Support your local club

The night after Internazionale, Robbie Fowler, and Michael Mols (he was Glasgow Rangers’ top striker in 1999, before bumping onto Oliver Kahn) visited Indonesia, ESPN Asia showed two news items on Indonesian football. First item – the negotiation between the FA and the Pro Footballers Association (including star striker Bambang Pamungkas, who was not in the friendly against Internazionale. A naughty boy for standing up against the FA). Second item, a brawl between Persija Jakarta and Persib Bandung which left three people died. The video accompanying the news showed Persija supporters, clad in orange shirts, hitting on some unidentified person(s) on the stand.

The next day, the story became headline in Bandung newspapers but not in Jakarta’s. The first dead victim had been identified – a Jakartan who happened to wear blue shirt, the color of Persib Bandung. Two people were not identified yet, but one of them was a teenager. When all victims had been identified, only one was confirmed to be Bandung-born – the two others were locals.

Jakartan newspapers, however, erroneously described the incident as ‘brawl between Persija and Persib supporters’. If it was a brawl between opposing supporters, we would have seen dozens of orange shirts against dozens of blue shirts. But that wasn’t what ESPN and several local channels showed. A Persija firm was quoted to blame Persib supporters for starting the incident – online. Then he blamed Persib supporters for still showing up in Jakarta, denying them their rights to support their team. He also admitted that Persija’s ultras demanded to see IDs of people they suspected to come from Bandung. Media agreed that the police didn’t offer enough protection for the Persib team and to any away supporter.

Last weekend, a rumor was spreading throughout BlackBerry Messenger (and text messages, for those unlucky enough to have Android and Windows phones rather than BB) – cars sporting Jakartan plates would be hunted down in Bandung for revenge. Many Jakartan residents visit Bandung for weekend trip and the rumor did unsettle many of them. Persib had a match on Saturday which went peacefully, and its firms handed out flowers for cars entering Bandung.

The media coverage and the rumor showed a glaring difference between football culture in Jakarta and Bandung. First, in Indonesia no Chinese will watch a football match in a stadium. It’s the same rule like in South America, half of Europe (which some unfortunate Asians experienced in Ukraine), and half of Southeast Asia. But in Bandung, many middle class Chinese love Persib Bandung. They buy the merchandise, their mood is affected by the result, and they know the players. Bandung newspapers show previews and reviews at the headline and the sports page. They tune in for the match, even if they never dream to enter the stadium. They also avoid the streets before and after the match.

In Jakarta, however, the middle class upward shows no care for Persija Jakarta. They don’t know the players, they care not about the team, and the media care only about the national team and top clubs in England, Spain, and Italy. When the police are capturing the perpetrators of the tragedy, they are uncovering another one – kids boasting on their Facebook their act of violence, complete with photos – on personal accounts with their real names and phone numbers listed. In the precinct they said “Well I did it for Persija! That idiot didn’t wear orange shirt and wasn’t look happy when we scored, so I guessed he was some Persib goon!”

That kind of statement, added with the spreading of Bandung rumor, terrified me on what has happened to Jakarta. Everywhere, angry men from the slums and the projects look forward for the matchday for a reason – they can be kings in the stadium and on the streets. The level of supporters’ violence and brutality correspond with the national level of corruption and poverty, although I’ve heard that Swedish stadiums could be unsettling as well. Bandung ultras’ attitude are somewhat controlled by focused attentions from Bandung media and middle class, who advocate fair play and rationality through Twitter, newspapers, and programs on local channels.

Unfortunately, I have the impression that Jakarta’s middle class – all, not just the Chinese – steers away from Persija and not only because they are terrified with the ultras. In the capital, local football is seen as a poor man’s game, and a proper affluent person would only pay attention to Internazionale and the national team (because nationalism is cool here). The disengagement, even if it’s not realized by both classes, prevents the check and balance culture that is working in Bandung. The sub-working class is thinking that Persija is their pride against the world, and even might desire for the shock values of their violence and defiance. Your color might be red and blue, sucker, but mine is orange.

In the 1980s, when the league was still semi-pro, rivalries between Persija and Persib had been developed, along with Persebaya Surabaya. When the professional league was developed in the 1990s, Jakartan middle class looked at some others glitzier clubs, especially Pelita Jaya, which recruited Roberto Donadoni and Roger Milla. Now that PJ has moved out of the proper capital, Persija is still the only Jakartan team, and its working-class root and image are only hardened.

Outside Europe, we Asians have the privilege to choose our favorite EPL team. MU or now MC? Chelsea or Arsenal? And we can mock our friends whose favorite team loses for this week as if they are native of that city. I can only imagine that as an Englishman, you can’t feel love for another team but your hometown, or your parents’. My best friend’s father hails from Charlton, London, and he cannot bring himself to love Arsenal, although his son does. We are bemused by Europeans who ask “I’m going to move to this city in Asia. Which club do you recommend?”, as we care not for Asian clubs. In Australia I was relieved to see that many Asian-Australians don’t care at all about Australian rules football or rugby (or any team sport for that matter), but I was also impressed by Asians who went to the stadium to support Melbourne Victory or the Socceroos.

I’m still yet to see any club football beyond on the television. My first and only football match so far was Australia v France friendly in 2001. I don’t dream I can see Persib or anything while in Indonesia. I would only able to come to a football stadium in Singapore, Australia, Hong Kong, Canada, and so on (yes, club football in Australia was also a vicious affair before 2005-06). But that doesn’t hinder my feeling for Persib.

I don’t see how the middle class in Jakarta would support Persija. Perhaps they don’t have to. But if they can give a little care and attention for the city’s only football team, it may help the city a bit.