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Tuesday, October 17, 2017

 

PSSI Respond To Fan Death By Banning Soldiers 'Mobilising'

In the wake of the violence that marred the recent Liga 2 second round game between Persita and PSMS the PSSI chief, who is also a military man, has announced he has banned the armed forces for 'mobilising' for games.

The crowd trouble allegedly saw mobs of men in military faitigues attacking Persita supporters and basically kicking the shit out of them.

Quite why the soldiers were at the game isn't really explained. The match was played in Cibinong for some reason, Persita have been banned from playing home games in Tangerang and this season has seen them play home games in Serang and Karawang, and of course Cibinong is home to Liga 1 side PS TNI or the army team whose own attendances have plummeted in recent weeks.

So, why should the army have decided to send loads of people to see this particular game? Typically what happens is the recruits are bused in to the stadium and bused out again suggesting a level of organisation beyond the means of your normal grunt.

This question of course hasn't been answered. Instead we are told soldiers won't be rounded up for games in the future. How long this will last remains to be seen, especially if PSMS are to be promoted to Liga 1 next season. Will they be able to count on similar support at their away games?

Meanwhile an innocent Persita supporter lost his life and it is looking increasingly likely his family will have buried him without knowing why he died or who will be punished for it. Sadly an all too common occurrence. 

 

PSM The Winners In Round Of Surprises

That two horse title race I wrote about last week has been thrown wide open after a weekend of late goals and surprise results that has seen Robert Alberts' PSM force themselves back in the mix after coming from behind at home to Persib.

A handful of Maung Bandung faithful had travelled to Makassar more in hope than expectation after a run of five straight draws and they would have been delighted as early as the third minute when the promising Febri Haryadi gave them the lead. The joy was shortlived however as full back Zulkifli Syukur had PSM back on level terms just four minutes later.

PSM had won their last five home games but poor results on the road had seen them slip behind the more consistent Bhayangkara and Bali United in the title race and they were desperate for three points to keep their hopes alive. Their prayers were answered in the last minute when the Uzbekistan striker Pavel Puryshkin, on as a second half substitute for Zulham Zamrun, scored the winning goal, his fourth since joining the club in the mid season transfer window, and secure the points for the home side.

The last minute goal gods weren't smiling on Bali United. The free scoring side faced a resurgent Persiba in their new Batakan Stadium and despite leading 2-1 with three minutes to play thanks to efforts from Irfan Bachdim and Stefano Lilipaly saw defender Yudi Khoirudin and substitute Bijahil Chalwa put a break on their title ambitions. 

It was the second successive away game Bali United had seen a 2-1 lead evaporate before their very eyes and coach Widodo Putra will be demanding his array of attacking talent knuckle down and protect this narrow lead if they are to remain in the mix come the end of the season.

Bhayangkara travelled to Banjarmasin on the back of an 11 game unbeaten run and unlike title rivals PSM and Bali United they were doing well on the road. Sadly Jacksen F Thiago's Barito Putera side have become a bit of a jinx for the police side having won 1-0 in Bekasi back in July and they repeated the hex with another 1-0 win thanks to a goal from Dandi Abdulkak with nine minutes remaining.

This time the last minute goal gods, nor the match officials apparently, were sympathetic to Simon McMenemy's team and they ended the game pointless and nervously looking over their shoulder at a resurgent PSM who they welcome to Bekasi on Thursday in a game that has taken on even greater significance. A win for PSM would see them climb to within a point for Bhayangkara and they know Bali United will face a daunting trip to South Sulawesi early in November as they bid to turn around their poor away form.

Monday, October 16, 2017

 

Choirul Huda - The Legend


Excerpts of my interview with Persela goalkeeper Choirul Huda earlier this year. He tragically passed away this afternoon after being involved in a collision. Choirul played for Persela for 17 years, was born in the town and never wanted to be anywhere else.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

 

Persebaya Avoid Group Of Death After Kalteng Putra Loss

Ok so we are down to the last eight teams in the race for promotion to Liga 1 next season, that is if the teams in the top flight don't throw their dummies out their prams and decide they don't want to be relegated after all.

Persebaya's surprise lost in their final group game at home to Kalteng Putra meant they would finish runners up in the group and when you see what the next round entails you can't help but rub your chin and furrow your eyebrows.

Group X

Persis, PSMS, Kalteng Putra, Martapura

Group Y

PSPS, Persebaya, PSIS, PSMP

No decision has yet been made on the format for this round or where the games will be played. It's almost like they make things up as they go along!

 

Choirul Huda & Lamongan

So, I went to Lamongan. To meet a man. If it wasn’t for football I think it’s fair to say the East Java town of Lamongan would never have appeared on my radar. I’m no foodie but if the town is famous for anything it is food, especially Soto Lamongan. That’s about it. I stayed a year in Surabaya, about an 80 minute drive to the east, and I don’t think the town ever came up in conversation. It’s just there, one more town on the road that connects Surabaya with the west of Java. One more anonymous town on a busy highway where drivers are focused more on avoiding the bloody great lorries that race along at stupid miles per hour than the towns they pass through.

The first time I think I wrote anything more than a couple of lines about Persela was in 2008 when I described them as a bit like Middlesbrough. Not the most glamourous of football clubs, difficult to find on a map but possessing a very passionate home support. As I write this, 11 weeks into the Liga 1 2017 season, little Persela are averaging better crowds than mighty Arema. They may never win a trophy but at the same time I have never heard a bad word said about them. Foreign players have praised the club’s management and said they were always well looked after at the club. In return some stayed for two, three years or more. Unheard of loyalty in Indonesian football but testament to the town and its football club.

My plan was to stay in Lamongan for a couple of days to get a feel for the place but I couldn’t find a decent enough hotel on line with the facilities I felt I needed. Jeez, what a wuss. Back in the day I would just turn up in a town and find budget lodgings myself. Now I can’t do a thing without the internet. Plan B was to stay in nearby Surabaya and travel out by train. Surely there had to be a resaonable service connecting the two places? Surely there were people who lived in Lamongan but worked in the bigger city? Well, no actually. There wasn’t much of a service. Less than a dozen a day.

I ended up hiring a car and driver from my hotel in Surabaya and cursing my reliance on the internet. I should have just fronted up in Lamongan and made do with what I found. But I didn’t. I’m a useless snowflake who feels uncomfortable without a luxury or two to ease my burden. Bollocks isn’t it but that’s the way it is now and I am using middle age to defend myself.

The drive itself wasn’t much of a hardship. Just not fun. Whizzing along the main road out of Surabaya you escape the ugly industrial buildings and soon racing past flat rice fields. To  my left, looming large like a space ship which had taken the wrong turning, was the Gelora Bung Tomo or Bung Tomo Stadium, Persebaya’s new 55,000 seater stadium in the middle of nowhere. Not much further on, this time on the right hand side, was Joko Samudro Stadium in Gresik, under construction for local heroes Gresik United. Living in Jakarta I marvel at these new stadiums so close together going up amid so much open land.

