Showdown in Amman
Leave me alone, Team Melli is playing
September 7, 2004
Wednesday September 8 is a date many Iranians have
noted in their diaries for months. It is not the anniversary of
bloody page of Iranian history, nor the day in which some prominent
statesman returned or left the country. It is simply the day
in which it will become clear if the Iranian National Team of
football (better known as Team Melli) will be able to continue
in its quest to join the elites of our planet in Germany's World
Cup 2006. [See persianfootball.com]
The crucial showdown with Jordan will take place
in Amman, and has been preceded by much controversy. Khatami's
pronunciamento that Iran's participation
in the World Cup is "a necessity" has been followed by the forced
reinstatement of every football fan's favourite,
but coach's conundrum, Khodadad Azizi.
Suzuki, as Azizi is affectionately
called by his team mates, has been brought back in an almost
desperate attempt to amend the disastrous 1-0 defeat in Tehran
in the first
leg of the group stage game, which could very well be the deciding
factor in Iran's elimination should the game in Amman end with
anything but an Iran win on Wednesday.
With the return of Vahid
Hashemian fresh from the beginning of his spell as member of the
prestigious Bayern Munich team, all is set for one of the best
attacks Iran has had in recent memory, with the confirmed availability
of marvel Ali Karimi.
Football fever has gripped Iranians worldwide. Restaurants
and other public places with satellite TV at hand are hounded by
of desperate Team Melli fans. Iran Varzeshi, one of Iran's biggest
selling sports papers, has given coverage to the efforts of many
Iranians around the globe to secure a seat for what promises to
be a dramatic night of football.
For two hours, we collectively
forget our adopted or real nationalities and swear allegiance to
a group of youngsters with names so similar to our owns. The Western
girl/boyfriend, or acquaintance will receive a polite but firm
"leave me alone, Team Melli is playing" message.
For many Westerners,
the sight of friends preferring an unfancied game in a dusty Middle
Eastern capital to the art of David Beckham or Zinedine Zidane
(who play at the same time as Iran does in European qualifiers)
will no doubt be unexplainable. At the same time, the American
who will pass in front of one of the many Ir anian food parlours
offering live coverage of the game at the uncanny hour of 5 or
6am will be astounded by the shreiks and shouts of portly Iranians
agonising over live footage of men playing soccer.
For many Iranians living abroad, Team Melli is the
only symbol of their once proud but now hidden nationalism. The
of Iranians, especially those who have seen the light for the first
time in the West, have little but the Team Melli as the link to
their latent motherland. It is the Team Melli that brings Iranians
together for a couple of hours and instills in them that forgetten
sense of belonging to a people and a country far away but ever
so dear in their hearts.
People we would rarely meet or greet during
normal times become as close as lifelong friends during the 90
minutes in which we feel it a duty to clench our fists and gasp
at every enemy offense and rise in triumph at the site of the ball
entering the opponents' net. Mass hysteria erupts if the referee
assigns a red card or worst still a penalty against "bachehaye
ma", and even the most rational minded Iranians gladly buy
i nto the conspiracy theory of the day about how the same referee's
services were bought by the opposing team at the last minutes,
should Iran loose.
We all feel we are playing on that field and
loose and win together with the Team Melli. The angry messages
posted by disappointed fans after a defeat promising to boycott
Team Melli forever turn out to be duds, as the passion for our
team returns unabated at the following game.
From the Iranian
cafes of Los Angeles to the single homes of Iranians scattered
Europe and huddled around a foreign friend's satellite, September
8th 2004 is yet another day in which our Iranian spirit will
either be rinkindled or doused by Team Melli 's performance,
a win of
whom will inevitably make the following shout ring across the
globe: Manam Irani Hastam!
Siavush Randjbar-Daemi is a second generation
Iranian born in London of Iranian parents and resident in Italy.
he prides himself in being a staunch Team Melli supporter and is
a Staff Member of major Iranian football site persianfootball.com.
He also writes on Middle Eastern issues for the Italian monthly