This article was written by an Iranian citizen journalist on the ground inside the country, who writes under a pseudonym to protect her identity.
I am Fariba, a Persepolis Football Team fan. I am writing to tell you not only about how I got to watch the recent match, but also how I became a football fan.
The first time that I watched a football match I was 10. It was May 26, 1999 and the match took place at Camp Nou in Barcelona. Network 3 was broadcasting the game between Manchester United and Bayern Munich live and I could not take my eyes off the TV screen. It was a thoroughly enjoyable game. I knew nothing about either team but something fascinated me with the red color of Manchester United. Something in my heart was telling me this was the team I was in love with, the same team that I would cheer for until the end of my life.
That night, Bayern Munich was ahead 1-0 until the 90th minute. I was upset and angry although I didn’t even know that this match was the final at the highest level of European football. But then, 91 minutes into the game, everything changed. Teddy Sheringham scored a goal and in less than two minutes, Ole Gunnar Solskjær scored the second goal for his team, making Manchester United the European champion. When the cup was being presented I kept crying. It was a love that suddenly invaded my life and its flames have been climbing every second of my life from that moment on.
After a year I slowly started to follow Iranian football. At that time Iranians were divided between fans of Persepolis and fans of Esteghlal. And because I loved red I chose Persepolis as my favorite team. There is no accounting for love. Each year my love for football grew and grew.
Stadiums Corrupt Women
In Iran, women are not allowed into football stadiums or to watch competitions in many other sports. As an Iranian woman football fan I love to see the players of my favorite team close-up, but I am prevented from doing this because of this medieval and stupid law.
I always think about how to find a way to get into the stadium. Then came this season’s game with the Tractor Sazi team. As my brother and my cousin were buying tickets on the internet, I asked my brother to buy me a ticket, too. It sort of escaped out my mouth. My brother bought three tickets without saying a word. We agreed that my cousin would come to our place the same night so that, along with my father, we could find a way for me to get into the stadium. My father had nothing against it, but on the day of the match he said it was not prudent for me to go to the stadium. So that day I did not go.
With a big match between Persepolis and Tractor Sazi approaching, my brother, as usual, was buying tickets on the internet. This time, my father told him to buy two more tickets, one for him and one for me. I believe that on the day of the previous Tractor Sazi match, my father had sensed my enthusiasm — and my stress. He told me to go and buy the necessary clothing items. I bought sneakers, jeans, a shirt, a boys’ knit cap and a tennis bra and returned home. I put the clothes on, and the cap, but my girlish eyebrows gave the game away. So I decided to paint my face red.
Cold Weather to The Rescue
On the day of the match, we woke up at 5am. It was very cold so what I wore hid my body. I did not have to cut my hair because I could hide it under the cap. We set out to the stadium from home at 6am and, after dealing with Tehran’s morning traffic, we reached Dehkadeh Street. Straightaway I saw that the police were pushing three girls into a Morality Patrol car. They were dressed as boys but even from a hundred meters away you could see they were girls.
Then we arrived at the gates of the Azadi sports complex. My heart started beating faster as soon as I saw the stadium sign. My face went chalk white and my whole body was tense. I was not laughing anymore. The joy of going to the stadium had given way to terror. My heart trembled even when I looked at the stadium from the parking lot. We walked towards the stadium at a leisurely pace. It was 7:55 when we got to the first inspection gate. My father told me, “take a drink of water, take a deep breath and if they find out say nothing. I’ll handle it.”
We held our tickets in our hands. I tried to be calm as I took my first step. “Stretch out your arms,” the inspection agent said. He inspected under my armpits and told me to open my pockets. Then he inspected my pockets. I tried to stay calm as he inspected between my legs. He inspected from my crotch to my ankles. Then he said, “Go in, please.” I could not believe I had passed the first inspection. My skin was bursting with joy. I sent my first tweet with a photo and video.
Our seats were in the second tier of the stadium. As we were walking up, I looked down with a lump in my throat. There I was, looking at Azadi Stadium from close up. Every 10 minutes I took photos and videos and tweeted them. My father, my brother and my cousins were all surrounding me and I felt safe and secure.
Girl Meets Girl
From 10am, some fans of the two teams started an occasional exchange of obscenities, but I was just trying to enjoy being there. I was unaware of the passage of time and the eulogies before the game.
The first half was over, and my team was losing 1-3. My father suggested I go behind the goal and I watch the second half from behind Persepolis’ goal. As I was going behind the goal, I noticed another girl in the stadium. We talked a bit, took selfies and exchanged phone numbers.
Then the game with all its excitement and beauty was over, and my beloved Persepolis lost. But the most important thing was that I got myself into Azadi Stadium, where they arrest any woman they can find.
It was 52 minutes into the game when somebody in the back row knocked on my shoulder and asked for a lighter. From my voice he discovered that I was a girl and the whispers started. A few could not stop looking and pointing at me. From that moment they stopped shouting profanities and remained polite. If they allowed women into stadiums then men could not allow themselves to shout profanities during the games; they would behave themselves.
When the game was over I took a few selfies so that, if one day my country was a free country, I could shout: “I am the same girl who defied government pressures to get into the 78,116-seat stadium and watch the 84th Football Derby from close up!” But as we were going back home, the Twitter attacks started. One of my followers insisted on having my picture. I sent him a selfie, but later I found out that he had sent the photo to the cyber police’s website and demanded I be prosecuted. Of course, you can’t tell who I am by looking at that selfie. For the moment I am not in danger. But what pains me most are the profanity-filled comments that some people continue to post against me on social networks.
Fariba, Citizen Journalist, Tehran