We exit the Jalan Tol Surabaya Gresik and head straight west. The land here is not what I am used to in and around Jakarta. It looks flat and arrid, more like what I have seen to the east of Surabaya on the island of Madura. Most definetly non tropical. The road is flat and straight but not dull. Them bloody lorries make sure of that. I don’t know what if any road etiquette exists for drivers of large vehicles in the country but out here there appeared to be none. They would quite happily drive two abreast, the inside lorry putting the pedal to the metal at a staggering 30 miles per hour while another large vehicle would be overlapping the central reservation, hogging the road and pissing off all other road users as he attempted to overtake at a majestic 33 miles per hour. I was in a car. We were small so we were nothing. Yes, we had speed that counted for little as the big truckers vied for road supremacy.

The scenery might have been quite pleasant had I had the chance to enjoy it but I was too scared to draw my eyes away from the road in front. My driver didn’t seem too worried, he was probably used to having his life flash before his eyes on these roads, but it was ok. I was shitting enough bricks for the both of us, especially when one 40 foot monster came raring down the middle of the road leaning too far to his right for my liking.

The white knuckle ride ended as we entered Lamongan. We passed the football stadium, Surajaya Stadium, on the right hand side, crossed the railway tracks and entered the town proper. I had arranged to meet Persela’s legendary goalkeeper Choirul Huda by the Lamongan Sports Centre and I was early. We parked up outside the centre in a quite lane opposite a small warung. All was peaceful and quiet which I enjoyed. I sent Choirul a message and waited for his reply. The occasional motorcycle broke the silence but they were quiet and respectful, not like those big city buggers who get a hard on from remove the mufflers from the exhaust and revving the engines just to piss the neighbours off.

I checked the phone but Choirul hadn’t replied. I wasn’t too worried even though the meter was ticking over. I was being seduced by the somnolent surroundings. The sun was high, the sky was blue and there was plenty of green stuff even though I was in the heart of the city. Town. The driver got out to stretch his legs. Still no reply from Choirul. The driver returned and we nattered a little, a good chance to practise my bahasa Indonesia. ‘What about your friend?’ Oh yeah. I checked again. Nothing. In fact he hadn’t even seen my message. Bloody hell. Ok, this was getting naff. I had been sittting here for 45 minutes and still was no neared to meeting this guy. I contacted my mate Gabriel Budi, an agent who had put me in touch with Choirul. ‘Wait, I will try.’ and the phones went silent again.

Finally, after slightly over an hour of unproductive nothingness I got a message from Choirul. ‘Sorry, I was asleep.’ I could believe that. I was half way there myself. I asked him whether we could meet at the sports centre or the stadium. His answer? Ok. I switched to the old fashioned way. SMS. ‘Meet dimana?’ Fifteen minutes later he said we could meet at the mess, the club house which was shared by many of the local players. Great. We found the house on Google Maps and were there in five minutes. I walked in through the open doorway. ‘Choirul dimana?’ ‘Uh?’ The one person I found saw the big white guy and disappeared into a room. I honestly had no idea if he was running away from me or had gone to find someone to translate. It was the latter as he reemerged with one of the coaching staff. I sent Choirul another SMS.

‘Choirul dimana?’ They looked at me with suscpicion. What the hell was this white guy doing here they were probably thinking. ‘Kamu ada meeting?’ ‘Yep.’ ‘Kita ada latihan jam 3, mungkin dia langsung ke stadion.’ ‘Ok, bisa ikut?’. He smiled. ‘Kamu tau Mas Choirul’ he asked. Tau tapi belum bertemu.’ ‘Kamu pelatih?’ I smiled at that. You seen my beer gut? ‘Saya penulis,’ I said reaching into my bag for a copy of my first book which it just so happened I was carrying with me. He seemed unimpressed and passed it round his pals who had gathered in the front room of the mess. They seemed to share his apathy and it was returned to me with not even a page turned. My phone beeped. ‘Nanti di stadion saya berlatih jam 3.’ It was Choirul.

So, two hours after I was due to meet Choirul I finally got to see him as he jogged down the tunnel to join his team mates in their training session ahead of their home game with Persija 24 hours later. He turned to look at the main stand, saw this big white guy, assumed it was me and waved. I waved back and let him get on with it. I wasn’t angry that I had been waiting so long to meet him. In fact if I’m honest I half expected it. Choirul Huda, born in Lamongan, raised in Lamongan, educated in Lamongan, day job in Lamongan, plays for local side Persela Lamongan. His town, his rules and I liked that. I wasn’t expecting a brash Billy Big Balls who had been changed by the fame and fortune of professional football.

John Terry played for Chelsea for 19 years. Steven Gerrard played for Liverpool for 17 years. Tony Adams played for Arsenal for 19 years. Francesco Totti played for AS Roma for 25 years. One club men. Legends. Icons. Choirul Huda in my book deserves to be mentioned in such august company. He has played for Persela for 17 years and, if he has his way, has a few more years in the tank. But while Terry, Gerrard and Adams were lauded and feted by the media and their club and, truth be told, embraced the celebrity culture football brought them Choirul is a more humble man with a full time job outside of football. He doesn’t seek the limelight and truth be told would not have cared one jot had I written about Lamongan and not mentioned him. Quiet, understated, quietly spoken, humble. He may not have the qualities needed to be a hero in other countries who prefer their superstars to be bad ass boys, Choirul is a legend in Lamongan and is a legend in Indonesian football. He deserves a few lines to be written about him to celebrate his career but then he deserves to be allowed to slip quietly back into the anonymity afforded by his quiet home town.

I’m not really one for watching professional footballers train. It looks just like people doing a job and I like footballers to have an element of mystique about them. Still, I was here for Choirul and it was interesting to see how he did his job in his work place. The 37 year old goalkeeper, he was to turn 38 just a few weeks later, was in his element. Not one for bawling, he led by example, coming for every cross, every shot while offering words of encouragement to his younger teammates. The consummate professional footballer, one most coaches would be grateful to have in the dressing room.

At the end of the session he posed for some photographs from fans who had been sat by me watching before making his way t o me. He was drenched in sweat and his training shirt was covered in dirt. We shook hands and smiled at each other. ‘Sorry,’ he said in halting English, ‘I was sleeping’. Forget about it I told him. I asked if he wanted to get showered and freshened up before we chatted but he said, no, let’s do it so we headed for the Persela dug out, I took out my note book, refreshed myself and pressed the record button on my phone. After driving for 90 minutes, waiting two hours, watching him train for a further 90 minutes our chat lasted all of five minutes. Again I expected that. Any information I wanted, I knew I would have to really dig for. But the truth is I didn’t really want to dig. This is a guy who loves football, loves Lamongan and is happy in his world. I decided I wanted to focus on Choirul and his love affair with Lamongan. I’m sure he has juicy tales to tell from years in the dressing room but that’s not what I want. I want his town, his rules.

