Tehran, Iran – Screams and cheers that could be heard a block away, vuvuzelas exploding, clouds of cigarette smoke billowing into the lights.
These are not scenes that Tehran’s Honarmandan (artists) park is used to seeing on a normal night. But it was in this setting that the last match of the Great Street Football Ramadan Cup took place on Wednesday evening.
Hundreds of people – mostly young men and women, but also families with children and dog walkers – had gathered to watch the Gol Koochik (small goal) match, played in one of the big empty swimming pools. park.
Gol Koochik is a variation of street football popular in Iran that uses a small net and a lightweight, improvised plastic ball.
For the tournament, 20 teams of four registered and competed in the event held for the first time during the Muslim holy month.
Women were not allowed to register with their own teams because the entities responsible for issuing permits for such events – the local municipality and law enforcement – would not give the green light.
But men and women watched the match together, which is still denied them in football stadiums.
The local police station also got into the game and hired two teams. The other teams were mostly made up of people from cafes and local businesses in downtown Tehran.
“They are our neighbours,” Erfan Delfani said, pointing to a police station across the street.
The 31-year-old, who runs a small but popular omelette restaurant next to the park, said the municipality and the police have been very helpful. Having grown up with Gol Koochik like many other young Iranians, he had the idea to organize the tournament.
“At one point we were even thinking of giving up, but they were great and helped us keep going,” he told Al Jazeera. “It also helped that wherever we needed to go for permits, we mentioned that two police teams would be in the tournament.”
Delfani did not advertise the tournament widely, instead relying on his network of local friends and associates.
But word spread enough that many locals he didn’t know also signed up, and the tournament ended up having 80 players and five sponsors.
Hundreds more sat watching from the sides of the drained pool and surrounding areas.
He said he would certainly like to organize another tournament for next year, thanks in large part to his own experience as part of one of the 20 teams.
“Apart from everything else, I had a lot of fun as a player. I felt a bit like Cristiano Ronaldo, I really had that stadium feeling,” he said with a smile.
“But also, from a point on, the competitive football element really got emboldened. I myself really wanted to win and I think all the other players felt the same way.
This was most evident in the four games last night, where fans argued, teams played intensely, red cards were shown by the referee and several fights broke out, after one of which the match had to be stopped for half an hour until the players finally made peace.
Changing hours during Ramadan, which this year ends in early May with the celebration of Eid al-Fitr, Tehran and cities across Iran are undergoing a number of changes.
Many of them revolve around religious activities as people gather for iftar ceremonies, share food, hold mourning events and hold prayers.
But like those who observe the dawn-to-dusk Ramadan fast, the month also has major implications for the businesses and activities available, especially Tehran’s vibrant cafe culture.
While catering businesses can legally only stay open until midnight on normal nights, during Ramadan they are allowed to operate until dawn when the fast begins.
But restaurants and cafes are not allowed to open before sunset and could face fines and eventual closures if they break the rules.
They can start offering take-out services an hour before sunset. Offering cold dishes is however allowed at any time.
As every year, the country’s attorney general and police chiefs have warned that eating and drinking in public during Ramadan is a “crime” and those who engage in it will face legal ramifications.
Thus, non-fasting citizens have no choice but to wait until after iftar if they want to eat out.
Tehran at night is a vibrant city with a life of its own and a collective vibe, said Parsa Shahrivar, who runs Peeyade, an online media dedicated to exploring the metropolis.
Peeyade features a variety of activities and places to hang out at any time of the day through its social media accounts and email offerings.
But Ramadan has also changed its schedule. “We now set our content around iftar time, as many of our audiences are expecting an offer around this time to go out and experience the city,” he told Al Jazeera.
There is some semblance of nightlife in Tehran outside of Ramadan, Shahrivar said, but it is not as lively and extensive as during the Muslim holy month.
To promote it, Peeyade had drafted a series of offers for nighttime activities in the city which she also plans to publish beyond Ramadan.
These include walks through some of Tehran’s 22 neighborhoods, which offer a variety of styles of urban development and architecture, in addition to cultural gatherings, theaters and art galleries.
30 Tir Street in downtown Tehran is one of the places where it is always crowded at night. During Ramadan, its dozens of street food vendors, colorful lights and crowds buzz into the wee hours of the morning.
The authorities’ nightlife plan, Shahrivar said, in Tehran and other cities must develop an unaltered and “organic” way to have the desired quality for citizens and also to help businesses, which have suffered a hard blow from the combined effect of the economic crisis. recession and the COVID-19 pandemic. “We think Tehran has the potential,” he said.
“But even though Tehran and other cities have a nightlife culture, law enforcement and oversight entities, such as city councils, are generally not nightlife friendly and might even consider that it goes against the way of life accepted by citizens in Iranian cities”.
The extension of night activities and their extension during overtime has been discussed for years, but has not yet been implemented. The previous city council, for example, last year approved a “Wake up Tehran” nightlife plan after years of deliberation that was rejected by police.
Police officials have primarily raised concerns about citizen safety and upholding Islamic principles during these overtime hours.
But Shahrivar believes it is possible for local authorities and communities to develop an understanding for the expansion of social activities that would both meet authorities’ standards and help local communities and businesses.
“We don’t think the city can have these positive developments overnight. It is a process that takes time, but is doable,” he said.