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. 

Saturday, October 21, 2017


Successive Bhayangkara Losses Open Up Liga 1 Title Race

Ok so there I was thinking we were settling down to a two horse race in Liga 1 with Bhayangkara slightly edging Bali United. But now we have seen the police backed side lose two games on the spin with Simon McMenemy once again bemoaning the lack of concentration at defending dead balls following their loss againt PSM and with Persipura ominously finding goals and form we are conceivably looking at a five horse race going into the last four games.

1 - Bhayangkara 30 19 2 9 51-36 59

23/10 Madura United v Bhayangkara
27/10 Bhayangkara v Persela
03/11 Mitra Kukar v Bhayangkara
10/11 Bhayangkara v Persija

After an 11 game unbeaten run it looked odds on Bhayangkara were on target for their first ever title but back to back defeats against Barito Putera and PSM has somewhat slowed their title charge. On paper their next game away to Madura United is a real toughie, the island is not an easy place to go to, but they have been banned from playing their next home games at home so perhaps Bhayangkara will find a neutral venue a less intimidating atmosphere. Whatever, Simon McMenemy will be looking to his experienced pros, players like Ilija Spasojevic, Firman Utina and Otavio Dutra, to steady the nerves on the pitch and lead the way for the array of young talent in the squad.

2 - Bali United 30 18 4 8 68-35 58

25/10 Barito Putera v Bali United
30/10 Bali United v Sriwijaya
06/11 PSM v Bali United
12/11 Bali United v Gresik United

If goals win prizes then Bali United are halfway to their first ever title and Dutch striker Sylvano Comvalius has 32 from his 30 games in his debut season in Indonesia. They won't fancy their run in though. Barito Putera have had a massively frustrating season, rarely able to find any consistency but they have managed the double over Bhayangkara and yesterday were the first away team to win at Persiba's new Batakan Stadium. Oh yes, and they must go to Makassar to play a PSM side who have won 13 and drawn one of their 14 home games.

3 - PSM 30 17 7 6 56-33 58

24/10 PSM v Persiba
29/10 Barito Putera v PSM
06/11 PSM v Bali United
12/11 PSM v Madura United

Will it be home sweet home for PSM? It may have to be, like Bali United they won't relish traveling to Banjarmasin to take on Barito Putera where their own coach Jacksen F Thiago knows a thing or two about winning titles.

4 - Persipura 30 16 8 6 58-30 56

22/10 Perseru v Persipura
29/10 Persipura v Arema
04/11 PS TNI v Persipura
12/11 Persipura v Sriwijaya

Only a fool, or someone from another planet, discounts Persipura from the title race. Following a dip in form they have won their last three games and Boas Solossa is back on form after his hat trick against Persija in their last game. Their run in may also be seen as slightly more comfortable than their rivals which could give them an edge and with Addison Alves back in the goals after three in his last three games certainly things seem to be coming together at the right time for the four time champions. And as all Persipura fans know, 2017 is an odd number and their titles have come in 2005, 2008/09, 2010/11 and 2012/13. For a team this experienced a three point disadvantage with four games remaining isn't unsurmountable.


Persita & PSMS Sanctioned For Deadly Violence

I cannot begin to understand how the PSSI works at the best of times; their disciplinary committee is a place of wonderous mystery and confusion to us outsiders trying to fathom their workings. After what has been a pretty tragic couple of weeks in local football I along with many others were waiting to see how the PSSI would react to a series of incidents that have damaged the image of the game even more than usual.

OK, remember the crowd trouble that marred Persita v PSMS in the second round of Liga 2 when military types supposedly following PSMS kicked off and one Persita fan died? Well the home side Persita have been ordered to play one game behind closed doors and fined Rp 22.5 million for their fans role in the distrubances. Allegedly it was a pitch invasion by disgruntled Persita fans protesting at their club's management that so upset the uniformed types who had seen 'their' team win.

PSMS fans haven't escaped the wrath of the PSSI. They have been banned from watching their team for the next four games, which of course will include the Third Round of Liga 2, and the club have been fined Rp 30 million for their role in the violence. Of course it isn't clear how many real PSMS fans did kick off...images and video suggest most of the disturbances were caused by men in khaki uniform.