NOTE - this piece is to form a part of the Lamongan chapter in my second book.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

 

Liga 2 Play Offs

Yet more tension in Liga 2 with the Play Offs being played alongside the Second Round. But while the 2nd round focuses on promotion to Liga 1, if they keep to that plan, the Play Offs are for teams fighting to stay in the division as the great culling approaches. Games started this week and are due to end next week

Group E (Manahan Stadium, Solo)

Persepam, Persika, Celebest, Persiraja

Group F (Delta Stadium, Sidoarjo

Persik, PS Bangka, PSIR, Yahukimo

Group G (Wilis Stadium, Madiun)

Perserang, Persekam, Perseka, PSGC

Group H (Kanjuruhan Stadium, Malang)

PSIM, Persipur, PSCS, PSBK



 

Violence Mars Liga 2 Clash As PSMS Win





Having won their last three games in the second round PSMS find themselves in the quarter finals of Liga 2 and with a good chance of reaching Liga 1 after an absence of several years. But instead of yesterday's game with Persita played in Cibinong in front of a hefty following of the Medan diaspora being a celebration of a big club on the rise we were left with violent images of what appears to be military personnel attacking Persita fans inside and outside the ground.

Cibinong is also of course home to the military backed team PS TNI but the soldiers have stopped going to their games in recent weeks after a run of poor results. So why have did they suddenly turn u for this Liga 2 game?

When PS TNI first flirted with professionalism they developed close ties with PSMS for whatever reason and borrowed several of their young players. When the military backed side acquired Persiram's license this close relationship reportedly came to an end.

But the newly elected PSSI chief, a military man, has political ambitions and is a candidate in the upcoming North Sumatra governor election and that province is of course is where Medan hail from.

The disturbances that marred the second round game in Cibinong are not the first time we have seen military personnel kicking off at a football match. Last season there was serious crowd disorder when PS TNI fans invaded the pitch and attacked Gresik United fans in the Indonesia Soccer Championship. Following condemnation from all quarters the military put on a charm offensive and said it wouldn't happen again.

Now we have men in uniform kicking off again at a football match. But what were they doing at this particular game if there are no longer any links between PSMS and PS TNI? And why did they kick off like this? PSMS won the bloody game 1-0 but it was the Persita fans who were on the receiving end of a hiding from what look like service issue boots. Were all these thugs from North Sumatra? 

In 2018 we face the real prospect of both PS TNI and PSMS in Liga 1. What do yesterday's events tell us about this future? 

For many years the military and police have stayed away from professional football, unlike in neighbouring Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand but in the last couple of years, especially following the FIFA suspension, they have become more high profile, organising competitions and eventually having teams, Bhayangkara and PS TNI, in the top flight. Why this sudden interest in the game?

Football fans need to know what happened in Cibinong and why events were allowed to escalate like they did. God knows fans cause enough trouble at games but if we are to see uniformed thugs up for a fight at games for whatever reason we are being taken to a very unpleasant place indeed. 

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

 

Heartbreak For PSS Despite Persis Win


Many have long considered PSS to be a shoo in for promotion to Liga 1. They were playing good football, winning  games and their supporters were winning plaudits far and near. A packed house at the tidy Maguwoharjo Stadium is a sight to behold and would grace any top flight league, not just Indonesia's Liga 1.

Sadly, it is not to be. Despite coming from behind to beat local rivals Persis 2-1 at home PSS fans slumped to the stone terraces in disbelief as news filtered through from Riau province on the island of Sumatra. PSPS had thumped Cilegon United 4-0 to clinch the second spot in the group behind Persis and go through to Liga 2 quarter finals.

Fighting  back the tears that flowed freely PSS supporters regained their voice and roared their love for their team. The search for scapegoats could wait, with their players down and out that football instinct suggested what the players needed now was an outpouring of love and gratitude for their efforts in taking the club so far.

Truth be told it had been a mixed Second Round for the Super Elang Jawa. They had won their opening game, beating Cilegon United 2-1 at home before travelling to nearby Surakarta and losing 1-0 against the subsequent group winners. A credible draw away to PSPS in the third game left PSS in second place and with two home games left to play. 

Next up were PSPS, winless from their opening three games. No one expected the Riau side to emerge from the Maguwoharjo triumphant but they did, dashing PSS hopes with a 3-2 win. But PSS were only a point behind PSPS, surely nothing was impossible especially with PSPS playing Persis four days later; convenient scheduling which could have saved the Pekanbaru a couple of tiresome flights.

In he penultimate round PSS appeared to have recovered their mojo, taking the lead twice against Cilegon United at their Krakatau Steel Stadium. Then, with 12 minutes remaining, a harmless pass into the box was chested down by a PSS defender and the poorly positioned referee inexplicably awarded the home side a penalty

With PSPS trailing in Surakarta here was perhaps the pivotal moment in the whole group. Win this game and the advantage and momentum was back with PSS. The penalty ended that dream and when it was converted it effectively ended PSS's dream of Liga 1 football next season. The game ended 2-2 leaving PSPS and PSS level on five points with negative goal  difference to take into the final round of games yesterday.

PSPS were favourites. They had to face a team which had only won twice on their travels during the first round. They were though a tough nut to crack, never losing by more than a single goal margin. On the other hand PSPS were well known for being strong at home, losing just once in the first round. PSS faced a much tougher challenge with group winners Persis visiting to celebrate their passage through to the quarter finals.

Bravely PSS fought to come from behind to win 2-1 but it was in vain. PSPS thrashed Cilegon United to turn that goal difference into positive territory and to assure themselves of a place in the quarter finals. For PSS they must live to fight another day but the knowledge a controversial penalty contributed to their failure to go through will be a bitter pill to swallow.

1 - Persis 6 3 1 2 6-5 10
2 - PSPS  6 2 2 2 9-6 8
3 - PSS    6 2 2 2 9-9 8
4 - Cilegon U 6 2 1 3 6-10 7

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

 

Indonesian Football Podcast

Check out this podcast with Richard Clarke where we discuss Indonesian football...what else?


 

Bhayangkara, Bali United Fight To The Wire

With six games remaining what better time to have a look at Indonesia's title run in and see what challenges lie ahead of the main contenders Bhayangkara and Bali United.

First let's remind ourselves of how things stand at the top of Liga 1.

1 - Bhayangkara 28 19 2 7 51-33 59
2 - Bali United 28 17 4 7 64-31 55

Bhayangkara's remaining games (Home games in bold)

15/10 Barito Putera
19/10 PSM
23/10 Madura United
27/10 Persela
03/11 Mitra Kukar
10/11 Persija

Bali United's remaining games

16/10 Persiba
20/10 PS TNI
25/10 Barito Putera
30/10 Sriwijaya
06/11 PSM
12/11 Gresik United

The first thing that strikes me are the final home games of the season for both teams. No one seems to have realised the rest of the world plays the last round of fixtures on one day but in theory Bali United could have 48 hours to prepare for a game knowing exactly what they need to do. Beyond the psychological aspect there are the opponents. Let's face it, who would you rather face in a titke decider, Persija or Gresik?

Bhayangkara have the tougher run in with PSM at home and a tricky trip to Madura United before that final game against Persija. Bali United, meanwhile, won't relish trips to Persiba and PSM.

The advantage is with Simon McMenemy's men. They have that four point cushion after all. But Bali United have a superior goal difference  and in Sylvano Comvalius they have a man in form, 30 goals in 28 games. Then again Bhayangkara, for all their efforts in promoting young players, have signed Ilija Spasojevic, for me one of the best foreign players on the region. 

