Monday, February 12, 2007


Football needs fans

Watching the Tangerang Derby yesterday on TV one thing soon became perfectly clear. Playing such an important game behind closed doors takes away much of what makes football the vibrant, passionate sport that it is. You could hear the shouts of the players, the coaches, the flight path overhead. It had the look and feel of a practice game in the park but even there you’d get more passion than was witnessed yesterday at the Benteng Stadium.

Of course, at the moment Italy is getting all the headlines about football being played out in empty stadia for different reasons but at least for yesterday the reasoning was different. By allowing the game to go ahead without fans, the PSSI, the police and the clubs were making a glaring statement. They were saying they couldn’t trust their fans to behave themselves. They were saying they would rather forego the cash at the turnstiles than risk rampaging fans grabbing the headlines. The police were saying that they couldn’t control several thousand excited teenagers. Let’s be honest, most of these supposed hooligans are kids, young kids at that.

Another argument could be that with Indonesia hosting part of the Asian Cup this year, the said authorities didn’t want headlines of fan violence dominating the Asian headlines. Fair enough but…

One can assume, well one can hope, that admission to the Asian Cup games will be tightly controlled. Fans will only be able to get in by tickets purchased in advance. What was stopping the football authorities trying this new concept, new to Indonesia, on high risk league games? Of course it’s not that simple there will always be gatemen willing to take a back hander to ensure smooth entrance to ticketless fans: it used to happen in England after all!

But if Indonesia is serious about doing something about the violence that plagues the game then surely now is the time to do something about it? Get players out in the community. Introduce better ticketing arrangements, have high octane games designated all ticket. Charge people who offend. Ban people who are convicted of football violence. Play games at midnight. Many of the problems are societal problems and some of the solutions I’ve given are pie in the sky but something concrete needs to be done.

I lived through English football in the 70’s and 80’s where you’d go to a terrace brawl and once in a while a football match would break out. For years, the authorities did nothing. It took tragedies, not one but several, before people got serious about solving the problem. Given the disasters that have hit Indonesia in recent months, one can’t help but fear that should one tragedy occur, apathy will see others.

These are crucial times for Indonesia. The Asian Cup is just one aspect. Next season sees a new Super Liga of 18 clubs. Clubs are gagging for more resources from the corporate sector. To move beyond the deep pockets of the tobacco sector, Indonesian football will need to improve its product and get the fans in the stadium supporting their teams passionately but behaving more responsibly.


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