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Saturday, November 18, 2017

 

Vujovic To Leave Persib But Will Remain Club Legend

Persib Bandung were trailing 1-0 against Arema in the Indonesia Super League semi final at the Jakabaring Stadium in Palembang. The only goal of the game had come in the first minute of the second half. Persib’s Montegran defender Vladimir Vujovic failed to anticpate the bounce of a ball lofted into the penalty area.

Arema’s Brazilian striker Alberto Goncalves took full advantage of the slip, driving the ball across the keeper I Made Wirawan and into the far post. The East Java side, ISL champions back in 2009/2010, had one foot in the final.

With seven minutes remaining, however, Vujovic redeemed for his earlier error. This time it was the Arema defence that failed to clear and the tall defender stooped to sweep the ball home from close range. The goal took the game to injury time and further goals from Atep and Konate Makan set Persib up for their first ever ISL final appearance.

As this paper goes to press, thousands of Persib supporters, known as Bobotoh (a Sundanese word meaning follower) are looking at how they can get to Palembang in time for Friday’s final against Persipura Jayapura. The city in South Sumatra will slowly but surely turn blue as the Persib hoardes take over the place in a bid to win the ISL for the first time in their history.

That the West Java are in the final at all is in no small part down to Vujovic. The goal against Arema was his sixth in 11 games; no mean feat for a striker let alone a player bought to the club for his height at the back.

And in the manner of great goalscorers the world over, when Vujovic scores it usually means something. It was his injury time penalty against Mitra Kukar in the play off  round that earned Persib a 2-1 victory while his team were struggling to break down a resolute Persik Kediri towards the end of the season before Vujovic nroke the deadlock halfway through the second half. Persib went on to win that game 3-0.

Cometh the hour, cometh the man. While Persib have looked to more traditional outlets for their goals this season, think Atep, Makan, Fedinand Sinaga, Djibril Coulibaly, it is the journeyman defender who has come up trumps at the business end of the campaign time and time again.

Yet Vujovic would be the first to admit he makes an unlikely hero. Persib are his 13th team in a 14 year career that also includes three spells with his hometown club Mogren Budva. He was played football for a living in Montenegro, Serbia, Macedonia, Ukraine, Saudi Arabia, Russia, China, Hungary, Kazakhstan and Lebanon; a resume that would leave career diplomats gasping for breath, let alone a professional footballer!

It is unlikely though that Vujovic will have engraved his name so indelibly within a club’s psyche as he has at Persib. His goals during their run to the ISL final will have given him a special place in the hearts of Bobotoh everywhere and as his compatriot and one time Persib player himself Miljan Radovic can tell him, once a Bobotoh, always a Bobotoh.

NOTE - this was written ahead of Persib's game against Persipura when they were crowned Indonesia Super League champions in 2014. The defender has just announced he will be leaving the football club. The story also appeared in the Jakarta Globe at the time where for a few memorable hours it was the most read article.


Monday, November 13, 2017

 

ASEAN Average Attendances 2017

Indonesia (top 6 attendances)

46,359 Persebaya v Semeru
36,545 Persib v Persija
34.056 Persib v Arema
29,673 Persija v Persela
29,669 Persija v PS TNI
29,640 Persija v Bhayangkara

Indonesia Average

23,051 Persija
18,006 Persib
13,779 PSM
13,423 Bali United
12,392 Persipura

Malaysia 

17,051 Johor Darul Ta'zim
14,693 Kedah
  7,542 Pahang
  7,097 Kelantan
  6,474 Perak

Thailand

13,890 Buriram United
  9,359 Muang Thong United
  7,493 Suphanburi
  6,316 Chiang Rai United
  6,059 Nakorn Ratchasima

Vietnam

9,333 Thanh Hoa
8,538 SHB Da Nang
8,417 Hoang Anh Gia Lai
7,583 Hai Phong
6,750 Than Quang Ninh

 

Persib Season Ends In Disgrace After Perseru Loss

Following on from their 2014 Indonesia Super League title success it looked like Persib were set fair to dominate the domestic game for years to come. They had the squad, they had the supporters and they had the vision off the field. 

Then came the FIFA suspension. Persib had reached the last 16 of the AFC Cup but the rug was pulled from under their feet and domestically the ISL was halted. The winning mentality hung around for a while and they still won the President's Cup but by 2016 key components of the title winning squad had moved on including coach Djadjang Nurdjaman.

With no official league Persib joined the other ISL teams in the Indonesia Soccer Championship in 2016 and after a slow start fan pressure forced out coach Dejan Antonic and the club were forced to welcome back Djadjang to salvage a rudderless ship.

For the 2017 Persib went out aggressively recruiting high profile players like Michael Essien, Carlton Cole and Raphael Maitimo but struggled to gel as Djadjang tried to juggle his squad with the demands of an interfering management. He was on a loser and tried to resign but the club wouldn't let him.

Eventually he did manage to step down and Persib found a 'suitable' replacement in Emral Abus but results didn't improve and the team blessed with so many riches went into freefall. 

Fan discontent that had started in the 2016 season showed no signs of going away with some invading the pitch after losing away to Bhayangkara to express their disgust at the way the club was being run. 

Manager Umuh Muchtar was banned from football for six months after Persib stopped playing in Solo after seeing a perfectly good goal disallowed by the Australian ref. While many supporters were happy to see him go the results didn't improve and Persib ended the season with three straight losses.

The Bobotoh kept supporting their team and more than 20,000 saw their Under 19s play in the final against Persipura in Cikarang. The Black Pearls won 1-0 and elements of the Persib support responded by trashing parts of the newly built stadium.

Persib's final game of the season saw them hosting relegation threatened Perseru. The visitors secured their spot in Liga 1 next season with a surprise 2-0 and, humiliated, Persib fans kicked off again, invading the pitch and throwing rocks at the team coach. That 23,000 supporters showed for this end of season disaster says much about the loyalty of the Bobotoh; that Persib should lose, their first home loss of the season, says much of the disharmony around the football club.

Persib ended the season just six points clear of the relegation places and with four losses in their last six games. The season hasn't been all doom and gloom as the faithful have seen young players like Febri Haryadi, Billy Keraf and Gian Zola come in and make an impression.  But they were handicapped by a lack of goals. Carlton Cole was regularly attacked by the manager during his stay as he struggled for fitness and Sergio van Dijk missed most of the season through injury. That midfielder Rapahel Maitimo ended up as top scorer with nine goals only highlights the lack of potency up top for the season.

Persib need a serious overhaul if they are to challenge the new breed of teams that have arrived on the scene/ Champions Bhayangkara, Bali United and Madura United and even PSM and Persija have shown clubs need to appoint a coach and let the coach do his job. You get the impression that is not the case in Bandung. That requires a shake up of the club culture and it remains to be seen whether or not the club want to go down that road.

 

FIFA Congratulate Bali As Bhayangkara Lift Title

I received a message from my brother yesterday. 'Why,' he wanted to know 'weren't Bali United champions?' Long story I replied.

It wasn't only a West Ham United fan with no knowledge of Indonesian football who was asking questions about Bhayangkara's surprise title success.

The game's world governing body was caught out as well. They congratulated Bali United on winning Liga 1 and showed a screenshot of the final table.

The ASEAN Football Federation followed suit, congratulating Bali United.

Even Bali United got in on the act. They defeated already relegated Gresik United 3-0 and held a party after the game with the players wearing t shirts describing themselves as The Real Champions! The flares and smoke bombs won't go down well with the league and the club could face sanctions.

Meanwhile in Bekasi the actual champions Bhayangkara took the lead against Persija through the prolific Ilija Spaosjevic only  for the visitors to fight back with two goals from Ramdhani Lestalahu to give them the three points and cementing their spot in the top four and the AFC Cup next year.

While the league have been clamping down on pyrotechnic displays inside stadiums they seem less concerned with people being involved with more than one team and some social media wags described this game as the GW Derby. 

Despite winning the league Bhayangkara won't be playing in Asian football in 2018 despite sharing the same stadium as Persija. Why? I don't know...As for my brother? He shrugged his shoulders and went to see Wimbledon play Peterborough United.

 

Madura United's Odemwingie Takes To Social Media

Madura United's Peter Odemwingie has been sucked into an online spat with his club following the team's back to back losses at the end of a season that had gone so well. The East Javan club president Achsanul Qosari took to social media to explain to the team's supporters that Odemwingie would be leaving the club.

'Since the game with Bhayangkara (when Odemwingie was sent off after being on the receiving end of some bad challenges) Odemwingie has been felt unhappy about continuing his career in Indonesia. He was really angry with opponents who he felt were trying to provoke him in a way that went against the spirit of fair play.'

Odemwingie seemed to have really taken to life in Indonesia, he started the season on fire with 13 goals in quick succession and his social media accounts showed a guy happy in his skin in his adopted country and not one reflecting on his past career as other high profile names have done. A few months back it was announced he would be signing on for a second season with Madura United but that seems to be over now.

'He (Odemwingie) has returned the down payment he had already received from Madura United,' continued Qosari, 'and he is not available to play in Indonesia again.'