Bali United have the glamour, the brand of an island known around the world and a swashbuckling style of play that relies heavily on the likes of Irfan Bachdim, Comvalius, Nick van der Velden.

On the other hand Bhayangkara carry the baggage of being known as a police backed team lacking its own fan base beyond men in uniform having a day out. But that is to do the squad a disservice. Where Bali's core learned their trade overseas, Bhayangkara boast a promising young Indonesian spine with Awan Raharjo, Putu Gede, Evan Dimas, nine goal Ilham Udin and Dendi Sulistiyawan providing youthful exubarance alongside old timers Firman Utina, Otavio Dutra, Paulo Sergio and Spasojevic.

With both teams coached by promising young men, McMenemy and Widodo Putra we are witnessing a thrilling climax to what has on many other levels been a disappointing season full of controversy and hissy fits. Who will end up lifting the Liga 1 title at the end? I don't know and to be honest I don't mind. I just hope whoever is crowned champions it is for football reasons.

 

Arema's End Of Days

It may seem strange to  describe a club sitting eighth in Liga 1 as being in decline but it is difficult to come to any other conclusion when we consider the current fortunes of Arema. The 2009/10 Indonesia Super League champions have bee strangely out of sorts for much of this campaign but it seems the malaise goes further back with much of their once famed support turning their back on the team last season even while the team was challenging for the title.

It's not as if the last few years have been totally barren. Arema have won the Bali Island Cup twice, the Bhayangkara Cup twice and ahead of the 2017 season they lifted the President Cup, thrashing Pusamania 5-1 in the final with the prolific Cristian Gonzales hitting a hat trick to go with the five he had scored when Arema had beaten Semen Padang 5-2 in the semi final. 

The Crazy Lions were surely entering the new season full of confidence. The coaching staff was Arema to the core, Gonzales was on fire, Arif Suryono and Ahmed Bustomi had been added to the squad to bring much needed experience while Lebanese international Jed Noureddine had strengthened the defence. And if there were concerns about an over reliance on Gonzales to score the goals Esteban Vizcarra and Dendi Santoso had shown their worth pre season.

The season started well enough with three wins in their four games backed by four clean sheets but already the danger signs were there; Arema lacked a cutting edge up front and although Dedik Setiawan had been thrust into the first team and was doing a good job the inexperienced 23 year old couldn't be expected to be the team's sole attacking threat with Gonzales missing. By July and August the team were struggling for goals with the home support seeing them fire blanks in three successive games.

Then came Bali United away and that 6-1 drubbing. No one expects that kind of score at  the best of times in Indonesian football, let along mighty Arema but title chasing Bali ripped the heart out of the Crazy Lions and exposed the shallowness of the squad in some areas. With Kurnia Meiga out Arema, under Joko Susilo who had replaced Aji a few weeks earlier, could only call upon a 32 year old keeper who has played less than 50 top flight games over his career. 

Yet Gonzales started as did Colombian midfielder Juan Pino, once of Monaco, Bustomi, Hendro Siswanto and Vizcara. But the Gonzales who scored when he wanted during the President Cup is no more. Where he scored eight goals in the semi final and final back in March, the 41 year old has hit seven all season. 

Against this back drop it is going to be interesting to see how many fans turn up for their next home game against PS TNI. Never the biggest draw card in the league, PS TNI have two wins in their last three games and their new coach Rudy Eka has them playing with more confidence than they have shown in recent weeks. Arema on the other hand will be coming off the back of the Bali humiliation and in the knowledge a recent home game, against East Java rivals Persela, attracted just 6,000 fans.

It was only last month the club celebrated its 30th anniversary, a date that seems to go unremarked beyond a few hashtags. The club logo has been rebranded in a bid to do I know not what with the new crest suggesting a limp wristed lion valiantly trying to act tough but failing miserably.

A team low on confidence, one that appears to have lost many of the supporters, the Arema camp can't be a particularly happy place to be at the moment. Coach Joko certainly has his work cut out to have the Crazy Lions performing once more on the pitch but from a distance many of the problems the club face lie beyond.

Sunday, October 08, 2017

 

Goals Galore For East Kalimantan Sides

Mitra Kukar aren't the best travellers in Liga 1. With just two wins from their travels all season they faced a Gresik United side licking its wounds having conceded 15 goals in its previous three games. Games like this are notoriously tricky to predict, will the home side suddenly decide to put on a show for their disconsolate home fans, will pride kick in or will Mitra Kukar just take advantage of a side low on confidence and batter them?

The Gresik fans didn't care either way. Following their 7-1 humiliation away to Persela last time out they stayed home. They missed Jusmadi give their side the lead on 15 minutes and the handful that did make the effort enjoyed seeing their side in the lead for a whole six minutes before Marclei Santos made it 1-1 with his 10th in 10 games. When Yusgiantoro restored the lead on the 45th minute the supporters could savour the whole half time in the lead.

Six minutes into the second half and the dream was over when Septian David Maulana levelled and two goals from Anindito Erminarno just left hapless Gresik with that deja vu feeling again.

For Mitra Kukar and the other teams from East Kalimantan though it was a good start to the weekend. Persiba travelled to Bekasi to face the league leaders Bhayangkara and wouldn't have been expecting much, especially when they conceded three early goals. However there is some fight about this team now, a fight that was noticeably absent earlier in the season, and a brace from Anmar Al Mubaraki in the last seven minutes of the first half set up a nervy second half for the league leaders. 

Bhayangkara held on for the victory but Persiba pushed them all the way and can return to Balikpapan with a sense of pride. When they met earlier in the season Bhayangkara coach Simon McMenemy praised the efforts of the Honey Bears on their own patch after his team emerged with a victory and again they put in a shift against a strong team. Whether it will be enough to keep them in Liga 1 next season remains to be seen but they aren't going down without a fight.

Meanwhile Borneo returned to Samarinda after playing their last home game in Bontang, and welcomed PSM and their own supporters to Segiri Stadium. Goals from Matheus Enrique and Terens Puhiri had the Pusamania purring before Marc Klok pulled one back from the penalty spot before half time. 

Lerby Eliandry restored the two goal cushion on 51 minutes to break his four game goal drought and Borneo appeared to be cruising to a comfortable victory over the title challengers from Makassar before the visitors' captain Hamka Hamzah scored with five minutes to set up a white knuckle ride for the home fans before the ref blew for the final whistle.

An exciting weekend of football for the East Kalimantan sides but there is little change to Liga 1 for them with Mitra Kukar and Borneo remaining mid table and Persiba nine points from safety.

 

New Names Challenge For Glory But Old Problems Remain

In my first season following Indonesian football the top flight was known as Liga Indonesia and was split into two groups of 14 teams divided approximately into east and west. Of those 28 teams just Arema, Sriwijaya, PKT Bontang and Deltras weren't named after their local football association (persi... or perse...) while not all of them were privately owned.

