Thursday, September 16, 2010


Sriwijaya's Glory Years

There is much debate in Thailand about people or cities 'buying' a football club and moving it lock, stock and 7-11 to a new part of the country. Recent examples include the city of Pattaya buying Coke Bang Phra's place in the Premier League and moving them just along the road to Pattaya.

A famous provincial politician also bought PEA, champions just a couple of years back, and relocated them to his stronghold of Buriram.

Perhaps the most successful club though to have been parachuted in on an unsuspecting public is Sriwijaya. In an earlier carnation they were known as Persijatim Jakarta Timur before moving to Solo and being known as Persijatim Solo.

Then they were 'bought' by the province of South Sumatra, or was it the city of Palembang, and they shifted north.

Palembang has never, as far as I can make out, been known as much of a footballing town unlike Solo, Bandung or Malang. But they hosted an impressive enough stadium, Jakabaring Stadium, and backers keen to bring success to their province.

Appointing Rahmad Darmawan set them on the way to glory. In his three years they won the title, three Cups and a Community Shield and they have become regular fixtures in Asian international competition. Sriwijaya have become one of the biggest names in Indonesian football but they haven't become a 'big' club. Not yet.

I don't have a scooby what makes a big club except that perhaps you can't manufacture one in a couple of seasons. Persib are big, Persija, Persebaya and Arema. But Sriwijaya haven't been around long enough to develop its own culture, its own history.

The name is a good start. Sriwijaya refers to an empire about 1000 years ago that extended from East Java up to the southern area of Thailand. In a league chocca of Persi this and Perse that Sriwijaya is something local people can relate to.

One thing about Indonesian football is people support teams they can identify with. Usually because they come from that town, city or region. Persib represent Sunda, Perspiura represent Papua and PSM are the pride of South Sulawesi.

What that means is that a person born in Bandung and living in Surabaya is going to suport Persib. He is less likely to see who the champions are and start following them because they are winning. (Wow, does that kind of shit really happen?).

So Sriwijaya's success is only going to be celebrated by Sriwijaya fans. When they play Arema in the Community Shield next weekend they will not be cheered on by thousands of travelling fans. It's too far. And they won't have hundreds of curious locals checking them out. Because they're in Malang and Arek Malang support Arema.

The handful of fans who will be wearing green and yellow in the stadium will most likely be migrants or students from Palembang/South Sumatra who have made Malang, or the area, their home.

There is a downside to this. Instead of being played at a neutral venue, as befits a season opener or a showpiece game like the cup final, a venue is chosen that will feature one of the competing teams. When Sriwijaya won the Inter Island Cup defeating Persiwa Wamena, from Papua, the game was played in Palembang because a neutral venue would have seen no fans turn up.

Sriwijaya's new era begins next week under former Indonesian national team coach Ivan Kolev as they defend the Community Shield against Champions Arema. The pressure will be on Kolev and his team to keep that success flowing. The fans have known little else.

2007/2008 Copa Indonesia
2007/2008 Liga Indonesia
2008/2009 Copa Indonesia
2009/2010 Community Shield
2009/2010 Indonesian Cup
2010/2011 Inter Island Cup

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