Wednesday, September 26, 2018


Big Gesture Won't Solve Multi-Layered Problem

Following on from the latest tragedy to hit Indonesian football where a Persija fan was beaten to death in Bandung following their 2-3 reverse against Persib the PSSI chief Edy Rahmayadi has announced Liga 1 will be stopped indefinitely out of respect for the deceased.

The announcement follows call from the sports minister Imam Nahrawi for the league to be halted for two weeks and the players' union (APPI) announcing they would strike for the next round of fixtures which would have commenced this Friday and, incidentally, features another high octane game with Arema hosting Persebaya.

Bandung police have responded quickly to the murder of a Persija fan by making a number of arrests including a 41 year old man and some teenagers. 

President Joko Widodo has spoken out on the murder saying '16 (dead supporters in 2018) is too high. Do not let fanaticism go off the rails and turn into criminal activities. This must be stopped since sport honours sportive behaviour'. He added that all stakeholders needed to sit down and discuss the problem.

Of course 16 deaths is too much. Isn't one death? So why have the PSSI only acted now, after the 16th? Why have they done nothing before? Obviously a Persib v Persija game is high profile and carries a reputation for fan behaviour getting out of hand but don't the supporters of other, lower profile clubs, deserve a similar reaction? 

Basically football fans are trusted to police themselves all too often. When they travel to away games in numbers it is often left to the supporters themselves to make the arrangements and that includes liaising with the police forces of areas they pass through. This can lead to misunderstandings and confrontation as we have seen in the past where a lack of coordination and a creaking infrastructure  some leading to death. 

It wasn't that many years ago when 25 or more buses carrying Persija fans to Bandung were halted on the tollway and eventually turned back after several hours of disturbances which brought this important road to a standstill. Or the thousands of Persebaya fans heading to Bandung on a single train, including sitting on the roofs of the carriages being attacked along the route at various stations. Or the numerous incidents that have occurred, and still occur in and around Yogyakarta and Solo when fans heading to or returning from games go through a rivals' patch.

And let us not forget that most venomous of derbies, a game so fearful it hasn't been played in years. As Persita fans used to head towards Benteng Stadium they would be greeted by hails of rocks from narrow gangs as Persikota supporters took offence at their presence.

To go to games some supporters use any means necessary including physically stopping trucks in the middle of the road and convincing the driver to carry some of their mates on the back. For free of course. 

When away fans arrive at a ground again they are left to do their own thing, often for hours ahead of kick off. Most just sit around, smoking, talking, sleeping. They are the lucky ones. They will have travelled to a game perhaps far from their home city and there will have been elements of organisation albeit of a rudimentary nature. Local supporters clubs will have made their own arrangements, booked their own coach, organised their own routes. Where there is a good relationship between home and away fans there would have been a welcoming committee who would have ensured some refreshments were on hand for the weary travellers.

Clubs and the authorities play little role in these away days and they can often be a good trip for all concerned.

Not all trips are like that though. The recent DIY Derby between PSIM and PSS saw hundreds of away fans form up in a convoy and make their own way to Sultan Agung Stadium in Bantul. The narrow lanes in and around Yogyakarta must be a nightmare to police but a joy for rival fans looking to take pot shots at their foes passing through their 'manor' and in the violence that followed one local resident who had been watching the game as a neutral died.

Inside the stadium itself we often hear of the large numbers of security personnel on duty but too often their reaction to any incident be it throwing plastic water bottles or worse is to wave their arms around from the other side of the fences in a futile gesture to soothe tensions. 

I recall one game where some supporters were getting highly agitated by what was happening on the pitch. First things were thrown on the field by irate fans. Security responded by waving their arms. Then some people started to climb the fencing and get on the field of play. Rather than nip in and nick these pioneers security backed off. Of course what happened next was obvious, you didn't need tea leaves. 

Other lads saw their mates on the pitch unhindered and thought 'hey ho, I'll have some of this' and over they went. Pretty soon the situation was getting out of hand and their were hundreds of fans on the field and the players had legged it down the tunnel. The security response was to use the ground's PA system to appeal to the fan's better nature. Didn't work of course and more and more supporters were joining their mates.

Eventually security forces reacted by charging the supporters who soon turned tail and ran themselves. In situations like this were police are being faced by increasing numbers of people they have been known to fire tear gas to try and control the situation and let's be honest while I am not condoning such an extreme action, you can understand how nervous they feel when faced by hundreds of angry youths.

My point is though the situation was allowed to escalate instead of being nipped in the bud when the first few jumped the fence.

I don't see how suspending the league for an indefinite period is going to address the issues I have addressed here. Let's hope the time is used for people to get together, by this I mean PSSI, government, security services and supporters and come up with a viable, sustainable nationwide programme of measures that sees, as a bare minimum, players and respected supporters (of which there are plenty) make highly visible visits to schools and kampung RTs, maybe with family members of the victims, to discuss fan behaviour and to drum into those a little slow on the uptake that beating the shit out of someone because he may support a different team or standing on top of a fast moving vehicle just ain't cool.

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