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Diaspora

The game
... that opened the door

By Ali Ardeshir Jowza
October 17, 2003
The Iranian

I had some time before I had to begin cramming for midterms, so I decided to look at and read some of my undergrad papers I had written, just to see how far I had come in my writing style. I I came across this paper I had written in my freshman year of college. After reading it again, it brought back sweet memories, and the message I tried to relay in that paper still resonates strongly.  Thus, I thought to myself that you the readers would enjoy reliving that moment as much as I did.

To better understand my story, one needs a brief history on my ethnic group's history, relating to immigration into the United States and various European nations. Due to the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran, which overthrew a "western" monarchy, many Iranians fled to European countries and to the United States. Some left Iran to flee persecution, some left because everyday freedoms that people take for granted, such as, wearing what you want, freedom of press, speech, etc., were now gone. 

Whatever their grievances with the dictatorial, fascist, theocracy of the Islamic Republic of Iran, millions of Iranians of different political, religious, and social convictions immigrating to various European nations like; Germany, France, and England, while others fled to the United States in areas like; Los Angeles, New York, Washington DC, San Francisco, etc. For my family, because of the revolution, and my dad being linked to the monarchy, we fled Iran. In 1984, to avoid persecution and injustice, we arrived in San Francisco, and have lived in the Bay Area in a small town called Millbrae for nineteen years now. 

Iranians living abroad have always looked back to their homeland and yonder for the time that we may be able to return to a free land. We as a community always cling to whatever stories we hear of our homeland, and rejoice in any accomplishments we make. What had been lacking until the event I'll describe is, we weren't able to celebrate as a whole with Iranians abroad and in Iran.

Eighteen years later, on December 16th, 1997 is where my story comes into play. The time was one in the morning, my father and I left our home in Millbrae said goodbye to my mother and sister, and headed to a sports restaurant/pub to watch a World Cup qualifying soccer game between Iran and Australia. My mother and older sister of three years were too nervous to watch the game, so they left it up to my dad and I to go watch the game, and bring back good news. If Iran could manage to get a tie or beat Australia in Melbourne, then after twenty years our soccer team could re-emerge to show itself as a soccer power in Asia and a world contender. Not only that, but our Iranian national team could once again enter the biggest sporting event in the world. 

Finally after an hour drive, my father and I arrived at our destination, Britannia Arms Pub, it was called. The morning was unusually chilly for Cupertino, so chilly in fact that I ran back to the car to grab my sweater. To our astonishment, about two thousand Iranians had filled the parking lot of the pub. All were waiting their place in line to be let in. My father and I were about the last ones in the tail end of the line so we thought, but as time went on more people arrived so that we were now in the middle of the line. 

The doors of the pub had not yet opened, and wouldn't open until three thirty in the morning. Anxiety and nervousness resounded in my body. I had spent three months following Iran's qualifying campaign and now what stood between Iran and the World Cup to be held in France in the summer of 1998, was this last game between Australia. I quickly found out that I was not the only one anxious, but that every last woman, man, and child had an anxious and nervous expression all over their face. I started to chat with fellow Iranians all around me, some were very nervous like I, others exuberated confidence that we would qualify easily, while others still were not sure what was going to happen. 

Finally the doors opened and after twenty minutes, my father and I were inside the sports pub. The place was already packed when we got in, for the capacity of the pub was only for five hundred people. The manager of the pub however managed to squeeze a thousand in, because he allowed us to stand or sit on the tables as well. My father and I managed to get a seat on a table. The other two thousand who were outside too could see the games, because the manager faced the big screen televisions a little towards the window so that the people outside could see. Not only that, but people had brought radios with them to listen to it as well. 