No mention of any sanction for the military types but then the military chief of the PSSI, no doubt wearing his military hat, has already announced the military types can no longer 'mobilise' to watch football matches.

Madura United have been heavily punished after fans and officials attacked (foreign) match officials at a recent game. Supporters have been banned from watching their last four games of the season and the games must be played outside Madura. Two Madura United officials also received hefty fines and stadium bans for entering the field of play and attacking the match officials. 

Bhayangkara's manager Sumardji has been fined Rp 75 million (!) and received a stadium ban for attacking a linesman. 

It is noticeable club officials receive much heavier fines than clubs do for some reason. Why? I don't know, Perhaps they are expected to provide better role models?

Friday, October 20, 2017


Persela Lose Heavily After Being Forced To Play On After Huda Death

Indonesian football has united around the memory of the late Choirul Huda following his tragic death last Sunday. Games have been going ahead with a minutes' silence before kick off and players across the country wearing yellow shirts with the number one and Huda's name printed on them and supporters have been holding up banners remembering the legendary keeper.

But showing incredible insensitivity the Liga 1 authorities refused to allow the shell shocked Persela players time to come to terms with their loss and forced them to travel to East Kalimantan to fulfil their fixture with Borneo in Samarinda.

The timeline would have been very traumatic for the team. Following their 2-0 victory over Semen Padang on Sunday afternoon when Choirul was initially injured in a collision with team mate Ramon Rodrigues the team gathered at the hospital where they were greeted with the news their inspirational team mate had died. 

By Tuesday they would have been on their way to Juanda International Airport in Surabaya to catch a flight to Balikpapan and then north for the three hour drive to Samarinda all the way coming to terms with their grief and the knowledge there was one glaring omission to their travelling party.

On Thursday they lined up against Borneo as they had done in recent games with Ferdiansyah in goal but the memory of Huda, a player who had spent 18 years with the club, would have been everywhere. In the dressing room, geeing up the players, leading by example. And Ramon, sadly perceived the villain in some dark quarters of social media, started the game. One cannot imagine what he was going through. 

Borneo were 2-0 up at half time and doubled their lead in the second half before Persela scored two late penalties through Samsul Arif and Ivan Carlos Coleho but surely they should never have been put through this rigmarole. Common decency should have suggested the Persela football club be allowed a few days to contemplate recent events and a polite few days  been allowed to allow them to come to terms with their grief.

Bit no, not here, not in Indonesia. The game goes ahead as it always does after every tragedy. A few words are offered saying more will be done to stop this happening and we carry on as normal. But a death of a player on a football pitch or coming from injuries that occurred on the pitch is not normal. In fact Huda's death is the fourth in the last 17 years! 

03/04/00 Eri Arianto (Persebaya)
07/03/09 Jumadi Abdi (PKT Bontang)
10/05/14 Akly Fairuz (Persiraja)
15/10/17 Choirul Huda (Persela)

And let us not forget the fans who die at football matches, most recently the Persita supporter who was killed when uniformed thugs ostensibly supporting PSMS kicked off last week. Or players who die because of lack of care or attention like Diego Mendieta whose tragic story received world wide coverage. No, sadly lessons aren't learnt. Instead we are left wondering not if another death will occur around football but when...

Thursday, October 19, 2017


Relegated Gresik Face Humiliation Of Conceding 100 Goals

With 13 defeats in their last 14 games it is little wonder Gresik United have long been doomed to relegation. They have picked up a mere 10 points all season and with four games remaining are 19 points from safety and carry a negative goal difference of -62.

Yesterday however they hosted Perseru, fellow relegation fodder and notorious travellers, and I thought here was a chance to salvage some self respect, some dignity before the inevitable drop. I  mean, come on this is Perseru for goodness sake, a side that has only picked up four draws away from home. Surely Gresik would grasp this opportunity?

Gresik United v Perseru 2-5! And to make things even worse Gresik's goals came from a penalty and an own goal. That just 355 saw the game no longer makes news. Gresik's season has been over for weeks and now they have little to play for beyond keeping their goal difference from exploding.

Yesterday's loss means they have shipped 86 goals this season and with four games remaining who is to say they won't end the season with a whopping 100? Certainly when you consider the opposition who await it has to be a reasonable assumption.

