Thursday, February 02, 2017


The Best Football Culture In South East Asia

The following is a translation of my interview I recently did for an Indonesian news website called Tirto. Any mistakes are mine!

- Through his book Jakarta Casual wants to introduce Indonesian football to people who may not be aware of it.
- Jakarta Casual feels Indonesia's football culture is pretty good

Jakarta Casual met with Tirto is a shopping mall in South Jakarta. He looked quite comfortable even though he didn't like the cold air from the air conditioning. The Englishman will release his first book Sepakbola: The Indonesian Way Of Life on 14th February.

With his big, tall body the 52 year old was wearing an Arsenal hat. Judging by the faded colours it looks like he has had the hat for a while!

Jakarta Casual has been an Arsenal fan since he was young. He remembers his first game was against West Ham in 1974 (the original says 1973 but it's my story) and even though the game ended 0-0 he has been a fan ever since.

From the age of seven he would read any book he could about Arsenal. His favourite players were Liam Brady and Dennis Bergkamp while his father supported Watford.

There is one unique thing about him. To learn about Indonesian football he has seen more than 200 games  during  his 15 years in the country. Not just the top teams but also in the lower leagies like Divisi Utama, Divisi Satu etc.

He fell in love with Indonesian football after watching his first game at Lebak Bulus in 2006 when he saw Persija play Sriwijaya. The game wasn't the best but he enjoyed the experience and wanted to see more.

In his book he talks about what happens in and around football and feels Indonesia has one unique feature compared to the rest of the region. It is when security officials can walk on the field to stop play when violence on the field or off it gets out of hand. 'FIFA ceases to exist and is replaced by local security forces.' In other countries the referee's word is final.

Despite the reputation football fans he praises fans for their devotion not just to their team but also to their players if they feel they are putting in a shift. 'You don't have to have been here a long time to recognise the respect fans (in Bandung) have for their players past and present.'

Tradition and history is what sets Indonesian football apart from the rest of the region plus the enthusiasm of the supporters even though Indonesian football isn't that successful.

Next is the interview

Since when have you been overseas?

Since I was born. I was born in Africa, grew up in Germany, Belgium, England. I moved to Australia in 1987 so I have been an expat 30 years. I stayed in Australia three years then had two years in Germany. From Germany to Thailand. Thailand to Bangladesh. Bangladesh to Thailand. Etc etc.

When did you come to Indonesia?

The first time I came here was 1987. Next was 1991 but I came to live in 2002.

Why have you been here so long?

I got married here. Been married 11 years this year and have a seven year old son. I was tired with Thailand and had two job offers. One from China and one from Indonesia. China has winters so I came to Indonesia!

How long have you liked football?

All my life. I used to live in North London near Arsenal. In those days you supported your local team so Arsenal it was. Even though I have been away so long when I do return to England the first thing I do is check the Arsenal fixtures. Then I book flights. It may mean I have to pay more for the tickets but I'm not going all that way to miss the Arsenal!

When was the first time you saw a football match?

First game was 1973 when my father took me to see Brighton. We had just relocated from Belgium and were staying in the area. The next year I went to the Arsenal for the first time.As I got older if I had the money I would go see the Arsenal. If there was not enough cash then I would go see other games.

What makes the English league so good compared to other leagues?

You probably think the English league is good but English teams don't win the Champions League and England don't do well at the Euros or the World Cup. I don't think it's that great.

So why do you think so many people are attracted to the English league?

Because I think the atmosphere and the marketing is so good. The marketing is so much better than Spain or Italy, even Germany. Plus people have known about English football since the 1970s, 80s. Arsenal, Liverpool, Manchester United have been familiar names for about 30 or 40 years.

The first time Arsenal came to Indonesia was 1983 so they were already a familiar name. You didn't hear about Barca or Real Madrid then. Plus fans are loyal. For example Arsenal fans. Even though they haven't won much in recent years the fans who joined the local Supporters Clubs 10 years ago are still there and the numbers are growing.

Did you watch football in Thailand or Bangladesh?

No. Not while I was there. Now though I have seen a few games in Thailand.

What is the difference between the Thai and Indonesian leagues?

The Thais are still fairly new to football. Before 2009 Thai teams were pretty bad (note; they were exceptions like BEC Tero and KTB but I am talking more about football as a spectacle) so the new teams are quite new. Indonesia has PSM, 1915, Persebaya 1927, Persija 1928, Persib 1933. Indonesia has the history and from that history develops the culture.