At last settled in, another ten minutes was left before the starting whistle would blow. Chants of "IRAN, IRAN" already resounded loudly and exuberantly throughout the pub inside and out. To pump up the people, one group would chant, "Iran Chikaresh Mekoneh?" (roughly translating into, ‘What is Iran going to do?" ), and others loudly would chant back, "Sorakh, Sorakhese Mekoneh!" (roughly translating into , "demolish, demolish, the opponent". ) Even before the start of the match, I could already notice that soon I would lose my voice with all the chanting and singing I was doing. My father, too anxious to sing, was sitting quietly waiting for the start.

Bang! The starting whistle blew, and with that my heart raced even faster. To my amazement, Iran from the get go was being totally dominated by Australia in Melbourne, whereas last week in Tehran, Iran had been the dominant one, with Australia lucky to come away with a one to one draw. Twenty minutes passed and Iran was still being man-handled. Luckily, because of our great goalkeeper, the score was still even at zero.

Eventually in the thirty-eighth minute the Australians scored. The pub was dead silent. Heads dropped, and the chanting and singing stopped. The silence was frighteningly calm. I wondered to myself if this spelled the end of Iran's run. Would three months of hard work by our National team be crushed? With that, the first forty-five minutes ended, and the first half came to a halt. With some time to cool off, the singing and chanting once again reached an uproar, signifying that we were confident that our team would come back like it had in previous matches. I too still had confidence in me, but I hoped for the best, and thought of the worst.

Not again? The second half started like the first, with Iran being totally outshined. Before we could settle down, the Australians in the fifth minute of the second half scored a goal. The score now was two to nothing, and with the way our team was playing, all hope had escaped me. I sat down, dazed and sad. I couldn't even watch. My father likewise it seemed had given up hope. He left the pub and went to the car to wait it out, for he was too devastated to watch our team crumble like that. Several times I thought of leaving too, but something held me back, and I was compelled to stay until the very end.

With roughly twenty minutes to go, our team at last started to dominate and was poised to strike. GOOOOALLL!!! In the thirty second minute with about fifteen minutes to go, Iran had scored. The sound inside and out of the pub was deafening. We were alive again. This goal literally, "shook" the pub, and the various chants were now turned into a deafening pitch. The pub was alive again. I was still nervous, and believed that although we had scored, with less than 15 minutes too, it was too late for Iran to tie it. But, before we knew it, GOOOOAAAAALLLLLL!!!!!!!

Five minutes later, Iran scored again to draw even. This goal sent all of us into a frenzy. I was guessing that the sound in and around the pub must have been so loud that we could be heard miles away. All of us inside and out were jumping and dancing. I was on top of a table, jumping up and down, hugging people all around me, and yelling my lungs off. It seemed to me, that the pub was actually rocking with us. 

My father had re-entered the pub, and the owners of the pub(an English couple) were hugging and rejoicing with my dad and the rest of the Iranians. It seemed they too had been overcome with the emotion we Iranians were generating for our beloved nation. Now we had to wait, with what seemed to last an eternity, 5 minutes, plus and excruciating 8 minutes of extra time that the Hungarian referee had added. I remember the whole pub was tense, we were cursing at the referee for all that extra time he had added, our hearts all had stopped, as Australia came with wave after wave of attacks. When it would end, only God knew. 

Bang! The final whistle blew. Iran now qualified for the World Cup, joining thirty one other nations around the world. Inside and outside the pub, old men and women were crying tears of joy, children were laughing, and everywhere around me singing, hugging, and rejoicing was going on. On that day, I must have hugged hundreds of strangers, and slapped five's to hundreds more. After twenty minutes of rejoicing with others, I finally left the pub, to go outside. I noticed that my dad had been told of the news(he had left the pub once again, because he couldn't take the pressure), and a happy glow was about him, it seemed a weight of anxiousness had been lifted out of him, as well as many others. 

My father, it seemed, had finally been re-united with the Iran he knew, adored, and had spent all his life serving, an Iran he had left in tears. Driving back home, my father and I(my voice was almost gone) talked with enthusiasm about what just happened, and the joy we felt with thousands of others inside the pub, and with millions of other Iranians around the world. Finally after twenty years, something good resounded out of Iran that all Iranians could rejoice in. I will remember that day always, for it brought me closer to my people and linked me, as well as millions of others, back home to our motherland of Iran.   