Arema may not have had the best of seasons themselves but with Cristian Gonzales and Esteban Vizcarra they are always likely to carve out chances. PS TNI have shown signs of recovery in recent weeks under new coach Rudy Eka Priyambada. It is never easy to go to Sriwijaya and in their last game they cross the Bali Straits to face title challenging Bali United who are averaging more than two goals a game and in Sylvano Comvalius have one player who has scored more goals than the whole of Gresik have.

Things could be worse. At least they are not Samut Prakan Super Power in Thai League 1. Never can a football team have been so badly named. They are bottom of the table by some distance with just a single win, achieved last weekend, and a single draw to show for their efforts. They have already managed to concede 119 goals and with four games remaining who knows how many more are waiting to be shipped.

Gresik United may feel they have nothing left to play for with relegation a certainty and their fans deserting them. But they surely must have a modicum of pride left in their battered boots and shin pads. Surely they don't want to go out with a whimper and an embarrassing 100 goals conceded in a single season?

Wednesday, October 18, 2017


Persib Fans Take To The Streets To Protest Club Management

Yesterday saw hundreds of Persib fans take to the streets to complain about the management of their football club and what they see as the malaise that is engulfing the club. Their team had just ended a run of five draws by losing 2-1 away to title challengers but while that disappointing result, the home side had scored a last minute winner, it was not the main cause. Discontent has been rumbling all season.

Despite winning the Indonesia Super League back in 2014, they remain reigning champions following the FIFA suspension, and despite boasting one of the more commercially aware football clubs in the country it is clear the football club haven't kicked on in a way they were expected to following that famous night in Palembang when they defeated Persipura to be crowned champions.

Their coach that night, Djadjang Nurdjaman, was farmed out to Inter for a while, a shared ownership structure at the time enabled that, to complete his coaching badges and the highly rated Dejan Antonic, once touted for the national team job, was brought in. Persib however struggled during the Indonesia Soccer Championship to find any consistency despite bringing in highly rated Juan Belencoso and the fans soon turned on Antonic and combative midfielder Kim Jeffrey Kurniawan.

Antonic was eventually replaced and Djadjang returned, the conquering hero returning to the scene of his greatest triumph and, surely, with a wealth of knowledge gained from observing how Inter went about their business.

But Persib aren't Inter. The club DNA is vastly different for a start. Inter have been a professional football club for decades with a history and infrastructure designed to outlast individuals. That is not the case in Bandung where many feel too much power is tied up in the hands of officials who call the shots. 

Even when Persib were winning the titles there were question marks among supporters over his team selections and tactics but all the while they were winning and could look to genuinely talented players like Makan Konate and the iconic Montenegran journeyman defender Vladimir Vujovic they had the wherewithal to plaster over any tactical inadequacies. 

Persib started the 2017 season by splashing serious cash recruiting the likes of Carlton Cole, Michael Essien and Raphael Maitimo, headline makers all. Cole struggled with injury and it was clear the main men at the football club didn't fancy him with the club manager saying he wanted him out only to backtrack a couple of days later following a meeting with the owner. Against this backdrop Djadjang, who was still being questioned over his tactical nous, was having to select teams that balanced differing agendas behind the scenes along with his own views on how a team should be set up for any given game. Following one loss the manager came out publicly and said what many of us had always assumed; he would be taking an even more hands on role in player selection.

Cole was eventually released from his agony while Essien has proved to be a consistent performer and Maitimo, after a slow start, has shown us what a technically gifted player he is in recent weeks. 

But the Persib fans, the Bobotoh, were not impressed by the big name recruits. All that mattered to them was what the players did on the pitch and if they felt they were underperforming they were quick to let their feelings known. One banner appeared at games that summed up their feelings 'We are Persib till we die, you are Persib till your contract ends'. They were disappointed not just by the results as the team again struggled to find consistency but also how certain players were being perceived to receive favourable treatment while others, who had Persib blue blood running through their veins, were quickly dropped or cast aside.

