AN IRANIAN football legend who played for his country at its first ever World Cup has revealed he is backing England in Qatar.
Hassan Nayebagha, a talented midfielder who made 20 appearances for his national team, has vowed to stand with the Three Lions.
Hassan Nayebagha is backing England over Iran at the World Cup
He played in Iran’s first appearance at the World Cup back in 1978
Hassan, who played for Homa FC, was involved in the famous game which saw the Iranian debutants hold off Scotland 1-1 at in 1978.
While they ended up at the bottom of their World Cup group, the draw was a herculean effort against the Scots.
And it was enough to send the humbled Scottish side home as they were edged out of the group stage on goal difference.
READ MORE ON WORLD CUP
“Iran is under a fundamentalist ideology that belongs to 2,000 years ago,” he told The Sun Online.
Iran has arrested more than 15,000 protesters and killed almost 400 in an uprising over women’s rights over the death of Mahsa Amini.
Most read in Football
Mahsa is believed to have been beaten to death while in police custody for wearing an “improper” hijab.
The regime’s brutal crackdown has only strengthened the resolve of people standing against them – with calls now for an end to the brutal regime ruled by the Ayatollah.
Iran is also known to have been backing Russia in its vicious war on Ukraine – providing Vladimir Putin’s military with kamikaze drones used to blitz civilians.
And while Iran takes to the field today, back home the protests and the oppression continues.
Hassan told The Sun Online: “The Iranian team recently went to meet with the Supreme Leader, which has angered millions.”
He went on: “This Iranian team has been suppressed, and have given up.
“I hope the players will side with the Iranian people, and not with the government.”
Hassan fled Iran after the revolution in 1979 which saw the overthrow of the Shah’s dictatorship overthrown and replaced with the fundamentalist Islamic regime.
Young Iranians are sacrificing their lives for freedom, but even though the regime can kill them, it can’t stop this movement
He is now an opposition activist who joined the People’s Mujahedin of Iran (PMOI), which is a leading opposition group, and has been living in exile ever since, with two of his family members killed by the regime.
Hassan moved to England and studied at the University of Sussex.
The footie legend and his colleagues recently attempted to urge FIFA boss Gianni Infantino to sanction Iran.
Iranian officials also haven’t hesitated to kill some of its best football players, such as former captain Habib Khabiri.
He was tortured and executed by firing squad after he was found to be a member of the PMOI.
Hassan hopes the end could be near for the regime.
“Young Iranians are sacrificing their lives for freedom, but even though the regime can kill them, it can’t stop this movement,” he told The Sun Online.
Iranian people are protesting en masse against the regimeRex
“We need freedom of choice, freedom of dress, freedom of religion. No woman or girl should be forced to cover up. This young generation are fighting against this.
“Normal Iranians don’t want the regime to misuse the triumphs of our football team for their own purposes.
“Their successes are their own, not the regime’s.”
He went on: “When I was going to the World Cup, I would never have believed the Shah’s regime would be gone in six months.
“Now I am more confident than ever that the Ayatollah’s regime will fall soon. They have more problems than the Shah faced.
“Sanctions, siding with the Russians, and 95% of ordinary Iranians hate them.
“I am 74, but I will live to see the downfall of this religious dictatorship.”
Speaking about his time at the World Cup, he recalled how the Iranian FA at the time was controlled by the Shah’s military and the secret police.
But he struck up a good relationship with the national team coach, former Manchester United player Frank O’Farrell.
“The dictatorship politicised football,” said Hassan.
“On a flight back from a training match in France ahead of the 1978 World Cup, we told coaches that if you don’t support our families, we won’t go to the tournament.
“The World Cup was an extraordinary experience, it was the first time Iran had gone to the tournament, and there were only 16 teams.
“We played the Netherlands who were the best team in the world at that time.
“For us, going to the World Cup, we were a young team, it was a great adventure, and we met some of the best players of the international game.
“I became friends with some of them including Archie Gemmill from Scotland.
Read More on The Sun
“For the people of Iran, it was making history.
“Football is about playing as a collective, but also with a sense of freedom, which is why I love it so much.”
Hassan Nayebagha is now a vocal opposition activist