“Iran? You’re not serious are you?!”
That was my first reaction when I was first told of interest from Persepolis F.C. of Iran last December. I had just had a great season with Derry, winning the league cup for my first time, claiming a European spot (well so we thought!!) through our 3rd place league finish, achieving my goal of being top scorer in the league and receiving the PFAI Player of the Year award from my fellow players in the league.
I honestly thought at the end of last season that I would end up staying at Derry again for at least one more season. I loved my time there and the fans were great to me. I felt things on the pitch had massive potential to go further the next season and I also really enjoyed and learned so much from working with both Stephen Kenny and Declan Devine. I have to add if it wasn’t for Stephen I probably would not be here right now as he was a huge influence on me last season and the main reason for me scoring goals and doing well.
So how did I end up playing football in Iran is a common question I often hear. Well, for some strange reason that I don’t quite know yet, I seem to attract some strange proposals from various agents in some let’s say ‘different’ countries. When the season ended last year I got a call-up for the Libyan National team. There was a tournament in Doha, Qatar, around mid December. The Pan Arab Games 2011 it was called.
It was there when I got the call from an agent with the five month contract proposal from the biggest team in Iran, and one of the biggest teams in all of Asia, Persepolis. Persepolis are based in the capital Tehran, home to around 15 million people. After sufficient consideration, I decided to go for it. Sometimes in life and in football you have to look outside the box and when you get a worthwhile opportunity to experience something unique you have to just go for it! Life’s too short and so is your football career.
Fast forward a few months and here I am sitting in my apartment in Tehran, writing my first article of the year for Extratime. And what a few months it has been. If I was a little apprehensive, scared, anxious, nervous and unsure about the move at the start, those concerns quickly drifted away and one thing I am sure about now is that this has been one of the best decisions I have made football-wise.
What an experience it has been so far and in the next few weeks I will tell all through my articles here on extratime.ie. I will discuss life both on and off the pitch here in Iran. I could probably write a short book about my time here in Iran and I’ve only been here 3 months!!
To give everyone a little preview of things here in Iran and which depicts a fantastic picture of the kind of experience I am living right now here, I will say this: my last match here was in the Asian Champions League at home in Tehran to a team from the United Arab Emirates, Al Shabab. It was my first match in the competition as I had missed the first game in Saudi Arabia through injury so I did not fully know what to expect. Well, it was an evening I will never forget. We ran out comfortable winners in the end and I managed to get on the score sheet three times scoring the first three goals of the game to put us 3-0 up.
It was my second hat trick in six games for Persepolis, having scored seven goals so far in the six appearances. The real story however was the atmosphere at the game; 82,700 the official attendance. WOW!! It was the biggest crowd I’ve ever played in front of. To put it in comparison with other events the Ireland Football and Hurling Finals at Croke Park attract 80,000. Last Wednesday’s Champions League Quarter Final between AC Milan and Barcelona had an attendance of 70,000!
To score a hat trick in front of a crowd like that and have over 80,000 people chanting your name is something that you don’t get to experience every day! The Persepolis’ fans here are amazing, they are so passionate about their football and if you do well here they really appreciate you. They really do make the atmosphere at games so special and it’s great to get the chance to feel that week, in week out.
Games here rarely take place on Friday Nights. I’ve had matches pretty much every other day of the week but Friday in fact. Someone asked me the question a while ago, how do I spend my Friday Nights now? I answered, the League of Ireland will always be my home and I’ve had 10 great years playing there. I have been fortunate to win various trophies with different teams; a league title with Drogheda United, an FAI Cup with Sporting Fingal, a league cup with Derry City and a PFAI young player of the year award with Bray Wanderers.
On a Friday Night in Tehran, what do I do? I have a cup of coffee in hand with my lap top on. On one page I have extratime.ie open keeping me up to date with all the live scores and detailed analysis of all LOI games; on another page I have Drive 105 turned on listening in to the commentary of the Derry City game. No matter where I am I will always have one eye on the LOI, and tonight will be no different.
Until next week,