It does seem ironic in a season when some much money had been spent acquiring bling the most promising performances had come from younger, unheralded players who perhaps had only played when the league had introduced its controversial regulation forcing clubs to play a minimum number of players aged under 23. In came the likes of Gian Zola, Febri Hariyadi and Billy Keraf and the Bobotoh drooled over their promise and performance but groaned when they were dropped as Djadjang continued to tinker with the squad.

Supporters turned against the coach who had brought them success back in 2014 as results showed no signs of improving. After one game a handful invaded the pitch to protest at the inertia in their club, openly sobbing in the players' arms. There was talk Djadjang was gone, the talk was then denied then the rumours started up again. The indecisiveness only added to the uncertainty swirling around the club and the fans fed on it. The suggestion in some circles seemed to be Persib were having difficulties finding a replacement for the hapless Djadjang who clung on in there despite all the bad press. It was said he resigned at one stage only to be told the club refused to accept his resignation so he stayed.

And who would want to work in such a cauldron of competing power bases and strong egos? When Kiatisuk Senamuang stepped down as Thai national team coach he was quickly linked with the Persib position but he elected to join Port instead, a yo yo Thai club with their own problems behind the scenes. He didn't last long there but at least he could understand the backbiting. 

Djadjang finally left and he was replaced by Emral Abus who had previously been their 'official' coach during their 2015 AFC Cup campaign, brought in because the AFC insisted competing clubs must have an A licensed coach, much like Indonesia does, but actually enforced the regulation, much unlike Indonesia. 

The arrival of Emral left the supporters feeling underwhelmed. No one knew what his real role was in the club despite the job title and anyway he was hardly the type of character who was going to stand up against the busybodies behind the scenes. 

Persib have lost just one game in their last 10 but the seven draws in that run hurt and while relegation is unlikely they remain closer to the drop zone than a place that could see them in the AFC Cup. Much like the Arsenal it seems Persib are content to
just float along. They don't lose many games, they are on TV often which brings its own financial rewards of course and that is it. The fans see things differently. They see themselves as Persib, the biggest club in Indonesia and potentially one of the biggest in ASEAN. They don't want to see the club riven by infighting and meekly playing for scraps each match day. They expect their team to be challenging for honours and now they are far from that ideal.

One of the accusations they are throwing at the club is Persib have become too obsessed with money, that are now better known as Per$ib. There may be an element of truth in that, top clubs need to make money if they are to compete, but Persib aren't competing so the fans are asking where the money is going and why should they be asked to keep handing over hard earned cash for a club lacking ambition. As an Arsenal fan I get that argument!

Fair play to Persib, they actually reported the protests on their official twitter feed but will they heed the warnings from their supporters? Unlike in England, Indonesian fans will boycott games to make 
their voices heard. Will it need empty terraces to force the club management to come to their senses and make the necessary off field changes or do the club genuinely feel everything is in place to repeat the 2014 success again?

Tuesday, October 17, 2017


PSSI Respond To Fan Death By Banning Soldiers 'Mobilising'

In the wake of the violence that marred the recent Liga 2 second round game between Persita and PSMS the PSSI chief, who is also a military man, has announced he has banned the armed forces for 'mobilising' for games.

The crowd trouble allegedly saw mobs of men in military faitigues attacking Persita supporters and basically kicking the shit out of them.

Quite why the soldiers were at the game isn't really explained. The match was played in Cibinong for some reason, Persita have been banned from playing home games in Tangerang and this season has seen them play home games in Serang and Karawang, and of course Cibinong is home to Liga 1 side PS TNI or the army team whose own attendances have plummeted in recent weeks.

So, why should the army have decided to send loads of people to see this particular game? Typically what happens is the recruits are bused in to the stadium and bused out again suggesting a level of organisation beyond the means of your normal grunt.

This question of course hasn't been answered. Instead we are told soldiers won't be rounded up for games in the future. How long this will last remains to be seen, especially if PSMS are to be promoted to Liga 1 next season. Will they be able to count on similar support at their away games?

Meanwhile an innocent Persita supporter lost his life and it is looking increasingly likely his family will have buried him without knowing why he died or who will be punished for it. Sadly an all too common occurrence. 


PSM The Winners In Round Of Surprises

That two horse title race I wrote about last week has been thrown wide open after a weekend of late goals and surprise results that has seen Robert Alberts' PSM force themselves back in the mix after coming from behind at home to Persib.

