You would think that the whole point of football is that it brings people together. That is, after all, one of FIFA’s favorite clarion calls.
That’s not the case in Indonesia though, where there are two leagues run by two different authorities who agree on nothing beyond the fact that they are best equipped to run the game.
This idea of dualism spreads top to bottom. There are two teams called Persija Jakarta, two called Arema Indonesia, two called Persebaya Surabaya and two called PSMS Medan. Go further down the leagues and you find two Persis Solo and two PS Bengkulus.
I went to see Persija play Sriwiaya FC on Sunday in Jakarta, a rare opportunity to catch a football match in the capital city. Sriwijaya, from the South Sumatran capital of Palembang, had just been crowned Indonesian Super League champions and, as expected, brought a smattering of fans with them.
One group, clad in green, arrived early and made a decent enough racket. Just before kick off another group arrived and stationed themselves in a different part of the stadium; this lot wore yellow.
I was intrigued. Why would an away team’s support divide themselves like that? Surely they were all here for the same purpose? To support their team? They had just won the ISL title, surely it was time to party together?
You would think so, wouldn’t you? But remember, this is football, Indonesian style, and things happen a wee bit differently here.
I got talking to a local terrace legend and asked him what that was all about. He explained that they were two separate supporters club and they loathed each other. If they were put together in the same enclosure they would probably start fighting!
Indonesian football’s power to blow you away never ceases to amaze me. After watching the beautiful game in several countries around the world for almost 40 years, I can honestly say I have never come across a place where away fans had to be segregated so they wouldn’t start fighting.
For once I felt sorry for the players. After the game, they had to walk first to one group then to the other.
I was aware of the fact that many clubs had more than one fan club following them. A case in point is Persijap Jepara. They came to Jakarta a couple of years ago with a pretty decent number of away fans, but on closer inspection, it was two separate groups.
To be honest, watching them was more fun than watching the game.
One group would stand up and sing a song. They would then sit down and the other group would then stand up and sing their song. Then the first group would stand up, sing, sit down and the whole cycle would continue. Persijap never scored that day, which was just as well. Would both sets of fans cheer at the same time?
Of course, at home games people do have their own favorite part of the stadium. In my Arsenal going days there was the North Bank and the Clock End.
But everyone came together for away trips. Back then, going to places like Newcastle, Manchester or Liverpool, you were all Arsenal, you were there for the Arsenal. You were all supporting your team together.
Persija’s home support is similarly split. The vast majority are card carrying members of The Jakmania, the largest group who make the most noise. A smaller group, the Ultras, seem to be older (at least when they sing it sounds like they have reached puberty), and they stand in a different part of the stadium and sing their own songs. A third group tends to sit in the sun and look cool in their terrace designer chic from 1980s England.
But come away games, they all seem to stay in the same enclosure and sing the same songs.
Division of course seems to be a way of life in Indonesia in politics and religion. It is little wonder that tradition has been passed down to the lads who follow their favorite football teams.