Tuesday, June 28, 2016


Time For Action Over Fan Violence

Indonesian football can breathe a sigh of relief. Following the disturbances that marred the Gresik United v PS TNI game where play was held up for 20 minutes and more than 50 home fans needed medical treatment, the Sports Minister Imam Nahrawi threatened to halt the Indonesian Soccer Championship were there to be a repeat of those violent scenes.

Well the scenes were repeated. Only worse as Persija fans went off on one towards the end of their game versus Sriwijaya last weekend causing the ref to halt the game on 81 minutes. There had earlier been two lengthy breaks as the match officials allowed smoke from flares to clear the field; some players needed to take on extra oxygen as they inhaled too much smoke. Two was not as if there haven't been enough warnings about fans taking flares and smoke bombs inside stadiums. That the game was halted twice suggests some people in Jakarta aren't reading the same script.

It was later revealed a 63 year old itinerant drink seller was beaten up and died as the violence spilled outside. Yeap, you read that right...a 63 year old man. The gentleman came from Kuningan in West Java, deep in the heart of Bobotoh country, and had probably left his village to seek his fame and fortune, or more likely some extra rupiah, for his family. With the end of the fasting month next week possibly he was looking forward to returning home to see his family along with millions of other Indonesians. 

Well he has gone home ok, 10 days early and in a box. The family reunion that millions enjoy across the length and breadth of the 17,000 islands that make up Indonesia will be a sombre one in his hamlet and by then I guess he will have been forgotten about. Just one more victim of football and its inability to control itself.

Earlier in the season a Persija fan was killed in another violent incident that occurred outside the Bung Karno Stadium. With in hours there were hashtags, you name it coming out in memory of their fallen supporter as Persija fans and fans across the country protested against what they perceived as police aggression against football fans. On Friday night it seems some fans turned on the police with six injured, one reportedly seriously. And one dead water seller. Was this some sort of sick idea of revenge?

Does dancing on the back of a frail old man count as levelling old scores? Does chasing down men in uniform mob handed and pouncing as they fall to the ground count as a job well done?

Crowd control is a fine art and it has to be said the British old bill, thanks to decades of experience, have it down to a fine art. Witness the scenes at the Euros in Marseilles recently when organised Russian thugs and baton waving gendarme declared open season on Jordan from Tunbridge Wells and Gaz from Rutland. The Frenchies couldn't tell the difference between a few lads on the ale getting lairy and the real hardcore who were up for a row so they chose the easy option of lashing out at everyone with a Three Lions connection. The English OB would have known the difference between the wannabes and the real lads and would have acted accordingly, a quiet word in the old shell like or you're nicked, son.

Indonesian crowd control? If there is any it is someone searching bags for plastic water bottles, the South East Asian equivalent of a plastic chair. When it kicks off expect a deluge of placcy water bottles. They may get confiscated at the turnstiles but the only vendors inside the stadium will be quick to sell you another one. Searches are inadequate then. Now, there is some work that goes on into keeping an eye on known trouble makers in Jakarta but it is low key and I doubt if it includes CCTV or banning orders! And one would hope the police do have an idea about the different fan groups that follow Persija. Not every Persija fan is Jakmania who tend to be card carrying members of the official (!) supporters club but when something kicks off then everybody will be lumped together as Jakmania even if those involved are not fully paid up members. Wearing orange? Tick. Involved in violence? Tick. Conclusion? Jakmania. Many nazis are skinheads but not all skinheads are nazis. Many racists voted Brexit but not all Brexiters are racist.

The issue of fan violence in Indonesian football is a multi headed beast and usually bears little relation to the hooliganism I grew up in England in the 70s, 80s. As fans battled with police at Bung Karno last Friday the Sriwijaya fans in the stadium faced one big threat...from the tear gas being fired on the pitch. They were not a target. Fan on fan violence is rare, in part because supporters play such a big, and often misunderstood, role in policing themselves. For years, for example, Persija fans didn't travel to Persib and visa versa. That all changed a couple of years back after a much heralded peace between the rival sets of supporters saw thousands of Persija fans head south only to be stopped by the police and then turn the toll road into a war zone. 

Even the disturbances at the Gresik United v PS TNI game recently was fan on fan only in as much as the visiting f ans kicked the crap out of home fans as the latter tried to run away. There was little in the way of resistance as the military boys took liberties. More often than not, when it kicks off it is because fans feel frustrated with the decisions of the match officials. 

So what can be done to stop this ugliness that permeates Indonesian football. Against a backdrop of alleged match fixing, constant politiciking and general incompetence it is the fan and the fan culture that keeps Indonesian football alive and head and shoulders above the rest of the region. Thai football culture never developed beyond selfies while Singapore lost its culture, if it had one, years back. But Indonesian terrace culture rules and it is to Indonesia the likes of Malaysia look to for trends and ideas. This is something to be proud of. 

Amid the beauty of a full terrace in full voice there is always that undercurrent of violence bubbling under, quite appropriate in the Ring of Fire, just waiting for a spark to explode. And given the deep lines of suspicion many on the terraces feel towards the PSSI and their cohorts there is little that can be done to go about improving matters any time soon. Five years ago fans believed in the Liga Primer Indonesia because they were so desperate to see something good in their game. They were let down and even if there were to be a new PSSI there would still be reservations. Fans are used to being ignored except at election time or when some narcissistic TV producer wants a banner held up at a live game extolling the virtues of his employer. 

No. Change can't come from the top. Clubs show little appetite for crowd control and the security officials aren't really up to it. But somehow it needs the fans, the clubs and the security to sit down together and work something out so supporters can go to a game and not fear for their lives. And it really needs Persija tp take the lead on this. They are the club with the largest average home attendance and they also take the largest numbers away. Their fans also happen to be involved in more incidents than any other club.

What is the solution? I hate  games played behind closed doors and so do the players and officials no doubt. All ticket games and membership schemes? People queue at airports but not at football stadiums, they are non starters. But someone somewhere has to stop this shit. How many more people need to die at football because some supporters can't behave themselves? How can we stop the mentality that kicking the shit out of a poor old man is a good thing to do?

England did nothing about fan violence until Hillsborough when 96 fans died. How many supporters need to die at a football match in Indonesia before any meaningful action is taken? Football should say a quiet terima kasih to Imam for not halting the season. It now has a duty to make sure this violence ends but I fear not much will change.

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