If we consider football as a social and connected sport to the behavior of the masses, Malavan Bandar Anzali Football Club is one of the five important clubs in Iran and the most successful Iranian club in the past season. The importance and success that I claim are compared one-to-one with other clubs in the two main leagues. In areas such as being social and having organic and continuous connections with the community, participation of social groups in decision-making and operational processes, income generation and efficient use of the allocated budget, use of young and specialized workforce in the organizational structure of the club, and finally scoring in competitions and achieving top positions in the table.
The importance that I am talking about cannot be measured by media and advertising criteria, such as the number of fans, but rather by the level of influence and impact on society. Just as every social phenomenon should be measured not only by the number of people involved but also by the level of penetration and influence it has on society. For policymakers and sports officials who are responsible for providing foundational support and adopting non-populist and sustainable approaches, attention should be paid to criteria such as the popularity and influence of clubs in the local community and their level of impact on the local society. From this perspective, Malavan can be considered as one of the few clubs deserving special attention in today’s Iranian football. This right is even seen as excessive by political figures and senior government officials in Gilan province itself! But why is it like this?
1. Opportunity or Threat?
In all local communities, social stimuli are taken very seriously and are counted as a blessing. Identity-building and branding of smaller cities are done with the help of various festivals and events with this intention. Attracting capital from outside the region and directing it towards productive and development-oriented subjects will be easier from this simple path. Now imagine that in a city like Anzali, which has the necessary potential, you have a club like Malavan that has an organic connection with a dynamic and experienced sports community and is geographically and communicatively in one of the best positions relative to the country’s capital centers. Why not take advantage of this opportunity and treat Malavan as a threat? (Threat as a recipient or loser of part of the limited resources available to the local government). The reality is that the sick economy of Iranian football has convinced most managers and officials that there is no development in this sport and it is all cost without return. If in every part of the world, seventy percent of the income of football clubs comes from television broadcasting rights, here with the monopoly of national television and depriving others of this income, clubs are considered bankrupt in advance and resort to receiving free government aid, which often has a direct relationship with various forms of power rents. As a result, if there is no profitable industrial unit such as oil, steel or state-owned mines near your club to cover the losses of club ownership, government officials are not interested in getting involved in development processes and of course the subsequent political responses. But are these reasons and lack of motivation enough for senior provincial managers to evade responsibility? If we look at the economic position of Bandar Anzali and the number of economic enterprises located in the area, the equations change. Only one case, Anzali Free Zone (with a clear legal responsibility in creating economic development chains), is enough to know that the reason for not using Malavan’s opportunity goes back to a complex set of sectoral views, laziness, and avoiding fundamental responsibilities in which all players (from local government officials to parliamentary representatives) are involved. Fortunately, it seems that this blind knot will only be opened if there is determination from the central government and, of course, being forced to open it.
2. Sustainable Income
The absence of a permanent facility to support the club in the sick economy of Iranian football forces Malavan to search for small but sustainable sources of income to cover the basic expenses of the club. The experience of the previous season showed that private but temporary sponsors, despite their good intentions and commitment to supporting sports, are greatly affected by the economic fluctuations in their business environment and personal decisions influenced by external factors. Therefore, there is no way other than independent income generation. The young and creative management team of Malavan has also realized this necessity and has experimented with small-scale economic projects. However, for greater sustainability and achieving more impactful achievements in this path, cooperation from the government and planning by a special economic team are needed. This may seem strange in the context of club ownership, but the sick economy of Iranian football forces Malavan to adopt an economic development model based on urban and regional opportunities and a series of sustainable economic projects, similar to an economic holding. These projects can range from owning public parking lots and establishing small tourism centers to participating in transportation industries and port facilities, as well as setting up related or unrelated production and industrial units. These advantages have been completely legal and customary within the framework of Iran’s economic laws. Therefore, a sports club with public benefits can also take advantage of the opportunities and special positions that governments grant to their affiliated cooperatives or other public institutions. Defining the institutional framework for these activities to ensure public benefit from the benefits of these projects and resources, guarantee the stability of Malavan’s income, and prevent it from going astray and becoming a source of new troubles for the club, relies on the knowledge and creativity of the same team of economists and strategists. Additionally, the collaborative presence of responsible managers in local and provincial government institutions will have a significant impact on the success of such a complex mission.
The people of Anzali and fans of Malavan in other cities and villages in Gilan have established one of the best connections between the club and the masses in recent years, and they bear the greatest responsibility. The public support for Malavan is so strong and comprehensive that it has solidified its unparalleled popularity in the city. From players like Pejman Nouri to Maziar Zare and from basic coaches to other technical and support staff of Malavan, they are in direct contact with the people of Anzali and also indirectly through representatives of social groups, veteran groups, and multiple fan groups that have formed around Malavan over the past five decades. All of these groups influence both major and minor decisions of the club and, with their collective wisdom, keep the club away from the usual troubles of the football world. Malavan is a complete and unique social club in this regard. Alongside these real networks, a collection of virtual groups on various social networks engage in daily discussions, conversations, and exchanges of ideas about team-related topics and issues. These groups have shaped the official and unofficial sports media in Anzali and operate so professionally that they have made Malavan fans independent of all provincial and local media.
4. Civil Institutions
Despite the unique strength and position that Malavan holds in society, selected social groups such as veteran players and passionate football fans in Anzali have not been able to establish a suitable institutional position to present their demands through channels other than the club. The city of Anzali, with its long history of sporting achievements and even longer history of civil demands, has had a good foundation to establish unions and influential associations with the participation of athletes and sports enthusiasts, and to utilize the accumulated energies in this city through timely institutional programs. This deficiency has been felt throughout these years, especially during critical moments for Malavan, and without the creativity of the city’s intellectual elite, it will not be resolved. The problem of the non-productivity of football schools and grassroots teams in Anzali can only be addressed by the involvement of such civil institutions and the encouragement of responsible authorities who own the land and facilities in the city. This is also the challenge that currently causes numerous problems for Malavan in the player development process.
New season of the Iranian Premier League begins with Malavan starting as a symbol of strength and vulnerability amidst numerous challenges. The economic difficulties and overwhelming expenses that every club faces, including the fear of losing government support, may hinder the young and innovative managers of Malavan and turn the dreams of the coastal residents into a bitter nightmare. Unless, not only in Anzali but throughout Gilan, Malavan is seen as an opportunity for local community development, and without prejudice or bias, efforts are made to secure the necessary rights from a government that neglects development and transfer them to capable managers of this club.