From those 28, eight went on to reach the quarter finals; Persik, PSIS, Arema, Persiba, Persekabpas, Persimin, Persija and PSM. Eleven years on and only Arema, Persiba, Persija and PSM remain in the rebranded Liga 1. PSIS are in the second round of Liga 2, Persik failed to make the cut and the remaining sides are in Liga 3, anonymous to all but the hardcore football fan. Ironically it was the two Liga 2 sides who met in the grand final with Persik lifting the trophy after defeating PSIS 1-0.

Fast forward 11 unimaginably eventful years and we have a Liga 1 that features just 10 Persi or Perse sides. After years of mergers, acquisitions, geographical gymnastics and parachuting a new generation of football club are attempting to change the football landscape. But despite the new names many of the problems that have blighted the beautiful game in recent years and show no sign of going away any time soon.

New names litter the football map, names that didn't exist 11 years ago, but there is still a sense of injustice that permeates the game, that the FIFA Fair Play banner is nothing more than a banner with meaningless words and decisions are taken, both on and off the field, to benefit a privileged group of clubs only.

From a footballing romantic point of view it is a shame to see clubs like Persebaya, PSMS, PSIS and PSIM playing in Liga 2 and Deltras, Persitara and Persema a step below. Some clubs have fallen by the wayside, others absorbed into newer entities and others blighted by years of local apathy. And let's not mention those who have had the misfortune to have, possibly, acquired powerful enemies at court.

Frustration at the way the league is being run this season have been rumbling all season. There was the pre season farce of one particular club making a big money signing then lobbying for the introduction of a marquee player system across the league. Then there was the limit on over age players, on young players which was dropped midway through the campaign. PSM coach Robert Alberts has been a frequent critic of the organisation of Liga 1 for example; local coaches tend to grin and bear it more because they have no choice, or, sad to say, ambition.

Fifteen clubs recently announced a desire to 'strike' if things didn't change, to withdraw from the league. The three clubs who are quite happy with how things are going? Persib, Bali United and PS TNI. The PSSI, under a military man who was elected earlier this year and is also standing in an election to be governor of North Sumatra, says fine, if they want to stop, stop. He will just cancel the league. 'It isn't a problem if they (the 15 clubs) don't want to play again.'

At a time when football needs stability it seems we are heading for yet more chaos and surely I'm not alone in hoping calmer heads prevail and we can end this season calmly and start a new one calmly. Recent years suggest otherwise.

All this backroom bickering means what should be a thrilling climax to a thrilling season is going to be played out under a heavy cloud of wounded egos and battered pride. The goals of Bali United's Sylvano Comvalius, the arrival on the scene of Bhayangara's Ilham Uddin and the consistency of Persija's Andritany are overlooked by off the field shenanigans which do little to improve the reputation of Indonesian football at home let alone raise its standard internationally. 

Hell, we even had the national team Under 19 coach Indra Sjafri come out and say he had been approached by a political party looking to associate with his current success and fame. 

Too many people use football for their own ends and that is a major reason why the game in this country has not, is not and will not make any meaningful progress despite all the new names. 

Saturday, October 07, 2017

 

Experienced Roekito Has Persibat Dreaming Of Glory

If there is one team causing a few ruffles in the on going Liga 2 second round it is totally unfancied Persibat Batang from the north coast of Java. Situated on the pantura, that narrow coastal highway that is in the news once a year for his gridlock as people head home at the end of Ramadhan, Batang lies between the larger cities of Pekalongan and Semarang and in football terms is very much in their shadow despite finishing runners up in the old third tier back in 2014.

That has changed this season. Placed in the same group as PSS, PSCS, PSGC, Persibas, Persip and Persijap not many people would have fancied their chances of getting out of the first round and with PSS dominating many looked beyond Persibat for the second side to qualify.

Both PSCS and PSGC have invested heavily in recent years while Persijap boast the history and experience of playing at the top level. Persibat lack all that but they have managed to overcome a coach quitting early in the campaign to secure that crucial second round place after defeating Persibanggga in the last game of the first round and go through on goal difference ahead of PSCS.

With Daniel Roekito on board as new coach, he led Persik to their Liga Indonesia title back in 2006, Persibat were ready for their shock bid for promotion and a surprise 3-0 win away to Persijap in their penultimate game served notice Roekito's team weren't just a home side.

The second round saw them drawn with Persita, neighbours PSIS and heavily fancied PSMS and they started well with a third straight win on the road, triumphing 2-1 against Persita. A 1-1 draw at home to PSIS followed before Persibat edged PSMS 1-0. They lost the return game 2-1 in Medan and today, sitting in second place three points behind leaders PSIS, host Persita.

PSMS's victory over Persibat has given the Medan side hope they can recover from a slow start in the second round but they face group leaders PSIS today in a tough challenge. At least they can bank on home town support as they look to end their barren years but it looks like everything will come down to the last round of fixtures next week when Persibat's fate will be decided when they travel to Semarang to play the leaders.

There is a refreshing transparency about this small football club. After most of their home games they post on social media the attendance and the gate receipts as well as listing their expenses. For example their second game of the second round stage saw 6,652 spectators watch them play PSMS while 7,369 saw them take on local rivals PSIS.




1 - PSIS 4 3 1 0 8-2 10
2 - Persibat 4 2 1 1 5-4 7
3 - PSMS 4 1 1 2 3-4 4
4 - Persita 4 0 1 3 1-7 1

7 October
PSMS v PSIS 3-1
Persibat v Persita 1-2

Oh well. PSMS came from behind to defeat PSIS in Medan while Persibat surprisingly went down at home to the bottom side. Everything now hinges on the final round of fixtures next week.

11 October
PSIS v Persibat
Persita v PSMS

 

Sriwijaya Find Second Home And Join The Club

With Sriwijaya set to to host Persija later today at Bumi Sriwijaya Stadium the Palembang based football club become the latest team to have played a home game at two more stadiums during the Liga 1 season. Nothing new of course in Indonesia where a 'home' base is a pretty fluid concept for some clubs but this season does seem to be surpassing others in recent years.

Persiba of course lead the way. At the start of the season the powers that be decided their cramped Persiba Stadium in Balikpapan wasn't fit for purpose and with Batakan Stadium not yet finished the Honey Bears were forced to look elsewhere for a venue.

They ultimately decided to use Gajayana Stadium in Malang (pictured left), different island, different time zone, and of course were welcomed to the unfamiliar city with poor attendance; except for the Arema game when they pulled in 20,000 punters.

After a few fruitless games in Malang the powers that be changed their mind, something they have proved to be very good at doing, and they could after all play at Persiba Stadium before now moving into the swish new Batakan where they currently hold court in front of average crowds of 14,000 plus.

Playing at different stadiums during a season is nothing new of course for Persija. Over the last few years they have played home games in Solo, Yogyakarta Sleman, Bali, Madura, Bekasi, Malang among others. Hell, they have even been known to play in Jakarta, their nominal home town.

This season though has see the Macan Kemayoran seem fairly settled by their standards, playing at the Patriot Stadium in Bekasi while the Bung Karno in downtown Jakarta receives a makeover ahead of the Asian Games next year. 

However Persija wouldn't be Persija without at least one game played behind closed doors and so it proved when they were forced to host Sriwijaya back in June. Following a number of incidents outside Patriot Stadium the powers that be decreed Persija's fans should receive a one match stadium ban and the club switched the game to Wibawa Mukti Stadium in nearby Cikarang.

