Together with city rivals, Persepolis, Tehran-based Esteghlal sits alongside the biggest and best-supported clubs in Iran. The pair is generally considered the premier soccer clubs in the Iranian top flight, known as the Persian Gulf Pro League.
Esteghlal Football Club is one of the oldest in Tehran and Iran and carries a deep history in Iranian football. Throughout the club’s 77 years, Esteghlal has been one of the most consistent clubs in Iran and across Asia, having repeatedly claimed domestic honors while twice winning the Asian crown.
Birth Of An Institution
Though the Esteghlal Cultural and Athletic Club, as its full name now knows it, is renowned for its football team, it was initially formed by three cycling fans on 20 September 1945. Unsurprisingly, the club was known as Docharkheh Savaran, which translates as ‘The Cyclists.’ Despite the founders’ inclination, the club quickly showed its footballing strengths by winning the Tehran Hazfi Cup in 1947.
First called the Crown in 1949, the club quickly became a football powerhouse after changing its name to Taj, which means ‘Crown’ in Persian. Since then, the club has dominated the local scene and conquered the continental stage. In 1979, they changed their name to Esteghlal, which means “independence.”
Making Of A Legend
The club spent the 1950s and 1960s consolidating its position within the country’s top tier after becoming one of the country’s most competent sides. Taj won seven first championships in the 1950s and 1960s.
Although there was not a national league during those days, Esteghlal was rampant in the local competitions, including winning the Iran Local League in 1970, kicking off a rivalry alongside Persepolis as two of the most popular clubs.
Fans call Ali Danaeifard the Father of Esteghlal. For about twenty years, he played and managed Esteghlal, first as a midfielder and then as a coach from 1950 to 1967. His son Iraj Danaeifard played for the Taj and Iranian national teams in the 1970s.
AFC Champions League Winners
When Esteghlal defeated Israeli Hapoel Tel Aviv in the 1971 Asian Club Championship final, the 1970s marked an era of glory for the club.
After winning the Asian final in 1991 and finishing runners-up in 1992 and 1999, Esteghlal established itself as one of the most successful sides on the continent.
Esteghlal’s pedigree among the Iranian elite was further enhanced when the Takht Jamshid Cup was launched in 1972.
They claimed the domestic title in 1975 and 1990 while clinching their first Hafzi Cup in 1977. After the league was renamed the Azadegan League in 1991, Esteghlal continued its impressive run, recapturing national laurels in 1999 and 2001.
National Team Players
Esteghlal has consistently provided the national team with an endless stream of talent, many of whom have featured heavily in the Iran national team at FIFA World Cups.
Esteghlal players Iraj Danaiyfar and Hassan Rowshan are notable for scoring two goals for the nation during their World Cup debuts in Argentina in 1978. The former broke Iran’s FIFA World Cup duck by scoring in their 1-1 draw against Scotland, while the latter grabbed a consolation in their 4-1 defeat to Peru.
Start Of The Persian Gulf Pro League
Boasting some of the country’s best talents, Esteghlal has maintained its tag as a perennial favorite since the commencement of the professional national league in 2002. (now known as the Persian Gulf Pro League)
Esteghal twice finished runners-up in 2002 and 2004 and soon atoned for the near-misses by reigning supreme in 2006 under Amir Ghalenoei, who played with the club from 1989 to 1995.
Esteghlal have won three more titles in 2009, 2013, and 2022 while lifting the Haze Cup on three more occasions.
Constructed in 1971 with a capacity of 78,116, the Azadi Stadium is ranked among the world’s legendary stadiums. It is located in Tehran, the home stadium for Esteghlal and Persepolis and the Iranian national team.
As part of the Asian Club Championship, Esteghlal had 125,000 fans attend their final against Jubilo Iwata in Tehran in 1999. Iranian and Asian football fans support their team avidly. Esteghlal fans are renowned as some of the most passionate soccer fans in the world.
Esteghlal Stats, Facts, And Figures
Full Name: Esteghlal Football Club
Nicknames: The Cyclists, Capital Blues, Crown of Iran
Soccer Field: Azadi Stadium
Local Rivalry: Persepolis
All Time Top Scorer: Arash Borhani – 107 goals from 292 appearances
Most Appearances: Mahmoud Fekri – 345 appearances
- 1970–71, 1974–75, 1989–90, 1997–98, 2000–01, 2005–06, 2008–09, 2012–13, and 2021–22: Persian Gulf Pro League Champions
- 1946–47, 1950–51, 1958–59, 1960–61, 1976–77, 1995–96, 1999–2000, 2001–02, 2007–08, 2011–12, and 2017–18: Hazfi Cup
- 1949–50, 1952–53, 1956–57, 1957–58, 1959–60, 1960–61, 1962–63, 1968–69, 1970–1971, 1972–73, 1983–84, 1985–86, and 1991–92: Tehran Province Champions
- 1970 and 1990–91: AFC Champions League Champions
Rhett is an Australian-born, globe trotter who is a UEFA ‘A’ Licence Soccer Coach. With his family, he has traveled and coached soccer in more than 30 countries, while attending World Cups, European Championships, and some of the biggest local derbies in the world!