A handful of Maung Bandung faithful had travelled to Makassar more in hope than expectation after a run of five straight draws and they would have been delighted as early as the third minute when the promising Febri Haryadi gave them the lead. The joy was shortlived however as full back Zulkifli Syukur had PSM back on level terms just four minutes later.

PSM had won their last five home games but poor results on the road had seen them slip behind the more consistent Bhayangkara and Bali United in the title race and they were desperate for three points to keep their hopes alive. Their prayers were answered in the last minute when the Uzbekistan striker Pavel Puryshkin, on as a second half substitute for Zulham Zamrun, scored the winning goal, his fourth since joining the club in the mid season transfer window, and secure the points for the home side.

The last minute goal gods weren't smiling on Bali United. The free scoring side faced a resurgent Persiba in their new Batakan Stadium and despite leading 2-1 with three minutes to play thanks to efforts from Irfan Bachdim and Stefano Lilipaly saw defender Yudi Khoirudin and substitute Bijahil Chalwa put a break on their title ambitions. 

It was the second successive away game Bali United had seen a 2-1 lead evaporate before their very eyes and coach Widodo Putra will be demanding his array of attacking talent knuckle down and protect this narrow lead if they are to remain in the mix come the end of the season.

Bhayangkara travelled to Banjarmasin on the back of an 11 game unbeaten run and unlike title rivals PSM and Bali United they were doing well on the road. Sadly Jacksen F Thiago's Barito Putera side have become a bit of a jinx for the police side having won 1-0 in Bekasi back in July and they repeated the hex with another 1-0 win thanks to a goal from Dandi Abdulkak with nine minutes remaining.

This time the last minute goal gods, nor the match officials apparently, were sympathetic to Simon McMenemy's team and they ended the game pointless and nervously looking over their shoulder at a resurgent PSM who they welcome to Bekasi on Thursday in a game that has taken on even greater significance. A win for PSM would see them climb to within a point for Bhayangkara and they know Bali United will face a daunting trip to South Sulawesi early in November as they bid to turn around their poor away form.

Monday, October 16, 2017


Choirul Huda - The Legend

Excerpts of my interview with Persela goalkeeper Choirul Huda earlier this year. He tragically passed away this afternoon after being involved in a collision. Choirul played for Persela for 17 years, was born in the town and never wanted to be anywhere else.

Sunday, October 15, 2017


Persebaya Avoid Group Of Death After Kalteng Putra Loss

Ok so we are down to the last eight teams in the race for promotion to Liga 1 next season, that is if the teams in the top flight don't throw their dummies out their prams and decide they don't want to be relegated after all.

Persebaya's surprise lost in their final group game at home to Kalteng Putra meant they would finish runners up in the group and when you see what the next round entails you can't help but rub your chin and furrow your eyebrows.

Group X

Persis, PSMS, Kalteng Putra, Martapura

Group Y

PSPS, Persebaya, PSIS, PSMP

No decision has yet been made on the format for this round or where the games will be played. It's almost like they make things up as they go along!


Choirul Huda & Lamongan

So, I went to Lamongan. To meet a man. If it wasn’t for football I think it’s fair to say the East Java town of Lamongan would never have appeared on my radar. I’m no foodie but if the town is famous for anything it is food, especially Soto Lamongan. That’s about it. I stayed a year in Surabaya, about an 80 minute drive to the east, and I don’t think the town ever came up in conversation. It’s just there, one more town on the road that connects Surabaya with the west of Java. One more anonymous town on a busy highway where drivers are focused more on avoiding the bloody great lorries that race along at stupid miles per hour than the towns they pass through.

The first time I think I wrote anything more than a couple of lines about Persela was in 2008 when I described them as a bit like Middlesbrough. Not the most glamourous of football clubs, difficult to find on a map but possessing a very passionate home support. As I write this, 11 weeks into the Liga 1 2017 season, little Persela are averaging better crowds than mighty Arema. They may never win a trophy but at the same time I have never heard a bad word said about them. Foreign players have praised the club’s management and said they were always well looked after at the club. In return some stayed for two, three years or more. Unheard of loyalty in Indonesian football but testament to the town and its football club.