Talking of bans, the powers that be do like to impose suspensions once in a while but as we have seen with Persiba they have also shown a willingness to change their mind when the mood suits them. Persib were supposed to have received the ultimate punishment after disturbances that marred their game with Persija but that decision was later overturned.

Persib though have managed to play home games at both Bandung Laut Api and Si Jalak
Harapat Stadiums this season though the reasons for the switch have been more to do with spectator comfort and accessibility apparently; odd when you know how difficult it can be to get to SJH!

While Persib got lucky with proposed stadium bans one club at least accepted their poison. Borneo were forced to play a number of games behind closed doors and elected to host East Kalimantan rivals Persiba in Bontang, a near four mile drive up the coast from Samarinda.

Arema's famous fan base has dwindled over recent years for reasons that aren't totally clear so in a bid to bring back the numbers that flocked to the stadium during their glory years the club decided to switch from Kanjuruhan Stadium, located out in the boonies and then some, to the more central Gajayana. It didn't work.

Last but not least we have Madura United. An island lacking in any kind of footballing history they have been investing big time in recent years with the result they are seen as serious title challengers for Liga 1 this season. They started the season playing at Bangkalan Stadium which has the benefit of being quite close to the Samudra bridge that connects the island with the city of Surabaya on the mainland of Java. 

They have also played some home games at an even newer venue in Pameksan which is further east of Bangkalan and consequently harder to get to for visiting who teams who know they face a three and half hour drive once they have picked up their luggage at Surabaya's Juanda Airport.

Seven teams playing at more than one ground, more than a third of Liga 1, is a pretty impressive haul, even by Indonesian sides. With a proposed World Cup bid on the cards, shared with the Thais, there is a certain irony in Indonesia looking to host the world's best when they struggle to find homes for their own club sides.

Monday, October 02, 2017

 

Liga 1 Fixtures Force Milla To Select From Bare Cupboard

Some interesting names included in Luis Milla's squad to play Cambodia on Thursday with promising young keepers Awan and Satria being called up to understudy the consistent Persija goalie Andritany.
With PSM playing Monday and Persipura having a home game on the Friday a number of players aren't included in the squad. What, you expected the league to have a break for the international fixtures? That assumes there is a core of staff at the PSSI who were able to plan for such regular occurrences and not have new employees having to invent the wheel everyday.
Good to see Ilham Udin called up as reward for his fine performances with Bhayangkara this season.
Goalkeeper: Andritany Ardhiyasa (Persija), Satria Tama Hardianto (Gresik United), Awan Setho Raharjo (Bhayangkara).
Defender: Beny Wahyudi (Arema), Fachrudin Wahyudi Aryanto (Madura United), Ricky Fajrin (Bali United), Rezaldi Hehanusa (Persija), Achmad Jufriyanto (Persib).
Midfielder: Evan Dimas (Bhayangkara), Stefano Lilipaly, Irfan Bachdim, Fadhil Sausu, Taufiq (Bali United), Septian David Maulana, Bayu Pradana (Mitra Kukar).
Forward: Andik Vermansah (Selangor FA), Febri Haryadi (Persib), Ilham Udin (Bhayangkara), Rizki Rizaldi Pora (Barito Putera), Lerby Eliandry (Borneo).

Sunday, October 01, 2017

 

Madura United End Persipura's Five Year Unbeaten Run

Something very strange happened yesterday at the Mandala Stadium in Jayapura. Home side Persipura lost. It doesn't happen very often. In fact the last time the supporters saw their side lose  home league game was 13 May 2012! More than five years ago.

Since then Persipura have been pretty well unplayable on their own patch. 

50 41 9 0 132-31 

That run ended after half an hour against Madura United when Aussie import Dane Milovanovic scored the only goal of the game and keep his side hanging on to the coat tails of leaders Bhayangkara. It was their sixth win on the spin.

How Persipura must be wishing for some of that consistency, that same consistency that has been the hallmark of much of their success over the last decade or so.

The Black Pearls have just one win in their last five games and their blank sheet yesterday means they have gone 180 minutes without scoring a goal at home; truly a famine for their followers.

The malaise runs deeper with just three wins now in their last eight home games, this season's Persipura have a distinctly non Persipura look about them.

In their pomp they would be hitting sides for three or four or five, battering them into submission with their power and pace. This season has been different. Hell, even lowly Gresik United came away with a point.

It is difficult to know what is going on at the football club. There were suggestions at the start of the season they would struggle financially with one of their major sponsors less willing to stump up the cash and perhaps that is one reason why the team are struggling somewhat.

The core of the team is pretty much as it has been for years. Jae Hoon Yoo in goal, Ricardo Salempessy at the back, Ian Louis Kabes in the middle of the park and Boas Solossa up top. But they are aging, all in their 30s, even Boas, and coach Wanderley Junior has been looking to blood younger players, Osvaldo Haay and Marinus Wanewar spring to mind, in the first team to learn from the wizened old pros.

Persipura are fifth in Liga 1, nine points behind leaders Bhayangkara. In years past that wouldn't have been much of an issue. You would expect them to go on a winning run to nick the title at the last minute much like they did last year. Not this season. While they are struggling their rivals, PSM, Madura United and the leaders, are in a rich vein of form and that gap looks like expanding.

Next Friday they play Persela at home which could be just what they need. The East Java side have just one win from their travels this season...

UPDATE - after finishing this it was pointed out to me I had overlooked Persipura's 0-2 against Persib in last season's Indonesia Soccer Championship. As Homer Simpson might say, Doh!



Saturday, September 30, 2017

 

The Road From Sendawar

I had to google Persikubar to find out where exactly they came from. Yes, I knew they were from East Kalimantan but where exactly? It's a big province on a big island. Persikubar hail from the town of Sendawar, perhaps an eight hour drive west of Samarinda along the winding Mahakam River. Knowing that, I guess it is a relief it is not Persikubar who are top of Liga 1, just think of the travel times! 

Actually, Persikubar are top of Liga 1. It's just they are now known as Bhayangkara and are based in Bekasi with new owners. 

When the rebel Liga Primer Indonesia came along in 2011 to disrupt the local game even more than the regular disruptions one of the clubs to join it was Persebaya. This was a major coup for the fledging league, despite falling on hard times in recent years the club from Indonesia's second largest city Surabaya was still a big draw. So big in fact one of their home games in the new league, against Arema, pulled in 55,000 supporters.

This was a bit of embarrassment for the Indonesia Super League, the official league but nothing that couldn't be fixed. Ambitious officials just went out and bought a football club and parachuted them into the City of Heroes. The club they bought was Persikubar. They were rebranded Persebaya and set about trying to reclaim their rightful place in the top flight.

The fans weren't having it though and made their loyalties clear by supporting the side in the rebel league. Persebaya plodded along despite some heavy investment, attracting low crowds in the cavernous Bung Tomo Stadium.

Once the IPL gave up the ghost the Persebaya fans refused to transfer their allegiance to the one remaining Persebaya seeing the club for what it really was, a naked power grab. They wanted their Persebaya back and began a long struggle of attrition which from which they emerged triumphant in the second half of last year.

