Killing the Beautiful Game: Hooliganism in the Indonesian Football League

It was September 23rd in West Java’s provincial capital of Bandung. A 23-year-old fan was travelling from Jakarta to watch his favourite team, Persija Jakarta,  play against their fierce rivals Persib Bandung. He met up with one of his local friends and they set off for the stadium.

Unfortunately, he never made it to his destination.

Amok adverb

\ ə-ˈmək, -ˈmäk  \

in a violently raging, wild, or uncontrolled manner —used in the phrase run amok

Indonesian Football Fans.
Indonesian Football Fans.

No, these are not Brazilian, Spanish or British football fanatics; these are Indonesian football fans. You wouldn’t know it, but for millions in the country, football is the sole reason to live, and far too often…a reason to kill. Indonesia is a footballing hotbed. This vast nation of a quarter billion people is obsessed with the beautiful game, and it is one of the deadliest leagues to be a fan of.

Since 1994, close to 74 supporters have died in instances of football-related violence. Let’s take look inside the Indonesian football league that’s run ‘amok’.

Sampai Mati

“Sampai Mati” is a word that haunts Indonesian Football Clubs. The word translates to ‘fans until death‘ and they take it quite literally. 

Young members of Jakmania's Hard-Liners fan group
Young members of Jakmania’s Hard-Liners fan group training ahead of Persija-Jakarta’s premiership match. (Source: ABC News)

This is Jakmania Hard-Liners fan group, supporters of Jakarta’s one and only club, Persija Jakarta, training ahead of the club’s premiership match. They are millions strong and call themselves, The Jakmania. Jakmania commander Irlan Alarancia’s group is known as ‘Garis Keras’, literally The Hardliners. “To voice your opposition, you must be strong, mentally and physically.” – Irlan Alarancia

The drill they perform is about getting their team to win and getting home alive. 

Every clubs has dozens of commanders like Irlan. They lead small armies of fanatical foot-soldiers to matches across Indonesia. Indonesian Liga 1 is made up of 18 clubs and rivalries are fierce and violent between fans.

Jakmania’s arch-rivals are the ‘Vikings’ from the neighbouring city of Bandung. The clubs share a history of battle, both on and off the pitch.

Old Indonesia Derby

The ‘Indonesian El Superclásico’ is the most popular football clash between rivals Persija Jakarta and Persib Bandung. These two teams first met in 1933 but their rivalry has intensified to fiery levels since the 2000s with hostility from both sets of fans.

It’s not just the fans that are in danger, players too are regularly transported to matches in armoured personnel carriers. To outsiders, Indonesian fan mania can be stranger than fiction. 

Jakmania Hard-Liners commander Mr Alarancia
Jakmania Hard-Liners commander Mr Alarancia

Jakmania Hard-Liners commander Mr Alarancia bears several battle scars and has even lost his front teeth while fighting.

“Since I was in high school, I liked fighting … But then I joined Jakmania, which has this rivalry with the neighbouring team, so of course, I got to fight every time we met.”

It’s been decades, but the fierce Jakarta-Bandung rivalry continues. While some believe it’s just fueling old tribal wars other say it geographical proximity that has led to this animosity.

One thing is for sure though, violence has spiralled out of control to such an extent that even hardcore fans like Mr Alarancia believe it has gone too far.

“Now, I have to try to calm the situation down. If we let loose it’ll become even more dangerous, Our rivalry has crossed the line.”

But what is the reason for this out of control Fanaticism?

There is a much more deep-rooted problem than just football fanaticism. The nation is still scarred by the effects of the genocides that led to the death of close to a million people. This led to a shift in the leadership of Indonesia from Marxist-Socialist President Sukarno to Suharto’s more authoritarian New Order which lasted 30 years until 1998. This is when fanaticism began to flourish in the country. 

The foundation of hooligan culture in Indonesia can be chalked up to the City of Solo in Java. The supporter’s group ‘Pasoepati’ had a strong association with the city and its politics than with a specific team. 

In the 1990s, Suharto’s regime had strong ties to football in the city of Solo. So much so that Arseto F.C. a football team in Solo was owned by Suharto’s son. When the club disbanded in 1998 after the fall of Suharto’s regime, fans moved to Persis Solo as their new team. The club became a symbol of right-wing politics in the country. 

Football supporters group Pasoepati during a Persis Solo match.
Football supporters group Pasoepati during a Persis Solo match.

A section of Pasoepati fan renamed the group Ultra 1923 honouring the club and not the city. Football and Politics had become unified and other clubs soon followed the same path. 

Fan clubs were swelling in numbers with most close to 100,000 members, which caused a new breed of fans to emerge. This was aided by the economic hardships faced by the people. You see, the 4th most populous country in the world had a massive unemployment problem, a lot of which was in the informal sector. The people needed a distraction and an outlet.
More than football, it was the violence that offered the fans a sense of control over their lives. Where young men were leading a fractured life, the Ultras groups provided a sense of belongingness and solidarity to the people. Football alone was not the cause, at best, it was a catalyst for the dissatisfaction of the average Indonesian to come to the fore. 

To top it off, corruption poisons Indonesian lives as well as its football leagues. The Indonesian Football Association, commonly known as PSSI, is infected with corruption and fans can see it clear as day. The problem is so severe that FIFA had to close the whole game down. Now, after re-opening, some still think the organization is a mere puppet of the government.

This makes violence more worrisome, because the ones in charge see the problem and know its impact, but just like the government, they don’t care enough to act on it.

Victims

The 23-year-old Persija fan who was brutally killed that day was Haringga “Ari” Sirla. He wasn’t looking for a fight. The only crime he committed was entering the enemy territory to watch his favourite team play.
Jakmania fans are banned from attending matches in Bandung. Ari was planning on entering the stadium silently but a group of Persib fans were on sweeping petrol, demanding visitors show their ID. Haringga, unfortunately, was caught in that sweep and brutally beaten to death on the street. This highly disturbing brutality was recorded and uploaded on the internet, which went viral. 

Mirah Sirla, mother of Haringga "Ari" Sirla. (Source: ABC News)
Mirah Sirla, mother of Haringga “Ari” Sirla. (Source: ABC News)

This is Ari’s mother, to this day she remains shellshocked over her son’s demise. This was not the first time an incident like this has taken place in the country, and she is not the only family member to suffer the wrath of these footballing mobs. Two years prior to Harringa’s lynching, a 17-year-old Persib fan by the name of Muhammad Rovi Arrahman met the same fate as he was beaten to death by Persija Jakmania ultras group.

Aftermath

The League was suspended for two weeks after Sirla’s murder. Bandung supporters were banned from attending any Liga 1 matches and all the Persib Bandung matches were played behind closed doors. The rowdy behaviour and violence perpetrated by fans continued throughout the season even after Sirla’s death and threats to shut down the league. 

After Persija-Jakarta won the premiership, hundreds of fans forced their way into the stadium as police lost control of the crowd.

Ari’s death may have opened the eyes of people, but there is a long way to go towards combating football hooliganism in the country of Indonesia. For Sirla and his heartbroken mother, change may be too late in coming, but to prevent other such heartbreaking incidents, it cannot come soon enough.

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