Saturday, September 30, 2017


The Road From Sendawar

I had to google Persikubar to find out where exactly they came from. Yes, I knew they were from East Kalimantan but where exactly? It's a big province on a big island. Persikubar hail from the town of Sendawar, perhaps an eight hour drive west of Samarinda along the winding Mahakam River. Knowing that, I guess it is a relief it is not Persikubar who are top of Liga 1, just think of the travel times! 

Actually, Persikubar are top of Liga 1. It's just they are now known as Bhayangkara and are based in Bekasi with new owners. 

When the rebel Liga Primer Indonesia came along in 2011 to disrupt the local game even more than the regular disruptions one of the clubs to join it was Persebaya. This was a major coup for the fledging league, despite falling on hard times in recent years the club from Indonesia's second largest city Surabaya was still a big draw. So big in fact one of their home games in the new league, against Arema, pulled in 55,000 supporters.

This was a bit of embarrassment for the Indonesia Super League, the official league but nothing that couldn't be fixed. Ambitious officials just went out and bought a football club and parachuted them into the City of Heroes. The club they bought was Persikubar. They were rebranded Persebaya and set about trying to reclaim their rightful place in the top flight.

The fans weren't having it though and made their loyalties clear by supporting the side in the rebel league. Persebaya plodded along despite some heavy investment, attracting low crowds in the cavernous Bung Tomo Stadium.

Once the IPL gave up the ghost the Persebaya fans refused to transfer their allegiance to the one remaining Persebaya seeing the club for what it really was, a naked power grab. They wanted their Persebaya back and began a long struggle of attrition which from which they emerged triumphant in the second half of last year.

This new Persebaya plodded along though, seemingly indifferent to the apathy or animosity they generated everywhere they went. Come 2015 and the FIFA suspension the club owners belatedly started to realise no one liked them and perhaps they should do something to make themselves more popular. With a startling lack of understanding of the local football culture they decided to rebrand themselves as Surabaya United, in effect trying to kick the stool from under the feet of those fans they were trying to attract. There was one football club in Surabaya and that was Persebaya and the city's football fraternity were united behind them.

The farce continued in the middle of a tournament when the club desperately changed name again, this time to Bonek, hijacking the name of the Persebaya fans. Seriously, did they expect the very supporters who had been staying away for several years in protest at the presence of this usurper would certainly drop their opposition because their name had been stolen and used like this? 

In 2016 the police started to take football seriously and entered their own side, PS Polri, in the competitions that filled the void left by the FIFA suspension, in the Piala Bhayangkara. By the time the unofficial league, known as Indonesia Soccer Championship, started in that year PS Polri had pretty much taken over Surabaya United and moved the club from Surabaya to Sidoarjo. 

Now of course they play in Bekasi and under Simon McMenemy they are on their way to their first ever title following their 3-2 win over fellow title challengers Bali United yesterday. With seven games remaining Bhayangkara are four points clear at the top of Liga 1. The idea that Bhayangkara, with no fan base beyond off duty police officers bused in on match day, should be challenging for the biggest honour in Indonesian football is quite remarkable, especially when you consider they are up against the likes of more established names like Persipura, Persib and Arema. 

But football is changing and Bhayangkara are at the forefront of those changes. Meanwhile, back in Sendawar I wonder how many Persikubar fans are looking at the league table with a bitter taste in their mouth feeling this success has come at a price.


A Stadium Only A Football Fan Could Love

Set in a leafy suburb in the north of Balikpapan, Persiba' homely Parikesit Stadium, more commonly known as Persiba Stadium, has outlived its usefulness. Hemmed in by bungalows belonging to state oil producer Pertamina, the stadium was as low rise as its environment. With a capacity of around 6 or 7,000 it was ill equipped for hosting any large crowds that may have wished to see the Honey Bears in action but those who did make their way to the stadium contributed to a vibrant, intimidating atmosphere at this homely football club.

For starters it was a proper football ground. None of this running track malarky, the Parikesit was built for football and used for football. It had one rickety stand with wooden seats and more fences than an average zoo to interrupt the spectator's field of vision. VIP seats? You had a clear view straight ahead but struggled to get a good view of all four corner flags without craning of the neck  or moving to another wooden bench.

Behind the goals were terracing, again behind high fences. I never stood at the ground but the view can't have been much better and were any fan to be stuck behind me well it's fair to say they wouldn't have seen much at all. Three sides of the ground were joined by the single terrace of uniform height, low in other words, and while Persiba often struggled to get large crowds the view may have been reasonable enough, big games were known more for the discomfort the fans felt as much as any action on the field.

But it was home to the Persiba support and as with fans all around the world they loved their stadium. It was theirs after all. They had grown up there, they could mark pivotal moments in their life through games seen. Despite the poor sightlines many supporters had their favourite part where they would congregate with their mates on match day and share the agony and the ecstasy of match day, the good times and the bad of following this unfashionable football club in East Kalimantan.

My visits there would remind me of my visits to Coventry City's old Highfield Road or the Dell at Southampton, venues built in another time for another audience where creature comforts were low on the list of priorities. Distance adds a touch of sepia to the memories, nostalgia for a proper football ground with character that have grown organically above the modern soul less bowls designed by suited architects who now a thing or two about theory but little about terrace culture.

On my last visit to Balikpapan one fan waxed lyrical about the stadium. 'It is part of my life,' he told me in his house after we had seen Persiba hold title challengers PSM to a draw. 'No, it wasn't perfect but I grew up there, I learnt so much about me, about life, about people. It was ours.'

And he's right. A stadium feels like it belongs to supporters because of their memories and shared experiences over many years, passed down from generation to generation. Each part of the stadium holds vital stepping stones of our lives and no matter how ugly, how uncomfortable they are we love them because of what they represent.

There is no doubt Persiba are now in a better place. The impressive looking Batakan Stadium looks the business from the air and while 46,000 may be a tad optimistic for the local side it certainly offers the opportunity of hosting more high profile events in the future though a Legends game between 40 something ex Arsenal and Liverpool players in November doesn't come into that category.

