Azadi Srtadium – 200,000 Fans
On 7 October 1983, while Iran was still involved in its long, bitter war with Iraq, the stadium fell under siege by an estimated 200,000 people wanting to watch the Tehran derby between Persepolis and Esteghlal.
Packed terraces meant that people had to climb onto walls and up floodlight pylons, and ever since that match, fans have gathered the night before a big game and slept outside the stadium to be sure of getting a ticket.
The Iran-Iraq war also saw the Azadi used for military parades before the soldiers’ departure to the front. But it has always been synonymous with football and in 1997, when Iran sealed a remarkable qualification for the 1998 FIFA World Cup™ thanks to a dramatic draw in Australia, the players were dropped into the middle of the pitch by helicopter upon their return.
But despite its special place in the hearts of Iranian football fans, the Azadi Stadium was for a long time neglected. It was renovated in 2003 when seats were installed on the lower level for the first time and giant screens put up at either end.
But the new Azadi was to play host to tragedy just two years later. Again, over 100,000 fans filled the stadium for a FIFA World Cup’” qualifier against Japan, but as people pushed to leave the stadium afterwards, seven fans were killed after being trampled under foot. This finally persuaded the authorities to print tickets denoting specific places inside the ground; until then, fans were able to sit wherever they chose.
The Azadi has become a fortress for Iran’s national team, known as “Team Melli”. They have lost only two competitive matches in the stadium in their entire history. It was also the ground where the legendary striker Ali Daei scored his first and historic 100th national team goals.
Without a doubt, the Azadi is among a handful of the world’s most passionate and evocative arenas, and that’s why it is advisable to get there the night before kick off.