Sunday, July 14, 2013


The Arsenal Are In Town

They came from near, they came from far. In Indonesia, a country of 17,000 islands and three time zones far can be a bloody long way and near doesn’t necessarily equate with ease either as the creaking infrastructure struggles to cope with early 1990s traffic, let alone this decade.

There’s rumours of a guy who has come all the way from Manokwari on the island of Papua way out east somewhere. Closer to Australia than Jakarta. I wonder. Is he a fan of the local team, Perseman Manokwari? Former Arsenal striker Christopher Wreh played there for half a season.

Then there is the Ternate branch of the supporters club. Ternate, one of the original fragrant Spice Islands that first raised the west’s awareness of this part of the world, a tiny island it is closer to the Philippines than Jakarta.

Or what about the fans from Bontang? On the island Europe calls Borneo Bontang is a six hour drive from the nearest airport! Six hours on Indonesia’s pot holed roads, that won’t be much fun.

The Balikpapan fans, about 45 of them, hitting town for the weekend with some of them flying on to Vietnam for the game there as well.

This tour is not about football. It is pure PR and in that respect Arsenal are ticking the right boxes. Plenty of sponsored events going on to keep the paymasters happy but also bringing the players close to the fans and you only need look at the faces of the fans to know what it means to them.

Some context. In the mid 1990s Indonesia was booming under Dictator Suharto. Year on year growth dwarfed anything the EU could manage but the financial crisis that hit Asia in 1997 swamped Indonesia. The country took a right old battering as did its confidence.

In the wake of the financial meltdown the country seemed on the verge of falling apart as sectarian bloodshed spread out across the islands. Watch the news in those days and it is a wonder the country even survived.
Just as Indonesia was slowly starting to return to some kind of sanity the terrorists popped up targeting Bali and Jakarta in a string of high profile attacks. Then there was the tsunami in Aceh which killed nearly 175,000 people.

Indonesians had become resigned to their fate as the world’s disaster hot spot. The only news coming out was of the negative sort and people bought into it. For all their talents one thing Indonesia has struggled with is its PR. The Thais for example see foreigners die on an almost daily basis and the ongoing insurgency in the south continues to claim lives yet tourists keep coming back for more. And more. it’s the land of smiles, everyone is happy and friendly.

Manchester United cancelled a visit here a few years back after terrorists bombed their hotel but there was a sea change in the country’s psyche. This time the noises coming out from the government were ‘we will recover’. Before it had been a case of shrugged shoulders and ‘what can we do?’

The economy has thrived while Europe has floundered and more people are entering the middle class with all that implies. The popularity of English football has coincided with the boom times and English football is benefiting. That is why Arsenal, Liverpool and Chelsea are all coming to Jakarta. They want a piece of the pie.

They sure as hell aren’t here for the football. There is no benefit for Indonesian football; indeed last night while thousands of fans went to a sodden Bung Karno to watch the Arsenal players train the national Under 23 team were playing a friendly in Singapore. A game of much greater import than today’s pointless friendly when you consider the SEA Games later this year.

There are tours though and there are tours. The most expensive tickets for the Liverpool and Chelsea games are more than 200 quid! Manchester United last night played a Thai team made up of players from clubs the sponsor is close to. Manchester United apparently are charging fans to watch their training sessions.

Arsenal’s ticket prices for the game are pretty reasonable in comparison, the most expensive being 50 quid. But they are getting plenty other things right as well.

They sent Freddie Ljungberg over for a whistle stop tour to rally the troops. They have released a number of videos showing the players getting to grips with gamelan and batik and the language. They announced a charity deal in West Java.

Alex Oxlade Chamberlain even appeared on Indonesian TV with a presenter famous for appearing in a steamy sex video with a local singer who, by the way, was sent to jail.

Yes, it’s all about the money for them but they are also winning the hearts and minds of Indonesians.
Like most Asian countries Manchester United are the most popular here but Arsenal have been gaining over recent years. That is with no trophies and years of players not fit to wear the shirt. While fans back in London have been gnashing teeth over players like bendtner, Almunia, Eboue and Chamakh, and the Squid, more Indonesians have been jumping on the Arsenal bandwagon and have total, blind faith in Arsene Wenger.

They can’t all be glory hunting tossers, we have had precious little glory over the last few years.

These tours are here to stay like it or not. But there are ways of conducting them and Arsenal seem to have found the right balance between marrying the needs of the sponsors, meeting the fans and actually playing football.

They will also return to England and tell everyone what a great time in Indonesia they had. And about the people, its greatest asset.

Good article. But one thing that Arsenal is poor at is the complete lack of support for their soccer schools programs.

In fact, they act embarrassed to even recognize that they have these schools and they purposely distance themselves from the their own branded soccer schools. Arsenal is not the only guilty party. Liverpool is doing the same on their tour here this weekend. They too are acting like, 'LFC Soccer School? What Soccer School?'

When you inquire as to why they will not do any promotion for the local franchises where they play on these tours, they will give these excuses that the 'sponsors' dictated the terms. That is complete non-sense and a backward philosophy and about the worst business decisions that anybody has ever heard. So the sponsors own these clubs and tell them what to do?

The original reasons that they opened these soccer schools was to promote their brands and increase their fan base.

Basically, as has been the traditional case in European football, you have dumbos trying to run these clubs and these clowns have no idea, no vision, and no clue as to what they are doing. They are just happy to be working in football. But they are poor leaders and I doubt that you can find a single person outside of Wenger who has any leadership qualities in that entire organization. I have been there with the UK staff and all they do is run around worshiping 'Mr. Wenger'. I found it embarrassing.

I have less loyalty towards Arsenal UK than I did before I worked for the Arsenal Soccer Schools here. Their complete lack of support has affected the way I feel about them. And I don't feel much about them anymore. I, for one, am losing interest.
nice post mate and it was always strange the way they never did a coaching clinic with the soccer school yet freddie ljungberg did

can i post your comment on the main site?
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