Behind Amjadieh

The following is the last part of a story about playing soccer in the the middle of the streets of Tehran. The original text was written in Persian for a high school composition class in 1971 in Iran. Amjadieh is the name of the oldest football stadium in the heart of Tehran. It is no longer in active use because most soccer games are now held in the 100,000-seat Azadi (Liberty) Stadium.

We were scheduled to take an Algebra test on a particular Tuesday afternoon. Our teacher had called in sick that day. He was a college student accustomed to skipping more classes than his own students! We had been orchestrating a critical match for some time. The absence of the teacher meant the game could be scheduled for that very afternoon. The anticipation of a cheerful and competitive game was the source of great excitement.

Before we were released from class, Mr. Tabrizi summoned all of us in the school yard. In a grave tone that was typical of him, he shared the news of the Algebra teacher's illness. This meant we were being released early today. He asked us to take advantage of the additional time to better prepare for the test.

Mr. Tabrizi also made sure to emphasize that this free time was not to be wasted aimlessly and idly on the streets. He had no tolerance for such behavior. None what-so-ever! In order to catch and discipline those of us too unruly to obey, he had planted a number of informers.

Although the nodding of our heads in unison acknowledged Mr. Tabrizi's sermon, our collective eyes were fixed on Naser the Bear. He had actually concealed the ball under his big overcoat!
One deep look into the students' eyes and one knew for sure that Mr. Tabrizi's array of barked orders were not sinking in. Our thoughts were racing toward the game and its final outcome. We all seemed genuinely in awe of Mr. Tabrizi and respectful of his orders. We somehow managed to keep a straight face and actually look quite innocent.

Mr. Tabrizi continued his tirade by mentioning the neighbors' complaints. He threatened to personally expel anyone caught playing football on the street. He wanted us to go straight home like well-behaved students. In order to lend credence to his threats, Mr. Tabrizi chose to direct his attention toward one of the students by the name of Amir Aslani. This one happened to be our goalkeeper.

He told Amir that such games were not tolerated at all! Amir assumed one of his most innocent looks, and in his squeaky adolescent voice, he replied that he did not even know how to play football. Hardly able to keep ourselves from bursting into laughter, we filed out of the school premises one by one. Only a few short steps away from school and we were already engaged in jokes about Mr. Tabrizi. That always brought general laughter as we proceeded behind Amjadieh in perfect formation, like a military platoon.

The goal posts were set within seconds, the ball pressure was inspected and approved by Naser the Bear, and a few rocks were collected from the middle of the street in order to clear the surface completely. What a great joy!

All the players seemed to be getting ready for a life-or-death battle. My friend Hasanpoor hung his jacket on an old hook on a neighbor's wall. I laid my books to rest inside the opening of a cement streetlight. My other friend Farzin was tucking his pants into his socks in a rather hasty manner. The game began in earnest. The thought of school and Mr. Tabrizi's so-called speech were soon left behind. Our concentration was mobilized toward the championship. We were on a winning streak.

The game was approaching its end, when I suddenly noticed a white car veering into the street. My heart skipped a beat as soon as it dawned on me this was none other than Mr. Tabrizi's old VW bug!

All I could muster was a distress call to my partners in crime: “Hey guys! It's Mr. Tabrizi. Scram! Get the hell out of here!” Suddenly hell broke loose. We had been ambushed. Everyone started making a run for it and dispersing like retreating infantry. Mr. Tabrizi parked his car swiftly. He jumped out and began grabing anyone who crossed his path. All this was done while reciting a string of his all too familiar abusive verse.

Farzin, a usually shy boy, opted to run downhill while holding his books in front of his face. He was intent on maintaining his anonymity. I found the situation extremely awkward. I decided to abandon my books, and dive into the empty and narrow canal as if my life depended on it. And being a veteran recipient of Mr. Tabrizi's wrath, my life did in fact depend on it.

As far as poor Amir was concerned, he was captured by Mr. Tabrizi. He was now a prisoner of war. Fortunately for me, the noise of the copious beatings he was in the process of receiving from Mr. Tabrizi was louder than the drum-like sound of my own heart.

“You scum of a liar! Is this how you keep your promises? Didn't I order you not to play football?”

“Sir, I'm so sorry. I didn't mean to do that. See, I didn't want to play, but these guys forced me!”

Amir's words were still ringing in my ears, when I finally gathered the courage to make a run for it. I could not stay there all night! I sprung from my ditch and made a dash toward the end of the street. I pretended to be Jesse Owens, the Olympic runner I had admired on television a few years back.

Once I was near the end of the street, I ran into a co-conspirator who had suffered a near-miss situation as well. We spent the remainder of the way speculating the identity of the snitch who had ratted on us to Mr. Tabrizi. It was getting dark and I bid good-bye to my friend at one of the intersections, each of us continuing toward his home.

I was in the process of masterminding an excuse for my tardiness. My books were left behind and I had to come up with a credible story about their absence. I was certain that this would tip off my parents. I reached the front door of our house. I rang the bell and the gate was opened by the electric door opener. So far so good. As I was about to enter, I ran into my older brother, who was obviously waiting for me in the hallway.

Before I had a chance to muster a word, I felt his leather belt descending on me, showering me with an abundance of lashes. I don't recall how many! The lashes left instant painful marks on my back. The intense and burning sensation made me twist like a snake. I was too stunned to think straight. As if this corporal punishment were not enough, my face was slapped with a blow so hard, I'm certain it must have been heard by all the neighbors.

I'm counting my blessings today that I did not end up swallowing my teeth in the process. I spent the entire night in physical pain over my own injuries, and in agony over the fate of my fellow team-mates.

It took all the strength and courage I had to show up at school the following day. It would have been simply easier to vanish from the planet. Before the start of our first class, Mr. Tabrizi lined us up in the school yard. He performed the authorized punishment — lashing the back of our hands with a twig he had reserved for special occasions such as this. Naser the Bear was the only person who skipped punishment. The lucky devil had the foresight of calling in sick and not showing up for a whole week!

We were done. This episode marked the end of the Behind-Amjadieh Era. It was just not the same anymore. Everyday, Mr. Tabrizi patrolled the streets, cruising in his beat-up white VW. His objective was to suppress further development of our football ambitions.

However, Mr. Tabrizi was not successful in every aspect of his militant endeavor. He was not able to erase the myth. “Behind Amjadieh” will spread by the word of mouth and by future generations. In fact, many similar situations like ours remain to be discovered. In Tehran alone, there are so many alleys and deserted streets that one can never keep track of the exact number of playgrounds.

Over time, no one will have the strength to prevent us from pursuing our dream. We will play our games and continue to do so for as long as we can. No one. Not Mr. Tabrizi, not the snitches who tipped him off, not even my brother, who proudly believes he had frightened me for good. We will continue to play “Behind Amjadieh”, wherever in the world we may be.

The world is filled with the likes of Mr. Tabrizi. They come and go. They do not leave their marks behind. One militant cold-hearted school superintendent can always be replaced by another. Even we will vanish some day and be replaced by our children.

But what will always remain is the perseverance of Iranian youth. They will pursue their dream and never cease to play and practice. They will turn places like Behind Amjadieh into playing fields in order to fulfill their aspirations. Some day, someone will care enough about them and provide desperately needed facilities. THE END
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