Odemwingie hasn't responded well to Qosari's comments. In a tweet addressed to the club president he says 'can you please not quote me in the press? Especially things I never said. Thank you.'

He followed up a couple of hours later with a longer post saying the club shouldn't use 'my name to complain about the league operators because we didn't become champions'. He went on to say 'Yes poor decisions from referees (like it happens everywhere in the world) we can only complain and speculate about corruption until proven'. 

The Uzbek born striker goes on to admit he and the club are parting ways and are working to find a solution that is win win for both parties. 

It is ironic that Indonesian football can be so transparent at times. No English club for example would come out and say what Qosari did. Former Chelsea and west Ham United striker Carlton Cole was also taken aback to read about often negative comments about him in the local media from the club manager; Cole to having been brought up in England where dirty linen was washed within the club and not aired in public.

Odemwingie has had a good season in Indonesia and has proven to be a model professional, exactly the type of player the country needs. Hopefully a win win solution can be found for both parties.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

 

Marquee Players Leave Indonesia Less Than Impressed

With the Liga 1 season coming to an end it's time we look back at the marquee players and how they did over the course of the campaign. Were they any that stuck out from the crowd? Were there any flops? What memories will they take from Indonesia?

The notion of the marquee player came pretty late. From my understanding Persib signed Michael Essien, the former Chelsea midfielder, then the league announced clubs would be entitled to sign four foreigners and one marquee. 

Other players followed, some familiar, others less so. Madura United signed ex West Bromwich Albion striker Peter Odemwingie, Semen Padang brought in the former Spurs midfielder Didier Zokora and Mitra Kukar added ex Liverpool player Mohammad Sissoko to their ranks.

They are perhaps the best known examples but that is not to say other clubs shunned the programme. Borneo for example recruited New Zealan international Shane Smeltz who had impressed in Malaysia last season. PSM announced Wiljan Pluim, who they had signed during the second half of last season, would be their marquee while Arema brought in Juan Pino to little acclaim.

Bali United went Dutch when they signed Nick van der Velden while PS TNI's Elio Martins impressed when he first arrived. Flushed with cash from sponsorship most clubs went down the marquee route with varying levels of success.

Zokora was gone by the middle of the season. Semen Padang, normally such a stable, well run club, failed to build on the relative success of last season, in part down to Marcel Sacremento scoring far fewer goals, struggled to find any kind of consistency and come the transfer window Zokora was allowed to leave. Things didn't improve and the Padang side were ultimately relegated.

Essien was involved in one of the most controversial incidents of the season. The high risk game between Persija and Persib was moved to Solo, as usual, and Essien's Persib thought they had taken the lead in the first half when Chad striker Ezechiel N'Douassel thought he had scored with a header from close range. The ref however had different ideas and disallowed the goal and Essien, who had a perfect view of what had happened, led the protests as Persib couldn't believe their perfectly good goal had been disallowed.

Mohammad Sissoko has left his unique own mark on the title race. In fact you could say he had a direct role in Bhayangkara being crowned champions. He was sent off in the Mahakam derby between Mitra Kukar and Borneo and his team left him out of their next game which they lost 4-0. With Sissoko restored to the line up for their next game, at home to title challengers Bhayangkara Mitra Kukar drew 1-1 and it looked for all the world like Bali United would go on and be crowned champions.

The league then announced that in actual fact Sissoko had been suspended for two games, not one, hence was illegible to play against Bhayangkara and awarded the game 3-0 to the men in green. You can of course imagine the outcry this caused as those two extra points meant Simon McMenemy's team were back on top of the table and, thanks to better results in a head to head with Bali, only needed to beat Madura United to win the league for the first time in their history.

And it was in Madura where Peter Odemwingie. The Uzbekistan born striker seemed to have really taken to life in Indonesia and his 13 goals in the first half of the season helped put Madura United in the mix for the title. Then he was injured and was forced to miss a couple of months. By the time he returned Madura had lost ground on the leaders and all that was left to play for was personal pride. 

Odemwingie scored twice in his first three games on his return. Then came the game with Bhayangkara. The game was played behind closed doors, police kept fans away from the main entrance to the stadium, thronged the corridors in the main stand and the kick off was delayed as the TV channels were showing some wedding reception apparently. 

For a title decider the game was dreadful. The tackles were flying thick and fast and when Odemwingie lashed out at Bhayangkara's Indra Khahfi after being on the receiving end of some dodgy tackles, the Iranian ref had no hesitation in brandishing a straight red. Odemwingie had lost it and he looked like the kind of guy who had just had enough. Think Joey Barton playing for Queens Park Rangers against Manchester City when they won the Premier League. 

In a controversial end to a controversial season three of the highest profile marquee players played key roles in the action for good or bad. Neither of them featured in their team's last games. It could take a good agent to convince them to stay another season. Sadly for Indonesian football Essien, Sissoko and Odemwingie have many friends in football. Next time an Indonesian club comes calling for one of their mates can you imagine the type of reference they would be given?

People may want to flex their muscles. They may want to show they have 'power' and 'influence'. But beyond Indonesia's shores their names mean nothing. Football is the global game and footballers are global players. When Odemwingie, Essien and Sissoko tell the world about their experiences here, about the way a result was changed, a letter was misplaced, a kick off delayed there will only be one loser. 



Thursday, November 09, 2017

 

ASEAN Domestic Champions Five Year Record

Indonesia 

2013 - Persipura
2014 - Persib
2015 - Gresik United*
2016 - Persipura**
2017 - Bhayangkara

* season halted following FIFA suspension
** Indonesia Soccer Championship is not recognised as an official league

Malaysia

2013 -  LionsXII
2014 -  Johor Darul Ta'zim
2015 -  Johor Darul Ta'zim
2016 -  Johor Darul Ta'zim
2017 -  Johor Darul Ta'zim

Singapore

2013 - Tampines Rovers
2014 - Warriors
2015 - DPMM
2016 - Albirex Niigata
2017 - Albirex Niigata

Thailand

2013 - Buriram United
2014 - Buriram United
2015 - Buriram United
2016 - Muang Thong United*
2017 - Buriram United

The 2016 season was cut short when the Thai king died

 

Bhayangkara Champions After Spaso Hat Trick

The circumstances may have been controversial but then what in Indonesian football isn't? Bhayangkara have been there or there abouts all season, impressing many with their open, attacking football. Coach Simon McMenemy has shown he isn't afraid to make the big shouts along the way for example replacing Thiago Fortuoso with Ilija Spasojevic mid season or placing his trust in 20 year old rookie keeper Awan Setho Raharjo.

Nine wins in 11 games seemed to have set Bhayangkara on course for their first ever title when they travelled to Banjarmasin to face Barito Putera. Jacksen F Thiago's team had made a name for themselves giving the leading teams nervous moments and indeed earlier in the season had nicked a 1-0 victory in Bekasi against Bhayangkara despite playing on the back foot for most of the 90 minutes. History repeated as they defeated McMenemy's men 1-0 again, their first loss since the end of July.

Four days later Bhayangkara had a chance to reassert their authority when they hosted fellow title challengers PSM but two goals early in the second half saw them slump to a second defeat in less than a week and suddenly Bhayangkkara were looking up at the leaders rather than down on the chasing pack.

Fortunately for the coaching staff their next game wasn't for eight days and they were able to concentrate on doing their thing on the training ground. Bhayangkara aren't a big club by any stretch of the imagination. They started life as Persikubar in East Kalimantan and through a series of tortuous, and not always transparent, mergers and acquisitions now find themselves in Bekasi, West Java, a dormitory suburb of Jakarta as a police owned team, reliant on off duty coppers for support.

This low profile meant the team were able to get on with restoring any battered confidence they may have felt after straight losses far from the media spotlight that would have accompanied more established teams. They were put through their paces ahead of their next game against Persela, a side troubled having lost their legendary goalkeeper Choirul Huda following a tragic on field collision in a recent game.

There is no sympathy on the football field and with newly naturalised striker Ilija Spasojevic, boasting a fresh Indonesian passport, opening the scoring the police backed side went on to win the game 3-1. Bhayangkara were back but their run in was tricky.

Their game away to Madura United was postponed at the last minute when the hosts were unable to find an alternate venue; they had been slapped with a stadium ban following an incident at a previous game. For some reason no action was taken against Madura for failing to fulfil a fixture but Bhayangkara now knew they would face a busy final week to the season with three games in a week including a fair amount of travel.

Next up was Mitra Kukar away, never an easy place to play. McMenemy's team came away with a point and with Bali United winning away to PSM thanks to an injury time winner from Stefano Lilypaly it seemed the title had slipped away. Then, in the hours leading up to the rearranged Madura United game, an apparent administration oversight (I'm being polite here) saw the title race turned upside down. Mitra Kukar were found guilty of playing an illegible player, M Sissoko,  and the game was awarded to Bhayangkara 3-0. Despite having an inferior goal difference to Bali United, Bhayangkara had come out on top in their meetings so all they needed to do was win in Madura and they would be crowned champions.

And win they did but only in the strangest of circumstances. Despite being banned from watching the game inside the stadium Madura United fans had apparently been told they could gather in the car park to support their team. This permission was then rescinded and a large police presence ensured no fans could get near the stadium. Kick off was then delayed, apparently because a it clashed with a wedding reception. 

They finally did kick off and Bhayangkara won 3-1 thanks to a Spasojevic hat trick. It was an untidy game at best. Paolo Sergio missed an early penalty for Bhayangkara, striking the post. Peter Odemwingie, so impressive for Madura United, was red carded after lashing out at Indra Kahfi. Substitute Fandi Eko Utomo was on the field for about three minutes and was booked twice before being sent off. Madura United ended the game with eight players when substitute Rizky Febrianto, who had pulled one back, was sent off with five minutes remaining.

Bhayangkara celebrated like champions do. Let the controversies and conspiracies swirl this was their moment. Winning the title in any country is no easy achievement, in Indonesia it is even harder. Bhayangkara can be criticised for a number of things but not on the playing side. McMenemy has built a team that plays good football and works as a unit. Watching them play you can see the discipline he has instilled in his side. His signing of Spasojevic was a master stroke as the ex Persib striker responded with 12 goals in 15 games. When Bhayangkara blinked Spaso kept on scoring. Meanwhile in the midfield unheralded South Korean Lee Yoo Joon has been the glue that has held the team together.

While the hoary old pros can look back on a job well done, Indonesian football can feel excited about the progress some of its young players have made. Evan Dimas and Putu Gede were well known before the season started but Dendy Sulistyawan, Ilham Uddin and Awan Setho Raharjo have been impressive all season while Jajang Mulyana has played with maturity in a number of positions to show his versatility.

The concept of Bhayangkara, a police backed club born from a number of mergers is never going to achieve mass support from the Indonesian football community brought up on their own local side with their history and traditions. If Bhayangkara were Thai for example where clubs have less history and bandwagons come easier the reaction to winning the title would be far more positive. And Bali United may have a sexier image, look where they come from after all, but they, along with the likes of Madura United, are doing their bit to shake up the cobwebs of the long dormant football scene on the pitch at least.

Simon McMenemy deserves kudos for the job he has done, for the team he has built and the way the team has played football. The coaching staff and the players have nothing to do with management or Liga 1 'forgetting' to send out letters. Their job is to play football and over the season they have done that pretty well.

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

 

Mystery As Liga 1 Decision Puts Bhayangkara In Pole Position

Bhayangkara - Champions Elect?
A few months back I wrote about wayang, a puppet show where the puppet master sits behind a screen and manipulates puppets while telling a story. Understanding the concept of wayang goes a long way to understanding Indonesian and the myriad WTF moments that colour life here. Whenever something happens a little out of the ordinary, which is quite often, my first thought is who benefits? Why has this happened, why now and who benefits?

That there are hidden puppet masters pulling the strings of football's stakeholders is nothing new of course. You think the rebel Liga Primer Indonesia was about football? Think again! And sadly the 2017 season is perhaps even more evidence football isn't just about 90 minutes. For some football is about ego, power and, more importantly, having the power to project that power.

When Bali United defeated PSM in Makassar thanks to Stefano Lillipaly's injury time winner it seemed the Liga 1 season had taken yet another tortuous turn in a season of tortuous twists and turns. That late, late victory, which produced surely one of the iconic pictures of the season with the PSM goalkeeper Rivky Mokodompit slumped against a goal posted looking thoroughly dejected, embracing a couple of sobbing supporters, ended PSM's title challenge and surely thrust Bali into pole position.

The three points saw them go two points clear at the top of the table with a superior goal difference ahead of Bhayangkara with the latter facing tough games against Madura United and Persija needing maximum points to be crowned champions themselves. Advantage Bali United. Or so we thought.

On 23rd October middle of the table Borneo beat middle of the table Mitra Kukar 4-0 in the Mahakam Derby. A surprise result perhaps but not one that would have had any great significance on the title race. One would have thought. Mitra Kukar's midfielder M Sissoko, yep the player who used to play for Liverpool, was red carded in the last minute. 

Normally a red card sees a player sit out the next game and dutifully Mitra Kukar left the Malian international out of their next game away to Persib. 

Twenty four hours before Mitra Kukar's next game, against Bhayangkara no less, Liga 1 apparently sent a letter advising advising 26 year old defender Herwin Tri Saputra would be illegible to play against Bhayangkara because of accumulation of yellow cards. The game went ahead 3rd November sans Saputra, but with Sissoko back in the line up, and ended 1-1. No one seemed to think too much about it at the time. Valuable points dropped by Bhayangkara yes but they were still in the title race.

Now comes news Sissoko shouldn't have played with Liga 1 claiming Sissoko should not have played in this game. Apparently the league had discussed the Sissoko case on 28th October but had, so it seems, left out details of his suspension from their letter they sent on 2nd November. Despite this apparent oversight/SNAFU, Liga 1 have decided to award the game to Bhayangkara 3-0 thus putting them back on top of Liga 1 ahead of Bali United based upon their head to head.

Tonight sees Bhayangkara play Madura United and that is another story. The teams were due to meet last month but Madura United were told they could not play a couple of home games in Madura following crowd disturbances. The club claimed they couldn't find another venue in time but rather than be punished for failing to hold a fixture the game was rearranged. Tonight's game will be played in Madura but spectators are not allowed inside the stadium. They are however being encouraged to gather outside!

Bhayangkara's last game of the season is against Persija in Bekasi. Officially a home game, given their support, and Persija's it will be to all intents and purposes a Persija home game. To add more twists and turns the Persija president was at one time the president of Bhayangkara. Indeed until recently Bhayangkara's official Instagram account used to hashtag this guy's name.

With everything now pointing to Bhayangkara winning the title, though we can expect more twists and turns in the final few days, we now know if they are crowned champions they won't be allowed to compete in the AFC Champions League because they don't have the proper licencing the AFC requires. 

As you can imagine, many football fans aren't happy with the way things are panning out. Most recognise Bhayangkara are a good team. Well coached by Simon McMenemy, they boast promising young players like Putu Gede and Evan Dimas as well as experienced players like Firman Utina and Ilija Spasojevic. But there is little respect for the football club which is mocked for having no history and no fans. 

There are also deeper concerns over what a Bhayangkara title success would say about the state of Indonesian football. Bhayangkara are of course a rebranded PS Polri, the police side that has only recently embraced professional football. And the PSSI are no run by a serving military officer. There is of course much discussion over this recent uniform interest in football and, in true wayang style, what is going on behind the scenes. The events of the last few days have done nothing to ease those concerns.


Tuesday, November 07, 2017

 

Persija's Bright Future After Ignoring Fans' Call For Coach Ouster

Remember earlier in the season when Persija were struggling to find a win? When they went on that run which saw them winless in six games, scoring two goals along the way? The fans were calling for coach Teco to be sacked, there were protests at games, banners held up calling for change at the football club?

Teco stuck to his guns and to their credit the football club did as well. Too often clubs pander to the whims of their supporters and sack the coach as soon as they feel it is what the supporters want.

The problem is of course a football fan is a fickle beast. For the fan the last result is everything and when you keep failing to score then you're not going to win, no matter how good your defence is.

And Teco was building a good defence. In fact that's what good coaches do. They build a team on a strong back line. Sadly for coaches building a defence is neither sexy nor quick. Ask the likes of Sam Allardyce or George Graham. But good teams are built on the foundation of a good defence and for all Persija's woes in front of goal they were still a tough nut to crack, conceding just five goals in that run.

In Andritany Ardhiyasa between the sticks they have a serious contender for player of the season. While the defence were getting used to each other there was Andritany on hand to rescue Persija time and time again with saves taken from the top drawer.

The back line ware one of the most imposing sights in Indonesian football with height and physical presence to intimidate the small, slightly built but agile local strikers. At the heart of the defence Brazilian William Pachecho has been a revelation. This guy is massive and has chipped in with a few goals along the way, forming an ever improving partnership with the veteran Maman Abdurahman. 

Its not all about age and experience. Left sided Rezaldi Hehanusa has come in and performed consistently well over the season and the 22 year old , happy birthday today, has been rewarded for his efforts by national team coach Luis Milla who has played him against Puerto Rico and Cambodia. 

Now of course Persija can look forward to a bright future. Despite sitting sixth in Liga 1 with a game remaining, thanks to Bhayangkara, PSM and Persipura not receiving AFC licensing they could well be representing Indonesia in the AFC Cup next year. They can also look forward to returning to a renovated Bung Karno Stadium once the Asian Games have finished and the extra cash flow that entails. And stable management off the field are finally realising the potential in their football club which has, in recent years, been seen as a lesson how not to run a club.

To think, had the club bowed to fan pressure Teco would have been long gone and who knows where the Macan Kemayoran would be now!

Sunday, November 05, 2017

 

Bambang Responds To Disallowed Goal Controversy

Bambang Pamungkas holds a unique position in the football pantheon. He is perhaps the one player respected across the length and breadth of the 17,000 islands that make up Indonesia. Bepe, as he is nicknamed, is Indonesia's Mohammed Saleh, Omar Abdulrahman, George Best, Franz Beckanbauer. He is perhaps the only footballer a humble noodle vendor or a western educated high flying businessman might recognise.

He is intelligent, articulate and cares deeply about the game. He works with the players union, APPI, trying to educate players about their rights and responsibilities to the game and their employers as well as how to negotiate the tricky world of contracts.

Bambang posts videos of him playing the piano and gives cookery tips, a passion of his. Yep, he is not your usual footballer. Hell, I have even spoken to Persib supporters who said they would welcome him should he ever forsake the Persija orange for the Bandung blue; he wouldn't out of respect to the Persija support who have cheered him for some 15 years.

And now Bambang has got caught up in the controversey surrounding the recent meeting between the two bitter foes. For when Chad striker Ezechiel N''Douassel scored what he felt was a perfectly good goal, the net rippled(!), Bambang had a good view of the event. As Persib celebrated video evidence seems to show Bambang hurrying to the centre circle as if he felt it was a goal.

The ref of course disallowed the goal and irate Persib fans took to social media to complain Bambang should have done the sporting thing and told the ref that in his view yes it was a goal. It would still have been down to the Australian referee to make a decision of course but at least, so went the Bobotoh thinking, Bambang could have made a stand.

Bambang has since written a post explaining why he didn't take any action in the cauldron of a feisty derby and full credit to him for doing so. Not many players would do the same but then not many players share the highest pedastal with him.

What we need to do is accept there are two Bambangs. The one many in football would like him to be, that rare voice of sanity in an asylum where it seems too often the lunatics have taken charge. Many, and I include myself, are crying out for someone untainted to rise from the dressing room and cast his purity over the game, magically ending match-fixing allegations, giving succor to honest match officials and telling errant supporters to put away their parangs.

And then there is a Bambang who plays for a football club and is trying to win every game he plays in for his employer and his supporters. The difference is so great any bridging is unlikely but it is to Bambang's credit, and an indication of the respect people across football have for him, they feel he is the one to speak up when injustice occurs.

In his post Bambang asks whether any Persib player would have tried to convince the ref the goal was valid had the roles been reversed. Had for example the game was being played in Bandung, there were no Persija fans present, the visitors had been taken to the game inside an armoured personnel carrier. If, for example, Bruno Lopes had scored for Persija and the ref disallowed it, as the home support rejoiced would an Atep or a Hariono have approached the ref and said, sorry mate you got it wrong?

Bambang goes on to suggest any person brave enough to have confronted the ref, risking the ire of his team mates and supporters, and said the goal was good would be possessed of wings and worthy of a FIFA Fair Play Award. 'Last time I checked, unfortunately I am still human' said the 37 year old striker.

Yes sir, you are still human. As is Paolo di Canio. The firey Italian was playing for West Ham United and with the Everton goalkeeper on the ground after failing to clear the ball and twisting his knee, was presented with an opportunity to score. Instead he caught the ball and gestured to the injured keeper suggesting he receive treatment. He was rewarded with a bollocking from his manager in the dressing room, worldwide praise for his actions and the FIFA Fair Play Award. And no one is suggesting di Canio is an angel!

As a footballing romantic I would like to have seen Bambang at least do the honourable thing. But as an Arsenal fan, had one of our players told the match officials a Spurs goal, which had been disallowed, was good I know I wouldn't be praising his honesty. 

Saturday, November 04, 2017

 

Good 'Evans. Shaun The Meek Leaves Persib Fuming After Disaster Showing

Controversy is never far away when Persija and Persib meet. Earlier in the season fan disorder in Bandung resulted in a Persib fan being beaten to death inside the stadium. Other 'events' in recent years can be found in this post I wrote some 15 months ago. When these two teams meet something invariably happens and I'm not talking about a football match.

It was Persija's turn to host Persib yesterday and Liga 1 decided in their infinite wisdom the game should be played in Solo to minimise the risk of violence. They also decreed Persib fans should not be allowed to travel to the game. Persija fans did of course, in their thousands.

One innovation in Liga 1 this season has been the introduction of foreign referees for some games, the feeling being local refs may not always be the most reliable when it comes to big decisions in high pressure games. Not every one has been in favour of foreign whistleblowers with, perhaps ironically, PSMs Dutch coach Robert Alberts arguing for other measure to clamp down on dodgy decisions by the men in the middle.

So there we have it. Persija hosting Persib in the neutral city of Solo with an Australian referee, Shaun Evans, and no away fans present. Surely this most intense of games should pass off fairly peacably? What on earth could go wrong?

Do not underestimate Indonesian football's ability to take whatthefuckery to new levels. After all this is land of three leagues, two national teams, two players' unions, three Persemas last season and who knows what else over the years?

Early in the first half and Persija's veteran striker Rudi Widodo comes flying in on Persib's tigerish midfield player Kim Kurniawan forcing the German born player to leave the field and head straight to hospital. Remember, we are only a couple of weeks on from burying Persela's keeper Choirul Huda after he was on the receiving end of a much more innocuous one that clattered Kim. The ref gave Rudi a yellow card and Persib were seething.

Before the half hour mark and Persib were positively irate. Chad striker Ezechiel N'Douassel heads the ball in to the ground and rises up over the despairing reach of Persija keeper Andritany and in to the roof of the net. N'Douassel wheels away in triumph, former Chelsea midfielder Michael Essian punches the air in triumph. Persib had taken the lead against their bitterest foe. Or so they thought. The Australian ref says it was no goal! The ball rippled the fucking net! And, interestingly, Bambang Pamungkas, arguably the most respected player in the country, appears to be heading back to the centre circle. He was close enough to see what had happened.

As one the Persib players surrounded the match officials but of course they were not going to change their mind. First they had lost one of their key players, no they had a goal chalked off, the game was less than 30 minutes and things were not going their way. Surely the whole point of having foreign match officials is to assure players and supporters a game is going to be played in a fair and just manner? And here we have two game changing decisions in the first 30 minutes favouring one team over another under the auspices of foreign match officials!

In the second half the ref awarded Persija a penalty and followed that up with giving Persib defender Vladimir Vujovic a red card after giving Bruno Lopes a tug outside the penalty area and that was too much for the visiting team. The straw that broke the camel's back?

It is too early to consider whether the experiment with foreign refs continues but after the Shaun Evans horror show in Solo no doubt questions will be asked. Certainly Persib will have a thing or two to say about it. Suffice to say the Aussie whistler won't be a popular man should he ever venture down in West Java any time soon!

Oh yeah, the game. The result leaves Persija on the cusp of a surprise AFC Cup slot and Persib looking back on a woeful run of one win in 10 games.

Wednesday, November 01, 2017

 

Asia Beckons Not For PSM, Bhayangkara


Title challengers PSM, Bhayangkara and Persipura have been told they do not meet the criteria for AFC licensing and as such will not be allowed to enter AFC club competitions next season. Potentially three Indonesian teams could go through to either the AFC Champions League and the AFC Cup in 2018 with the Liga 1 champions entering the play offs for the ACL. The second and third placed teams go straight into the AFC Cup


The news comes as PSM and Bhayangkara at least hold out strong hopes of lifting the Liga 1 title at the end of the season which comes in a couple of weeks.

Quite why these clubs will not be allowed to qualify isn't clear. Certainly Persipura, who have represented Indonesia several times in the Asian club competition, most recent in 2015 before FIFA  suspended Indonesia, can feel hard done by.

Five teams have however been cleared for AFC competition; Bali United who lead the table on goal difference from PSM and Bhayangkara, and Madura United who sit five points adrift. Sixth place Persija, 9th placed Arema and 11th placed Persib could reap an Asian cup bonanza despite their perfromances falling short of earning a spot by merit.

As things stand Bali United and Madura United can start planning for next season leaving Persija to fill the final spot but of course this is Indonesia and anything can happen.

All this is of course mightily depressing for clubs like Bhayangkara and PSM who have led the table for most of the season. Coaches Simon McMenemy and Robert Alberts are to be denied the opportunity to pit their wits against regional rivals because of some pedantic last minute box tickers and promising young players like Evan Dimas and Puti Gede are likely to miss out on some valuable experience.

Not for the first time we are witnessing football authorities scrambling at the last minute to make decisions that should have been taken before the season had even started.

 

Liga 2 Quarter Final Groups, Venues Decided

The Liga 2 quarter final schedule and venues have finally been announced. The PSSI have said the two four team groups will be based in West Java for reasons of security and the chosen stadiums are easily accessible.

We are still awaiting details of who plays who on what date. For now the cities of Bekasi and Cikarang can look forward to a large influx of football fans with Persebaya and Persis supporters at least likely to travel in large numbers.

Anticipating trouble, from players or supporters, the PSSI have warned any clubs involved in misbehaviour riks being thrown out of the competition.

As things stand the top three teams will be promoted to Liga 1 where they will replace Gresik United, Persiba and one of Perseru and Semen Padang.

Group X - Wibawa Mukti Stadium, Cikarang (Match days 9/11, 12/11, 15/11)

Persis, PSMS, Kalteng Putra, Martapura

Group Y - Patriot Stadium, Bekasi (10/11, 13/11, 16/11)

PSIS, PSPS, Persebaya, PSMP

22/11 - Semi finals

25/11 - Liga 2 Final



Tuesday, October 31, 2017

 

Persija v Persib Switched To Solo At Last Minute

Yesterday was Monday. Persija are due to host Persib on Friday and like we do every year we are treated to this traditional dance where the home team suggest where they would like the game to be played while the league organisers, fluttering their eyebrows and acting demurely behind a colourful fan say little to discourage the come ons.

It has been suggested the game be played at the recently renovated Bung Karno Stadium. It is being renovated so Jakarta can welcome Asia to next year's Asian Games, a high profile event. The last thing the organisers want is their showpiece venue ripped apart by irate football fans and fortunately the stadium owners have said no, they can't play the highly charged game there.

Persija have of course been playing their home games in Bekasi this season at the Patriot Stadium. It's not far from the centre of Jakarta and is easily accessible. The problem is Bekasi sits in West Java and that is Persib land. Yes, we may have seen Persija and Persib fans come together earlier in the season outside the stadium in a public show of reconciliation and there have been high profile attempts on the ground to lessen tensions at street level between the two sets of supporters but would they be forgotten come match day?

So, on Monday, Liga 1 decided the game would be played at the Manahan Stadium in Solo this Friday. Assuming both teams would want to be in town a couple of days before the game that would leave less than 48 hours for Persib and Persija to source plane tickets, hotel rooms and book training sessions. And what about the fans who need to make their own arrangements to travel to Central Java by planes, trains and buses?

Why does it take the league so long to come to the most basic of decisions? They have known all along the venue for this game could prove contentious. Hell, I've been contacted by people from overseas wanting to watch this game asking where it will be played. 

Just for once it would be nice to have football authorities get ahead of the curve when it comes to matters like these and make decisions in advance and stick to them. Assuming of course the tail isn't wagging the dog. Professional football needs professional people in positions of authority taking professional decisions for the good of the game. Dicking around with the venue of a football match four days before it is due to be played is not professional.

Everyone knows this of course. However they just wheel out that old standby, that get out of jail free card. This is Indonesia. To which of course the answer is self explanatory. Football isn't going to make any kind of progress on the international stage, let alone domestically, when the answer to any question is just a mediocre cliche.

 

Persiba Fall Short And Face The Drop

Persiba's brave bid to avoid relegation ended in tears as they were cruelly defeated 4-3 at home by Madura United on Sunday when two late goals from the visitors guaranteed them the points and the home side the drop.

The Honey Bears battling qualities were never in doubt right till the end. Against Madura United they had some from 1-0 down to lead 3-2 with 12 minutes remaining. 3-0 down away to Barito Putera they clawed back to 3-2 thanks to Anmar Al Mubaraki in injury time. 3-0 down away to Bhayangkara in 30 minutes they fought back to 3-2 at half time. Leading 2-1 at home to Persib before they equalised with 17 minutes remaining.

Time and again Persiba found themselves either in good positions but unable to close the game down or with too much of a mountain to climb and the minutes ebbing away. Which ultimately sums up their season.

Should they be relegated, and given the lack of transparency over the quarter final stage of Liga 2 giving rise to conspiracy theories about no relegation/promotion this season, there is something to build on in Balikpapan if the nucleus of the squad can be kept together.

That is the nub of course. For many teams, relegation is an excuse not to invest, either time or money, in the local team. Power brokers don't like to be associated with what they see as losers and supporters often lose interest. The money probably won't be there to tempt the likes of Marlon da Silva and Srdan Lopicic to stick around for a campaign in the second tier.

In Persiba's favour is the attendances once they moved to Batakan Stadium. Nearly every game attracted a five figure crowd, something impossible at Persiba Stadium, and even when the final nail was driven into the coffin at the Madura game just shy of 8,000 saw the game.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

 

Balikpapan Hosting Arsenal, Liverpool Masters

It's very difficult for event organisers to host events outside of Jakarta and Bali. All too often the facilities don't exist that can attract world class events. We're talking venues for example, hotels. Even basics like international flight connections. With the best will in the world asking the internationally famous to visit anywhere which is a two hour drive from an airport that is a two hour flight from a major hub is always going to be a hard ask.

That's why the city of Balikpapan in East Kalimantan at least deserves credit for trying to enter the market. It has a gleaming, modern new airport with a handful of international connections. It has decent hotels. And now of course it has Batakan Stadium, a decent, international class stadium to offer as a venue.

The stadium has quickly become a source of pride to the good people of Balikpapan. The local team, Persiba, have struggled in the bottom three all season and their supporters have been used to seeing their heroes in the pokey Persiba Stadium where around 3 or 4,000 would turn up on a regular basis. Since moving to the Batakan the fans have turned out in large numbers averaging around 14,000 per game even as the drop was confirmed.

With Persiba's season all but over a huge, expensive stadium still needs to pay for itself so kudos to organisers for arranging a high profile event next month featuring former players from Indonesia, Arsenal and Liverpool. Now typically I'm not a fan of these type of events but for now I'm looking at it as an opportunity to provide people who live far from Jakarta and Bali to see the famous names up close and personal. Interestingly Persiba have a game on the same day, away to Persela.

No line ups have been confirmed yet as I understand it but Robert Pires, Freddie Ljungberg. Mikael Silvestre (!), Jan Arne Riise and David James are among some of the names being linked with the event.

The games take place next Sunday and the marketing is in overdrive as the organisers try to get the bums on seats, and their overheads covered, to make the promotion pay. Unfortunately for them the local health and safety people have decided only the lower tier of the 40,000 capacity stadium can be used meaning a capacity now of 20,000, much as it has been for Persiba's home games. Quite why nothing has been done to make the top tier ready for the domestic games let alone a prestigious event like this isn't clear. What it means of course for the supporters is cheap tickets are now at a premium.

VIP West - 84 GBP
East Stand -  42 GBP
North Stand - 18 GBP
South Stand - 18 GBP

It remains to be seen how many tickets will be sold at these prices.

As well as the games themselves a couple of other events are being lined up to allow supporters, or just the wealthy, the chance to get up close and personal with the retired pros. A welcome dinner with 32 players from both Liverpool and Arsenal is on the cards, no mention of the Indonesian players who may be available for Indomie at a local warung or not, I don't know. Anyway for a sit down nose bag with the players from the English giants, people are being asked to pay around 560 GBP which includes two VIP tickets for the two hour experience.

Where would we be without a coaching clinic? One will be held at the Batakan Stadium the day after the event, on Monday 6th November, and is limited to 200 kids. The three hour session will set parents back a cool 168 GBP which includes two East Stand tickets, a polo shirt and a tumbler.

I do genuinely wish the organisers well with this. Indonesia is a big country and has an expanding middle class and Balikpapan as a city is booming. Many will see this as a good chance to see famous names and of course make an impact on social media. I have my doubts whether it is the right product. Yes, put Balikpapan on the map but why not host Malaysia or Brunei in a full international? Or organise a trofeo with teams like DPMM, Sabah, Sarawak, Persiba and nearby Samarinda?


 

Bobotoh Keep The Faith Despite Poor Run

Persib finally ended their eight match winless run as they defeated Mitra Kukar 3-1 yesterday at the Si Jalak Harapat Stadium in Soreang. They made their supporters sweat for the victory mind. 

Febri Haryadi had given them the lead just shy of the hour mark with his fourth goal of the season but when Marclei Santos levelled 12 minutes later you could forgive the home supporters for rolling their eyes and thinking here we go again. Persib have after all drawn 14 games this season.

However injury time saw a tidal wave of relief sweep around the sparsely occupied terraces as Achmad Jufriyanto and Raphael Maitimo, from the penalty spot, confirmed that rarest of events; three points and a win. Their last victory had come back in early September when they had beaten Sriwijaya 4-1 in Palembang. Since then a monotonous landscape of draws and defeats has tested the patience of the Persib faithful.

Unlike the Arema supporters, who have pretty much turned their backs on the team during their well documented struggles, the Bobotoh have stuck by their team as these numbers show.

09/09 v Semen Padang 2-2 21,617
21/09 v Bali United 0-0 23,515
24/09 v Bhayangkara 1-1 21,908
09/10 v Barito Putera 0-0 7,197
19/10 v Madura United 0-0 7,223
27/10 v Mitra Kukar 3-1 7,264

Yes, an unhealthy drop in attendances is nothing to crow about but the Persib fan base have shown a greater willingness to stick with their team through the lean times than for example Arema, a similarly sized club with a fan base to match.

18/08 v Persiba 3-0 1,664
30/08 v PSM 3-3 6,116
16/09 v Persela 2-0 6,008
24/09 v Persija 1-1 26,917
20/10 v PS TNI 1-1 4,363
25/10 v Gresik United 2-0 2,269

Arema's crowd figures make for interesting, if depressing, reading. Compare for example the attendance when they hosted Persiba. Not the most attractive game for the East Java side perhaps but when they met earlier in the season, when the Honey Bears were playing in Malang, the crowd was 20,000! Local derbies against Persela and Gresik United have failed to stir the passions among the Aremania and arguably the only good number from their game against Persija comes in part because of a large away support and the close relationship between the two sets of supporters.

Both Arema and Persib boast strong home records but find themselves mid table, mired in inconsistency and fan discontent but it is the Bobotoh who are showing greater signs of reliance when it comes to watching games. 

There is a suspicion Arema fans are turning their back because of the current management which they, now don't recognise as being the real Arema. There was another Arema playing in Liga 3 which some believe have a greater claim to the legacy of the founding fathers of this football club.

Persib supporters too have issues with management and recently took to the streets to express their disgust at what they felt was interference on the playing side. 

Football fans the world over are drawn when it comes to protesting at how they perceive their club is being run. No fan wants to miss a game, ask any Arsenal supporter if they would consider boycotting games to express their disgust at management and the answer would be a resounding No. It's different in Indonesia. Fans will walk away if they feel there isn't enough being done to make their club successful and that is what we are seeing to a certain extent with Arema and to a lesser degree with Persib.

The Indonesian football landscape is changing and it is frustrating for fans of the old order, clubs like Persib and Arema, to see a newer breed of club, more professional, overtake their heroes. You get the impression Persib only need to do some behind the scenes tinkering to get the fans back on side, at the expense of some egos. In Malang however the fissure runs deeper and without a wholesale rethink within the football club it is unlikely the Aremania will be returning in large numbers any time soon.

Friday, October 27, 2017

 

Boost For Luis Milla As Spasojevic Receives Indonesian Passport

Bhayangkara's striker Ilija Spasojevic is now officially an Indonesian citizen. The Montenegrin born 30 year old who was signed by Simon McMenemy's team during the mid season transfer window could now be a candidate for the national team. I say could be; recent squads announced by coach Luis Milla have put the focus squarely on young local players.

Over the years I have often likened Spasojevic to Zlatan Ibrahimovic, a lazy comparison now perhaps but appropriate in its way. Both have good body strength and both are technically gifted players, good both in the air and on the ground. 

Unlike many foreign players who head to South East Asia in the twilight of their careers, Spaso headed east at a relatively young 23 with an impressive resume that already included clubs like Vojvodina and Dinamo Tblisi. 

He arrived during the tumulutuos times of the Liga Prima Indonesia, the rebel league set up in 2011 as part of a political bitch fest, sorry a bid to improve the domestic game. He played for Bali Dewata in that season and scored a credible 10 goals in 14 games before the league was halted half way through.

He had done enough though to impress and has since played for PSM, Mitra Kukar, Putra Samarinda, Persib, Malaysia's Melaka United, arguably where he enjoyed his most prolific spell, and now of course Bhayangkara. As for wearing the merah putih of Indonesia? Who knows.

Bali Dewata 14 8
PSM             29 19
Mitra Kukar 16 10
Pusam          23 12
Persib            8 4 
Melaka Utd  35 30
Bhayangkara 12 7

Thursday, October 26, 2017

 

Borneo's Terens Puhiri Becomes Internet Sensation


Borneo are on a bit of a roll at the moment, winning three games in their last four. Especially sweet would have been their 4-0 demolition of Mitra Kukar in the Mahakam Derby. Now, as Indonesian derbies go this may not be on a par with some of the most intense in the country but that hasn't stopped one of the goals going viral.

Terens Puhiri has only just turned 21 and until now has been seen as perhaps just another speed merchant in a league full of them. The Papua born striker has been in Samarinda since 2013 but it has only been the current season when he has been making a name for himself with six goals in his 28 games.

But it is his most recent goal that has been making waves. When a Mitra Kukar attack breaks down just outside the Borneo penalty area Puhiri pounces. There is an MK defender closer to the ball and moving in from the centre circle but it is Puhiri who has reacted quickest and the advantage is eaten up as the Borneo striker goes into overdrive. 

Puhiri skips past the lunging defender but despite his touch being heavy he has the pace to catch up with the ball. Again his touch may have let more static strikers down as the keeper rushes out but Puhiri plays the ball wide, has the pace to catch up with the ball again and turn it into an empty net leaving him to celebrate by himself; his team mates are nowhere to be seen in the one man counter attack!

The lung busting run has gone viral in this internet age leaving Terens Puhiri being talked about around the world as media from Spain to Turkey have highlighted his effort. Gone are the criticisms over his poor touch as people marvel over his speed and endurance. A week and a half after the football world mourned the loss of the legendary Choirul Huda how refreshing to see an Indonesian player make the headlines for positive reasons!

Apologies for the commentator...we have to put up with this every game!

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

 

Do Or Die For Semen Padang Against Perseru

Perseru's unexpected 2-1 triumph over Papuan neighbours Persipura not only knocked the Black Pearls' title winning ambitions for six. The three points allowed Perseru to climb out of the bottom three where it seems they have been rooted all season.

The drop zone has been filled by Gresik United, Persib and Perseru for nearly all of the season suggesting that all three were destined to go dow
n and many observers, enthralled by the race at the other end of the table, have perhaps taken their eye off the ball.

But Perseru's win was their third in five games suggesting a mini recovery out there at Marora Stadium and while they have been picking up points quietly another team has been sucked into the relegation frame by doing the exact opposite. 

Semen Padang lost 2-0 to Persija at the weekend, their 13th game without a win and more crucially their seventh loss in eight games. 

The highly rated Nil Maizer was sacked early October and after a brief spell under caretaker Delfi Adri Semen Padang appointed Syiafranto Rusli to try and salvage their season last week and he gets an early opportunity to throw down a marker this weekend when the Minang side host fellow strugglers Perseru.

No doubt Semen Padang have missed the goals of Brazilian striker Marcel Sacremento. The 30 year old netted 21 times last season, the second highest in the Indonesia Soccer Championship, but has struggled for form this time around, managing just five; his last goal coming in the 3-1 loss against Bali United back in August.

While Vendry Mofu has stepped up to the plate with a career high nine he is not seen as the team's main goalgetter. Had his goals been a supplement to Sacremento's then Semen Padang would be looking at a reasonable place in the table but they aren't. 

Tears flowed as the players slumped to the ground following their 2-0 loss away to Persija last time out but they need to regroup and put on a show for the faithful this weekend. The club have done their bit by offering free admission to anyone wearing red at the relegation six pointer but the supporters will be looking for some passion on the field to go with a strong performance if they are to pull away from the relegation zone.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

 

Crossing The Jordah. Heading To Amman For World Cup Qualifier

I love these moments. When you look at a fixture list and think you know what, I can make a few of them. I am referring of course to the World Cup Qualifiers and my plan all those months ago was to catch Kuwait play Laos, hopefully in Kuwait City. I say hopefully, the Blues played an earlier qualifier in Doha so you never know. But yes, Kuwait v Laos, what self respecting football fan would want to miss that tie? Ok perhaps I’m a little biased but my old mate Steve Darby was coaching the Lao national side and it would have been good to have caught up with him.

Then Kuwait went and got themselves suspended by FIFA over some law or other. Things got murky for a while, Kuwait were fined and had points deducted for not playing a qualifying tie, they were disqualified how does that work, and then at the end of March FIFA made a decision. With the group stages all but over the gnomes of Zurich decreed Kuwait would, finally, be suspended from the World Cup on account of the suspension. Why had it taken so long to come to that decision? I don’t know and I’m guessing those who do know will keep that secret in their smoky rooms.

Whatever and why ever I was left with a free day and some free time. Where to go? I went to the best on line resource to check out the fixtures and soon saw I was spoilt for choice, so I was.

Bahrain v Yemen. UAE v Palestine. Oman v Guam. Syria v Cambodia (played in Oman). Qatar v Hong Kong. Jordan v Bangladesh. Saudi Arabia v Malaysia.

Qatar of course were to host the World Cup in 2022. Surely that was the place to go. With migrant workers dying building the stadiums for the event and a side built on foreign players who had become naturalised Qataris it surely was the pick of the ties from a newsworthy viewpoint as well as a football viewpoint. And what were Hong Kong but a team filled with naturalised players punching above their weight. In effect they were Qatar with chopsticks. But budget airlines have yet to take hold in the gulf and flights to Doha were at crazy prices so I nixxed that idea. Well, I don’t get the expenses, that is my excuse and one I will stick to.

Given the amount of time I have spent travelling to and from Malaysia over the years watching football it is a shame that a trip to Jeddah was always going to be a non starter. The Saudis are not keen on having foreigners come on casual visits and you can just imagine the funny looks I would have got at their embassy had I fronted up and said yep, I wanna visit your beautiful country for 36 hours to see a football match. They would never have given me a visa and neither FIFA nor the AFC seem to fussed about a member association reluctant to let travelling fans darken their border posts.

UAE hosted Palestine in Abu Dhabi and in contrast to Dubai flights there are also in the region of stupid. Likewise Bahrain. ‘Tis little more than a six hour drive from Kuwait to Qatar say those who have done it but the airlines don’t see it that way and again overland means going through Saudi and they don’t really want me period.