It's been a nomadic campaign thus far for Persiba, and a campaign mired in a relegation struggle. The Batakan is the third stadium they have used after Gajayana and Parikesit and despite the results the fans have been turning out in large numbers. Just under 3,000 saw the team's last game at Parikesit, a 2-1 win over PS TNI where, unlike teams like Arsenal and West Ham United, little was done to mark the end of an era. Instead home games at the Batakan have seen first 10,000, against Gresik United then 15,000 against Semen Padang, neither particularly attractive opposition with no offence, suggesting the Balikpapan public are willing to get behind their team in a more comfortable environment.

Yes, I am sad to see the end of Parikesit Stadium and I can see my next visit to a Persiba home game being accompanied by moans about the new stadium but it is progress and if the Persiba fans keep coming in such numbers perhaps I should just shut the crap up!

Thursday, September 28, 2017


Egy Basks In Glow Of Publicity But He Has Achieved Nothing

Every couple of years we hear of the latest wonderkid to emerge from Indonesia. Players who have the misfortune to show bucket loads of talent at an early age, get snapped up by unscrupulous hangers on who promise these kids from the kampungs untold riches, develop obscenely large social media followings, get TV air time but then fade to anonymity where it really matters; on the pitch where they made their name initially.

The 2017 vintage looks to be Egy Maulana Vikri. The 17 year old Medan born player hit the back, and front, pages during the recent AFF U19 Championships when he scored six goals to help Indonesia overcome Myanmar, Philippines and Brunei in the group stage before ultimately losing to the Thais, who else, on penalties in the knock out rounds.

Observant fans though had been charting this young man's rise earlier. He had put in a man of the match performance in a friendly against Espanyol B and earned accolades playing for Indonesia in the Toulon Tournament where he was named Breakthrough Player 

Clearly this is a young man who has done a lot in the last few months, and made a lot of people sit up and take notice.

Already there is talk of Arema being interested while the PSSI have said they will be working with an as yet unidentified foreign agent to try and secure him a move overseas.

Egy has shown he is a player of talent and he has proved this playing in foreign countries against foreign opposition. Perhaps he is the next big thing in Indonesian football. Perhaps he does have a similar playing style as Lionel Messi as one pundit has suggested having inhaled to much hyperbole.

But he is only 17 and he is still at school. It would be nice to see of he is allowed to develop as a footballer away from the media circus that is suddenly building him and, and will just as suddenly drop him before he reaches his 20s. 

We've seen it all before. Teenage headlines beget social media followings beget commercial opportunities. And the player concerned perhaps believe the hype and believes the hype. Football has been nothing more than a vehicle to a nebulous celebrity status where the player stops being a player and becomes famous for being, um, famous. The football becomes an afterthought, almost a hobby for a player who now moves in circles vastly different to those of his teammates and supporters.

And then we wonder why Indonesia doesn't produce top class players.

The best thing that can happen for Indonesian football is for Egy to be surrounded by people who love him and can help in nuture his talent as a footballer and if that entails playing overseas then so be it. But he needs to remember if he wants to be a top class footballer and have a top class footballer he needs to be professional and focus only on top class football. 

Yes, sign up for the odd commercial endorsement here and there, no one begrudges a player that. But do the work on the training field and on the pitch, don't become a fixture on shallow celebrity TV gossip shows. Become a professional footballer, not a pretty boy footballer.

Do that and be successful and there will be plenty of time once the career ends to enjoy the profits of fame and glamour. But first earn that fame and glamour. Let the talent to the talking, not the sponsors.


New Coach Rudy Restores Some Lost Pride At PS TNI

I'm spoilt for choice with cliches as PS TNI finally returned to winning ways yesterday, defeating Mitra Kukar 2-1 at Pakansari Stadium in front of a sparse crowd. Could it be third time lucky as PS TNI appointed new coach Eka Rudy Priyambada, their third of the season? Could I make reference to the military side getting their shots on target again? Or could way go down the more mundane road of a side re-energised under a new coach?

Certainly the Ivan Kolev era, for all his experience in Indonesia, won't go down in whatever PS TNI annals that may exist, as one of unparalleled success. A surprise appointment to replace Laurent Hatton, a surprise dismissal, early on in the season, under Kolev PS TNI lost much of their spikiness that had been a hallmark of their early season form. Like the Leeds United of the Don Revie era if you wanted a result against the military side you had to mix it with them. But once sides twigged this, and once PS TNI noticed the effects of losing their top players to suspensions, everything changed.

Ahead of the game with Mitra Kukar, PS TNI had gone a depressing eight games without a win and just a point to lift the perma-gloom that was hanging round the football club. Even their supporters, serving military types bused in on their superiors' orders lost interest, their corps d'esprit crushed by frequent defeats. I went down to see them play Bhayangkara and it was rumoured Kolev wasn't even in the dug out. And even in this, the uniform derby where surely service pride would have been at stake, PS TNI looked like they were going through the motions. Yes, at times they played well and arguably without the heroics of visiting keeper Awan could have earned a point, but that aggressiveness that had served them well in those now distant early games seemed half-hearted.

In came a new coach, Rudy, an ambitious young man who I met a few years back in Bahrain of all places. Funnily enough I had met Rudy at that Bhayangkara game, I think he had forgotten my name 'cos he called out bule, and I had asked him why he should be at that game. He certainly seemed knowledge about the problems within the football club but he assured me, in that football coaches way, that he had a contract with Liga 2 side Celebest and he was enjoying the challenge of having them reach the second round of the competition. Next thing I hear he is appointed coach of PS TNI!

PS TNI weren't short of being a decent team again. During the recent horror run only Persib and PSM defeated them by a single goal margin. And with players like Abduh Lestalahu, Erwin Randhani and Manahati Lestusen providing youthful exuberance under the tutelage of the experienced South Korean Soon Hak Hong it surely wouldn't be long before the handful of remaining fans would have something to celebrate.

And so it proved, admittedly against a frustratingly inconsistent Mitra Kukar side which boasts just a single win on their travels. Jorge Gator put through his own net to give the home side a lead halfway through the first half before Sansan Husaeni double the lead seven minutes before half time. Marceli Santos pulled one back from the penalty spot, his 17th of the season, but Rudy's men held on for the three points and a rare chance to celebrate a victory in front of the handful of fans who had stuck by 
the team.

