2 years ago
I was sipping drinks in a bar in Singapore when a local lad saw me wearing an Indonesian national football stripe and wondered if I was up for a banter about the beautiful game.
I have read everywhere that most Singaporeans have no interest in their local football — they’re too busy with the English Premier League — but this lad, Ishak, knew his backyard very well. He knew all about the Singaporean players in the Indonesian league, and he expressed his disappointment about Singapore’s dismal performance in last year’s AFF Cup.
As our conversation went further, Ishak voiced his concern about the lack of attention in the league from the locals in contrast to their passion for foreign leagues, especially the Premiership.
“You can see people proudly wearing Manchester United or Liverpool jerseys everywhere, but nobody wears the color of Singaporean clubs. Have you seen any?” he said.
In Singapore, Premiership jerseys can be found worn on the street, but rarely the likes of Tampines Rovers and SAFFC shirts.
“People don’t bother to come and watch S-League matches. They think S-League is unattractive, so they opt to watch Premiership matches instead.”
I can relate to his statement. Some Singaporeans I met looked bewildered when I told them I was going to watch Geylang United playing Sime Darby in a friendly match. Even more confusing, I ran into a Tottenham Hotspur shirt-wearing boy and randomly asked who won the S-League last season. He didn’t know.
“They’re willing to stay up at night to watch the games on TV but neglect football matches played in their front yard,” Ishak complained.
It had been a decent, mind-digging discussion until that point, but what he said next really got me thinking.
“That’s why I envy the Indonesian people. I know how you guys love football. It’s crazy, the stadium is always packed every time your national team plays, and the attendance for the league is huge too. The support for domestic clubs is great. You Indonesians love your local football.”
I often meet raised eyebrows every time my friends hear me say I’m going to watch Indonesian club football. They can’t understand why one would sweat in a local stadium, watching poor quality football in such a high-risk environment when they can watch better games on television. Some fellows claim to be football fanatics and collect rare kits and memorabilia from their chosen European clubs, but can’t tell who’s who in Indonesian football.
While the number those following our local football may be higher than Singapore, I believe most of Indonesia’s so-called football freaks are no different than our neighbor. We prefer the luxury of sitting on the couch watching European football over squeezing our way to crowded football stadia. I can’t really blame them. The ongoing conflict in the PSSI doesn’t help reverse such apathy from fans. It’s a justification on how crooked Indonesian football is.
Loyal football spectators usually come from the lower-income classes since the sport is one of a few ways to actualize themselves in society. It’s not uncommon because football has been a working-class entertainment since its birth. But in order to broaden the scale and make it a real industry, the middle-class fans should be embraced as well.
Most casual fans, who fancy European clubs and are willing to stay up late to watch the games, are hesitant to pay an occasional visit to a stadium for one prime reason: safety. Indonesian league matches scream “riot potential,” something that’s more of a myth to me. Of all numerous games I’ve been to this season, only one ended in havoc (the infamous Persib-Arema match in January).
The other reason to keep a distance from local football is a little more indisputable: quality. Everything about our football has been poor, from the management and tactical comprehension to pitch and crowd handling. That’s a big turnoff for most football heads, especially with European leagues setting the standard.
But I believe that there should be engagement between football and the community or forever we will be satisfied watching foreign leagues on the screen without any chance of nurturing our own league into a greater level.
Our football leagues – the Indonesian Super League (ISL), Indonesian Premier League (LPI), or, as rumor has it, a future merger between those two — should rearrange their closets and transform into a better product. The potential market is there to be seized and monetized, as proven by the large interest in European football. It’s a matter of channeling the interests to our own game — Indonesian football.
Considering the political uncertainty in PSSI right now, it will be quite a while until the belligerents decide to lay down their arms and discuss how to develop our football instead of fighting each other.
I may be a dreamer but I’m looking forward to the day when casual chats about Indonesian football leagues take place in the public sphere, when people talk about Persija versus Persib with the similar level of excitement as discussing the build-up to a Manchester United match with Liverpool.
Great Article from Pangeran Siahaan :)