I decided to go to Jordan primarily because the flights were cheaper That they had also appointed Harry Redknapp for a couple of games was neither here nor there. The last time I had been in the same stadium as him was way back in 1989 when he was still managing Bournemouth in an FA Cup replay against Hartlepool United. Since then of course he went on to manage West Ham United, the club he played for, Portsmouth, Southampton, Tottenham and Queens Park Rangers. Since then he has gone on to be everyone’s favourite London manager with his ‘triffics’ and interviews through an open car window giving him a fame and status none of us present at Dean Court that January evening could have imagined.

In keeping with the Bournemouth connection, have you walked to their ground from the station, getting from Kuwait to Amman took me round the houses with a transit in Dubai and an upgrade to business class for the second leg of the my journey which began inauspiciously when I and the other gilded elite sitting at the front of the plane were told we couldn’t board until after cattle class had boarded first. Oh how we tittered as we frustratingly fingered out boarding passes and watched the lower orders pass us by. Why did we titter so? Well for me I thought the guy who stopped us from boarding looked like a fawn. With his pointy ears, pointy beard and pointy chin and not to mention his unfeasibly large feet he looked like Tumnus from the Lion, the With and the Wardrobe. Trouble is, unlike his literary lookalike, when Lucy needed his help he wasn’t there...a young girl fell down the escalator and Tumnus took the opportunity to show his lift operating skills elsewhere.

We finally boarded the bus and after a 20 minute drive we fronted up at the plane. It has always bugged me how airlines are quite happy to land in remote parts of the airport and ferry passengers on buses, standing room only, yet they spend so much time before take off telling us to sit down and buckle up. A mystery of air travel indeed. Not for the business class passengers of course,they get to sit on a bus! Mind, it’s swings and roundabouts. When planes crash it is the front that usually suffers the worst of the impact and all those frequent flyer points and a choice of red or white wines are no help then. Anyway, this bus took us to the wrong plane. I changed my mind. It wasn’t Tumnus and we were all extras in an episode of Mr Bean.

The flight was uneventful, I slept through my upgrade, and we landed in Amman on time. Immigration was quick and painless though at 40 quid a visa the wallet took a hit. 40 quid for 24 hours in country?!  And what kind of customer service do you get for your 40 notes? Immigration staff changing shift, that’s what you get. Throughout the region the passport stampers seem to be a very sociable lot. With each other at least. One of their colleagues is always passing and the one at the desk will always stop what he is doing to have a kiss and an embrace with his peer, discuss whatever pally immigration chaps discuss before returning almost reluctantly to the matter at hand and protecting their nation’s borders. For some of them it seems less like work and more like an extension to their social life while for those of us waiting their beck and call there is sod all we can do but grin and bear it.

Some countries are worse than others. At one the immigration are uniformly miserable and hide themselves from the sheer mundanity of their work by plugging ear phones into their i-phones and frowning their way through their duties. Pesky foreigners and beckoned forward with a cursory flick of the wrist, the fingers tap across the keyboard and we are stamped in and sent on our way with contempt as the next arrival is called forth. Locals, unschooled in the fine art of queuing, effortlessly breeze to the front of the queue no matter how long or how deep and suddenly the official shows some level animation as he stamps his countryman back into the nation’s loving embrace.

Anyway I got through painlessly and was met out front by a driver from the cheap hotel I was staying in. I never did find out his name and I never got to use him again on the trip but I did like that guy. He was surprised to learn that no, I didn’t have any interest in visiting Petra or the Dead Sea. So what was I doing here he asked politely in heavily accented but near perfect English. Football, he exclaimed! ‘Is there a game on?’ he then asked if I was a referee!

His story was far more interesting than mine. Interesting in a tragic sense. He was born in Jerusalem in 1962 but was forced to leave in 1968 during the war when Israelis felt they needed his family home more than a six year old child and his family did. Nearly half a century later did the resentment linger? Were his children growing up with the realisation daddy’s childhood had been ripped from him? I never asked. I was too scared. Here we were beetling down the highway into Amman and it seemed like this chap was unburdening his life story to me, a total stranger. There was no animosity in his voice, no sense of blame. I guess after almost half a century time heals. Or does it?

His family moved to Kuwait, then a newly independent nation coming to terms with the black gold that bubbled under its sands. He went to school there, university. Then 1990. Iraq invaded and for the second time his family faced an occupier. Some of the family moved, this time to Jordan where almost half the population were Palestinian. Some of his family stayed in Kuwait and awaited liberation. Twice in his life his family has been torn asunder by the actions of men in suits and uniforms. Twice. And here I am with the biggest decision I have had to face in recent weeks...which bloody football match should I go to.

I wonder if Harry Redknapp gets the opportunity to sit down and listen to the stories of the people who surround him or will he just focus on the next game? We had hit traffic on the outskirts of Amman and I realised in the cars, in the offices and on the streets there were hundreds of other stories like my taxi drivers unknown to us in the west. A terrorist attack on the street of Europe and we can’t wait to rush to Twitter and hashtag our support for those we deem to be under attack while seizing on an image that can be deemed the iconic snapshot of such and such a disaster. We can relate to them, it’s Europe and we are all European, EU notwithstanding and we can use social media to show our sympathy.

I grew up during the years the IRA were doing their best to bomb the British Army out of Ulster. Now they were terrorists we could relate to. We could identify with their lovely murals that lit up terraced houses, their lovely ditties that could be played on a tin whistle and a banjo and of course those we forever associated with that hapless Irish builder in Fawlty Towers. The IRA may have been very efficient in the art of terrorizing but it was very difficult for us to fear them; we had grown up telling Irish jokes, drinking Irish beer, listening to Irish bands and supporting football teams with Irish players. We had Irish mates who wanted nothing more than a united Ireland and a beer with their Brit mates at the football.

And of course we didn’t have social media where anonymous keyboard warriors with heads like eggs according to their avatar would devote their free time to creating memes that targetted a single community in the hope of attracting a few followers or likes. We couldn’t lose ourselves in our made up on line world where we could compete with other people with made up lives in expressing our outrage at the latest terrorist atrocity. And no, we didn’t have Katie Hopkins either. No reality TV in them days.

With 24/7 news coverage we are immune to the troubles of the Middle East. Another bomb, another riot, another child killed. It has been going on so long it  no longer make headlines, we see it as a norm. It’s bollocks of course and all them back slapping, back stabbing politicians in their fine suits with their MBAs and fine education should look at themselves in the mirror and vomit at what they see. United Nations my arse. That we are looking at two, three generations of unrest over the Palestine question brings nothing less than shame on all those suits and their so called diplomacy. In the 21st century how can we allow families be broken up time and time again because leaders just ain’t fit for the job.

Not three days earlier a Palestinian was shaking as he described to me the humiliating journey he has to undertake everytime he wants to go and see his wife and children from Kuwait. The checkpoints, the barbed wire. ‘I miss my wife,’ he almost choked as he struggled to get the words out. To support his family he has done what I have done and gone abroad. But for him, unlike me, returning home is no easy way as he faces the wrath and scorn of men in uniforms who have been brought up to at worst hate, at best mistrust him and his kind. I miss my wife and my son but the only obstacle I face is a 12 hour journey. Is it any wonder people are bitter?

Jordan is peopled with the victims of politicians and generals and their failed ideas of bullets and brawn. Jordan, a country steeped in history and significance is having to deal with the overspill of conflict in Israel and now Syria and Iraq and I guess luckily for the rest of us there is no Jordanian equivalent of UKIP or Donald Trump to whip up hysteria against those who are suffering. Because so many have suffered themselves, I guess it is easier to offer the hand of friendship. For us in the west a thousand stories remain untold because we have been conditioned to believe in a single narrative, a tale where taking a land and oppressing the original inhabitants of that land is seen as a good thing because those original inhabitants are different to us. The native Americans, the Maoris, the indigenous Australians, we have form and we are sticking to that form.

As you can probably tell I have been deeply moved by my chat with the taxi driver. I wanted to hire him later to go to the football but alas and alack it was not to be. I had so many questions to ask and sorry to say the next driver wasn’t up to it. He was Palestinian but was born in Jordan and stayed there all his life. From my point of view his story was boring because it was so ordinary. The first driver, he had tragedy to tell and I wanted to listen. The second? He turned down my offer of a meal at McDonald’s and was happy to play with his smart phone.

I wanted to know about the Jordanian and the Palestinian and how it affected football. I really wanted to talk to someone about the Jordan Derby between Al Faisaly and Al Wehdat. In 2010 crowd trouble at a game between the two sides saw 250 injured when a fence collapsed and fans spilled on to the pitch. Later Al Wehdat fans accused security forces of heavy handedness against them while treating the opposing fans less harshly, accusations the government denied. Meanwhile a year earlier the game had been cancelled over fears of trouble. Al Wehdat, supported by the Palestinian community clinging to the memory of the land on the other side of the river and Al Faisaly drawing their support from local Bedouin Jordanians. In fact the sides had met some three weeks before my arrival, playing at the same Amman International Stadium I was due to visit with Al Wehdat taking the honours thanks to Wagsley’s goal with some 19 minutes on the clock. No doubt the fans would have filed out of the stadium savouring their victory  and filling the air with their ever so slightly nationalistic chant Allah, Wihdat, Al Quds Arabi(God, Wihat, Jerusalem [for the] Arabs)’. The first game of the season had ended 1-0 in favour of Al Faisaly at the same venue and I was burning to ask someone about the games and the rivalry.

Now, muggins old me would have though the Palestinian community would have been grateful to Jordan and the way the country has allowed so many to settle in the country but nope, that doesn’t seem to be the case. In 1998 the Palestine Football Association was finally recognised by FIFA and started to compete in competitions under its umbrella but for 10 years were forced to play their home games away. If you know what I mean. Finally in 2008 they were allowed to host a home game and it seemed only right they should choose Jordan to open their Faisal Al Husseini Stadium.
Jibril Rajoub was president of the FA at the time. ‘From the first moment I was elected as president I started organising to have a match here between our first national team with any team that would play us,’ he explained in an interview in When Friday Comes: Football in the War Zone by James Montague.
"In my first meeting with [Fifa president] Sepp Blatter in May, I asked him and the process began. He said OK and would sponsor such a match and then the deputy president [of the FA] of Jordan approached us.
"But to be fair many, many teams approached us to be the first team to play in Palestine but our brothers in Jordan insisted and they deserve to be the first one to play the match because they have helped us so much and contributed to where we are today."
Despite that goodwill gesture, it seems some Palestinians resent a perceived glass ceiling that prevents them from getting top posts in the government while for their part the Jordanians feel the Palestinians aren’t totally committed to the country. And as we have seen they feel they are treated differently by the security forces in relation to those who traced their roots to the east bank of the Jordan river.

After checking into the hotel a second driver took me to the Amman International Stadium and then the fun really began. I couldn’t see any ticket office and when I asked a couple of guys wearing those Local Organising Committee badges around their neck they were of no help. Despite holding wedges of tickets in their hands they beckoned for a tout and with reluctance I handed over my 4 Jordanian Dinar for a 3 JD ticket.

Not for the first time in the Middle East I had problems entering the stadium. I dunno, I guess in the past they must have had serious problems from single middle aged Englishmen watching football matches because the search I went through at the turnstile was far stricter than any I had experienced for many a moon. Bags, pockets. It didn’t help matters, in their eyes at least, that I was carrying my laptop and a point and shoot camera that would probably been seen as retro these days. They confiscated my bottle of water and said nope, you can’t come in before one protestations of innocence started to have an effect and they took me to the VIP enclosure.

Here I was searched again and a guy from the FA came over and said nope, I cannot enter the stadium because I was carrying a laptop and a camera and under no circumstance could I take pictures in the stadium. So I looked at him and explained for the nth time that I had flown from Kuwait to see the game, I had just come from the airport blah blah. Apparently it was a rule. No cameras inside the stadiums, only press photographers. It was like Dubai all over again. I didn’t ask where the rules were written because I didn’t want to rile them but there was certainly nothing written on the tickets.

Common sense, or boredom, kicked in and I was finally allowed inside the stadium only after promising I would not talk pictures. They let me in the VIP section, my second upgrade of the day, and what do you know? Around me people were taking pictures and drinking from plastic bottles of water and cans of coke.why was I singled out like this? I have no idea. To be fair it was never scary or intimidating and I think in the end they just thought what the hell but what was it all about? Perhaps it was all a charade. People doing their job and passing me along the line because they didn’t want to be the one to carry the can should I enter the stadium and I don’t know, use my laptop as an offensive weapon or take a photograph of a floodlight. Looking back it seems clear I was steadily passed along the chain of command until someone with the right amount of sway, or just the balls to make a decision, said yep, go for it. Common sense did prevail and once I was in the ground no one took a blind bit of notice of me. Nor the small group of Bangladesh supporters who spent the 90 minutes taking selfies and filling SnapChat with videos while necking from plastic bottles of water.

I say Bangladesh supporters. Half of that is correct. They were Bangladeshis but I don’t think they were hardcore passionate supporters who had travelled from cities like Khulna, Syhlet and Barisal to cheer on their team. Yes they had the green Bangladesh flag with the slightly off centre red circle representing the blood spilled fighting for the independence of a lush, fertile land but these were locally based Bangladeshis; expats with jobs to do in Amman nipping out of the office or the warehouse for a few hours to chill with their homies. They were not there to support their team, they would not have known their number one from their number seven (probably something they had in common with newly arrived Jordanian coach Redknapp) they were there as an act of unity with their country. The 90 minutes was a social event with 11 of their countryman playing on a field and getting the bejesus walloped out of them was neither here nor there. It was selfie time and apps like SnapChat and Twitter must have been buzzing with activity from a few square feet in downtown Amman.

Safely ensconced in the main covered stand just feet from a raucous grouping of Jordanian fans, the Bangladeshis were genuinely oblivious to their surroundings and once some of the home fans became aware of their presence the visitors responded with smiles, waves and of course more pictures. As the goals flew in good natured hand signals and smiles continued to be swapped between the rival fans. Had it been England fans there? The more literate would be standing arms spread wide yelling ‘come on then, who fucking wants it’ while those who struggle to put words into meaningful sentences would be climbing the fences, faces screwed up in anguish and angst, getting hard at the prospect of agro in an exotic land.

The game itself was over after 45 minutes with Jordan leading 5-0. They went on to win 8-0 but the second half was a non event. Honestly, I think I touched the ball more times than the Jordan goalkeeper so one sided was the game. You could imagine Harry Redknapp in the car park after the game being stopped and saying ‘triffic, love this international coaching lark...told you I could have done a job for England.’

Hamza Al Dardour hit a first half hat trick for Jordan as the home side set about Bangladesh with gay abandon. Defensively the Bangleadeshis were a shambles with no shape or discipline and it soon became clear the only thing in doubt was how many goals Jordan would score. Al Dardour, who plays for Kuwait SC, looked a threat all game and thoroughly deserved his hat trick and aged just 24 looks to have a bright future ahead of him if a team from a bigger league can pick up on his talents in the penalty area.

His first came from a break on seven minutes when a lovely first touch took him ahead of the statuesque Bangladeshi defence and he finished coolly, passing the ball almost under the onrushing keeper. His second came on 23 minutes showing a predatory instinct to get in front of the defender to finish with a little dink over the keeper before completing his hat trick on 40 minutes taking advantage of a ricochet off a defender to finish calmly. The other goals came from Abdallah Deeb, from the spot half way through the first half, Al Rawashdeh, Bahaa Faisal, Al Naber and a last minute penalty from Samir.

Actually one interview Redknapp did after the game caught the attention of the wise old hacks in England. Redknapp looking dapper in his Jordan FA sweatshirt was stopped by a local journalist who bore more than a striking similarity to Goerge Costanza out of that awful US sitcom Seinfeld and asked a couple of questions. Redknapp said everything was wonderful, there were some good players in Jordan and Prince Ali loved football. That was about it and like Seinfeld it was an interview about nothing and Redknapp, brought up on English journos and their inane questions like how do you feel batted away the questions effortlessly. However the English media picked up on the interview with one describing it as ‘cringeworthy’.

I’m not sure what they felt was cringeworthy about the interview but I got the feeling they were being condescending to their Jordanian colleague and his bumbling attempts at speaking English as well as at one stage him turning Redknapp to face the camera. Because of course the English hacks are well known for being multi-lingual aren’t they? You can just imagine Richard Keys and Andy Gray discussing the Qatar Stars League with their Qatari colleagues in their Doha studio using their famed Arabic language skills? Or newspaper journos switching effortlessly between English and German following England’s surprising 3-2 victory in a friendly in Berlin a couple of days later.

What was cringeworthy was the coach of the national team didn’t seem to know any of his players’ names. Yes he had only been in Jordan a couple of days but come on. Never heard of Wikipedia? Research? What if a foreign manager had arrived in England and given an interview without naming any of his players? You can imagine the fire and brimstone that would be targeted his way. Jordan had won 8-0, one of his players had hit a hat trick and his goalie hadn’t broken into sweat. Surely it couldn’t have been too hard to make a note of a name or two, wily old media campaigner that Redknapp is.

As Redknapp and the guy from Seinfeld exchanged comments pitchside I made my way back to the car and driver I had hired and we headed off to my second port of call, edging our way through the crowds of home fans celebrating the big win. Next stop was The Rovers Return, an English pub in the upmarket suburb of Sweifieh. I ordered a pint as one does in these types of hostelries and as I settled down to watch Qatar play Hong Kong on one of the wall mounted TV screens it dawned on me I had just paid 8.50 for a pint of Dutch lager.

Shocked? I was so bloody shocked I soon necked that first beer and ordered a second just to make sure I hadn’t been ‘ripped off’ as opposed to just ripped off. But low and behold the second beer also cost 8.50 and to compound the lunacy I bought a third hoping to put an end to the fallacy once and for all I am a stingy git when it comes to buy beers, a stingy git with short arms and long deep pockets. Feeling light headed and dizzy at seeing 25 quid disappear so casually and effortlessly into the pockets of some invisible landlord I decided enough was enough. I had been to the football and I had been to the pub. My Jordan trip was effectively over; all that remained was a good night’s kip and a return trip to the airport. 

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