Monday, March 18, 2019


Tampines Early Leaders In Stop, Start Singapore

It's been a while since I've bothered writing about Singapore football. The domination of the domestic scene by a foreign side, Albirex Niigata, is not something to celebrate, without taking away respect for the club and their efforts. It has been down to the local clubs to get their act in order and this is something they have patently failed to do. And as evidence for this statement I present the simple fact that the Japanese side won every honour on offer over a three year period.

In that time the powers that be have struggled to find meaning for a domestic football scene that has been struggling for relevance. A  name change, the SLeague is now known as the Singapore Premier League, hasn't wowed anybody outside of the business school bubble that continues to be high on jargon but low on action and the latest whiz, if that is what it is, to have clubs ground sharing is hardly going to encourage an already apathetic community to support their local team.

Their has been the odd glimmer in recent years. The consistency of Hariss Harun across the Causeway in Malaysia with Johor Darul Ta'zim for example. The maturity of Safuwan Baharudin now with Pahang. The performances of Hasan Sunny and Izwan Mahbud between the sticks in Thailand. The promise of the Fandi boys Irfan (BG Pathum United) and Ikhsan (Roufoss, Norway). And, whisper, the elder statesman that Baihakki Khaizan has evolved into with his career encompassing Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand.

But while there have been shining lights overseas there has been little stardust locally. Fans looking for heroes continue to stick posters of Messi, Ronaldo and Pogba on their bedroom walls or as wallpaper on their smart phone rather than the likes of Adam Swandi, Shadan Sulaiman or Jordan Webb.

Players like Daniel Bennett and Shahril Ishak were veterans when I first started covering the SLeague 12 years ago. That they are still going strong says much for their professionalism but also heaps about young players coming through (or the standard of the league?). Have once promising players like Khairul Amri and Webb honestly fulfilled their youthful potential? What of Shafiq Ghani?

Against this negativity the new season began with Albirex Niigata, now allowed to feature more local players, losing in the opening Community Shield on penalties to Home United but for all the hype of a rebrand and a reboot Singapore football still looks like something cobbled together in a coffee shop at 3am after too many Tigers and too much nasi lemak. 

Tampines are unbeaten after three rounds with a 100% record but Albirex Niigata have played just two games, and had a mini tour of Myanmar inbetween their first and second league games. Following their 0-0 draw against Home United the Japanese side have failed to score in competitive football this season, a fact that will soon change one hopes. 

It's not only Albirex which have not played a full quota of games so far this season. Both Young Lions and Warriors have only played one game each! Indeed, with the season only starting 2nd March, it wasn't until last weekend that Warriors played their first game, and instead of using that extra time to be better prepared than their rivals, they were thrashed 5-1 by Hougang United.

Following last weekend's games the league is taking a break and won't return to 29th March when leaders Tampines will be hoping to maintain their perfect start to the season when they host the champions Albirex Niigata. A break so soon? Yep, Singapore will be competing along with Malaysia and either (!) Oman or Afganistan for the never heard of Airmarine Cup in Kuala Lumpur.

A stop start beginning to the new campaign, a watered-down champions taking time out for a mid-season break overseas, the same teams continuing to play each other ad-infinitum, a loss of local identity for teams forced to ground-share. Let's hope things improve...

Sunday, March 17, 2019


President Cup 2019 Group Stage Review

Before the President Cup started I wrote how we so rarely see upsets in cup competitions. Well, I got that wrong pretty big time, didn't I? Persib failing to qualify from a group they hosted featuring Persebaya, Tira Persikabo and Perseru...surely they were odds on to come through that group? 

Instead they managed to lose their opening games (1-2 v Tira, 2-3 v Persebaya) and had fans calling for new coach Miljan Radovic to be sacked among other things! It's pre season remember, the Liga 1 campaign won't begin until after the elections and the fasting month but the impatient Bobotoh called for a boycott for their final game and the supporters stayed away in their thousands. After in excess of 26,000 saw their opening two games less than 10% of that number saw their final game against Perseru.

That Persib defeated Perseru 4-0 will mean nothing in the eyes of the impatient fans who see Radovic as a poor replacement for Mario Gomez who guided the team last season. That Radovic is a Persib legend, that fans would often take to social media calling for him to return, seems to count for nothing.

Moving beyond Persib the performances of Tira Persikabo could make people sit up and take note. Coach Rahmad Darmawan, Indonesia's most successful coach having won the title with Persipura (2205) and Sriwijaya (2007/08), RD inherited a team already full of tough young players like Manahati Lestusen and Abduh Lestalahu but has now added goals with the experienced Osas Marvelous Saha and Loris Arnoud who spent last season with Persela.

In Group B hosts Bhayangkara qualified top of the group with a 100% record and they will be joined by runners' up Bali United, a repeat of the 2017 title race. Relegated Mitra Kukar finished bottom of the group with no points and won't be looking forward to life in Liga 2 in the new season. 

There was also fan unrest as Semen Padang supporters vented their frustrations towards coach Syafrianto Rusli following defeats in their opening games against Bhayangkara and Bali United. Some pride may have been restored with victory over hapless Mitra Kukar in the final game but some realism is called for. Semen Padang have just been promoted and they have never been known as a club with deep pockets to attract the big names, quite what fans are expecting from a pre season competition against top sides is beyond me.

The tightest group was C hosted in Magelang where PSIS, Kalteng Putra and Persipura all tied on six points meaning hapless PSM finished bottom of the group with nothing at all. Perhaps, rather sensibly, they were more focused on their AFC Cup campaign? 

More fan protests in Group D where hosts PSS were forced to play their opening game against Madura United in a near empty stadium after their supporters called for a boycott as discussed here. Unlike PSM, Persija seem to be juggling both President Cup and AFC Cup duties. Following their 2-2 draw with highly fancied Madura United the Macan Kemayoran headed to Myanmar, no mean feat logistically from Yogyakarta, and defeated Shan United before returning to Sleman and beating the hosts 2-0 a few days later with Bruno Matos showing no signs of jet lag scoring in all three games.

In Group E hosted in Malang, Persela came out on top with Arema finishing as runners up and again the Arema support are picking and choosing their games with few bothering to watch the ties with Barito Putera and Persita but a large crowd for the local derby.


Persebaya, Tira Persikabo, Bhayangkara, Kalteng Putra, Persija, Madura United, Persela, Arema

Top Scorers

4 - Bruno Matos (Persija), Melvin Platje (Bali United)
3 - Anderson Salles (Bhayangkara), Gavin Kwan (Barito Putra), Osas Saha (Tira Pesikabo), Manuchekhr Dzhalilov (Persebaya)

Biggest Crowds

29,150 - PSS v Persija
28,311 - Arema v Persela
26,978 - Persebaya v Persib'
26,541 - Persib v Tira Persikabo
13,182 - Borneo v PSS

Wednesday, March 06, 2019


Perseru Just The Latest Much Needed Consolidation

The football landscape has changed quite a bit over the years and while many of the headlines tend to be of a negative nature, football fans don't do soft, gooey love stories, some of the changes which have taken place are less heralded but necessary.
Much as we like to mock, organising an Indonesian football calendar is an arduous task. Even if all the clubs were well run the sheer distances involved, and the related costs (long flights, hotels, road transport) are considerations most leagues don't have to worry about. Indonesia is hit by a double whammy here; poor infrastructure and lack of funding.

Is it any wonder clubs from the far east have been hardest hit as I wrote about yesterday? Beyond Kalimantan only PSM and Persipura have been able to thrive in difficult circumstances.

We have to feel some sympathy for the PSSI. Really! They are not responsible for the poor roads, stadiums and flights to more remote destinations and they have had to tell clubs they can no longer rely on local government funding or tobacco sponsorship. Not all clubs have proved up to the challenge and rather than lead, the association have had to work around the clubs.

Looking back at the 2006 season is instructive. That is the year I started this here blog and back then clubs had access to taxpayer cash and the generosity of smokers. The top flight Liga Indonesia, sponsored by a tobacco company, was split into two conferences, west and east with 24 teams in total as we can see in the graphic above.

From that season only Arema, PSIS, Persija, Semen Padang, Persib, PSM, Persela and Persipura remain in the top flight. Some of slipped into Liga 3 anonymity while others are rarely heard of at all. Hardest hit has been the north east of Sulawesi where Persimin and Persibom along with Persma which boasted a decent cup run that year have faded into obscurity despite the potential fanbase in the region.

Fast forward to today and it is interesting to see how many 'new' clubs there are as a result of various acquisitions and mergers. Of the 18 teams which will be competing in the 2019 season fully one third didn't exist in their current format back in 2006;

Bali United go back to Putra Samarinda which merged with Persisam to become Persisam Putra
Bhayangkara's roots go back to an area close to Samarinda which I covered here.
Borneo originally were Perseba Super Bangkalan before Persisam supporters bought the license and relocated the club to Samarinda where they were initially known as Pusamania Borneo
Madura United originally started life as Pelita Jaya!
TIRA Persikabo started life as Persiram before being taken over by PS TNI and later merging with Persikabo
Perseru whose future name is uncertain following their move to Lampung.

In the lower divisions clubs like Persigo, Persih and Persires have their own tales of woe to tell as they joined the nomadic, a football licence in search of a home.

Professional football only started in the 1990s and then it was dominated by local association teams cobbled together by local political appointees. The idea that football clubs have a brand they can maximise has only recently been seized upon, Persib in many ways were the trailblazers while smaller clubs like Persela and Borneo work hard building support in their local communities.

Traditionally it has been left to fans and supporters clubs to create awareness and build support and political types have been happy to sit back and allow this to happen and it is this laissez-faire attitude which PSS fans are currently railing against.

It is no longer enough for a football club to be a politicians play thing for a year or two then to be dropped. They need to find money themselves and if they can't then clubs will fold which is what we are seeing. It's nothing new by the way. Look up clubs like The Wanderers in England, Third Lanark in Scotland or Germany's VfB Leipzig.

Strong clubs need strong brands and without doubt Indonesia boasts four of the strongest in South East Asia in Arema, Persib, Persija and Persebaya. Whether the likes of Bali United or Madura United will have the financial staying power to take on the big four, as Sriwijaya did for a few years, remains to be seen as indeed the future of the Lampung based club which will be taking part in the new season.

For now, I guess we're left wondering which will be the next familiar name to go!

Tuesday, March 05, 2019


The Decline And Fall Of Papuan Club Football

The names roll off your tongue; Boas Solossa (left). Patrich Wanggai. Titus Bonai. Elie Aiboy. Yatno Basna. It was like there was a conveyor belt of Papuan footballing talent that seemed to go on for ever and the team that represented the hopes and aspirations most, Persipura, for several years the most dominant force in the domestic scene.

Nicknamed the Black Pearls, Persipura were for a few years a colossus of the Indonesian game. Champions in 2005, 2009, 2011, 2013, runners up in 2010, 2012, 2014 and champions of the unofficial Soccer Championship in 2016 (when FIFA and the government suspended the league) their domestic success made them a regular feature in Asian club competitions where for one reason or another they failed to replicate their homeland triumphs.

But since the ISC success Persipura have been a shadow of their glorious recent past. When the league returned in 2017 the Black Pearls could only finish 6th, their lowest ranking since 2004. And last season they plunged new depths, struggling to find any kind of form and ended up in 12th. 

Since Brazilian coach Jacksen F Thiago, who was the architect of much of their success, left in 2014 Persipura have struggled to find any consistency and the coaching hot seat has become very hot indeed. A club that was once seen as a model of consistency in football's choppy waters took to hiring and firing coaches with glee; current incumbent Luciano Leandro is the eighth to try his luck since JFT left.

The demise of Persipura only highlights the demise of football in Papua. The talent is still there, witness the performances of Marinus Wanewar in the recent triumphant AFF Under 22 Champions highlight this. But the demise of a number of Papuan based clubs in recent years suggests all is not well in the far east.

As recently as the 2012 season there were four Papuan based teams in the top flight; Persipura, Persidafonso, Persiwa and Persiram. In more recent years Perseru have pitted their wits against the big boys while Persiwar saw themselves promoted to Liga 2 last season.

Persiwa were once all but unbeatable on their own backyard going back a few years but more recently the funding has dried up and last season, after being forced to play some home games in Java, they finished bottom of Liga 2. Their halcyon days in the AFC Cup remain but a memory and now the Highwaymen remain just another club that briefly soared for a while but soon whithered and died.

At least the name Persiwa still exists. Persiram are no more. Back in 2012 they played some home games in South Jakarta (pictured left in a Papuan derby against Persidafonso at Lebak Bulus Stadium) as they struggled to find a purpose beyond being a flag waver for the beautiful region of Raja Ampat. In the wake of the FIFA suspension they were gobbled up by the military football association, known as PS TNI, and now play their home games in Cibinong under the name TIRA Persikabo.

Perseru are the next to follow in the footsteps of Persiram. They have punched above their weight in Liga 1 ever since they were promoted at the end of the 2013 season and only just escaped relegation at the end of last season. They recently announced they would not be continuing as a professional football club with the licence now being taken over by a Lampung outfit. The new name of the club has yet to be revealed.

The demise of so many clubs in recent years follows a pattern nationwide as football has been forced to look elsewhere for funding with local governments and tobacco funding closed off by legislation. Papuan clubs have been harder hit that most; Away days can take up to 24 hours in one direction meaning an extra cost both financially and to the players' fitness. Persipura have been lucky as they have been able to call on sponsorship from local mining giant Freeport but the other clubs have lacked such generous donors leaving their annual budgets smaller than their rivals.

As things stand we will have just Persipura in Liga 1 and Persewar, population 30,000 in Liga 2 metaphorically flying the Papuan flag in professional football. 

Next year, Papua will host the National Games and to celebrate this event a new 45,000 stadium is being constructed. Papua Bangkit Stadium will be an impressive venue and could well become a new venue for Persipura but for now club football is in the doldrums and there seems to be little hope any team will be able to tap into the rich talent on the islands and recapture the Back Pearls' glory days. For now, the departure just seems to be another kick in the teeth for football.

Monday, March 04, 2019


PSS Fan Group Call For Boycott To Protest Club Management

You would imagine fans of PSS Sleman would be buzzing. Back in the top flight for the first time in over a decade PSS supporters, known as Brigata Curva Sud have been attracting visitors from overseas impressed by the atmosphere they generate at their home games.

However while the supporters have been making an impression, the club's off field structure has been frustrating the fan base, so much so on the eve of PSS's Maguwoharjo Stadium hosting the pre-season President Cup the BCS have been calling on all PSS supporters to boycott home games until the club management give in to their demands.

Now, before we get all high and mighty we need to remember how powerful supporters can be in Indonesia. Lest we forget, Persebaya supporters took on and ultimately defeated the association in recent times. 

And of course, in Indonesia football fans still have a voice, unlike in England where they are seen as a cash cow by clubs and TV who are happy to charge extortionate prices and ignore the paying public. 

So what are these demands the supporters expect their club to act upon?

1 - Developing an academy for young players
2 - Building a 'mess' for the team and officials
3 - Build a training field
4 - Develop a marketing and business development team
5 - Stop mixed messages being released
6 - Create a reliable official media
7 - Improve match day organisation
8 - Develop clear standard operating procedures

Shocking stuff eh? And how embarrassing for a football club to have their lack of professionalism highlighted by the supporters. The fact is though many clubs are shockingly run by appointees who appreciate the column inches but are not fully appreciative of the efforts they need to expend.

It's going to be interesting to see how this pans out. The President Cup kicks off tomorrow in Sleman with PSS being joined by Persija, Madura United and Borneo and it would be a massive embarrassment for the organisers were the games to be played out in a near empty stadium.

The BCS are in a strong position. People around the world will only know of PSS because of their terrace reputation. The club itself, only founded in 1976, has inherited one of the best stadiums in the country and have been lucky to have the BCS build a reputation for them. Now they are in Liga 1 all the supporters are doing is to ask the club to up their game.

In other words to be as professional as the supporters are!

Sunday, March 03, 2019


Persebaya's Balde Hits The Ground Running

Persebaya fans celebrating
Any new signing carries a risk. Especially when bringing in a foreign player who has never played in the country before. And that risk is magnified for strikers. As any ex pro pundit is so keen to tell us mere funs, goals win games and if a striker doesn't hit the ground running then chances are high, especially in Indonesia, he won't  be around for long and sod the contract.

Persebaya's Amido Balde however seems destined to have played for the Green Power and judging by the impact he has made so far he looks to be that rarest of player who does make an immediate impact.

The 27 year old Guinea Bisseau striker has had stints with other famous green clad clubs like Sporting Lisbon and Celtic so perhaps we shouldn't be surprised at how he has settled in so quickly to life in Surabaya.

And what an impact. We are obviously a few months away from the Liga 1 season kicking off but with Piala Indonesia and Piala President ongoing Balde has already shown what he is about

16/02 Persebaya v Persinga 8-0 (Balde 4 goals)
19/02 February Persidago v Persebaya 4-1 (Balde 2 goals)
23/02 Persebaya v Persidago 7-0 (Balde 4 goals)
02/03 Perseru v Persebaya 2-3 (Balde 2)

Twelve goals in four games is a decent return by any standard and when you add the potential goal threat Balde brings to the Persebaya side coach Djadjang Nurdjaman is assembling could we be seeing the making of a strong team with the ability to challenge for the title?

Friday, March 01, 2019


Piala President Returns, Excitement Guaranteed

It perhaps shouldn't come as a great surprise that Indonesia struggles to organise any meaningful cup competitions within its football calendar. If the domestic league isn't stopped by the government, delayed by elections or postponed following fan violence any forward planning fails there may be often fails to take into account international obligations like national team games, AFC Champions League or AFC Cup ties. 

Basically it appears that when a calendar is cobbled together no one really looks beyond the league and given the great distances clubs are forced to travel there, and the logistics involved in running Liga 2 and Liga 3, it can be appreciated running a national cup competition along the lines of England's FA Cup can be more trouble than its worth.

A nationwide cup was only introduced in 2005 when Arema won the inaugural Copa Indonesia, defeating Persija in the final. There have been just five further editions since then with Sriwijaya bagging three titles, Arema and Persibo one each. Technically Persibo remain the cup holders after defeating Semen Padang in the 2012 final!

It was considered a brave move then when the PSSI announced the cup, now rebranded as Piala Indonesia, would be contested again in the 2018 season with 128 teams going into the hat for the first round, which was drawn based upon regions, which started in May and went through to September! Did I mention scheduling difficulties?

As it happened nine ties didn't take place for a number of reasons, financial mostly, and of those that were played there were a total of zero upsets. Meanwhile we have now reached the quarter final stage but the Piala for 2018 is now on hold as the league prioritise the Piala President which has captured the imagination of the football public in ways the PI can only dream.

For a start the Piala President is a pre season competition featuring 20 teams based on five groups lasting a few weeks from start to finish. It also benefits from greater media coverage. Hell, even I forget Piala Indonesia is still ongoing, what about others with a more fleeting interest?

Piala President was introduced in 2015 as football came to grips with a FIFA imposed suspension and sought solace in a number of ad-hoc cup competitions. Persib were crowned cup winners in that first season as they defeated Sriwijaya 2-0 in the final which was played in Jakarta. That was itself a momentous occasion as for several years now Persib's supporters have banned themselves from travelling to Jakarta to see their team for fear of violence from local Persija fans. However on this one day tens of thousands headed up the toll road and filled the centre of Jakarta in blue to cheer on their heroes to a famous victory. It may only have been a stop gap competition but the final guaranteed it a place in the folklore of at least one football club.

Following on the success of the 2015 Piala President it was decided to introduce it again as a pre season competition in 2017, this time Arema defeating Borneo 5-1 in the final in Cibinong with the veteran Cristian Gonzales netting a hat trick. The supporters were taking to the competition in a big with PSS attracting 30,000 plus for two of their group stage ties and 43,000 watching Gonzales hit 5 as Arema come from 2-0 down to thump Semen Padang 5-2 in the semi final second leg.

Persija are the reigning champions after defeating Bali United in the 2018 edition, helped in no short measure by new signing Marko Simic hitting 11 goals along the way. The crowds again loved it, 50,000 turned up for one of Persebaya's group stage ties while the final topped 70,000. 

Make no mistake, while the Piala President is a pre season tournament it is no series of friendlies. It is no Emirates Cup, filled with back slapping, hand shaking, smiling bon homie. It is full on 100 miles per hour competitive football with the intensity of competitive football and while I would not want to suggest the groups are in any way fixed I think it is highly unlikely you would ever see Persija and Persib drawn together! Indeed there are those who suggest some clubs prioritise Piala President over the AFC Cup, so tangible and so immediate are the potential rewards.

And so the 2019 Piala President kicks off tomorrow with five groups centrered on Bekasi, Soreang, Sleman, Magelang and Malang. Liga 1 champions and reigning holders Persija have been grouped with PSS, a highly fancied Madura United and Borneo while Persib host Persebaya, TIRA Persikabo and Perseru. 

2017 Liga 1 champions Bhayangkara have been drawn alongside Bali United, Semen Padang and Mitra Kukar while Liga 1 runners up PSM are in Magelang along with hosts PSIS, Persipura and newly promoted Kalteng Putra. The final group is hosted by Arema and sees them go up against Barito Putera, Persita and Persela.

Perhaps Persija will be distracted by the AFC Cup, certainly they will struggle to replace the impact of Marko Simic who is other wise detained while Madura United will be hoping for some return on their heavy investment over the pre season. 

One thing is certain. The group stage format and the home/away legs in the quarter finals and semi finals may provide plenty of thrills and spills for the TV audiences but for old school cup romantics like what I is there is likely to be very little in the way of giant killing.

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