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Clinton Morrison On One Of The Craziest Atmospheres He's Ever Played In

Conor Neville
By Conor Neville
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They started burning stuff on the terraces and were starting fires all over the place. It was surreal. It was one of the craziest atmospheres I've ever played in.

Clinton Morrison (on Iran, 2001)

Not for the first time, little tellys were wheeled into classrooms all around Ireland, as teachers gave up trying to teach and all sat around watching the nerve-racking action in Tehran.

After three successive playoff defeats against Holland, Belgium and Turkey, there was an irresistible feeling that our time had come - a sense that we were due some  luck in the playoffs. The team had undergone a violent transition at the beginning of McCarthy era, suffering six straight friendly defeats in the summer of 1996.

They had built steadily since those bumpy early days, bidding adieu to most of the veterans of Italia 90 along the way. By the start of the 2002 campaign, only Quinn and Staunton remained.

In many ways, it would have been a travesty had Ireland not reached Japan/Korea. The new cross-continental playoff arrangement served to highlight the unjust lot of the small country in Europe.

Having gone unbeaten in their group and eliminated Holland for the tournament, Ireland still had to face off with a team who had finished runners-up to Saudi Arabia in AFC qualifying.


Saudi Arabia would later prove their 'worth' in the competition proper. A 3-1 loss at home to Bahrain had condemned Iran to the playoff.

The new playoff arrangement presented another complication. One thousand Irish supporters were expected to travel, a small percentage of them being women.

The Islamic Republic of Iran took a dim view of women attending sporting events. They were keen to protect them from the aural outrage that was men's excessive swearing at football matches.


However, the Iranians decided to relax these laws for Irish women on the rationale that they did not understand Farsi and so would not understand the bad language employed by the Iranians.

The Irish do not speak Farsi, so they will not understand the bad language which most of the Iranian men use during the matches.

The Iranian government

No effort was made to protect the women from Irish swearing.

Another condition of their attendance was that they don the traditional Iranian head-scarf, the hijab, along with clothes covering their arms and legs. The Iranians were less prescriptive about the dress of Irish male supporters, but they did direct them not to wear shorts or short sleeved shirts.

Ireland delivered a shaky performance against the Iranians on Lansdowne Road on the Saturday. 2-0 was a nice lead to take to Tehran but it was far from unassailable


The players were dismayed to learn that Keane had returned to Manchester and had been declared unfit for the second leg. Mick McCarthy obviously stored this incident for later use. Clinton Morrison, though disappointed at the time, says Keane wouldn't be the type to feign injury to avoid playing for his country.

I just remember him playing the first leg and we getting a good result. 2-0. And just I remember going into the Iran game thinking, 'we need our captain badly', because he's our leader.

He must have gone back home the next couple of days. And next thing you know he wasn't going to be fit. For the whole squad, it hit us at the time, it was hard to take, because he was playing out of his skin. He was one of the best midfielders in the world and we needed him... But Mark Kinsella and Matt Holland they did a brilliant job.

We played Iran I think on the Saturday. He had the day off on the Sunday. And then on the Monday, we'd heard he'd gone back and he said he wasn't going to be fit. And then we thought, 'aw, come on we need ya, you played the whole game, we didn't see no sign of an injury' but obviously, if he's says he's injured, you've got to take his word for it because I don't think anyone would not want to play for his country. Obviously, there was a lot of talk at home about 'was he injured? was he not injured?' but I don't think he's a person who lies. I think he gives it to you straight.


The Keane news, combined with the unimpressive nature of Saturday's performance, provoked huge unease. On Questions and Answers that Monday night, Eamon Dunphy boldly predicted a 3-0 win for Iran.


The Azadi Stadium in Tehran was a massive open air bowl capable of holding 120,000 spectators. Prior to the kick-off, Iranians unveiled banners indicating that they agreed with Eamon Dunphy's prediction on Questions and Answers.

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The game itself was nervy. Iran had the two best chances of the first half. Just after the half-hour, Ali Karimi had a completely free header which slid wide of the post. First let-off.

Three minutes later, the Irish defence failed to deal with a hopping ball, Given only half came and then retreated, and Ali Deai nipped in and lofted a looping header over Given. Fortunately it went just wide of the post.

Early in the second half, David Connolly should have finished the game but bashed the ball into the side-netting. Two minutes later, Given made a super save from Karim Bagheri and was alert enough to push the ball out for a corner before Daei could tap in the rebound.


The final thirty minutes were devoid of close shaves as Ireland largely snuffed out the game. Morrison was introduced with fourteen minutes remaining.

He hadn't featured much in the campaign before that point.

I didn't play much in the campaign. I came in late. I came in for the Holland game, the day when Jason McAteer scored that goal. I didn't play that much because I had just committed to playing and obviously we had a few friendlies where I had to work my way into the squad. But I do remember the Iran game like it happened two days ago.

The Iranians made their displeasure known in the traditional manner - by setting fire to stadium. It was then that Morrison knew the result was secure.

I do remember that. They started burning stuff on the terraces and were starting fires all over the place. It was surreal. It was one of the craziest atmospheres I've ever played in.

The goal, when it came, was unnecessary, as Jogi Loew might put it, but it was much too late. Mick McCarthy looked a touch teary in the post-match interview and Morrison said he went on a hugging tour of the dressing room afterwards, and no one was overlooked.

He was emotional. You could see he had tears in his eyes. He was hugging all the staff and all the players. It was great for him because he'd lost so many playoffs and got so close before.


[Watch Video]

Needless to say, the party carried on long into the Iranian night. Clinton was prominent amid the celebrations.

I was probably up there with one of the ones who partied hardest! The changing rooms weren't the best. They were a little small. There were lads just bouncing off the walls. It was surreal. It was one of the best nights I've ever had in football.

Read more: Balls Remembers The Night Scotland Went 'Beyond The Call Of Duty' To Help Out Ireland



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