A Persian welcome for Socceroos
Pablo Bateson is at World Cup qualifier number 42 in Tehran to help cheer-on the Socceroos against Iraq22 March 2017 | Pablo Bateson
When the late Douglas Adams wrote The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy he added a joke, which has endeared and endured across the globe: "The answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe and everything is 42."
There is a personal preference not to ascribe some deep, symbolic significance to the number and its occurrences. However, it is fun to link the auspicious number to my milestone on this coming Thursday of consecutive World Cup qualifiers of the Socceroos. Also, my travel to attend the Socceroos World Cup qualifier away against Iraq was in some doubt due to family health issues at home. Thankfully, they resolved enough to merely delay my departure by about a week, and so game number 42 will be fulfilled.
Disappointingly, the changed itinerary meant missing out on experiencing the ancient Persian cities of Shiraz (including nearly Persepolis) and Isfahan.
The Emirates flights from Sydney via Dubai to Tehran were smooth and uneventful for an early evening arrival on Monday into the capital of Iran. This was followed by a very efficient and surprisingly speedy visa on arrival approval process and immigration entry.
Subsequently, I found out that Australia’s key creative midfielder Aaron Mooy had come through the same entry process as our fans in the previous 24 hours after his flight alone from England.
My prearranged driver, Ali, was waiting to provide transfer by car to the Tehran Grand Hotel in the central northern part of this city of almost nine million people, with a population of almost 16 million in the greater metropolitan region.
After a refreshing sleep overnight and buffet breakfast with traditional style fare, I linked up with fellow fans Heather and Mal to explore some of the city sights. This included by the affordable taxis (most fares about 150-250,000 rial equivalent to approx AUD6-10) about between attractions and some exploratory walks through local neighbourhoods.
We took in an edge of the Tehran Bazaar (mostly closed due to Persian New Year ‘Nowruz’), striking modern inverted Y-shaped monument at the Azadi Square and the dominant Milad Tower. By the time we reached the latter, the fine and sunny weather had given way to chilly, windy and cloudy conditions with light showers. However throughout the day we had magnificent views to north of the snow capped peaks of the lower sections of Alborz Mountains with peaks up to over 5,600 metres at its highest point.
In the evening, an expanded group took a short walk from the hotel to find a traditional style restaurant to enjoy shish kebab and mixed grill delights served with Persian steamed rice, fresh local bread, salad and other fine accompaniments.
Already we have experienced wonderful hospitality from local people, predominantly of Persian cultural background. They almost always seem warm, engaging, friendly and helpful if required. With generally high levels of education and an eagerness to speak or practice English, their fascination and excitement to discover we are Australians is most endearing.
Today (Wednesday) we will continue the sightseeing including returning to reach the top of Milad Tower for expansive views over the region, Tajrish Square, Park-e Mellat and the Tochal Telecabin cable car.
Somewhat frustrating is that despite much pressure over many weeks from FFA, the Iraq FA still has not advised of arrangements for tickets collection and entry to the World Cup qualifier at the PAS (Pas Ghavamin) Stadium which holds less than 9,000 people. We were previously advised informally that attendance would be free, yet it is essential for ticket collection to be announced well before the game.
It surely needs the Asian Football Confederation to more effectively intervene to ensure such host FAs confirm such ticketing arrangements much further out from games.
There is a very health sized contingent of independent Australian travelling supporters (based in Australia, parts of Asia and Europe, and the UK) as well as a boutique tour group converging on Tehran. Unfortunately due to tight schedule with a short lead-time to assemble the squad, there will not be an opportunity for supporters to access one of the final training sessions.
In squad news, the injury to Jimmy Jeggo has meant that Nathan Burns returns to the final 23, although given his lack of game time at FC Tokyo it seems unlikely that we will see him get game time.
Tomorrow’s match day pre-game activities will be somewhat unconventional from a travelling fans perspective, especially given the strict restrictions on alcohol and the relatively early kick off at 4.30pm local time. There will instead include a morning tea held at the residence of our Australian Ambassador to Iran, Ian Biggs. This much appreciated initiative will bring together Embassy staff, local expats, Iranian FA officials and fans, Football Federation Australia (FFA) officials and travelling fans of the Socceroos.
socceroos, world cup qualifier, iran