Mitra Kukar at home may not be the hardest challenge of the fixture list, a gentle introduction to teh rigours of top flight coaching for new man Rudy. His next challenge will be a lot tougher, away to Persija this weekend. 

Tuesday, September 26, 2017


Borneo Fans Cheer Their Team despite Stadium Ban

Borneo FC, formerly known as Pusamania, have been forced to play a number of games behind closed doors after incidents at their Segiri Stadium. Unlike other clubs who have had similar decisions overturned, no names mentioned, Borneo it seems are stuck with the decision.

The first  home game to be effected was their East Kalimantan derby with Persiba. Ordinarily Borneo could expect a decent attendance for the game against their rivals but were forced to bite the bullet and play the game elsewhere.

The game was finally played in Bontang at the Mulawarman Stadium, a three hour plus drive north of Samarinda with visitors Persiba facing a near six hour journey time of their own.

While the game was played behind closed doors that did not stop a number of Borneo fans following their team north and cheering on their heroes from outside the stadium. Borneo won the game 1-0 with a goal by New Zealand international Shane Smeltz, his fifth of the campaign, and after the ref had blown the final whistle the players made a point of saluting the fans who were outside the ground but could see the action through a fence.

A long trek for the Pusamania rewarded with three points and appreciation from their team. The result keeps Borneo midtable and their next game sees them travel to the south of the island to take on Barito Putera.

In an aside this was the first time the Mulawarman Stadium has hosted a top flight game since local side Bontang FC, formerly known as PKT Bontang, were held to a 3-3 draw by PSIR Rembang in the old Liga Primer Indonesia. The club was kicked out of football soon after over some irregularities and this last season has seen them compete n Liga 3; a far cry from the days when they competed in Asian Club competition.


Kuwait's Road To Spain In 1982 & An Indonesian Ref

I believe I may have mentioned 1982. Once or twice. It is one of those incidents that carve their name in the history books and no matter what Kuwait may achieve in years to come on a football pitch 1982 will be there somewhere, lurking in the background like an unwanted uncle at a dinner party laid on to impress people. You just know that somewhere along the line either the uncle will put in an appearance or someone will ask where he is.

Awash with oil money, Kuwait invested millions in football during the 1970s and the efforts paid off towards the end of the decade as they started making a splash not just regionally but beyond. In 1978 they appointed a Brazilian with a famous name, Carlos Alberto Parreira, to the helm of the national team.

No relation to the rampaging full back that was part of the eye catching 1970 World Cup winning squad, Parreira was one of a pretty rare bunch, certainly for the era, of managers who had never played the game professionally. He had started out as a trainer and the mid 1970s found him in the Middle East as assistant coach in Kuwait. In 1979 he was promoted to the top job and soon showed the midas touch guiding the side to runners up in the Gulf Cup of Nations in 1979, the AFC Asian Cup in 1980, GCoN success in 1982 plus of course the Spain World Cup in the same year.

I started out as a fitness coach, recalled  Parreira. But there reached a point in my life where I was so well qualified that I was almost pushed into taking on a head coach's role. In Kuwait they asked me to take charge of their youth sides and that was the start of a long career.’

Kuwait’s road to Spain began appropriately enough in Kuwait. Drawn with South Korea, Malaysia and Thailand Kuwait were given hosting duties and so it was at the end of April the three nations plus assorted match officials descended on Kuwait International Airport.

The Blues first game came against the Thais and they ran out comfortable 6-0 winners with goals from Abdulaziz Al Anbari (Al Kuwait) scoring twice. Faisal Al Dakheel (Al Qadsia), Fathi Kameel (Al Tadamun) M Karam (Al Arabi) and Jasem Yacoub (Al Qadsia) finished the rout and left the home team sitting pretty on top of the table after the first game.

South Korea were nowhere near the power they are now back in 1981 but they were always favourite to come there or thereabouts in the group. However they struggled to break down a plucky Malaysian side, even falling behind in the first 10 minutes. Unfortunately the Malaysians failed to build on that early lead and appeared to wilt in the Arabian heat. It needed Jung Haw-wong to save their blushes, netting the winner with a long range effort with just five minutes remaining.

The Malaysian coach was furious. Karl-Heinz Weigang slammed his players saying ‘I can understand if only one or two players were to play badly but in this game it was the exact opposite, only one or two players gave their all.’

It was hardly the best preparation to face the hosts three days later who were fully acclimatized and comical defending by the Malaysians allowed Kuwait to take the lead in the first minute of the first half through Al Qadsia’s 23 year old striker Jasem Yaquob making it two in two for him. Nassir Al Ghanim from Kazma weighed in with one while Mahboub Juma hit a brace and after the comfortable victory Parreira said ‘as expected Malaysia was too adamant about chasing goals and we only had to wait for them to make any mistakes to launch our offensive move.’ A wait of less than 60 seconds!

The win confirmed Kuwait’s position at the top of the group but on goal difference as South Korea had beaten the Thais 5-1 24 hours earlier in a game refereed by the superbly named Hardjowasito from Indonesia. For the cunning linguists out there the Indonesian word for referee is wasit!

When Malaysia met Thailand on 27 April their World Cup was over and they played out a thrilling though futile 2-2 draw.

Everything hung on the final match up between Kuwait and South Korea two days later. They were level on points but the home team had by far the better goal difference. Second half goals from Al Anbari and Al Ghanen secured their spot in the next round of fixtures which would take them to the other side of the world six months later.

By now there were four nations vying to represent Asia at the World Cup the following year. Joining Kuwait were New Zealand, who had overcome Australia, Indonesia, Chinese Taipei and Fiji, China and Saudi Arabia over a three month period.

Kuwait’s first game came on 10 October in Auckland, New Zealand and if they showed any signs of tiredness or nerves after a long journey to the Land of The Long White Cloud they didn’t last for long. The early 1980s were not known for their political correctness and as the Kuwaiti side came on the pitch in Auckland home supporters were reportedly waving banners that said ‘Go Back to Your Camels’. As an aside, New Zealand’s home qualifiers were sponsored by a cigarette manufacturer!

The home team took the lead halfway through the first half when English born Steve Wooddin scored with a fine left foot volley from 18 yards out but Kuwait were given the chance to level things early in the second half when they were avoided a soft penalty.

