and 1980 Olympic Games and most importantly qualified for World Cup 1978 in Argentina. The Iranian Revolution and the Iran–Iraq War soon occurred and football was downplayed, but the national team has made a comeback in recent years, qualifying for the 1998 Football World Cup and recording their first win ever in World Cup (against the United States) and also qualifying for the 2006 tournament in Germany.

Football structure[edit]

The league and national team are administrated by the Iranian FA known as the I.R.I.F.F. The I.R.I.F.F has also been a member of FIFA since 1945 and the Asian Football Confederation since 1958. The Federation receives most of its budget from the Iranian government's Physical Education Department, and also from sponsorships with various companies.

League system[edit]

The current structure has been in place since 2001. The Iran Premier League (IPL) is the highest level of club football in Iran. It is also called the Persian Gulf Cup. Below it is the Azadegan League, also known as the 1st division, which consists of two twelve-team groups. One level further down from that is the 2nd division which is made up of 28 teams evenly distributed into two groups. One step down, and the final nation-wide league, is the 3rd division. This level has eight groups and 45 teams. Each groups contains teams that are located in the same area of the nation. The final level of the football system consists of 28 provincial leagues. Local teams from each province participate in these leagues, and some of the leagues are divided into further divisions.

The system works with a promotion-relegation system, meaning that a team from the lowest level of the system can make it to the top level after a number of years. The number of teams in each league often changes from season to season, due to the lack of any professional management in the lower levels of the system. Currently the IPL is the only league that is considered professional, despite many of its rules about club facilities and management being broken. It is not uncommon for teams in the lower levels of the system to change team names because of sponsorship issues or for teams to completely withdraw from a competition.

The top four levels of the system are managed by the Iranian football federation, while the bottom level leagues are managed by their respective provincial football committee.

Major arenas[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Sport: The First Five Millennia, By Allen Guttmann, p.235
  2. ^ (Chehabi, H. E.)
  3. ^ "de beste bron van informatie over ورزشی. Deze website is te koop!". parssport.ir. Retrieved 2011-08-09. 
  4. ^ "de beste bron van informatie over ورزشی. Deze website is te koop!". parssport.ir. Retrieved 2011-08-09. 
  5. ^ "آشنایی با تاریخچه فوتبال در ایران". Hamshahrionline.ir. Retrieved 2011-08-09. 

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