Friday, March 02, 2012
Why We Love Indonesian Football
what an extraordinary place to visit! The locals literally could not have been more hospitable, friendly and welcoming, and despite a constant battle with the language barrier it was a brilliant adventure.
I ended up seeing Johor v T-Team, SAFC v Brunei, Persiba Bantul v Persiraja, Persenga Nganjuk v Pasuaran, PSMP Mojokerto v Perseru, Persis Solo v Cilacap and PSISra Sragen v Boyolali. Two of them proved to be the most remarkable football matches I have ever witnessed – they were literally the stuff of dreams as far as football tourism goes.
At Nganjuk it took about 90mins to walk from my mosquito infested prison-cell (I think there was only one hotel in town) to the little ramshackle stadium. I expected a crowd of maybe a few hundred – similar to my local team Tooting – but the stadium was already filling up an hour before kick-off, and by kick-off it was dangerously overcrowded all the way around. Police had just waved me through the gate without having to buy a ticket and then two lads (who turned out to be the cheer-leaders) pushed me towards a couple of their mates who spoke English, so I found myself right in the singing and dancing section and not that far from an aggressive mob clad in green who they said supported Persebaya and were just there to provoke aggro.
With the home side 2-0 up and around 60 mins gone, all hell suddenly let loose. A home player was the recipient of a heavy tackle, he responded by punching the perpetrator and in turn the visiting keeper ran half the length of the pitch to brutally stamp on leg of the player who had thrown the punch. Instantly the keeper turned and scarpered, legging it across the width of the pitch with about five players in hot pursuit, whilst brawls broke out between the other players. The keeper was stopped in his tracks by a flying two-footed assault by one of the substitutes of Nganjuk, and he was then brutally beaten before police managed to come to his aid.
I did not know where to look next, as a few spectators had also run on to the pitch, whilst the Surabaya mob were trying to penetrate the gate below me and join those on the pitch.
Finally the players converged around their respective dug-outs, surrounded by police, whilst the match officials also huddled together, equally surrounded by police. I assumed the match would be abandoned, but chaos continued to reign for 15 mins and finally the referee walked to the centre circle and blew his whistle, the two captains trotted over to join him followed by their teammates and following handshakes and hugs all round the match resumed (although not before the keeper had been taken off on a stretcher and substituted).
There was not a single red card, or even a yellow…I’m guessing this is the sort of thing you see all the time but I was just totally dumb-struck (there is actually a video-clip of the news broadcast here: http://metrotvnews.com/read/newsvideo/2012/02/23/145836/Laga-Persenga-Nganjuk-dan-Persekabpas-Pasuruan-Ricuh/14 )
The very next day I got an early bus to the equally non-descript East Javan city of Mojokerto, and this time a kindly teacher who sat next to me got me a lift to a fantastic and really cheap hotel. As I checked in I noticed a washing line, hanging from which were a load of orange shirts belonging to Perseru from Papua. Having found a player (Doni) who spoke English he asked the manager, and it was agreed I could travel to the game in Mojosari on the team coach.
Doni was really excited as it was the first time ever he was playing in a game that was being broadcast live on TV, and sure enough the cameras were there to record the moment I stepped off the coach in my filthy rags and was ushered through the throng to the changing rooms, where I sat through the team talk and held hands during team prayers. I then took my place in the “VIP” section with two injured players (yeah, basically an old concrete terrace but with a roof!).
The game was dire, but again in a flash it turned tasty. The referee gave the home side a penalty with 20 mins remaining which they scored. He then made them retake it for encroachment and it was smashed over the bar. Suddenly the referee was surrounded by furious home players and pushed and jostled. He tried to retreat but was held by one player and then punched and kicked by a second. He then managed to wriggle free and ran from the pitch with the players in hot pursuit, and as the police pushed him through the gate just below me spectators also gave him a few pot shots. It was quite astonishing.
My two mates just shrugged and grinned. “This is Indonesia. Football is always like this!”
The crowd (the little stadium was so packed there were people sitting around the perimeter of the pitch) remained in place, and after ten minutes the referee and linesmen walked back on to the pitch, the two teams came over and shook his hand, and he blew his whistle to restart the match, once again without a single card being shown…
Mojokerto ended up winning 1-0 with a last minute goal, and as I sat with the players on the pitch afterwards as they received their post-match bollocking, one of them whisphered to me that the manager had just told them he had resigned as he was so disgusted. I never found out if this was true or not but the managers face was in the paper alongside a few paragraphs the next day so it is very likely.
After the match I talked through the game with Doni, and he blamed the defeat on the pitch and the heat, admitted he needed to get fitter and also explained how difficult it was to win an away game because of the referees / corruption. The one glaringly obvious complaint/excuse he should have used was that at least two of the home players should have been sent off, probably 6-7. This hadn’t even occurred to him until I pointed it out…
There were only two real frustrations: when I opened the newspaper on Saturday morning and saw a photo of the Persebaya – Indo U21 match with the stadium glowing pink – I hadn’t even realised the match was being played and had only been 40km away. And equally that same day Magelang and Sleman had played the first of two derby matches that they played on consecutive days, one in each of the two Utama Leagues. Early that week I had seen the fixture mentioned in two papers, with each stating a contradictory date, so I had given up on it and plumped for Persis Solo. It had not even occurred to me both papers were talking about different fixtures between the same sides at the same stadium…!