The New Zealand keeper made a good save but less than 10 minutes later the ref, our friend Hardjowasito from Indonesia, gave a second penalty, even softer than the first.  Players went wild, fans went wild.

The ref walked off the pitch and threatened to call off the tie complaining about the lack of security. New Zealand FA official Charles Dempsey got involved, telling the ref If you call this game off, it's the last game you will referee, He looked at my Fifa badge - he had no idea what my position was - and I added: 'I'm warning you. Call this game off and you have had it.

'I had no authority to say that because I was not the match inspector. But I had to bluff it.'

Before Al Daheel could step up and take the kick a young supporter ran on the pitch and threw a can at the match official before disappearing into the record 35,000 crowd who offered him a standing ovation

Kiwi assistant coach Kevin Fallon later joked the pitch invader copped a $10 fine throwing the can and a further $20 for missing but in the wake of the decisions there was no such much laughter coming from his side’s camp.

Yacoub scored the winner with a close range diving header and when the ref finally blew the whistle white helmeted policeman ran on to the pitch to protect the match officials from irate New Zealand players.

Following the game Charles Dempsey, who was the head of New Zealand football at the time hedged his bets. ‘I don’t say he was bribed, but what did concern me was the confident way the Kuwaiti Sheikh Al Sabah was talking before the game and at half time. It had best be left at that.’

Speaking years later, Wooddin, who had given New Zealand the lead, said ‘it’s hard to say he was cheating or wasn’t cheating...the bad decisions seemed to be all one way.’

Controversy, it seemed, was a constant companion on Kuwait’s march to Spain.

At the time though and without the benefit of hindsight and the knowledge we have now about match fixing while many felt the ref was culpable, they were not too many who would come out and say he had been bribed. Match officials were still deemed to be human and without the 24/7 coverage the game gets these days people were more willing to give them the benefit of the doubt when it came to controversial decisions.

A week later and Kuwait were in Beijing taking on China and they lost 3-0. On 4 November they were in Riyadh and defeated hosts Saudi Arabia 1-0 with that man Al Anberi scoring again.

Kuwait then had the luxury of three successive home games spread over a two week period. Al Anberi scored the only goal of the game against China and they followed that with a 2-0 win over Saudi Arabia with a pair from Al Dakhil as good as securing Kuwait’s spot in Spain.

Their final game came against New Zealand with 100 camels walking around the pitch before the game as a riposte to some of the comments directed towards the Kuwaitis in the first game in Auckland and as a way of saying ‘yep, camels’.

With moments remaining it was the visitors who were leading 2-1 but 22 year old defender Sami Al Hashash from Al Arabi levelled the scores and ensured history would be made for Kuwait.

When the draw was made for the World Cup Finals early in 1982 Kuwait found themselves alongside England, France and Czechoslovakia at a time when 24 teams vied for the crown.

Ahead of the finals a Spanish newspaper decided to go down the road of cheap stereotypes and claimed the Kuwaitis would be arriving late because they ‘would be travelling on the backs of their camels’. I am sure you can imagine what a hoot that particular joke was, even for those times.

As it turned out Kuwait arrived early but no one knew they were even there. The head of the football association Sheikh Fahad Al Ahmed Al Jaber Al Sabah, a member of the country’s ruling family, told a French journalist he would be taking Kuwait home if he wasn’t allowed to bring their mascot with them.

Interest finally piqued by these exotic visitors, the media converged on the hotel. The Sheikh ordered a camel from Morocco and the hotel manager said it was ok for the camel to stay on the grounds of the hotel but no doubt drew the line at it using one of the rooms.

So, as a reaction to the lazy racism of the era who were these mysterious Arabs? Who were the players to watch out for and who did they play for? Time, I think, to put some flesh on the bones of the players marking their nation’s first ever tilt at the World Cup.

(Insert WC Squad)

Their first game came against the Czechs, this was before the split with Slovakia, and was played on 17 June in Valladolid. Antonin Panenka, he whose name would later be immortalised with the cheeky penalty chip down the middle, opened the scoring half way through the first half with a more traditional penalty. The prolific Al Dakhil equalised on 57 minutes and Kuwait held on for a point.

Then came the game against France at the same venue. The French were highly fancied to do well and boasted a squad that included such talismanic figues as Michel PlatiniAlain Giresse, Jean Tigana and Dominique Rocheteau. Kuwait? Well, so perceived wisdom held, had camels!

The French were leading 3-1 when Giresse broke through a static Kuwaiti defence and made it 4-1. Well, he thought he had, his team mates thought he had and so probably did most of the people watching the game around the world. The referee agreed and pointed to the centre circle.

Unfortunately the Kuwaiti players were less convinced. In fact they were positively irate, claiming they had stopped because they had heard a whistle. TV replays showed the ref waving play on as the defence stopped for a moment questioning whether Giresse was offside or not but a whistle can be heard in the footage. Thinking it had come from the ref  Kuwait did what every schoolboy around the world is taught; they played to the whistle and they stopped. And they were gobsmacked to see the ref give the goal.

They surrounded the hapless official from the Soviet Union Miroslav Stupar but, in the manner of all good match officials, he would not change his mind. With the mood getting ugly the Kuwait players were threatening to walk off the field and out of the World Cup, no doubt leaving their camel mascot at the hotel.

Sheikh Fahad Al Ahmed Al Jaber Al Sabah, who had been seen waving to his players as if he was trying to get them to walk off the field, got involved, striding on to the pitch and taking his turn to get Stupar’s face as the world looked on with incredulity.

Was this really happening? Was a sheikh yelling at a ref during a World Cup tie in front of millions watching around the world? This was reality TV long before Simon Cowell came along and if there had been a social media back in 1982 Twitter would have gone into overdrive!

Apart from playing to the whistle, another great adage about football and referees is that the man with the whistle is the final arbiter of what happens on a football field. If he says it was a goal then a goal it was and that was the end of the matter. Until the Sheikh got involved. The ref disallowed the goal, now angering the French players, and restarted the game with a free kick for Kuwait in their own half.

