Saturday, August 04, 2012


Indonesia's Finest Football Ambassadors

Persebaya fans greet their Persitara counterparts

Persebaya’s notorious support, known as Bonek, are in the news again. This time though the news isn’t about rioting fans or supporters falling off trains. Instead the news is positive. At a time when Indonesian football is just another synonym for disaster the fans of Persebaya Surabaya are being held up as a positive.

Queens Park Rangers are not one of the biggest teams in England. They are not even one of the biggest in London. But they do now have a rich owner who happens to come from Malaysia and through that link the west London team have spent a week or so in South East Asia playing friendlies and raising their profile.

The tour started in Sabah against a state select team that featured the likes of Robbie Gaspar, a familiar name in Indonesian football circles, Titus Bonai, an Indonesian striker who just signed for BEC Tero in Thailand and Baihakki Khaizan who had spells with Persija, Persib and Medan Chiefs.

QPR won 5-0. From Sabah they flew from the giant island of Borneo to the Malay Peninsula for their second friendly against Malaysian champions Kelantan. The team from the north east of the country are known for their own passionate support but this game was played in Shah Alam, just outside Kuala Lumpur. QPR won 5-0.

Next up was Surabaya and the Bonek. Rather like skinheads and hippies, ‘polite’ society recoil at the mere mention of the word. Thousands of teenage scamps, street kids and students clad in green sharing a middle finger to all authority, Bonek are like the boogey man. When they hit town the inhabitants shutter down for the duration.

Their reputation, like skinheads, punks and hippies, proceeds them. They are deemed guilty by association. Once, when they played away to Persib Bandung, TV cameras showed their progress as they travelled by economy train across the island of Java. Repelled and fascinated at the same time, viewers found themselves watching speechless as the young fans filled the coaches of the train and clambered on the roof or clung on to the engine.

The authorities, it seemed, were powerless to stop them. At various stations along the route local youths spilled out from their kampongs to throw rocks at the Persebaya fans despoiling their turf and of course the camera crews were there to beam it to their audience.

Queens Park Rangers knew none of this of course. Joey Barton, the closest English football has to a Bonek, wasn’t on the trip, suspended after his behavior away to Manchester City when City won the Premier League. They were here to play a one off friendly, Surabaya was just the last game on the tour.

An estimated 1,000 motorcyles followed the QPR team bus, and motorcycle outriders, out to the Bung Tomo Stadium. Inside the stadium 55,000 fans sang and chanted themselves hoarse. QPR had come to play football; they left blown away by the home team’s support.

There were massive banners and flags, fireworks, choreographed displays. For one evening Persebaya’s fearsome Bonek had become Indonesia’s football ambassadors and the visitors were impressed, taking to the internet to tell everyone about the incredible evening they had just enjoyed in indonesia’s second city.

Coming in the week that Everton and Galatasary pulled out of a trip to Indonesia to compete in the Java Cup, the Bonek at least ensured football in the country had regained some pride in the eyes of the world.

COMMENT - this was written 25 July for the Jakarta Globe. No idea if they used it or not!

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