The eighth article in the series on great club derbies focuses on the classic in Iranian football, the Tehran derby, Esteghlal v. Pirouzi.
In the October edition of FIFA Magazine, we shall be reporting on the famous Madrid derby between Real Madrid and Atletico that has been brought back to life through Atletico?s return to Spain's elite division.
Iran is a football-crazy country, where people enjoy the games of their national team, but also follow the fortunes of their favourite club side with keen interest, especially when the two Tehran giants, Esteghlal and Pirouzi, come face-to-face.
This year, the Iranian league went right down to the wire. In the final round, Esteghlal of Tehran (48 points) played Malavan Anzali, who stood 12th in the league table. City rivals Pirouzi (46 points) came up against Fajr Shiraz, 10th in the 14-team league. In a stunning turnaround, Pirouzi won 1-0 while Esteghlal went down by the same score, thus handing an 8th league title to Pirouzi, or Perspolis, as they used to be called. But the celebrations and problems were only just about to begin. In southwest Iran, a fight broke out between supporters of the two title contenders, ending in the tragic death of a 20 year-old fan.
Pirouzi was founded in 1942 as Shahin FC and won 15 Hazfi Cups, but by 1967, the team was no longer recognised as a legitimate club because of its management's clashes with the Iran Football Federation. Despite this lack of recognition and their meagre fan base, Shahin continued to train regularly. In 1968, a company called C.R.C. formed Perspolis, who like Shahin FC, struggled to attract supporters. In contrast to Shahin, however, Perspolis played their football in the Iranian 3rd division. In one match, Perspolis used three Shahin players. This experiment was a great success, and led to Perspolis taking every Shahin player, thus absorbing the original club. Perspolis became a successful team and eventually gained promotion to the top division, winning many supporters along the way.
It should not be forgotten that Perspolis owes much of its success and fame to the tiny Shahin club that blazed spectacularly onto the stage before fading away into obscurity. In the aftermath of the Iranian Revolution, Perspolis changed its name to Pirouzi, which ironically translates as 'victory'.
The footballing fires
Esteghlal's history is not quite so complicated. The Taj club was established in 1945 and originally played in the provincial leagues, before gaining promotion to the top flight of Iranian football once the Iranian league was founded. Then, after the revolution in 1979, Taj changed its name to Esteghlal, which means independence.
So far the two teams have played a total of 52 games, with Esteghlal winning 17 matches to Pirouzi's 13, and the remaining 22 ending in a draw. The teams first met around 33 years ago in a friendly that resulted in a 0-0 draw, while the next two meetings culminated in another scoreless draw and a 3-1 victory for Esteghlal in the Tehran Club Championship. In the next three games, the first and the last being matches in the Tehran Club Championship, Esteghlal held the upper hand, triumphing 3-0, 3-2 and 3-0 again. The first and last games of this sequence were both highly controversial and had to be abandoned, with Esteghlal awarded the victory on both occasions by the same three-goal margin. However, the next six games proved to be a watershed, as Pirouzi regained credibility with crucial wins, most notably with a 6-0 rout of their rivals in the inaugural year of the Takht Jamshid league. The battle for supremacy has since shown no sign of abating, with Esteghal enjoying the ascendancy for many years, only to see Pirouzi eventually reclaim the top spot in Tehran. This tug-of-war has stoked the footballing fires in the city even further.
The reds or the blues
Both Tehran teams have had star-studded line-ups, which partially explains their dominance of the Iranian league over the years. In fact, most of the players who have represented Iran at international level have played for either Esteghlal or Pirouzi, with the legends of Iranian football, such as Pious, Rowshan, Parvin, Ashoori et al having all worn the strip of one of the two Tehran clubs. Supporters obviously like to follow the fortunes of their favourite national players, who tend to wear either the red or the blue of the Tehran rivals.
Success breeds confidence, which is a quality that Pirouzi and Esteghlal have in abundance. However, this year, while playing in the inaugural professional championship in Iran, the Tehran clubs showed what sets them apart from their rivals. For the first time in many years, other teams such as Paas of Tehran, Fajr Sepasi, and Peykan of Tehran were challenging for the title. However, Pirouzi and Esteghlal's ability and determination to win crucial matches is still the decisive factor in Iranian football. Apart from their many talented players, the Tehran clubs also possess the priceless ability to raise their game to a higher level when they need to win to stay in the race for honours. At one point during the season, both Esteghlal and Pirouzi suffered a goal drought, yet their rivals were not able to profit from their downturn. Despite taking only a small lead into their poor period of form, Esteghlal and Pirouzi were never overtaken at the head of the league table.
In contrast, the Tehran clubs have often taken full advantage of slip-ups by other teams. While Pirouzi moved to the top of the table by capitalising on the poor form of early leaders Peykan, their city rivals Esteghlal were later able to take advantage of a succession of mistakes made by Pirouzi. This killer instinct is arguably what makes the fans so passionate, because they know that even when their teams are performing below par, they can always count on their heroes to turn games around.
Iran has 50 million football fans
So, what does the future hold for the Tehran derby? Coaches, fans, referees and many more besides have stressed that the game must be made less sensitive and the two head coaches, Ali Parvin and Mansour Pourheidari, have instructed their players not to talk to the press before this year's return match. Foreign referees are often appointed in an attempt to ensure neutrality, but although the recurring violence must be curbed, it will be nigh on impossible to dampen the historic rivalry between these two clubs and their forefathers. The two teams are so popular that many players dream of representing their chosen team one day. Even Mirzapour, Iran's current national goalkeeper has expressed such a wish. He is not alone. Another star player, Mehrdad Minavand, has stated that he would only play for one club in Iran - Pirouzi. By contrast, Farhad Majidis' is such an ardent supporter of Esteghlal that, after scoring a goal for Al-Wasl of UAE, he lifted his shirt to reveal a t-shirt bearing the name of Esteghlal. Iran has a total population of approximately 75 million, and some 50 million are confirmed football supporters. Let us not forget - this is a country that openly rejoices when the national team qualifies for the World Cup, so surely the rivalry between Pirouzi and Esteghlal is only natural?