Football (Soccer) in Iran
Football 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 football 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. These young Iranian football players met some hostility from their social environment for participating in the games of the “infidels,” and were at times beaten up and pelted with stones. In 1907, British Ambassador in Tehran Cecil Spring Rice founded Iran’s first Football Tournament which had only 3 teams: Embassy of Great Britain, Imperial Bank of Persia and Indo-European Telegraph Company.
In the same year, Tehran Football Association Club, an organizing body for arranging football 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. 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.
In 1910, Samuel M. Jordan, the principal of American School (currently known as Alborz High School) in Tehran, introduced football as part of the school’s curriculum. Four years later 1914, start of World War I put an end to these football matches and football programs. 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. Post-Great War (in 1918) saw football matches recommence in Tehran. Then two years later, in 1920, a number of Iranian and British football enthusiasts founded the Iranian Football Association (Majmaa-i Football-i Iran) to encourage Iranian players and to popularize the game. The director of the Imperial Bank of Persia, James McMurray, became its president, and he was assisted by the legation doctor, A.R. Neligan; they each donated a cup to be awarded to winning teams. Whilst the same year (i.e. 1920) saw the establishment of Iran’s first football 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 football club (Ferdowsi Club) in Mashhad. During his one-year stay in Mashhad, he arranged football matches between the club and the British Consulate-General. Prior to that, in Mashhad football was only played by foreign residents specially the employees of the Telegraph Office and the British Consulate-General.
To sum up, the British presence in Iran was instrumental in popularizing football in Iran, but other Westerners, like the Americans and the French, also furthered its popularity through the schools they established. In places that had not entertained a significant foreign presence, such as Ardabil, it seems that the game was introduced in the 1920s by young men who had spent some time in the Caucasus Teams from Khuzestan were always the most successful was the powerhouse the 1950s and early 1960s, but the game had become very popular in Iran by then.
Tehran slowly started becoming the football capital of Iran, and numerous great clubs emerged from there. Shahin FC, Oghab FC, 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. Women are not allowed to attend men’s football matches.
These are all stadiums in Iran:
- Azadi Stadium, Tehran
- Ali Daei Stadium, Ardebil
- Dr. Azodi Stadium, Rasht
- Bagh Shomal Stadium, Tabriz
- Enghelab Stadium, Karaj
- Foolad Shahr Stadium, Isfahan
- Ghadir stadim, Ahvaz
- Hafezieh Stadium, Shiraz
- Imam Reza Stadium, Mashhad
- Naghsh-e-Jahan Stadium, Isfahan
- Pars Shiraz Stadium, Shiraz
- Rah Ahan Stadium, Tehran
- Samen Stadium, Mashhad
- Shahid Bahonar Stadium, Kerman
- Shahid Dastgerdi Stadium, Tehran
- Shahid Shiroudi Stadium, Tehran
- Shohada Stadium, Noshahr
- Takhti Stadium, Abadan
- Takhti Stadium, Ahvaz
- Takhti Stadium, Bandar-e Anzali
- Takhti Stadium, Mashhad
- Takhti Stadium, Tehran
- Yadegar Emam Stadium, Qom
- Yadegar Emam Stadium, Tabriz