Sunday 8 December 2019

'They put a gun in one player's mouth' - Eamon Zayed on his time in Libya and how he addressed 75million people in Iran

Eamon Zayed
Eamon Zayed
Ger Keville

Ger Keville

One would think that coming off the bench, with his team two down, to score a hat-trick in the last ten minutes of a Tehran derby in front of 90,000 people is as exciting as it gets.  

That's exactly what Eamon Zayed did back in 2012 in his second game for Iranian side Persepolis.

Zayed was propelled to celebrity status in those dying minutes against arch rivals Esteghal six years ago and even ended up addressing 75million Iranian people on national TV to wish them a happy New Year.

Two years before his Iranian escapades, Zayed made the headlines when he made use of the 'Granny Rule' to play international football for Libya and that's where the tales began in a colourful career.

Speaking on the Sports Show, Zayed regaled to hosts David Coughlan and Mark McCadden of his time in Libya and Iran - and one particular day when a gang turned up armed with guns and threatened certain players at a time when the revolution against the Gaddafi regime was at its height.

"We would have played in Tripoli from when I started – end of 2010, 2011 – and in 2012, February 17, I think, when the revolt in Libya kicked off," said Zayed.

"It wasn't long after that Gaddafi was killed. But we would have played all our home games there up to that point.

"Then it became dangerous. I went over in the summer of 2012 or 2013 to play a friendly game against Congo.

"It was August. We trained in the national stadium. Before that, when the revolt against Gaddafi kicked off, Gaddafi asked some of the players in the team to go on national TV in support of him.

"Football players over there are celebrities and they have a lot of clout. He got a number of players to go on TV and say they support Gaddafi.

"When they finally got rid of him, when he was killed, they said these players that came out on national TV, we don't want them playing for the national team again.

"These were some of the best players. It became awkward. A lot of these players – seven to 10 – were told not to play for the national team.

I remember we trained in the national stadium and I think there were one or two players who went on national TV training with us.

"Next thing a group of young guys came in – late-teens, early-20s. They came onto the pitch with guns. Everyone stopped and stood still.

"They went over to one of the guys that went on TV, put a gun to his mouth and told him to get out of there. They just started kicking our balls away. We literally got our stuff and got out of there. I was scared, obviously. After that I didn't really want to travel back to Libya and play games."

From Libya to Iran and Zayed's action-packed time away from Ireland continued.

Speaking about the hat-trick celebrations in that Tehran derby, he added: "My agent comes in and he has tears in his eyes. He said you don't understand what you just did.

"We are sitting there in the hotel lobby and there is a weeding going on in the hotel. One guy comes over and goes, 'are you Eamonn Zayed?'

"He runs back into the wedding and next thing you have a couple of hundred people, genuinely, I am not making this up, the wedding stopped and they came running through the door, coming over to me and surrounding me.

"I had grown men trying to kiss me in the head. I still don't know what is going on here.

"Within two months I appeared on their New Year (Match 21) show, in national TV as part of a panel to wish the nation a happy new year.

"This guy comes over from Ireland and wished the whole country a happy new year and we are talking like 70/75million people in Iran."

You can listen to the full interview here

Who is your sportstar of the year?

Vote in the Irish Independent Sport Star Awards and you could win the ultimate sports prize.

Prizes include, tickets to Ireland's against Scotland in the Six Nations, All Ireland football and hurling final tickets and much more.

Simply click here to register your vote

Online Editors

The Left Wing: The problem with the Champions Cup, the Stephen Larkham effect and trouble in Welsh rugby

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport