With a day to spare and all the obvious attractions closed for a religious holiday, we found ourselves clutching at straws for things to do on out last day in Tehran. We'd been up the mountain to try to get the cable car and failed. We'd been to a shrine and had a jolly time with the parading locals; we'd had a slap-up lunch in a swanky restaurant and we'd even played chicken on the six-lane highway surrounding the Azadi Tower. There must surely be sometime REALLY futile that we could try to round off the day. And sure enough there was.
One of our tour group was an obsessive football fan on a personal mission to see as many international football stadiums as possible. He carried with him a small photo album with photos which his long-suffering wife had taken of him standing on the great pitches of the world. He decided that it would be a real feather in his cap if he could get into the national stadium in Tehran and get his photo taken on the hallowed grounds of the Azadi Stadium. He was planning to hop in a taxi, wife in tow, and go to the stadium. But we - with literally nothing better to do - all decided that his mission would become our mission. All for one and one for all! We would commandeer our bus, driver, local guide and tour leader for a wild-goose chase and try to make his dream come true.
It was a sunny afternoon in Tehran when we set off in search of football history. Iran had narrowly failed to qualify for the 2006 World Cup earlier that year and rumour had it that the 'powers that be' had knobbled the team. When they'd won their second-to-last qualifying game, the rejoicing in the streets of Tehran had been so joyous and so spontaneous that women had been seen throwing off their headscarves. The government were terrified that qualification might mean something really serious - a glimpse of ankle, a hint of flesh, who knows, maybe even full-scale rebellion. It was too big a risk to take and the Revolutionary Guard heaved a sigh of relief when the team went down in their final game and qualification slipped from their grasp.
As we and our bus thundered along the roads of western Tehran it soon became apparent that no tour group had ever requested a trip to the National Stadium before and we were making Tourist History in our own way. Neither the guide nor the driver had a clue where they were going. We could see the stadium tantalisingly in the distance but we circled it for several loops before we found a gate where we could get in.
Driving round and round the car park our hopes started to rise. Firstly the car parks were open - a good sign. Secondly, there were lots of cars - which suggested a fair chance that something was going on in the stadium and our chances of getting in would be enhanced. But again, local knowledge let us down - where was the actual entrance?
We parked up and headed for what appeared to be some kind of VIP entrance with our stadium-obsessed tour-mate and our rather nervous guide leading the way. We all trotted along behind for want of anything more exciting to do until the guide advised us that turning up mob-handed wasn't the best approach and we were despatched back to the bus.
As time stretched by we felt more and more optimistic that he'd get in. His wife sat on the bus tut-ing and shaking her head and muttering about him being 'the cross I have to bear' and swearing 'This is the last time he does this to me'. Eventually after about 15 minutes, the pair returned without success. There were just too many men with machine guns and too few with a sense of humour or a sense of compassion. We never found out what was going on in the stadium that day but clearly a man with a football dream and a slick line in persuasion had met his match. We commiserated and headed back to the city with our heads filled with what might have been. A fitting end to a day of getting very little done but doing it in a good spirit.