The best day of my life, at least so far, was Azar 8th, 1376 or November 29th 1997. No doubt about it, it was the best day of my life. You might not recall the date, but I am positive that you recall the event.
I didn't got to school that day. I was leaving Iran in 3 weeks, school wasn't important. What WAS important, however, was the match that would start at 12:45 Tehran time. By the end of that match a nation would face the finale of an emotional roller coaster that had lasted for months. Yes, I'm talking about THE match at Melbourne: Iran vs. Australia.
I was a devoted football fan since I was a little kid. My first memory of the national team goes back to the Asian Nations Cup in 1988, in which they finished third thanks to the brilliant young goalie, Ahmad Reza Abedzadeh. In 1990 they won the gold medal in Asian Games in Beijing.
In 1992 they got eliminated in Asian Nations Cup due to a controversial goal by Japan, who were the hosts. In 1993, the national team hit the rock bottom by failing miserably to clinch a berth in USA 1994 World Cup.
In 1994, they performed even worse, and failed to qualify to the second round in the Hiroshima Asian games. This all changed in 1996 by a surprise re-emergence in the Asian Nations Cup, and despite the loss to Saudi Arabia in penalties in the semi-finals, they finished third and performed well. I had lived with this ups and downs. I had counted days, hours and even seconds to the kick-offs (both for the national team and for Persepolis vs. Esteghlal games).
By all means, the campaign to reach the 1998 World Cup was a reflection of Iranian football: meteoric rise followed by a sudden downfall, and an acute persistence of inconsistency. From the dramatic come-back against China in their first game to the inexplicable defeat in the hands of Qatar, the national team had led the nation through a breath-taking joyride. Now, all our eyes were glued to our television sets to see the eventual fate of our team.
I personally, had predicted a 2-0 loss. I had predicted a 1-1 tie in Tehran a week ago and my prediction had come true. The Aussie side was very strong, and our national team had gone through a very tiring campaign. Things didn't look good.
When the match started, the Aussie onslaught began, much worse than my worst nightmare. It was the embodiment of the word “hopelessness”. In the first ten minutes alone, the Australians could have scored half a dozen times. I was at my best friend's home. I remember laughing with sarcasm. When we were down 2-0, my friend asked me if there was any hope. My most optimistic hope was just a consolation goal.
When Bagheri scored the first goal, I thought of it as a consolation goal, indeed. Never the less, I was very very happy that at least we have scored a goal. I remembered that their coach had ordered water to be brought from Australia for the first leg. He had insulted us; Tehranis are very proud of their water. Now that we had scored a goal, I felt that we had scratched the face of their coach in their own turf. We were going down, but at least we had inflicted a wound on them.
But when Azizi rolled the ball swiftly in the goal, everything suddenly changed. Utter disappointment changed to sheer joy. I could not believe what I was seeing. We were 15 minutes from reaching the World Cup. Those 15 minutes, however, seemed to take forever now.
Aussies were on the offensive again, and now all that team melli was doing was clearing the ball and killing time. Ebrahim Tahami, who was being substituted, for instance, stopped in the pitch to tie his shoe-laces as he was leaving. The Hungarian referee, who was quite experienced, cautioned Tahami. As minute 90 approached, the Aussie attack got stronger and stronger.
At this point, my friend was holding my hand tightly. Those were thrilling moments. I still thought that the Australians are going to score.The referee was not going to blow his whistle. Some Aussie hooligan had caused the match to stop for several minutes. It took eight minutes of stoppage time for our extreme anxiety to end. It was the longest stoppage time I had ever seen. It was not going to end.
But when it finally did end, then it was just ecstasy. All of us were running around the house, and shouting in happiness with tear in our eyes. Right after the game ended, we could hear honking cars in the street. We hopped up a friend's pick-up truck and just drove in the streets of Tehran.
Every one was celebrating. I saw a group of street-sweepers waving a flag and expressing their joy as we were driving on a Tehran highway. It was perhaps the first and last time that I had seen any street-sweeper being happy. There were white napkins on cars' wipers; people were giving out sweets, and young girls were waving their scarves in the air.
At one point, I saw a friend of mine in the streets who I hadn't seen for three years. I hugged him as we were watching young boys dancing in the middle of the street. Soon, the streets of the capital was clogged. We were around Parkway crossroads that I decided to get off the back of the pick-up truck and walk home. The traffic was the worst I had seen, and I would get home sooner if I walked.
It took me about an hour and a half or so to walk from there to my home at Mohseni square in Mirdamad street. It was a cold November day, and I wasn't a type of person who would want to party. Instead, when I got home, I turned on the TV and watched the replay. I am a serious football fan, and as I watched that match being replayed again and again, I came to the conclusion that this was simply a miracle. We were very very lucky to win!
But football alone didn't make that day the best day of my life. On that day, people all across the country came into the streets simultaneously and without planning ahead. It was a spontaneous phenomenon. Suddenly, all Iranians were proud, and they celebrated in unison. The unity that was demonstrated on that day made it such a memorable experience for me.
That day, I felt that beneath layer after layer of mistrust, disharmony, division and confusion that has crippled the masses of our country, there still remains a sense of fierce patriotism that could only come to surface under extraordinary circumstances.
In the twentieth century there were three — and a half — such occasions. The Constitutional Revolution of 1906, the oil nationalization movement led by Dr. Mossadegh in 1950's, and the Islamic Revolution of 1979 were the three main occasions. The election of Khatami in 1997 was also similar to the other popular movements, but the change that it brought is smaller in scale compared to the other three, and thus I counted it as a half occasion.
In all these historical events the Iranian people united behind what they believed was a good cause. I don't intend to compare and contrast those massive endeavors nor to evaluate any of them. What I want to stress is that the sense of patriotism exists inside all of us. We just need a strong spark to unite and achieve something big.
As I was walking in the streets of Tehran on that historic day of victory, I was an eye-witness to an overflow of patriotism. Sure, a miracle in the world of sports was needed to make our patriotism come to surface. Never the less, on that day it was proven to me that patriotism in my country hasn't died. It was the best day of my life.