My plan was to stay in Lamongan for a couple of days to get a feel for the place but I couldn’t find a decent enough hotel on line with the facilities I felt I needed. Jeez, what a wuss. Back in the day I would just turn up in a town and find budget lodgings myself. Now I can’t do a thing without the internet. Plan B was to stay in nearby Surabaya and travel out by train. Surely there had to be a resaonable service connecting the two places? Surely there were people who lived in Lamongan but worked in the bigger city? Well, no actually. There wasn’t much of a service. Less than a dozen a day.

I ended up hiring a car and driver from my hotel in Surabaya and cursing my reliance on the internet. I should have just fronted up in Lamongan and made do with what I found. But I didn’t. I’m a useless snowflake who feels uncomfortable without a luxury or two to ease my burden. Bollocks isn’t it but that’s the way it is now and I am using middle age to defend myself.

The drive itself wasn’t much of a hardship. Just not fun. Whizzing along the main road out of Surabaya you escape the ugly industrial buildings and soon racing past flat rice fields. To  my left, looming large like a space ship which had taken the wrong turning, was the Gelora Bung Tomo or Bung Tomo Stadium, Persebaya’s new 55,000 seater stadium in the middle of nowhere. Not much further on, this time on the right hand side, was Joko Samudro Stadium in Gresik, under construction for local heroes Gresik United. Living in Jakarta I marvel at these new stadiums so close together going up amid so much open land.

We exit the Jalan Tol Surabaya Gresik and head straight west. The land here is not what I am used to in and around Jakarta. It looks flat and arrid, more like what I have seen to the east of Surabaya on the island of Madura. Most definetly non tropical. The road is flat and straight but not dull. Them bloody lorries make sure of that. I don’t know what if any road etiquette exists for drivers of large vehicles in the country but out here there appeared to be none. They would quite happily drive two abreast, the inside lorry putting the pedal to the metal at a staggering 30 miles per hour while another large vehicle would be overlapping the central reservation, hogging the road and pissing off all other road users as he attempted to overtake at a majestic 33 miles per hour. I was in a car. We were small so we were nothing. Yes, we had speed that counted for little as the big truckers vied for road supremacy.

The scenery might have been quite pleasant had I had the chance to enjoy it but I was too scared to draw my eyes away from the road in front. My driver didn’t seem too worried, he was probably used to having his life flash before his eyes on these roads, but it was ok. I was shitting enough bricks for the both of us, especially when one 40 foot monster came raring down the middle of the road leaning too far to his right for my liking.

The white knuckle ride ended as we entered Lamongan. We passed the football stadium, Surajaya Stadium, on the right hand side, crossed the railway tracks and entered the town proper. I had arranged to meet Persela’s legendary goalkeeper Choirul Huda by the Lamongan Sports Centre and I was early. We parked up outside the centre in a quite lane opposite a small warung. All was peaceful and quiet which I enjoyed. I sent Choirul a message and waited for his reply. The occasional motorcycle broke the silence but they were quiet and respectful, not like those big city buggers who get a hard on from remove the mufflers from the exhaust and revving the engines just to piss the neighbours off.

I checked the phone but Choirul hadn’t replied. I wasn’t too worried even though the meter was ticking over. I was being seduced by the somnolent surroundings. The sun was high, the sky was blue and there was plenty of green stuff even though I was in the heart of the city. Town. The driver got out to stretch his legs. Still no reply from Choirul. The driver returned and we nattered a little, a good chance to practise my bahasa Indonesia. ‘What about your friend?’ Oh yeah. I checked again. Nothing. In fact he hadn’t even seen my message. Bloody hell. Ok, this was getting naff. I had been sittting here for 45 minutes and still was no neared to meeting this guy. I contacted my mate Gabriel Budi, an agent who had put me in touch with Choirul. ‘Wait, I will try.’ and the phones went silent again.

Finally, after slightly over an hour of unproductive nothingness I got a message from Choirul. ‘Sorry, I was asleep.’ I could believe that. I was half way there myself. I asked him whether we could meet at the sports centre or the stadium. His answer? Ok. I switched to the old fashioned way. SMS. ‘Meet dimana?’ Fifteen minutes later he said we could meet at the mess, the club house which was shared by many of the local players. Great. We found the house on Google Maps and were there in five minutes. I walked in through the open doorway. ‘Choirul dimana?’ ‘Uh?’ The one person I found saw the big white guy and disappeared into a room. I honestly had no idea if he was running away from me or had gone to find someone to translate. It was the latter as he reemerged with one of the coaching staff. I sent Choirul another SMS.