As it happened moments later France did score a fourth goal thus ending Kuwait’s adventure but unlike other nations lacking in any football pedigree (according to certain prejudices) Kuwait have never since been seen as plucky. North Korea have, Jamaica have but nope, not Kuwait. I guess it is difficult to patronise people who are richer than you are.

The Sheikh, by the way, was certainly never one to shirk conflict. He was killed on the first day of the Iraq invasion of Kuwait in 1990 during the defense of Dasman Palace, home to the Emir, ruler, of the country.

One of his sons, Ahmed Al Fahad Al Ahmed Al Sabah has kept the family name alive in the politics of world football and in 2015 was appointed to the FIFA Executive Committee in April 2015.

From the dodgy penalties in Auckland to the phantom whistler in Valladolid Kuwait had never been far from controversy which is a shame for many Kuwaitis look back on the era as their golden age in footballing terms. And they are not alone. Their Brazilian coach Parreria may have won the World Cup with his own country in 1994 with a side that boasted players like Romario and Carlos Dunga, now of course coaching the national team himself but he has fond memories of his time with the Kuwaitis.

Brazil he said were expected to win the cup even though their triumph in the USA broke a 24 year drought. Expectation were less lofty in the gulf state and Parreria remembers with pride not just the World Cup adventure but other triumphs from that successful side. ‘My best and most successful time was with Kuwait. It was amazing - we won the Gulf Cup twice, reached the Olympics and World Cup,’ he recalled in 2008.

1976 had seen Kuwait reach the Asian Cup final for the first time, only to lose 1-0 to hosts Iran but four years later they went one better. In 1980 they won the Asian Cup for the first and so far only time in their history defeating South Korea 3-0 in the final in a game interestingly enough refereed by our friend Hardjowasito! Watching the goals from that game played over 30 years ago one cannot help but be struck not just by the hairstyles of that bygone age but also how Keystone Cops the South Koreans were at defending as time and again the home team carved them apart on their way to success.

The Asian Cup 1980 featured just 10 nations, Kuwait, South Korea, holders Iran, Bangladesh, China, Malaysia, North Korea, Qatar, Syria and United Arab Emirates and midway through the competition Iraq invaded Iran, the start of a long and bloody conflict that left hundreds of thousands dead. Iran, who had won the trophy in 1968, 1972 and 1976, went on to stumble in their defence of the title and finished with third place while Kuwaiti TV gleefully supported Iraq’s invasion on its channels.

In 1984 the Asian Cup moved to Singapore and it was the Kuwaitis turn to finish third, this time defeating Iran on penalties as Saudi Arabia defeated China 2-0 in the final and it seemed like Kuwait were on the verge of turning regional success into continental success.

Since the first Gulf Cup of Nations in 1970, an event featuring Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and of course Kuwait in that first year, Al Azraq had gone on to win the trophy in 1972, 1974, 1976 and 1982, finishing runners up to Iraq in 1979. The Asian Cup successes and of course reaching the World Cup in 1982 seemed to add to the sense Kuwait was becoming a major player in world football but for all the success there seems to be little analysis of what made them so successful, at least in English. 

NOTE - this was to form the genesis of a chapter in an aborted book I proposed to write about football in the Gulf during my spell there.


Thailand And Indonesia World Cup Bid Faces Major Obstacles

We've been here before, haven't we? Indonesia throwing it's hat in the ring to bid for the World Cup. And we remember what happened last time don't we? Back in 2009 or 2010 the PSSI, with praise ringing in t heir ears after being one of four co hosts for the 2007 AFC Asian Cup, then under the leadership of Nurdin Halid, surprised many with its proposed bid for either the 2018 or 2022 World Cup. Their proposal document was along the lines of a Green World Cup and talked about many cities that didn't have decent stadiums suddenly going on a building spree to get ready for the football bonanza.

Except it soon went tits up when the government refused to back the bid. Ironic isn't it. FIFA talks mightily of government interference as being the worst kind of sin, PSSI was ultimately suspended in 2015 for this very reason, yet back then the lack of any government support killed the bid dead saying the country had other more pressing tasks than holding a football tournament. In fact the government went further with an extraordinary football conference held in Malang, unsanctioned by PSSI and therefore carrying no weight, calling for a major overhaul of the how the game was being run. The President at the time even turned up for the meet and was filmed buying his own ticket to see local heroes Arema play.

That Malang meeting led eventually to the formation of the rebel league the Liga Primer Indonesia and a split in the foundations of football that continue to this day. Bhayangkara lead the Liga 1 today, they didn't exist back in 2010. Look at Liga 3 and there is an Arema side even though another Arema are still active in Liga 1. The absurdity continues with three Persemas, one of them being the temporary glamour club of the LPI, playing in Liga 3.

Today Indonesian football is almost unified and is almost running smoothly, a relative term after the events of the last seven or eight years. New stadiums have been built but the momentum for this construction frenzy has come not from football or ambitious local authorities suddenly taking a world view, but from the far more mundane National Sports Week.

Jakarta's bulbuous Bung Karno Stadium has been closed for several months as it gets touched up ahead of the 2018 Asian Games while there is even talk the long promised Taman BMW stadium for Persija will finally get built in the north of the city finally giving the capital city two stadiums boasting decent capacities. In and around Jakarta the situation is better with new arenas in Cibinong, Bekasi and Cikarang offering 30,000 plus capacity and relatively easy access.

The problem is so many stadiums are not easy to get to and you can imagine FIFA officials, with their lust for personal comfort and convenience, will not take kindly to making the trek out to venues like Si Jalak Harapat in Soreang, Palaran Stadium near Samarinda or Bung Tomo Stadium in Surabaya with it's single narrow lane access. And so many of these venues lack even the most basic of amenities in their immediate vicinity; refreshments come from vendors with food carts and, we are talking World Cup after all, there is not a beer to be found for miles around.

Thailand has its own issues. The media darling of South East Asia is seeing its visitor numbers constantly rise despite the horror tales of lengthy queues at immigration, a continuing military dictatorship and foreigners frequently falling from condos in Pattaya and Phuket. Last year saw more than 32 million arrive and that number doesn't look like falling anytime soon. Imagine where we could be 17 years down the road. Indeed the electricity generating firm seems to thing Thailand could top 100 million visitors a year by 2032, two years before the World Cup. It remains to be seen whether the country's infrastructure, a generation ahead of Indonesia's by the way, can cope with those sorts of numbers without placing a massive strain on the very resources people are flocking to see.

