Azadi Stadium – Home Of Iran’s Football Passion
Friday, 1 June 2007 in Tehran, Iran: “The Azadi Stadium and its surrounding areas are closed! There are no tickets left! Please stay at home and watch the match on TV!”
That was the plea broadcast on Iranian television and radio three hours before the Iranian Cup semi-final between Persepolis and Sepahan because the venue had already reached it’s massive 100,000-spectator capacity.
This was by no means an unusual scenario in the remarkable 36-year-old history of arguably Asia’s most iconic stadium. Ever since its first match in 1971, between Persepolis and Brazilian club Cruzeiro, the Azadi has played host to huge crowds, dramatic matches and, sadly, tragedy.
It was built by the former Shah of Iran, who wanted a lavish and overt symbol of Iran’s sporting prowess, and its building came in the middle of Iran’s most successful footballing period, in which they won three Asian Cups, an Asian Games title and eventually qualified for the 1978 FIFA World Cup’” in Argentina.
Originally called Ariyamehr, it’s “official opening” did not come until 1974 when Iran won the Asian Games as hosts, beating Israel in the final. That success was repeated two years later when Iranians crammed into the stadium to watch Iran win their third consecutive Asian Cup title.
The stadium’s name was changed by Iran’s new religious government after the 1979 Islamic Revolution to Azadi, meaning freedom. But while its name had changed, its significance to Iranian football fans never did.