Strap yourselves in, because this story is batshit.
Iran’s Persian Gulf Pro League concluded its season yesterday. Going into the final day, three teams had a chance to win the title. Here is how the table looked before the day’s action:
Tractor Sazi and Naft Tehran played each other, while Sepahan faced mid-table Saipa. Tractor Sazi went up 3-1 on Naft Tehran, but Naft scored goals in the 76th and 81st minutes to earn the 3-3 draw. Meanwhile, Sepahan disposed of Saipa with two first half goals. Here is how the table looked at the conclusion of the season:
Congratulations to league winners Sepahan, nothing controversial here, right? Not so fast. As AFP explains, when the final whistle blew, Tractor Sazi players, coaches, and fans thought that they had won the title:
With just minutes to go Tractor Sazi fans believed their rivals Sepahan FC, from the central city of Isfahan, had only managed a draw when they needed a win to take the championship.
Having run down the clock in the game’s dying moments, Tractor Sazi’s quest for the league — after two runners-up spots in recent years — finally seemed over when the whistle blew.
But as pandemonium broke out on the pitch the game’s TV anchor — knowing Sepahan had in fact won their match 2-0 to take the title — was left flummoxed and unable to explain the celebrations.
When reality dawned for Tractor Sazi’s fans — 90,000 were in a stadium whose official capacity is only 70,000 — the mood changed, seats were smashed and fights broke out.
Here is a video in Farsi of some of the proceedings (Tractor Sazi is in red, Naft Tehran is in yellow):
It is still not entirely clear how this happened. It was definitely not the case, as has happened before, that the Tractor Sazi players miscalculated and thought they had enough points to win. No, it seems that the entire stadium was deliberately fed misinformation. Via AFP:
“Something bizarre happened,” said Naft chief executive Mansour Ghanbarzadeh, trying to explain how joy had turned to outrage.
“We were following the other game on television in the changing room but at 87 minutes in, suddenly the TV, radio and cellphone networks blacked out and we had no means of communication.”
“At that very moment, we were told the match between Sepahan and Saipa had ended with 2-2 draw,” he added.
The AFP article dances around the point, but it seems that some officials—whether these were Persian Gulf Pro League officials, Iranian government officials, or some other officials is unclear (not the least because I don’t speak Farsi)—relayed the misinformation in an attempt to prevent angry Tractor Sazi fans from rioting after losing the title.
That is fucking insane! I won’t pretend to fully understand Iran’s communications system and how quickly or easily everything can be locked down, but did whoever hatched this harebrained scheme really think they had the ability to prevent every one of 90,000 people inside from accessing a TV, transistor radio, cell phone, computer, Twitter, text messaging, or any other way of discovering the real score of the Sepahan game? Here is a Farsi language article that explains better, which reddit user beardedTortoise helpfully translated:
Interestingly, the media around Tractor Sazi became aware of the real news after getting in touch with their friends in Tehran, but the atmosphere of the stadium did not allow them to quickly spread this news. Another player explains in more detail: “The game had six minutes of stoppage time but the fans poured on the pitch at five minutes and twenty seconds and Mr Faghani [the ref] blew the final whistle. At the time that we saw the people were celebrating, we had thought that Sepahan became champions and some of the guys were aware of the score but the atmosphere was such that we thought it best to let the people be happy so a bad event does not happen.”
The first player says: “Perhaps they had said the game in Isfahan [the Sepahan game] had ended in a tie in order to protect Mr Faghani [the ref] because the people were very upset at the ejection [red card] of Ando and it was possible for something bad to happen to him but anyway thank God that he exited the stadium safely. We were on the field and were playing the game when we saw that fans were celebrating on the field and the rest of it got out of hand.”
The bizarre ending produced some amazing photos. The two photos of Tractor Sazi manager Toni Oliveira (one of Benfica’s best-ever players, he also managed them three different times) perfectly embody American sportscaster Jim McKay’s famous phrase: “The thrill of victory, the agony of defeat.”
You can see more photos at AFP’s photo site.