Then there is the weather. Bangkok's rainy season kicks in around the end of April and rainfall rises steadily through May, June and July offering the possibility of seeing Argentina take on Brazil on a pitch resembling a duck pond. And if their is no downpour during play at least the players, and them poor officials, will have their own private downpours amid the 80% humidity. 

Thailand also has its own issues with stadiums. While Bangkok boasts a couple of decent venues there is little else around the country and not every province has a political dynasty with total control like we see in Buriram; a dynasty that faces little dissent. Major centres like Chiang Mai and Phuket would need major investment not only in building stadiums and training facilities but in developing a football culture.

An ASEAN based World Cup would on many levels be a good thing; hell it could even raise awareness in the local game in the respective countries. For it to happen though would need a willingness to work together towards a shared vision for so many different groups with their own agendas and if the last seventeen years are anything to go by that could be the largest obstacle of all. 

Sunday, September 24, 2017


Bhayangkara's Off Duty Supporters

Today sees a test of Bhayangkara's title credentials when they travel to Bandung to take on Persib. For all their perceived struggles on and off the field this season remain a formidable opponent on their own turf be it Bandung Laut Api or Si Jalak Harapat Stadium where they remain unbeaten in their 12 games so far this season. Mind Simon McMenemy's team won't be going into this game overawed. The Liga 1 leaders boast the best away record in the league with an impressive seven wins from their travels. Their last three games have also seen them win 2-1 with decisive goals coming in the last five minutes. It's going to be interesting to see what happens in today's game!

Just as interesting as what happens on the pitch, at least for a saddo like me, will be the make up of the terraces today. Bhayangkara's roots, such as they are, lie in the police force and although the team has played some sumptuous football this season as well as producing exciting young players like goalie Awan Raharjo and striker Ilham Udin Armayin they have struggled to attract many new fans beyond their own owners.

The graphic in the top left of this post purports to come from West Java police and shows how many 'fans' will be coming from a number of police stations across the province from Bogor to Tasikmalaysa and all points inbetween though, interestingly, none from Bekasi which is Bhayangkara's home base.

I recently saw Bhayangkara defeat PS TNI at Pakansari Stadium and the number of fans they brought with them that day was a long way short of the 2,000 being called upon for this game.

Both Bhayangkara and PS TNI, the army side, have struggled to attract supporters and one reason for this maybe their links to the uniformed services. Certainly other new clubs like Bali United and Madura United have been more proactive in getting out in their local communities and have been rewarded with some healthy attendances. But across South East Asia clubs associated with uniforms have failed to attract large fanbases even when their teams have done well as my piece here shows. Perhaps they need to make more effort to identify with their local community but even that is no easy feat given Bekasi for example already has Persipasi and Persikasi and back in 2015 had their fingers burnt with the short lived Pelita Bekasi Raya. 

*The scanned sheet posted above comes from Persib social media account autputzer.

Thursday, September 14, 2017


Indonesian Football Limps Into The 1990s

Football clubs need money. All those players need paying and in Indonesia plane tickets need to be reserved and hotels booked. The money needs to come from somewhere but for too long too many clubs have lived in denial. Brought up on a culture of handouts from local government clubs have muddled along, often under the tutelage of local government appointees who may or may not be big football fans. A club's success or otherwise even now often depends on the flights and fancies of local power brokers with their own agendas.

When I first started following Indonesian football funds would come from local governments and sponsorship came from tobacco firms or state owned enterprises. The first two are now, officially at least, closed as sources of revenue meaning clubs are now being forced to enter the market place in search of sponsors and all too often they lack the staff or the expertise to negotiate these commercial waters. Fortunately some companies do recognise the value, and the reach, of football and they have taken to approaching the clubs themselves offering to get involved at some level in return for prominent exposure. Whether the club is getting the market value in return remains open for debate.

TV revenue and sponsorship provide a huge chunk of a club's day to day costs like in many countries. Matchday revenue doesn't. Ticket prices are kept low because many of the supporters come from less well off backgrounds and as they provide the passion and the spectacle on the terraces no football club is willing to price their lifeblood out of the game (unlike in England for example).

Merchandising is an essential part of a football club's brand but it is an area they have been unwilling to exploit until recent years. Fans love to identify, or been seen to identify, with their favourite team and of course replica shirts are one of the most popular ways of doing this. Bizarrely it is only in recent years that we have seen clubs recognise the potential and start to market replica shirts to their support base. When I used to ask why I was told fans wouldn't pay for the original, they would prefer to buy the cheaper knock offs widely available outside stadiums on any given match day suggesting a sweeping generalisation of their fans not all would appreciate.

Football's suspicion of the entrepreneurial DNA runs deep. With the ASEAN Football Federation Cup last year when Indonesia reached the final it was difficult to find national team shirts in specialist stores for example. The manufacturers it seemed didn't trust the market to buy enough shirts to make mass production worth their while. The short term, penny pinching mindset flows down the football pyramid in a manner that would have proponents of trickle down economics fuming at the inverse of their thinking. So many clubs lack the staff or resources to build a fully functioning merchandising department; in effect Indonesian football clubs operate season to season. A coach is appointed by whoever is on this year's management committee and the appointed man is told his budget for the season and told to cut his cloth accordingly. Once the season ends the management types will essentially go into football hibernation, back to their day jobs, only to reemerge in time for the new season. There is no planning ahead, there is no club infrastructure to speak of that keeps things ticking over season to season. Hell, we see this at the PSSI whenever a new guy takes over and he has to bring his people in who need to learn the job as they go.

For an outsider like me this is nuts. How the hell can clubs as massive as Persebaya, Arema, Persib and Persija operate on such a hand to mouth existence? No wonder they are incapable of mounting a sustained bid for success not just in Indonesia but abroad.

