Early History: Soccer in Iran dates back to the early 20th century when early British oil prospectors introduced the game to Bakhtiari tribesman in the south-west of the country (An Article in iranvisitor.com).
The game of soccer was introduced to Iran in the first two decades of the 20th century by British residents and American missionaries. In Tehran the employees of the British legation, the Imperial Bank, and the Indo-Persian Telegraph Company each had a team and competed with each other. In the south of the country engineers in the oil-fields of Abadan and Masjed Solayman played the game too. First the Iranians watched, then they began joining the expatriates’ teams. In the beginning these first Iranian soccer players were sometimes criticized for playing the “infidels’ games” and even pelted with rocks. Later officers of the South Persia Rifles played the game and introduced it to their troops (Houchang Chehabi's Article in Iranica Encyclopedia).
An article published by Wikipedia Enencyclopedia however indicates that, "Soccer was played in Iran as early as 1898, when a team of British residents of Esfahan played a team of Armenians. 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 Soccer 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. The year of 1907 was the year that British Ambassador in Tehran by the name of Cecil Spring-Rice founded Iran's first Soccer Tournament which had only 3 teams Embassy of Great Britain, Imperial Bank of Persia and Indo-European Telegraph Company. In the same year, Tehran Soccer Association Club, an organising body for arranging soccer 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. 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.
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"(Wikipedia Enencyclopedia).
The first Iranian soccer teams were founded after 1910 by US missionaries. Around 1915 Samuel M. Jordan made soccer part of the physical education curriculum of the American College, later named as Alborz College. Other schools imitated the American College, as Iranian modernists came to consider soccer and other team sports a useful means to inculcate Iranians with the value of cooperation, which, in their view, the exercises of the Zoor-Khaneh (traditional gymnasium) neglected. In 1921 the Majma-e tarweej wa taraghi-e football (Association for the promotion and advancement of soccer) was formed under the patronage of Reza Khan-e Sardar Sepah (later Reza Shah); it became the forerunner of the Iranian soccer federation, which joined FIFA, the international governing body of soccer, in 1945 (Houchang Chehabi's Article in Iranica Encyclopedia).
The year of 1920 saw the establishment of Iran's first soccer 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 soccer club (Ferdowsi Club) in Mashhad. During his one year stay in Mashhad, he arranged football matches between the club and the British Consulate-General
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 soccerl match for an Iranian team. This Tehran Selected team was the predecessor of Iran's national soccer 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 soccerl 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.
Although Hossein-Ali Khan Sardar never played for Iranian national team as it didn't get created until 1941, however he was the captain of Tehran XI team that traveled to Baku, USSR in 1926 and also in 1929 when Tehran was host to Baku (Wikipedia Enencyclopedia).
In 1934 the government invited Thomas R. Gibson, a recent graduate of Columbia University, to build up a physical education program for the schools in Iran. Within a few months he set up 24 teams that competed with each other. The sport received an added impetus in 1936, when Crown Prince Mohammad-Reza Pahlavi returned from his studies in Switzerland. At the Rosey School he had been captain of the school’s soccer team, and in Tehran he became captain of the team at the military academy which he attended (Houchang Chehabi's Article in Iranica Encyclopedia).
First head coach of the Iranian national team
Hossein Sadaghiani became active in sharing the knowledge of the game and also with growth of soccer, he became the first head coach of the Iranian national team, who later on went on coaching soccer teams of University of Tehran. The very first match that the Iranian national soccer team played was on August 25, 1941 away at Afghanistan.
In 1942, when the Allied Forces were in Iran, Iran national soccer team defeated a British Military team in a friendly match played in Tehran.
Iran team lineup were: Fathollah Minbashian, Mansour Hajian, Abbas Gharib, Aziz Farzanegan, Abbas Tandidehgar, Jamshid Malekshahi, Bakhtiar, Akbar Toofan, Ahmad Eyzadpanah and two more players. The team's head coach was Hossein Sadaghiani.
British Army lineup included players such as Wilf Mannion, Migger and Bick, Bertie Mee, Jimmy McCabe. Match details as follow:
Date: November, 1942
Result: Iran 1 – British Army 0
Plce: Amjadiyeh Stadium, Tehran
Attendance: 6,500 (Wikipedia Enencyclopedia).
From mid-1940s to the Present Time
Tehran slowly started becoming the soccer capital of Iran, and numerous great clubs emerged from there. Shahin, Oghab, 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.
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 soccer 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 (Wikipedia Enencyclopedia).
In the 1930s Iran’s most successful team was Tehran’s Toofan, but in the 1940s Shahin and Daraii emerged as serious rivals for it. In 1946 Tehran’s cycling club (Bashgah-e Docharkheh Savaran) established a soccer team, which changed its name to Taj in 1949 and replaced Toofan as one of Tehran’s top three clubs. When the owner of Taj, General Parviz Khosravani, used his influence as head of the National Physical Education Organization (Sazman-e melli-e tarbiat-e badan) to dissolve Shahin in 1967, Shahin’s players joined a hitherto minor club, Persepolis. Soon thereafter Daraii was dissolved, leaving Taj and Persepolis to vie for the championship. Their rivalry has marked Iranian soccer ever since, and both teams have commanded the intense loyalty of a large number of fans.