Reading this story, one can tell that it was a huge event not just for me, but for the whole Iranian community living in exile, as it was for Iranians back home. Every time I tell this story to a non-Iranian or even an Iranian, the story gets a bigger significance then I first thought it had. First off, it was significant in terms of exiles such as myself because it allowed us to once again have faith in our country. Prior to this game, I always felt, and believe that most other Iranians living outside of Iran felt that because of this tyrannical regime, we could find nothing to cheer for in terms of Iran. 

It also connected us all in a sense, that whatever religious, or political convictions we held, we all came together for one cause, the cause of cheering for our national team and hoping that after twenty years we can once again be in the world eyes, because as the biggest sporting even in the world ( although in the U.S. it's strangely unknown ) Iran was once again portrayed in a spirited, and kindly fashion. It was the first time in twenty years that all Iranians became a whole hearted community again, and soccer was the uniting tool. It was able to band Iranians in exile with Iranians in Iran, for we all felt the extreme joy.

For the younger generation who like myself briefly lived in Iran, it re-introduced us to our homeland, the land of great Kings, poets, nobles, historians; the land of Cyrus the Great, Ferdowsi, Hafez, Avicenna, Omar Khayem, Rumi..., it would take millions of pages to list the greats of Iran. For the older generation, like my parents, who spent most of their lives in Iran, this game was important because, it brought back wonderful memories of their life in Iran, the great land of Aryans. It installed in them a hope that one day they could go back to the country they left in anguish and force. It appeared that this dictatorial, anti-Iranian regime was slowly losing its grip on the people, and that soon many more celebrations and parties, and sheer joy were still to come.

In terms of me, this soccer game once more awakened my thoughts for my native country. After spending fifteen years of my life in the U.S., I had lost all hope with my country. I could find nothing positive about Iran, and really didn't want to associate with Iranians in Iran, since (although I felt it wasn't the people's fault for living under an oppressed government ), me associating with Iran meant that I supported the regime. I yearned for a day that I might come together with my fellow country men and women to celebrate something, instead of grieving and anguishing over an oppressive government. 

This football game let me realize that the Iranian people in Iran were struggling against all odds to achieve success in the world, and it was the exiles privilege to cheer them on. Not only that, but this game also showed to me that, one must not give up hope on Iran. Indeed my aspiration towards helping heal Iran is greater now then it has ever been.  

Seeing how the people in Iran "partied" for three days in Iran, without the usually brutal government ( which does not allow people to celebrate and party openly for non-religious events ) not being able to suppress it, because they were outnumbered, revitalized my hopes that Iran will improve, and soon a new government will be installed in which democracy shall prevail. 

Ironically, this game made me want to be an International Relations major, so as after achieving my degree I can go help my native land in acquiring the best possible government it can. I wanted to acquire knowledge of the world, and its governments, to try to help implement or give advice on how a new government should be, and the International Relations degree is the way in which one can go about doing that. 

This beautiful story is most likely echoed throughout the Iranian communities all over the world, for millions experienced what I did that day. It will never be forgotten because, it re-introduced to us that Iran still has hope, and that the future holds many bright things for our nation. Although some see it as a football match, I see it as the door that will enable many more great opportunities for Iran as a nation, and eventually this event will be seen as one of many that will lead eventually to the downfall of the Islamic Republic. 

I will forever cherish that day. It's been about six years now and indeed that soccer game was the door of opportunity, because slowly Iran is changing for the better once again. Rediscovery, hope, joy, and unity, are but a few words which come to mind when I think of that glorious day that my Iran was re-introduced to the world.

Author

Ali Ardeshir Jowza is a graduate student at the American University in Washington, DC, pursuing a Masters in International Service (Comparative and Regional Studies-Middle East and Central Asia) and is a Research Analyst at National Institute for Public Policy.

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