I'll be supporting both England and Iran in the World Cup this year – and I'm happy to talk about the politics

Shappi Khorsandi
Iranians can’t even drown their sorrows if their team lose – imagine that: AFP

In the last couple of years, football has played a bigger role in my life than I ever imagined it would – through my son, of course. My attempts to get him into street dance, sumo wrestling, Satan-worshipping, ANYTHING but football, didn’t work. So every Sunday, rain or shine, I stand with all the other parents, watching a group of little lads running around kicking a ball, trying hard not to go on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram or the Screwfix website.

I cheer them on even though I’m never sure what’s going on in the game or which goal is whose. I get told off for cheering when their opponents score a goal. I can’t always tell the kids apart. They move so fast. Besides, if a kid does well, I cheer, whoever he is.

The competitive streak bypassed me in sport. Some parents conform to the stereotype of the Sunday league parent who treats each game like it’s the FA cup final, barking orders from the sidelines: “GO ON, AUBERGINE!” or, “MARK HIM, MACADAMIA NUT, MARK HIM!” (I have changed names slightly.) Their confused kid ends up being more distracted than spurred on by their parents’ shrieking.

My son’s team went from regularly being beaten 18-0 when they first started playing to winning the final in our local league. Watching them learn to be a team and work together despite whatever personality clashes they might have has almost been worth all the freezing Sunday mornings.

So it’s with renewed enthusiasm that I welcome the World Cup month into my life. It’s often been a chore. I remember being in a pub when Spain beat England during one World Cup tournament. Back then I had masses of long, dark curly hair and yes, after 15 pints and a broken heart, I suppose did look a little Spanish. I got a fair bit of slurred abuse as I went about my own business of getting plastered.

I consider myself English and Iranian these days and only on a very good hair day do I consider myself Spanish too.

So this year I have two teams to support: England, and Iran’s Team Melli. I very briefly dangled an England flag out of our window this morning but had to hoist it back it as my cat crawled its way down it. It was the most undignified, unpatriotic use of a flag ever. He wailed for a bit before managing to untangle his claws from the cheap fabric and fall to the ground. He sauntered off then, as cats do, as though the whole ungainly debacle went exactly according to plan. My cat, I think, is French.

In the unlikely event that my two teams play against each other, then I will, I think, want Iran to win. Before I’m thrown off Dover’s white cliffs, I’d like to explain why.

Iran needs it more. Iranian people need it more. In England we have everything. We have free speech, permission to wear whatever we want and Aldi. Our LGBT+ community is not persecuted by our laws, and for all the whirring and stirring of hate on the internet towards Muslims, we live in one of the most tolerant cultures there is.

I would love ordinary Iranians under that vicious, oppressive regime to have a sprinkling of joy. They are not allowed to drown their sorrows when they lose. Just imagine that! Though to be fair, if you know Iranians, you’ll know that booze isn’t needed to muster up exuberance. My two cultures couldn’t be more different.

Between you and me, English culture is sometimes regarded by some Iranians as a bit “cold” (putting on my tin hat as I write this; cultures are complexed, nuanced things and in no way should my musings on them in a short column be regarded as the sum total of my thoughts or an accurate reflection on an entire nation and its history).

True, there isn’t the culture of “HI! I’VE JUST MET YOU! COME INTO MY HOUSE AND HAVE DINNER WITH MY FAMILY! IN FACT, STAY THE NIGHT! HAVE OUR BEDROOM! MY WIFE AND I WILL SLEEP IN THE CAR!” like there is in Iran. Gorgeously warm though this attitude is, there is a price to pay sometimes when people take you to their bosom so immediately: “SO HOW MUCH WAS YOUR HOUSE? HAVEN’T YOU GOT FAT! WHY DON’T YOU MARRY MY SON? HE IS A GOOD BOY!” Several times I’ve agreed to marry someone’s son out of sheer awkwardness only to find that their son was already married and they were just being polite.

It’s impossible for me not to support both teams. It’s also impossible not to bring politics into the game. What better time to highlight what matters to you than when the world is watching? Peter Tatchell let nobody down yesterday in Russia with his protest against the abuse of the LGBT+ community there. I don’t have the steel he has but I do have this little corner of the media to express myself.

So, I’ll say that, much as I feel loyalty to Iran’s Team Melli and as handsome as I think they are, I can’t let go of the fact that if a woman wants to play football in Iran, they make her wear a tent, and if she wants to watch a game in a stadium, she has to disguise herself as a man. Support for women in Iran who are against enforced hijab is eerily quiet on the left in this country. Oh, and they execute gay men there. Enjoy the games!