Until the mid-1960s freestyle wrestling was Iran’s most popular sport, and, together with weightlifting, the only one in which Iranian athletes won any international medals. But in 1968 soccer fever reached Iran when the national team beat Israel’s in the finals of the Asian Nation’s Cup in Tehran, soon after which the rivalry between Taj and Persepolis began. In the 1970s a national league, Jam-e Takht-e Jamshid, operated in Iran. In 1978 Iran qualified for the quadrennial World Cup, but was eliminated after the first round. In 1972 and 1976 Iran was Asian champion.
After the revolution, Taj and Persepolis changed their names to Esteghlal and Piroozi, respectively, but only the first name change caught on. The new regime was not well disposed towards soccer. Oppositionalists had accused the Shah’s regime of promoting soccer fever to distract the young from politics. Moreover, the rowdy behavior of fans in Europe and the high prices paid by clubs for star players were seen as evidence for the degeneracy of athletic culture in the West, which was contrasted with the free spirit of chivalry (javan-mardi) that supposedly animated traditional Iranian athletics. All soccer clubs were nationalized, the national league was dissolved, and women were barred from attending matches.
Occasional scuffles at games confirmed the government’s view that soccer fever was counter-revolutionary. After Khomeini’s death in 1989, however, soccer policy was relaxed, and television coverage increased dramatically. In the 1989 the national league was revived as Jam-e Azadegan. Soccer in Khoozestan did not recover from the effects of the war with Iraq, but Azerbaijan and Khorasan emerged as new centers of soccer talent. In November 1997 Iran was qualified for the World Cup again, and the popular enthusiasm generated by the returning team acquired a political dimension when it was linked with support for the recently elected President Mohammad Khatami. During the 1998 World Cup in France, in another game which attracted much attention in view of relations between the two countries, Iran beat the United States 2-1 but did not go on to qualify for the second round (Houchang Chehabi's Article in Iranica Encyclopedia).
Team Melli is in the World Cup for the fourth time in national history after qualifying in 1978, 1998 and 2006. After missing out in 2010, they were one of the first teams to qualify for this 2014 version of the greatest spectacle in sports (Iman Sadri's Article in Iranian.com).
Some Famous Iranian Soccer Players
Karim Zandi, Khan Sardar brothers, Amir-Aslani brothers, Fathollah Minbashian, Mansour Hajian, Abbas Gharib, Aziz Farzanegan, Faramarz Zelli, Biuck Jedikar, Koozehkanani, Dehdari, Boroumand, Reza Vatankhaah, Biuck Vatankhaah, Lavasani, Pourhaidari, Naser Hejazi, Ali Jabaari, Taalebi, Abbas Mojdehi, Masoud Mojdehi, Masoud Moaini, Feraidoon Moaini, Ebrahim Ashtiani, Asghar Sharaf, Karou Haghverdian, Hassan Roushan, Parviz Mazloomi, GholamHossien Mazloomi, Jafar Kashani, Hossein Kalani, Aziz Asli, Mostafa Arab, Homayoon Behzadi, Mehrab Shahrokhi, Ali Parvin, Parviz Ghlich-Khani, Ali Daei, and many others (Various Sources).
Iran World Cup Captains
Ali Parvin: Argentina 1978 - Ahmad Reza Abedzadeh: France 1998 - Ali Daei: Germany 2006 - Javad Nekounam: Brazil 2014 (Wikipedia Enencyclopedia).
About the Iranian Soccer Players in 2014 World Cup, Brazil (in Persian)
The Team of Iranian Soccer Players in 2014 World Cup, Brazil
Goalkeepers: Daniel Davari (Eintracht Braunschweig/GER), Rahman Ahmadi (Sepahan Isfahan), Alireza Haqiqi (Sporting da Covilha/POR)
Defenders: Hossein Mahini (Persepolis), Jalal Hosseini (Persepolis), Amir Hossein Sadeqi (Esteghlal), Hashem Beykzadeh (Esteghlal), Mehrdad Pouladi (Persepolis), Ahmad Alenemeh (Naft Tehran), Pejman Montazeri (Umm Salal SC/QAT), Steven Beitashour (Vancouver Whitecaps FC/CAN), Mohammad Reza Khanzadeh (Zob Ahan Isfahan)
Midfielders: Reza Haghighi (Persepolis), Andranik Teymourian (Esteghlal), Ghasem Hadadifar (Zob Ahan Isfahan), Bakhtiar Rahmani (Foolad), Javad Nekounam (Kuwait SC/KUW), Ehsan Hajsafi (Sepahan Isfahan)
Forwards: Khosrow Heidari (Esteghlal), Karim Ansarifard (Tractor Sazi), Reza Ghoochannejhad (Charlton Athletic/ENG), Alireza Jahanbakhsh (NEC/NED),Masoud Shojaei (UD Las Palmas/ESP), Ashkan Dejagah (Fulham/ENG)
The Coach is Carlos Manuel Brito Leal Queiroz: A Portuguese football manager, a former manager of Real Madrid, and Alex Ferguson's assistant manager at English club Manchester United (Various Sources).
Wishing all the best for the team,
Manouchehr Saadat Noury, PhD