This new Persebaya plodded along though, seemingly indifferent to the apathy or animosity they generated everywhere they went. Come 2015 and the FIFA suspension the club owners belatedly started to realise no one liked them and perhaps they should do something to make themselves more popular. With a startling lack of understanding of the local football culture they decided to rebrand themselves as Surabaya United, in effect trying to kick the stool from under the feet of those fans they were trying to attract. There was one football club in Surabaya and that was Persebaya and the city's football fraternity were united behind them.

The farce continued in the middle of a tournament when the club desperately changed name again, this time to Bonek, hijacking the name of the Persebaya fans. Seriously, did they expect the very supporters who had been staying away for several years in protest at the presence of this usurper would certainly drop their opposition because their name had been stolen and used like this? 

In 2016 the police started to take football seriously and entered their own side, PS Polri, in the competitions that filled the void left by the FIFA suspension, in the Piala Bhayangkara. By the time the unofficial league, known as Indonesia Soccer Championship, started in that year PS Polri had pretty much taken over Surabaya United and moved the club from Surabaya to Sidoarjo. 

Now of course they play in Bekasi and under Simon McMenemy they are on their way to their first ever title following their 3-2 win over fellow title challengers Bali United yesterday. With seven games remaining Bhayangkara are four points clear at the top of Liga 1. The idea that Bhayangkara, with no fan base beyond off duty police officers bused in on match day, should be challenging for the biggest honour in Indonesian football is quite remarkable, especially when you consider they are up against the likes of more established names like Persipura, Persib and Arema. 

But football is changing and Bhayangkara are at the forefront of those changes. Meanwhile, back in Sendawar I wonder how many Persikubar fans are looking at the league table with a bitter taste in their mouth feeling this success has come at a price.

 

A Stadium Only A Football Fan Could Love

Set in a leafy suburb in the north of Balikpapan, Persiba' homely Parikesit Stadium, more commonly known as Persiba Stadium, has outlived its usefulness. Hemmed in by bungalows belonging to state oil producer Pertamina, the stadium was as low rise as its environment. With a capacity of around 6 or 7,000 it was ill equipped for hosting any large crowds that may have wished to see the Honey Bears in action but those who did make their way to the stadium contributed to a vibrant, intimidating atmosphere at this homely football club.

For starters it was a proper football ground. None of this running track malarky, the Parikesit was built for football and used for football. It had one rickety stand with wooden seats and more fences than an average zoo to interrupt the spectator's field of vision. VIP seats? You had a clear view straight ahead but struggled to get a good view of all four corner flags without craning of the neck  or moving to another wooden bench.

Behind the goals were terracing, again behind high fences. I never stood at the ground but the view can't have been much better and were any fan to be stuck behind me well it's fair to say they wouldn't have seen much at all. Three sides of the ground were joined by the single terrace of uniform height, low in other words, and while Persiba often struggled to get large crowds the view may have been reasonable enough, big games were known more for the discomfort the fans felt as much as any action on the field.

But it was home to the Persiba support and as with fans all around the world they loved their stadium. It was theirs after all. They had grown up there, they could mark pivotal moments in their life through games seen. Despite the poor sightlines many supporters had their favourite part where they would congregate with their mates on match day and share the agony and the ecstasy of match day, the good times and the bad of following this unfashionable football club in East Kalimantan.

My visits there would remind me of my visits to Coventry City's old Highfield Road or the Dell at Southampton, venues built in another time for another audience where creature comforts were low on the list of priorities. Distance adds a touch of sepia to the memories, nostalgia for a proper football ground with character that have grown organically above the modern soul less bowls designed by suited architects who now a thing or two about theory but little about terrace culture.

On my last visit to Balikpapan one fan waxed lyrical about the stadium. 'It is part of my life,' he told me in his house after we had seen Persiba hold title challengers PSM to a draw. 'No, it wasn't perfect but I grew up there, I learnt so much about me, about life, about people. It was ours.'

And he's right. A stadium feels like it belongs to supporters because of their memories and shared experiences over many years, passed down from generation to generation. Each part of the stadium holds vital stepping stones of our lives and no matter how ugly, how uncomfortable they are we love them because of what they represent.

There is no doubt Persiba are now in a better place. The impressive looking Batakan Stadium looks the business from the air and while 46,000 may be a tad optimistic for the local side it certainly offers the opportunity of hosting more high profile events in the future though a Legends game between 40 something ex Arsenal and Liverpool players in November doesn't come into that category.

It's been a nomadic campaign thus far for Persiba, and a campaign mired in a relegation struggle. The Batakan is the third stadium they have used after Gajayana and Parikesit and despite the results the fans have been turning out in large numbers. Just under 3,000 saw the team's last game at Parikesit, a 2-1 win over PS TNI where, unlike teams like Arsenal and West Ham United, little was done to mark the end of an era. Instead home games at the Batakan have seen first 10,000, against Gresik United then 15,000 against Semen Padang, neither particularly attractive opposition with no offence, suggesting the Balikpapan public are willing to get behind their team in a more comfortable environment.

Yes, I am sad to see the end of Parikesit Stadium and I can see my next visit to a Persiba home game being accompanied by moans about the new stadium but it is progress and if the Persiba fans keep coming in such numbers perhaps I should just shut the crap up!

Thursday, September 28, 2017

 

Egy Basks In Glow Of Publicity But He Has Achieved Nothing

Every couple of years we hear of the latest wonderkid to emerge from Indonesia. Players who have the misfortune to show bucket loads of talent at an early age, get snapped up by unscrupulous hangers on who promise these kids from the kampungs untold riches, develop obscenely large social media followings, get TV air time but then fade to anonymity where it really matters; on the pitch where they made their name initially.

The 2017 vintage looks to be Egy Maulana Vikri. The 17 year old Medan born player hit the back, and front, pages during the recent AFF U19 Championships when he scored six goals to help Indonesia overcome Myanmar, Philippines and Brunei in the group stage before ultimately losing to the Thais, who else, on penalties in the knock out rounds.

Observant fans though had been charting this young man's rise earlier. He had put in a man of the match performance in a friendly against Espanyol B and earned accolades playing for Indonesia in the Toulon Tournament where he was named Breakthrough Player 

Clearly this is a young man who has done a lot in the last few months, and made a lot of people sit up and take notice.

Already there is talk of Arema being interested while the PSSI have said they will be working with an as yet unidentified foreign agent to try and secure him a move overseas.

Egy has shown he is a player of talent and he has proved this playing in foreign countries against foreign opposition. Perhaps he is the next big thing in Indonesian football. Perhaps he does have a similar playing style as Lionel Messi as one pundit has suggested having inhaled to much hyperbole.

But he is only 17 and he is still at school. It would be nice to see of he is allowed to develop as a footballer away from the media circus that is suddenly building him and, and will just as suddenly drop him before he reaches his 20s. 

