Wednesday, April 13, 2016


PS Polri Merger With Surabaya United Completes Uniform Involvement

Thailand has Army United and Police United though no points for creativity. Malaysia has ATM and PDRM though without a triple word score very little to show for their efforts on either a scrabble board or a football field. Singapore's football history points to a glorious past for Warriors and Home United. But strangely, until now, Indonesia has kept clear of uniform backed football clubs.

For years the only time we ever heard of military or police involvement in football was the number of security officials on duty at high profile games or because the police were refusing to issue a security clearance for a game to go ahead. Once in a while the military would cobble together a team to play the Indonesian national side but that seemed to be the limit of their ambitions.

All that changed when the military worked with football to put together the General Sudirman Cup, one of those tournaments filling the void left by the absence of the ISL.

PS TNI entered the competition built around a core of PSMS players and did pretty damned well, They finished unbeaten and top of their group having seen off more established clubs like Persela, Persib, Pusamania and Surabaya United. They fared less well in the next round as they finished winless and bottom of a group that featured Persija, Mitra Kukar and Semen Padang but perhaps the top brass had got the taste for football.

The Cops seemed to have been watching and liked what they saw for they cobbled together the Bhayangkara Cup which featured their side, PS Polri with a number of marquee signings to spice things up.

They began by beating Persija 3-0 but struggled in their other games and finished mid table, failing to qualify for the next stage but they had in a way arrived much like the military. Far from being passive observers of football, people in uniform on match day, they had entered the fray.

The timing is interesting. The league is still suspended and the PSSI is not recognised by the government. By reaching out to the military and the police it is almost as if football is actively seeking more friends in high places and let's be much about football in high places is about politics, power and influence. It is very difficult for governments to ignore the demands of powerful institutions in South East Asia in the same way western governments will always have on open door for the corporations and their tax avoidance plans.

Being involved with football is a boon for people who like having their pictures taken with 'the people'.It makes them appear to be in touch with the masses and of course who doesn't like to bask in the reflected glory of football and its star dust? I remember during the 1986 World Cup (!) this guy in my local pub. Didn't know him, hadn't seen him before, never saw him again. But this one game he was sitting there bigging himself up, telling all and sundry 'You know Ray of course,' his arm slung nonchalantly around Republic of Ireland international Ray Houghton.

Of course it is one thing for PS TNI and PS Polri to feature in their own competitions. It is quite another to appear in proper leagues once the PSSI is back up and running. The military moved first, announcing they would be merging with Persiram Raja Ampat and therefore allowing them direct access to the top flight without the boring old need of going through the ranks. An appropriate metaphor there!

Yesterday it was the turn of PS Polri to get involved. It was announced they would be 'merging' with Surabaya United  to be called Surabaya United Bhayangkara. An interesting choice given Surabaya United's own problems with legitimacy, In the last year they have called themselves Persebaya, Persebaya United and Bonek United as they have sought to attract the support of fans in Surabaya who have steadfastly stuck to their belief there is only one club in their city, named Persebaya, and this other incarnation, in reality Persikubar from East Kalimantan, are outsiders with no claim to the name or the support.

With this move it appears Surabaya United are looking  to inherit the fans who turned out to support PS Polri in the recent Cop Cup and it looks like this is the quickest way they can attract any kind of support.

Off the field there have long been disputes between the military and the police since they split at the end of the last century and it remains to be seen whether the two sets of supporters, drawn largely from the ranks of serving personnel, will take that rivalry to the terraces.

Of course many of these mergers don't really last long. Does anyone recall Bogor Raya getting involved with Persijap? Do Bandung Raya still exist having  been moved to Bekasi and now being  bought out and relocated to Madura? Does anyone still call Bali United by their full name Bali United Pusam?  In football there is very little room for multiple relationships. You are one or the other and only time will tell us who will become the dominant partner as the uniforms take a more active role in the game.

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