Argentina vs Iran: Team Melli’s fanatics cock a snook at culture killjoys

 

Officially, Iranians are not allowed to enjoy the World Cup. Shortly before it started, their government banned cafes and restaurants in Tehran from showing matches fearing that it might lead to men and women congregating together.

A three member Iranian government delegation has also accompanied the squad to ensure that Iranian players and fans do not “engage in immoral and anti-Islamic behaviour” during their stay in Brazil.

Hossein Ali, who is leading it, told Iranian media: “In the past at World Cups or international competitions, there have been some incidents related to cultural and Islamic issues. They shouldn’t happen again, especially because the games are taking place in a country with a particular culture, such as Brazil.”

In the Estadio Mineario yesterday around 2,000 Iranians were doing their best to back Team Melli, as the Iranian team are known, to cook a snook at the killjoys in their government.Despite being outnumbered and out-sung by Argentinans it was a passionate, full blooded performance by Iran fans. Wherever he was seated in the ground, Mr Ali and his colleagues would have been furiously taking notes as Iranian women, many of them wearing green and white hijabs, sat alongside men, screaming and hollering their support.

 

In Iran, women are banned from attending football matches because the government claims that it is not a suitable environment for them.

Three members of the Melli army who definitely deserved to be in Mr Ali’s notebook were Tehran Tony, Moji Shiraz and Ben the Barber. Having sampled the delights of a Friday night in Belo Horizonte they arrived at the stadium nursing hangovers and clutching cans of beer.

The trio could afford to be a bit more relaxed about being reported, their broad London accents and football allegiances giving them away. Two are Chelsea fans while Ben is a Queens Park Rangers season ticket holder. All were born in west London but when it comes to international football they remain loyal to the country where their parents originate.

The London-Iranians are putting club loyalty and comfort to one side, paying £40 each to sleep on a  mattress on the floor of a guest house.

Iran still stand a chance of qualifying for the second round for the first time in their history and as Team Melli made its way off the pitch yesterday, its small but dedicated fans chanted “Iran, Iran”. One song the London-Iranians might teach their fellow supporters for next Wednsday’s crucial match against Bosnia is “Are you watching Hoseen Ali?”

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