The only constant in Indonesian football are the fans and it is the fans who have been quick to fill the vacuum caused by club's lack of know how. If you want to know what is happening at a club you don't go to their club's official media. Too often they don't have a dedicated press officer so any news that is released must wait for someone with a few moments to spare and that someone could be on the coaching staff or a relative of a high ranking official. But with some supporters hanging round the club 24/7 websites, blogs and social media accounts grew up to fill the void. They were on the ground and they were the ones to release the latest news real time along with videos, interviews or direct quotes.

Likewise with merchandising. With the clubs unable to get products out to the fan base supporters took up the slack and some have become so successful they have developed their own ranges of branded clothing or terrace wear. Those who say business has no place in football are behind the times; business has always been there in the form of cottage industries providing supporters with the scarves and t shirts they crave as well as employing their mates and making a few bob. In fact, ahem, my book Sepakbola - The Indonesian Way Of Life looks at some cottage industries in greater detail.

Now though, and slowly, things are changing and some clubs are dipping their pinkies in the waters of commercialisation. Persib led the way and Persebaya are taking massive strides as they emerge from years of darkness under new ownership which knows a thing or two about making money. And now, finally, Persija have their own shop. Actually it seems to be run by the fans but the club are providing a few bits and pieces, including 100 shirts (!) and will look at adding more stores if this one is a success.

Persija are the biggest club in the capital of Indonesia and they are giving a shop 100 shirts to sell! A club that average 28,000 at their home games. West Ham United are the fourth largest club in London and they have three large stores, each in areas that attract large numbers of visitors every day. What is good though is that Persija are working with the supporters to make merchandising available. It is a start. Other clubs haven't even go this far yet. 

Indonesian football is changing. New clubs with new money have usurped the old guard on the field while off it some clubs are embracing a form of professionalism we haven't seen before. Club merchandise is another step forward. There are still plenty of elephants in the room, much to complain about and much that holds back the game, but change is coming from within, at a glacial place perhaps but still change that could, repeat could, enable the brave to go toe to toe not just with the best in Indonesia but also overseas.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017


Being Thai is Not Enough To Challenge Asia's Best

That Thailand have been the preeminent force in South East Asian football for the best part of two decades is indisputable. Since 1996 they have won the ASEAN Football Federation Cup five times and triumphed in the SEA Games in 11 out of 13 competitions since 1993. When it comes to regional bagging rights the War Elephants fear no foe. 

Ever since the days of the dream team at the Hiroshima Asian Games in 1994 when the likes of Zico and Tawan first made their impact on the region the Thais have been a conveyor belt of talent with players like Datsakorn, Theerathep, Kawin, Theerathon, Teerasil and Chanathip almost effortlessly making headlines around the region. The English football media like to croon about the likes of Rooney, Lampard and Gerrard; how would they react to almost 20 years of top players following one after another like we have seen in Thailand?

Sadly for the Thais being such big fish in a small puddle does not translate into success beyond the borders of ASEAN. Yes, they were able to escape their World Cup 2018 qualifying group along with Iraq but they received some help along the way with Indonesia being kicked out and Chinese Taipei being so hapless. Against strong opposition, Iraq, they could only draw both times. But enough was done against their rivals, also including Vietnam, they finished top of the group and guaranteed themselves a pop against some of Asia's real big boys.

Japan, Saudi Arabia, Iraq (again), Australia and the United Arab Emirates. Not an easy group for the best team in ASEAN, in fact not an easy group for many nations around the world and so it was to prove with the Thais picking up just two points, from draws against Australia and UAE, and losing the rest including heavy defeats away to Iraq and Japan. Eight defeats from their 10 Round Three games, six goals scored. When Thailand escaped the comforts and familiarity of their ASEAN puddle and swam with the big fish they became mere morsels for the true Asian predators.

The Thais weren't competing alongside the continental powerhouses, they were cannon fodder. Sad to say but for all the talent the nation has produced, and looks likely to continue to produce Thailand are no nearer becoming one of the elite football countries in Asia.

So what is holding them back? Their advantages over their ASEAN rivals are clear to see. Professionalism, diet, upper body strength and discipline set them apart from their corner cutting neighbours. There is also an element of consistency in player selection, something sadly lacking in Indonesia for example, for the national team and a strength in depth others can only drool over. The FA there regularly play host to international sides beyond the narrow parameters of ASEAN with the Kings Cup, featuring Belarus and North Korea, something their rivals do only sporadically.

But they are not serious contenders to go into the draw for the World Cup nor the AFC Asian Cup and don't appear to be for some time to come.

I can't help think the domestic league culture
is partly to blame. Take away Buriram United and Muang Thong United with their deep pockets and you are left with a handful of clubs who can/could challenge for honours, and I'm including Bangkok Glass, Bangkok United in this category but the bulk of the teams in the top flight are there to make up the numbers and yo yo between the top two divisions. Leaders Buriram are 13 points clear of fourth place Chiang Rai United and average more than two goals a game. Many club owners lack the resources, or the will, to fully invest in their club and this is to the detriment of the league as a whole and the national team by extension.

It is all well and good the Thais opening their doors to players from the ASEAN region, a project that has yet to take off and anyway the benefits of playing for a team like Navy or Port are lost on me from a developmental point of view, but perhaps what is needed is for more players to follow in the footsteps of Chanathip and head overseas. There is little doubt the Thai Messi, what an awful nickname, will benefit from his stint with Consadole Sapparo in the way the likes of Zico, Tawan and Datsakorn did in previous years, but there needs to be more taking the plunge to learn a new culture, escape their comfort zone.

Money no doubt is one reason why players are loathe to pack their bags of course. Zico et all played in a league that was more a collection of letters, SET, BBC, KTB, RTP etc, with little passion and little money available. Football is a vastly different game than what it was a generation back. But for Thai football to go from being whipping boys to the region's powerhouses to competing on a level playing field it needs some of the current generation to forsake some khao pad gai and som tam for the good of the country.

And not just the players. When Zico was replaced as coach of the national team he spurned offers work overseas for mid table life at Port. A missed opportunity there. Where 20 years ago he was a trendsetter, a beacon for younger players following in his wake, now he succumbed to familiarity and banality by taking over a middling side with little prospect of honours beyond a good cup run. 

The notion of being Thai, khwam pen Thai, which children are taught at school makes for a colourful tourist experience but it is limiting when it comes to moulding players and coaches to compete at the highest level. 

