Very Heated But Almost Unknown Football Rivalries

Esteghlal – Persepolis

The concept of football derby is not only a European or South American prerogative, for more information ask the inhabitants of Tehran who for more than 50 years are almost inseparably divided between blue and red.

Yes, because in the Iranian capital the division between the two teams of the city, Esteghlal and Persepolis, is a very serious matter that goes well beyond football: cheering for one or the other club means sewing on a political symbol of great value.

The story of this rivalry begins even before the two clubs were founded. In the sixties, the challenge was between two equally popular teams (and ancestors of today’s clubs) Shahin and Taj. The former, whose name means hawks, were the team of the masses while the others, whose name means a crown, were obviously the team of the monarchy and the wealthy classes.

The revolution of 1979 changed things from a formal point of view without, however, changing the essence of the rivalry: the legacy of the Shahin, now bankrupt, was collected by the newcomers of Persepolis while the Taj simply changed its name, no longer politically acceptable, to Esteghlal, or independence. The rivalry between the two groups stopped briefly during the war against Iraq but resumed immediately after the end of the conflict, involving more and more people.

Helped also by the advent of the satellite in the nineties, the rivalry continued to grow out of all proportion in the years to come, so much so that today it has become the most important derby in Asia and the 22nd most important derby in the world. Perhaps from the point of view of the technical level of the players the Tehran derby will not be among the first in the world but at the level of fans it certainly is: more than 100,000 people crowd the Azadi stadium every time the two teams meet.

This unbridled passion for the two teams, however, has also had negative effects over the years with the ultras of Persepolis and Esteghlal who have often turned to violence, invading the field, attacking players and referees, violently clashing with each other and devastating areas of the city adjacent to the stadium.

 

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