Friday, April 02, 2010

Whoa!! We Hate Persib and We Hate Persib!! We are the Persib...Haters.

Over a week ago, soccer came to Senayan once again in the form of an Indonesian Super League game between Persija Jakarta and Persib Bandung. This fixture is a grudge match to rival Liverpool versus Manchester United or Barcelona versus Real Madrid and, as a consequence of this, as well as the fact that violence has been endemic at Indonesian soccer matches over the years, all away supporters were banned from attending the game. The last time these two sides met in January however, there were no supporters watching at all owing to security concerns.

And so I peddled my bicycle to Senayan, locked it against a fence and strolled into the stadium grounds, trusting that nobody would mistake my scrawny white buns for those of a Bandung supporter and kick my head in. I don't generally have the greatest faith in the Indonesian police, even the 2000 strong force that were on duty at the match, and so I bought an orange scarf to show my allegiance to the home team. Orange is the Persija color of course and the city is turned into a riot of vividly adorned buses on match days. The team itself plays in red however. Go figure.

I made it to the VIP entrance and, after paying Rp.100,000 to a tout for a Rp.60,000 ticket, I managed to find a comfortable seat in the press area away from the unwashed orange herd. The person who dubbed soccer, "The beautiful game" had clearly never attended an Indonesian fixture. The national team has a pretty abysmal record of course and has just spectacularly failed to qualify for the 2011 Asian Cup and also recently lost to regional minnows Laos in the SEA Games. Possibly, things haven't been helped by the fact that the head of the Indonesian Football Association (PSSI), Nurdin Halid, ran the organization from a jail cell for over a year a little while back. Only in Indonesia, etc etc. I think the most hilarious story that I've ever read about the nefarious world of Indonesian soccer however involved a referee being chased around the pitch by a local Regent after a particularly controversial decision.

The Indonesian Super League itself is hardly overflowing with precocious footballing genius and most of its best players have been imported from Africa and various other countries. The atmosphere on the terraces was quite electric however. Bung Karno Stadium could do with a bit of renovating but can hold an impressive 100,000 people. The top tier had been closed off for the match but there must have been a good 50,000 present, all shouting, screaming, chanting, lighting flares, taking part in Mexican waves and most likely stealing each others’ wallets. Perhaps it says something about the Indonesian economy that a normal league game held on a weekday during working hours can attract so many supporters.

Eventually, the teams took to the pitch and battle commenced. Alas, the first half proved to be a somewhat enervating affair and the score remained 0-0 as we headed into the break. Things perked up considerably in the second half though and Persija scored a thrilling last gasp equalizer to draw the game 2-2. The referee even managed to award Bandung a penalty without being taken out by a sniper in the stands. The fans went wild and let off so many orange flares that the stadium started to resemble downtown Beirut.

Still, at least Jakarta hadn't lost and thus the chances of my being knifed in the kidneys had dropped precipitously. Now came the tricky part though, going home. I headed out and walked cautiously around the stadium’s perimeter as an orange tsunami spilled out of the various exits. I unlocked my bicycle and headed out towards the main road. Thankfully no one seemed to think it necessary to push me off and steal my mobile phone. In fact, most were content to simply point and laugh at me, it's not every day that you see a big nosed Westerner wearing a Persija scarf and riding a bicycle after all.

A few days later, I came across a story in this very paper which confirmed that my fears had been well founded. Apparently, a supporter had died after the match after being mobbed to death. Again, only in Indonesia it seems could someone be killed at a game at which there aren't even any away supporters. Apparently, a thug in the crowd had pointed to a small group believing them to be Bandung fans and him and his friends had then attacked them, killing one of them and putting another two into hospital. Of course, it later turned out that the victims had been Jakarta's supporters after all, funny that.

Alas, events such as this represent the negative flipside of the Indonesian psyche and its friendly sociability, the flipside of an intense neighborliness that transcends self conscious awareness. Mob formation and the propensity to run 'amok' (tellingly, one of the only Indonesian words to make it into the English language) are the dark underbelly of Indonesian society and its repressions. I imagine that these guys would struggle to later recall actually killing someone at the height of the mob’s unconscious, emotionally charged intensity and to explain why, when their man was already down, they kept on kicking. The reason could be that the collective drive of the mob, in psychoanalytic terms, eliminates each individual member’s higher functions of self-criticism and conscience.

Perhaps the attackers were taking a leaf out of the Bill Shankly book of life. Bill was the former Liverpool manager who famously once said, "Some people think football is a matter of life and death. I assure you, it's much more serious than that." Anyway, roll on the World Cup I say. My brave English boys will show these Indonesian whippersnappers what real hooliganism is all about.