Sunday, July 30, 2017


In Football, We Are All Puppets

After waxing lyrical about the terrace culture in Yogyakarta from my last visit time to show the other side of Indonesian football, the dark belly, the beast that co-exists with the beauty I referred to in my last post

When I was promoting my book Sepakbola - The Indonesian Way of Life I was always being asked about the violence that plagues football here and, hand on heart, I can only recall one serious off in the hundreds of games I have seen. When I say off I  mean fighting between two rival sets of supporters of course I can only speak about what I have witnessed.

There are other types of violence though that harm the game. One is when the players kick off, usually against the match officials and sometimes against each other. The third, and most common, type of disturbance is when fans throw missiles, be they rocks or plastic bottles, on the pitch, again usually in the direction of the match officials.

Fan misbehaviour has been in the news a bit recently in the wake of the Persib v Persija game which saw players attack each other and supporters throw missiles on the pitch at the end of the game. Even inside the tunnel Persija players needed a heavy police escort as they came under attack from disgruntled people who probably had no right to even be in that area.

This game made headlines of course after a fan was severely beaten and ended up dying of his wounds. Not the first fan to lose his life in this particular fixture of course. As the poor lad lay in hospital 'receiving' high profile visitors including Persib players and prominent supporters of both clubs social media was venting its hashtag angst at the sheer stupidity and senselessness of terrace violence that saw a Persib fan essentially killed by Persib fans for being in the wrong place at the wrong time and the Sports Ministry called for a task force to bring rival fans together to try and thrash out some kind of peace. We have been here before though with officials attempting to broker a peace between the two sets of fans whose rivalry run deep. In recent years the police declared a truce after negotiating with fan representatives but that didn't last long. 

For the rivalry and hatred, as well as the desire for revenge over incidents that go unpunished, the only people who can end it are the supporters themselves and having Bung Ferry (Jakmania) and Heru Joko (Viking) meet at the bedside of the fallen fan was a good start. Hours after Ricko Andrean breathed his last hundreds of fans from both teams gathered outside Patriot Stadium in Bekasi in a spontaneous coming together singing The Jak are here, Viking are there, together we are brothers', something not seen for perhaps decades. Bhayangkara coach Simon McMenemy was inside the stadium at the time with his players holding a training session ahead of their game with Persija and he described the noise as 'Amazing'.

Persib supporters have already been involved in a number of incidents of unruly behaviour this season, the club have amassed Rp 300 million plus in fines. Following the disturbances that marred this game the supporters have now been banned from attending the next five games and the club have been landed with another hefty fine. But these punitive measures have absolutely no impact. Yes, the use of flares has dropped away but fans, especially those in the more expensive VIP seats above the players tunnel, are still able to throw plastic water bottles on to the pitch and towards the hapless match officials and they receive no sanction from the authorities.

The Persib v Persija is a high octane game and will always attract the headlines but away from the big cities there have been other cases of poor behaviour in recent weeks that have provoked far fewer headlines nationally. So many in fact it is hard to know where to begin so lets try and do this geographically.

PSBL were that concerned about their Aceh Derby with Persiraja that ahead of the fixture they wrote to the PSSI expressing their concerns. It looks like their worries went unheeded as they lost the game 1-0 and the game was delayed for more that 20 minutes as the away team refused to return to the pitch at one stage.

There was talk Perserang's game today with Persika would be played behind closed doors following incidents when they hosted Persita a few weeks back and visiting supporters were allegedly attacked. In their derby at Cilegon United the travelling supporters were attacked after the game by some home fans. 

PSS fans have been banned from watching their team in the stadium for four games after incidents near Magelang that left one person dead following their game away to Persibas. Persis fans have received a two game stadium ban after disturbances that took place at their game away to PSIR (Persis have also been fined Rp 100 million and deducted three points for refusing to continue the game after disturbances). Further north some Persijap fans invaded the pitch after seeing their team lose 0-2 at home to Persibas and attacked the advertising boards. Their punishment awaits. Staying in Central Java, Persibat fans were advised not to travel to their local derby with Persip. The players however had to and their coach came under attack from rival fans with windows smashed.

That does not include throwing stuff on to the pitch or fans letting off flares inside the stadium. In total at the last meeting of the PSSI disciplinary committee fines of Rp 407.5 million were handed out to clubs who often struggle with the normal running costs let alone digging into their pockets because some of their supporters cant control their emotions.

Footballers are role models so when fans see players pushing and shoving opponents and match officials with little in the way of sanction they feel they can act the same way. When supporters know they can throw rocks and plastic bottles on to the field and know they will not be punished there is no incentive to stop. Just once in 11 years have I seen a supporter ejected from a stadium from throwing something on to the pitch. Usually what happens is people whistle, jeer and wave their arms around in futile efforts to stop the nonsense. It is almost as if football accepts these casual acts of violence. If it does then little wonder things can get out of hand so quickly. 

There are so many layers to football and its issues it's hard to know where to begin solving these problems. Many people believe football is owned, used and manipulated by hidden forces for their own benefit and there may be some truth in that. These shadowy figures, if they exist, hide behind other more public figures who become the fall guy for any perceived slights. Fans are happy to celebrate a last minute winner but they know if that goal is against them in a future game they will be kicking off because they believe there are other influences at play behind the scenes

The shadow play, the wayang, is an important part of Indonesian culture. Puppets are used to tell a story and the puppets are manipulated by puppet masters who hide behind a screen while the audience look on, helpless to impact the direction of the tale that is literally in the hands of others. If the hero wins, everyone goes home happy. If the hero is defeated perhaps the puppet is damaged but the storyteller lives to tell another tale.

Welcome to football. 

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