Ask Persib fans about the time they travelled to Jakarta for a fnal against PSMS in the 1990s and most will have a story to tell. Maybe not their story but from a family member. The Thais don't have that history.

Have you met with supporters of all Indonesian teams?

No, not all because there are many teams I haven't seen.

There are then some questions about individual fans and teams as well as comparing with South America.

How about the fighting between supporters?

Have you seen Alexis Sanchez? He hates to lose or even draw and he shows this quite visablly. Getting upset is part of football. When a team wins another must lose and we must all be aware of this. Losing doesn't give you a license to get violent.

Fans need role models and clubs could be better in this respect. You see club officials attack match officials, players attack officials. Not the best example for young fans in a tinder hot atmosphere. This is one issue that needs to be addressed but it is  not for foreigners to solve it. Solutions must come from within the game.

Do you get involved in the violence?

Never. Not in England and not in Indonesia. I've seen it but I don't get involved, Imagine the headlines if I am pictured kicking off?!

Have you faced any problems at games in Indonesia?

I think Indonesian people are very friendly. When people see me at games they say 'Hello mister, where are you going?' I reply 'watch the football' in bahasa Indonesia, They're surprised to say the least!

Why did you write the book?

Why? Search for Arsenal on Google! Indonesia is the fourth biggest country in the world. It has the best football culture in South East Asia. It has more fans attending games in the lower leagues than some of the 'biggest' clubs in the regions. And no one knows a thing about it! People see Indonesia in the news and it is usually bad. Violence, Natural disasters. Tsunamis. Only negative reporting. When I started Jakarta Casual I wanted to write about a different side of Indonesia.

When I started the book I was hoping it would get published in English first. I never thought there would be any demand for it locally. So the original plan was for it to be Indonesian Football 101. I was surprised, and happy, when someone suggested translating it into Indonesian!

So it's important the books gets distributed here?

Yep because many people don't follow local football, prefering MU etc. When I told my wife I wanted to watch a game she was like 'no way, are you sure?' thinking I was a nutter.

But Indonesian football is fun and I want to help tell people it is fun. It's not perfect, of course it isn't but if you want to learn about life, culture even politics then take an in interest!

Why doesn't Indonesia have a world class player?

Why doesn't England? We give players lots of money, tell them they are world class but they are not. The hype is world class, that's about it. It's not easy to find world class players and in England it is costing us a small fortune to learn that lesson.

In Indonesia it is harder because there is little organisation. There are soccer schools here and there and many are excellent. But there is no clear career path for the kids. It really depends who knows about which soccer school. There are areas like Timor which are massively untapped for young players. But clubs are getting more organised and Bali United for example and Pusamania are looking further ahead by opening their own academies.

If Indonesia meet Thailand again, will they win?

Nope. There needs to be consistency in the national team set up and coaches need to know whatever the age group they will be given time to get results.

What do you think of the coaches here?

Difficult to answer that. I think more need to follow the example of Rahmad Darmawan, Rudy Eko and go overseas. Jacksen F Tiago has just returned from Malaysia. I think new experiences can be a positive thing for players here. Look at the Thais. The Fream Team of the early 1990s, many players went overseas for the money, experiences and because the local league was poor. Kiatisuk for example. Those players are now influential in the game and Thailand's ambitions are towards the AFC Asian Cup and the World Cup, not the SEA Games or AFF Suzuki Cup.

What's most important for you when you watch a game?

Supporters usually but they are just one part of the football experience.

How many games have you seen and have you seen all the teams?

I have seen more than 200 games in Indonesia but not all the teams. I have seen ISl, Divisi Utama...

Why are you interested in Divisi Utama?

Why not?

Because it's not interesting.


People usually talk about the ISL, why do you watch the lower leagues as well?

Have you heard of PSS? Last year they were getting bigger crowds than teams in Thailand, Malaysia. Many weeks they boasted the largest crowds in South East Asia. And they played in Divisi Utama. Buriram United, Muang Thong United, Johor Darul Ta'zim, they are probably the biggest clubs in teh region. And PSS from a suburb in Yogyakarta were getting bigger crowds. So I don't understand why you say people don't care about football outside the ISL.

Do you think Indonesia can host the World Cup?

No, not yet. The country needs stadiums and it needs infrastructure. Many of the newer stadiums around the country are difficult to reach by public transport. Soreang. Palarang. Bung Tomo. Jakabaring. Investors don't want to build sports facilities, they want to build malls and condominiums.

Is your son an Arsenal fan?

Of course!

What would happen if he didn't want to support Arsenal?

No problem. Go stay with grandma and grandad.

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