Tuesday, June 13, 2006


Developing Indonesian football

I was greeted in the corridor today by one of the football freaks, a lad who seemingly has a different football shirt for each day of the week.

Good news sir, Italy won, he said

Why is that good news I asked him

Because I cheer for Italy was his reply.

Well, I said, it’s not good news if you come from Ghana.

Oh yes he replied.

Cue his best mate, a Man Utd supporting lad who told me his father was going to buy him a new pair of 200 dollar football boots. I’ve seen him play and believe me 200 dollar boots won’t improve his performance one iota. His Petr Cech gloves haven’t helped either but hey he’s a marketing man’s dream.

We sit and discuss 3-5-2 or 4-4-2, which I don’t understand, Rooney’s foot injury and never mind the Ballack, they know everything there is to know about European football they can glean from magazines, hell they even buy Shoot! But they know jack shit about Indonesian football.

On the face of it Indonesia has all the ingredients of a successful footballing legacy. It has a crap league. So does Brazil. It has a large population. So does Brazil. Indonesia has indigenous music, gamelan, so does Brazil, samba. Indonesia cuts down trees. So does Brazil. Indonesia has people obsessed by football, so does Brazil. But whereas Brazilians tend to be in love with Brazilian football, Indonesians also love Brazilian football. And Italian. And English. And Spanish. In fact anything but their own domestic league.

The interest is there. Check out the packed terraces each week at Semarang, Jakarta, Bandung, check out the young lads who proudly where their teams colours week in week out. But these are priabumi, local Indonesians, usually working class lads or school kids who pack metro minis and angkots for their weekly dose of football. The game today is not dissimilar to England 35 years ago. A working class game played in poor stadiums lacking facilities with no marketing and no master plan.

We need these young lads to keep attending or the game becomes the home of the ‘prawn sandwich’ brigade that Roy Keane famously slagged off a few years back. They provide the passion and excitement from the terraces that can lift their team to dizzying heights. Remember the old chestnut about the Kop sucking the ball in at Anfield. But we also need fresh input to the game, new ideas to widen the fan base, to attract more money, to get Indonesia progressing.

The money has to come from somewhere but where? The game and the teams today are funded mostly by local government with all the baggage that entails. In its present state it isn’t realistic to expect sponsors to through money at the game. There’s too much crap on and off the pitches for that. But it does need something to kick start the game.

Much of the world is obsessed by celebrity. How many people today around the world follow either Manchester United or Real Madrid courtesy of one David Beckham esquire? It ain’t the traditional way of following a club, it has traditionalists like me vomiting but people today like a ready packaged product, it’s what they’re used to. Ok, given them what they want.

There must be somewhere out there, some glamourous player living the high life who can be moulded by the marketing men so successful at selling 200 dollar boots to a player who can’t kick straight. There’s got to be a club with the business savvy to develop a marketing side that exploits the player and the club. Of course to do this the clubs need to be run as businesses. Stop local government funding, attract sponsors, market the club as a brand. It’s a proven business model be it LA Lakers or Glasgow Celtic and check out the terraces here. People buy souvenirs to identify with their club, it ain’t rocket science.

As the sport widens its appeal so money can be spent on improving facilities in the stadiums, installing some seats which would provide more comfort to the more discerning supporter as well as doubling as useful weapons to hurl at referees and opposing players. With the glamour factor it would be possible to attract higher profile sponsors to the clubs and games generating yet more money.

Of course having a successful domestic league is no guarantee on success on the world stage, step forward England, but by having cash swilling round the league perhaps people can develop a master plan for the national team, a long term programme geared towards qualifying for the World Cup, something no ASEAN team has done since 1938 when the Dutch East Indies had a go.

Mind you, in the words of John Lennon…

…you may say I’m a dreamer…

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