Tuesday, September 12, 2017


Two Sides Of Indonesian Football Fans

Indonesian football fans have been quick to show their support for the Rohingya and Palestinian people (PSS fans pictured below) in recent weeks, displays which have shown supporters in a positive light for a change.

However while they have been praised for showing unity with those suffering overseas, elements have still managed to show the ugly side is alive and kicking and their empathy for those in foreign lands doesn't extend to rivals closer to home.

Last weekend saw Madura United defeat Arema 2-0 in an East Java derby played in Pamekasan. However the three points, which ended a winless run of four games, were marred by the actions of a minority who attacked the Arema team bus, smashing windows in barrage of rocks and stones. 

Credit to the Madura United club president Achsanal Qosasi who has come out and condemned the actions of the supporters involved saying that although Madura United won the game 'we lost in politeness'. 

At the recent Indonesia v Fiji friendly a supporter, Catur Julianto, died after a flare that was set off by supporters hit him on the side of the head despite flares being banned from stadiums across the country. 

Indonesian football is big on beauty and the beast. One of the finest sights in South East Asia is to see a packed, heaving terrace moving, swaying, singing as one but at the same time there is a lingering threat of violence that can kick off if there is no one to nip it in the bud.

Over the years I have seen cases where fans have policed themselves in a mature manner and not respond to downright provocation. At the same time I have seen fans start to kick off then, without any meaningful crowd control steps being implemented, more and more feel brave about the lack of repercussions and the safety of the mob and want to get involved. 

Of the hundreds of games I have seen across the country the messages of support have outnumbered the violence by a large factor but I am not looking at the game with rose tinted glasses. There are issues of security at games and there are issues over fans all to quick to get involved. Football, supporters and security need to work together to ensure we see more of the former and zero of the latter, just don't hold your breath.


Ilham Udin Strikes Late To Take Bhayangkara Top

Persela v Perseru 1-0 (Samsul Arif) 3,960

It comes to something when Persela are recording such a low attendance but perhaps there can be some sympathy for the long suffering support who had just witnessed five straight losses. And, no disrespect, Perseru aren't the most attractive of opponents! Samsul's seventh of the season just shy of the hour mark was enough to secure the points and send the small crowd home happy against the Papuans who remained in the bottom three and winless on their travels.

Mitra Kukar v Persija 1-2 (Marclei Santos; Bruno Lopes, Ramdani Lestalahu) 1,341

Persija suffered the ignominy of losing their new striker, Reinaldo (three goals in four games) before going down to a penalty just before half time but they still managed a spirited fightback in the second half with Lopes levelling just after half time with his eighth of the season and Ramdani making it five games unbeaten for the Macan Kemayoran.

Persib v Semen Padang 2-2 (Raphael Maitimo, Ezechiel N'Douassel; Vendry Mofu 2) 21,617

Semen Padang led twice at Si Jalak Harupat as they looked to end a four game winless streak but each time they were pegged back by a determined Persib side. Maitimo continued his hit streak in front of goal in injury time of the first half with his sixth goal in six games and though Mofu scored his second of the game and eighth of the season on 56 minutes it was left to Chadian import N'Douassel to save the home side's blushes with two minutes on the clock as he scored his third goal since arriving at the club in the transfer window.

Persiba v Gresik United 3-0 (Anmar Al Mubaraki, Srdan Lopcic, Hendri Satriadi) 10,021

Another defeat for hapless Gresik United, their seventh on the spin and their fifth without getting on the scoresheet, but this was all about Persiba. Playing at their brand spanking new Batakan Stadium, it was party time for the Honey Bears in front of their second largest crowd of the season. Stadium buffs, this is the third stadium Persiba have used as a home ground this season.

Bhayangkara v Persipura 2-1 (Ilham Udin 2; Ian Lousi Kabes) 3,250

How many times have I written about Ilham Udin this season? Good strikers score match changing goals and Ilham is certainly doing that. Having given his side the lead with 13 minutes remaining Persipura clawed their way back into the game with Kabes equalising with just two minutes left. With the game heading for a draw and many of us groaning, here we go again Persipura(!), up pops Ilham again three minutes into injury time to earn full points for Bhayangkara and see them end Week 23 top of the table.

PSM v PS TNI 4-1 (Pavel Puryshkin, Ferdinand Sinaga 2, Hamka Hamzah; Wawan Febrianto) 14,875

PSM have not been the formidable force they were earlier in the season but this convincing win keeps them in touch with the leaders as well as improving their goal difference. One time Indonesian international Ferdinand hit a brace, making it four in the last three, as well as laying on one for new signing Puryshkin. As for PS TNI. They are a pale shadow of the team that started the season so well with just one point from their last six games. The corps d'esprit that was so evident in the early days of the campaign has gone AWOL!

Barito Putera v Sriwijaya 2-0 (Hansamu Yama Pranata, Douglas Packer) 3,432

No surprises in this mid table clash. Yep, seeing Sriwijaya floundering in mid table nothingness has ceased to surprise

Madura United v Arema 2-0 (Slamet Nurchayo 2) 8,327

While the likes of Peter Odemwingie and Greg Nwokolo have attracted the headline writers in Madura's thrilling season to date Slamet Nurcahyo has been happy to play second fiddle if you like. No one at the club though underestimates this silky midfielder whose vision and technique allows the better known players to shine. His brace ended a four game winless streak for the one time title challengers and allowed him his moment in the spotlight his performances all season have warranted.

Borneo v Bali United 0-0 7,695

Freescoring Bali United were held by a tenacious Borneo in Samarinda. Since losing at home to Sriwijaya a month ago Borneo have gone five games unbeaten, conceding two goals in that time; Jose Mourinho would be proud!

1 - Bhayangkara 23 15 1 7 40-26 46
2 - Bali United 23 14 3 6 52-26 45
3 - PSM 23 12 6 5 37-25 42
4 - Persipura 23 12 6 5 42-25 42

25 - Sylvano Comvalius (Bali United)
15 - Marclei Santos (Mitra Kukar)
13 - Peter Odemwingie (Madura United)
12 - Reinaldo Costa (PSM 9, Persija 3), Alberto Goncalves (Sriwijaya)

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?