Well, it’s been a few weeks since I last wrote my column. Apologies but it’s been a hectic couple of weeks having played seven matches in the last three weeks! It’s a strange game football, having started April on a high; results have rapidly descended into disaster for my team here in Iran. It’s all part of the experience though, and the Iran experience both on and off the field have certainly enhanced over the last month. As I said previously, I could write a book on my time here in what has only been four months so far!
Through good times and bad times, I’ve been fortunate over the last couple of years to have had the fantastic support of the Derry City fans last season and now the fans of Persepolis here in Iran. As a striker, apart from the manager’s support obviously, the two most important sets of people in football to me are my team mates and the fans. As a striker, team mates create the chances and again as a striker, the fans’ support gives you confidence to put those chances away.
In my last column, I mentioned that I had just scored a hat trick in the Asian Champions League game against Al Shabab of Dubai in front of 86,000 people. That game was followed up with a win over Al Gharafa of Qatar in Doha; a game which I scored and collected the Man of the Match Award. That goal put me on four goals altogether in the Asian Champions league and with those goals I am still currently joint top of the goal scoring charts in the competition, a feat which I am happy and proud of. However, since then, although the results haven’t been great, the support has still been exceptional.
Two more Asian Champions league games have taken place at home in Tehran. The first game was the return group game against Al Gharafa. Having taken the lead in the second half, we failed to close out the game and a lack of concentration saw them score an equaliser in the 94th minute. It was a killer blow as it would have all but secured our passage to the next round of the competition even with two group games to go.
What’s more is that the game was played in front of a record 96,200 passionate Persepolis fans. They created an unbelievable atmosphere and it’s something I’ve never experienced before. To give you a comparison, Barcelona against Chelsea last week had 95,000 fans at it!!
It’s hard to describe to people back home in words the atmosphere and buzz of playing in front of such a crowd. You have to be there and see it, feel the atmosphere to really understand it and appreciate it. However, to concede a late, late equaliser was a real let down and it was extremely disappointing to leave the fans going home unhappy.
The second A.C. L game was played yesterday against Al Hilal of Saudi Arabia. They are one of the strongest teams in Asia and a mixture of them playing well and Persepolis playing poorly saw them win the game 1-0. Again, the game was played in front of over 70,000 Persepolis fans. I can’t stress enough how amazing the Persepolis fans’ support is but we have really let them down the past few weeks with our play and I can understand there disappointment.
With one group game to go, we can still qualify for the next round of the A.C.L and destiny is still in our hands so I hope that one of my next columns will tell the story of us qualifying to the next round.
I mentioned earlier about how as a striker team mates are so important to me. I know what I am good at and at times goal scorers get all the attention but put simply, without the support of your team mates, that attention will soon disappear.
I met a couple of lads from Derry in Qatar when we were playing against Al Gharafa. It’s a small world sometimes; I recognised one of them from the gym we went to when I was up in Derry. We got chatting about all things football and of course, Derry City.
One of the lads made a comment about my season in Derry last year and about me being top scorer and winning player of the year and said that Derry would miss me this year. Obviously it was nice to hear, but I quickly stopped him and told him that what Derry will miss are three other players that have left. James Mc Clean, Daniel Lafferty and Gareth Mc Glynn, and along with my other team mates, they were the main reason I got top scorer in the league last year.
As a striker, you rely so much on your team mates to create chances for you. If your team mates don’t create chances for you, you don’t score and I recognise the importance of my team mates to me as a striker. Last year the Derry team was filled with quality players who could create chances. Three of them and three of my main suppliers are now gone. I had James Mc Clean, probably the best left winger to play in the LOI; Daniel Lafferty, the best attacking left back I have seen in the LOI in my time; and Gareth McGlynn, an unbelievably talented player who could link up midfield and attack like no other player in the league.
Yea I still had to do my bit and put the ball in the back of the net and get on the end of the chances created but with players like those three creating chances for me, they were a joy to play with and I knew every game that a chance would fall my way. So, as a striker, it is imperative you appreciate and understand the importance of your team mates to you. Ask Twiggy or Danny North, I’m sure they’d say the same.
Before I depart this week, I just want to wish my egghead of a friend James McClean a happy birthday even if my invite to the party did get lost in the post! And good luck for Monday!