‘Choirul dimana?’ They looked at me with suscpicion. What the hell was this white guy doing here they were probably thinking. ‘Kamu ada meeting?’ ‘Yep.’ ‘Kita ada latihan jam 3, mungkin dia langsung ke stadion.’ ‘Ok, bisa ikut?’. He smiled. ‘Kamu tau Mas Choirul’ he asked. Tau tapi belum bertemu.’ ‘Kamu pelatih?’ I smiled at that. You seen my beer gut? ‘Saya penulis,’ I said reaching into my bag for a copy of my first book which it just so happened I was carrying with me. He seemed unimpressed and passed it round his pals who had gathered in the front room of the mess. They seemed to share his apathy and it was returned to me with not even a page turned. My phone beeped. ‘Nanti di stadion saya berlatih jam 3.’ It was Choirul.

So, two hours after I was due to meet Choirul I finally got to see him as he jogged down the tunnel to join his team mates in their training session ahead of their home game with Persija 24 hours later. He turned to look at the main stand, saw this big white guy, assumed it was me and waved. I waved back and let him get on with it. I wasn’t angry that I had been waiting so long to meet him. In fact if I’m honest I half expected it. Choirul Huda, born in Lamongan, raised in Lamongan, educated in Lamongan, day job in Lamongan, plays for local side Persela Lamongan. His town, his rules and I liked that. I wasn’t expecting a brash Billy Big Balls who had been changed by the fame and fortune of professional football.

John Terry played for Chelsea for 19 years. Steven Gerrard played for Liverpool for 17 years. Tony Adams played for Arsenal for 19 years. Francesco Totti played for AS Roma for 25 years. One club men. Legends. Icons. Choirul Huda in my book deserves to be mentioned in such august company. He has played for Persela for 17 years and, if he has his way, has a few more years in the tank. But while Terry, Gerrard and Adams were lauded and feted by the media and their club and, truth be told, embraced the celebrity culture football brought them Choirul is a more humble man with a full time job outside of football. He doesn’t seek the limelight and truth be told would not have cared one jot had I written about Lamongan and not mentioned him. Quiet, understated, quietly spoken, humble. He may not have the qualities needed to be a hero in other countries who prefer their superstars to be bad ass boys, Choirul is a legend in Lamongan and is a legend in Indonesian football. He deserves a few lines to be written about him to celebrate his career but then he deserves to be allowed to slip quietly back into the anonymity afforded by his quiet home town.

I’m not really one for watching professional footballers train. It looks just like people doing a job and I like footballers to have an element of mystique about them. Still, I was here for Choirul and it was interesting to see how he did his job in his work place. The 37 year old goalkeeper, he was to turn 38 just a few weeks later, was in his element. Not one for bawling, he led by example, coming for every cross, every shot while offering words of encouragement to his younger teammates. The consummate professional footballer, one most coaches would be grateful to have in the dressing room.

At the end of the session he posed for some photographs from fans who had been sat by me watching before making his way t o me. He was drenched in sweat and his training shirt was covered in dirt. We shook hands and smiled at each other. ‘Sorry,’ he said in halting English, ‘I was sleeping’. Forget about it I told him. I asked if he wanted to get showered and freshened up before we chatted but he said, no, let’s do it so we headed for the Persela dug out, I took out my note book, refreshed myself and pressed the record button on my phone. After driving for 90 minutes, waiting two hours, watching him train for a further 90 minutes our chat lasted all of five minutes. Again I expected that. Any information I wanted, I knew I would have to really dig for. But the truth is I didn’t really want to dig. This is a guy who loves football, loves Lamongan and is happy in his world. I decided I wanted to focus on Choirul and his love affair with Lamongan. I’m sure he has juicy tales to tell from years in the dressing room but that’s not what I want. I want his town, his rules.

NOTE - this piece is to form a part of the Lamongan chapter in my second book.

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