We've seen it all before. Teenage headlines beget social media followings beget commercial opportunities. And the player concerned perhaps believe the hype and believes the hype. Football has been nothing more than a vehicle to a nebulous celebrity status where the player stops being a player and becomes famous for being, um, famous. The football becomes an afterthought, almost a hobby for a player who now moves in circles vastly different to those of his teammates and supporters.

And then we wonder why Indonesia doesn't produce top class players.

The best thing that can happen for Indonesian football is for Egy to be surrounded by people who love him and can help in nuture his talent as a footballer and if that entails playing overseas then so be it. But he needs to remember if he wants to be a top class footballer and have a top class footballer he needs to be professional and focus only on top class football. 

Yes, sign up for the odd commercial endorsement here and there, no one begrudges a player that. But do the work on the training field and on the pitch, don't become a fixture on shallow celebrity TV gossip shows. Become a professional footballer, not a pretty boy footballer.

Do that and be successful and there will be plenty of time once the career ends to enjoy the profits of fame and glamour. But first earn that fame and glamour. Let the talent to the talking, not the sponsors.

 

New Coach Rudy Restores Some Lost Pride At PS TNI

I'm spoilt for choice with cliches as PS TNI finally returned to winning ways yesterday, defeating Mitra Kukar 2-1 at Pakansari Stadium in front of a sparse crowd. Could it be third time lucky as PS TNI appointed new coach Eka Rudy Priyambada, their third of the season? Could I make reference to the military side getting their shots on target again? Or could way go down the more mundane road of a side re-energised under a new coach?

Certainly the Ivan Kolev era, for all his experience in Indonesia, won't go down in whatever PS TNI annals that may exist, as one of unparalleled success. A surprise appointment to replace Laurent Hatton, a surprise dismissal, early on in the season, under Kolev PS TNI lost much of their spikiness that had been a hallmark of their early season form. Like the Leeds United of the Don Revie era if you wanted a result against the military side you had to mix it with them. But once sides twigged this, and once PS TNI noticed the effects of losing their top players to suspensions, everything changed.

Ahead of the game with Mitra Kukar, PS TNI had gone a depressing eight games without a win and just a point to lift the perma-gloom that was hanging round the football club. Even their supporters, serving military types bused in on their superiors' orders lost interest, their corps d'esprit crushed by frequent defeats. I went down to see them play Bhayangkara and it was rumoured Kolev wasn't even in the dug out. And even in this, the uniform derby where surely service pride would have been at stake, PS TNI looked like they were going through the motions. Yes, at times they played well and arguably without the heroics of visiting keeper Awan could have earned a point, but that aggressiveness that had served them well in those now distant early games seemed half-hearted.

In came a new coach, Rudy, an ambitious young man who I met a few years back in Bahrain of all places. Funnily enough I had met Rudy at that Bhayangkara game, I think he had forgotten my name 'cos he called out bule, and I had asked him why he should be at that game. He certainly seemed knowledge about the problems within the football club but he assured me, in that football coaches way, that he had a contract with Liga 2 side Celebest and he was enjoying the challenge of having them reach the second round of the competition. Next thing I hear he is appointed coach of PS TNI!

PS TNI weren't short of being a decent team again. During the recent horror run only Persib and PSM defeated them by a single goal margin. And with players like Abduh Lestalahu, Erwin Randhani and Manahati Lestusen providing youthful exuberance under the tutelage of the experienced South Korean Soon Hak Hong it surely wouldn't be long before the handful of remaining fans would have something to celebrate.

And so it proved, admittedly against a frustratingly inconsistent Mitra Kukar side which boasts just a single win on their travels. Jorge Gator put through his own net to give the home side a lead halfway through the first half before Sansan Husaeni double the lead seven minutes before half time. Marceli Santos pulled one back from the penalty spot, his 17th of the season, but Rudy's men held on for the three points and a rare chance to celebrate a victory in front of the handful of fans who had stuck by 
the team.

Mitra Kukar at home may not be the hardest challenge of the fixture list, a gentle introduction to teh rigours of top flight coaching for new man Rudy. His next challenge will be a lot tougher, away to Persija this weekend. 

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

 

Borneo Fans Cheer Their Team despite Stadium Ban

Borneo FC, formerly known as Pusamania, have been forced to play a number of games behind closed doors after incidents at their Segiri Stadium. Unlike other clubs who have had similar decisions overturned, no names mentioned, Borneo it seems are stuck with the decision.

The first  home game to be effected was their East Kalimantan derby with Persiba. Ordinarily Borneo could expect a decent attendance for the game against their rivals but were forced to bite the bullet and play the game elsewhere.

The game was finally played in Bontang at the Mulawarman Stadium, a three hour plus drive north of Samarinda with visitors Persiba facing a near six hour journey time of their own.

While the game was played behind closed doors that did not stop a number of Borneo fans following their team north and cheering on their heroes from outside the stadium. Borneo won the game 1-0 with a goal by New Zealand international Shane Smeltz, his fifth of the campaign, and after the ref had blown the final whistle the players made a point of saluting the fans who were outside the ground but could see the action through a fence.

A long trek for the Pusamania rewarded with three points and appreciation from their team. The result keeps Borneo midtable and their next game sees them travel to the south of the island to take on Barito Putera.

In an aside this was the first time the Mulawarman Stadium has hosted a top flight game since local side Bontang FC, formerly known as PKT Bontang, were held to a 3-3 draw by PSIR Rembang in the old Liga Primer Indonesia. The club was kicked out of football soon after over some irregularities and this last season has seen them compete n Liga 3; a far cry from the days when they competed in Asian Club competition.



 

Kuwait's Road To Spain In 1982 & An Indonesian Ref

I believe I may have mentioned 1982. Once or twice. It is one of those incidents that carve their name in the history books and no matter what Kuwait may achieve in years to come on a football pitch 1982 will be there somewhere, lurking in the background like an unwanted uncle at a dinner party laid on to impress people. You just know that somewhere along the line either the uncle will put in an appearance or someone will ask where he is.

Awash with oil money, Kuwait invested millions in football during the 1970s and the efforts paid off towards the end of the decade as they started making a splash not just regionally but beyond. In 1978 they appointed a Brazilian with a famous name, Carlos Alberto Parreira, to the helm of the national team.

No relation to the rampaging full back that was part of the eye catching 1970 World Cup winning squad, Parreira was one of a pretty rare bunch, certainly for the era, of managers who had never played the game professionally. He had started out as a trainer and the mid 1970s found him in the Middle East as assistant coach in Kuwait. In 1979 he was promoted to the top job and soon showed the midas touch guiding the side to runners up in the Gulf Cup of Nations in 1979, the AFC Asian Cup in 1980, GCoN success in 1982 plus of course the Spain World Cup in the same year.

I started out as a fitness coach, recalled  Parreira. But there reached a point in my life where I was so well qualified that I was almost pushed into taking on a head coach's role. In Kuwait they asked me to take charge of their youth sides and that was the start of a long career.’


Kuwait’s road to Spain began appropriately enough in Kuwait. Drawn with South Korea, Malaysia and Thailand Kuwait were given hosting duties and so it was at the end of April the three nations plus assorted match officials descended on Kuwait International Airport.

The Blues first game came against the Thais and they ran out comfortable 6-0 winners with goals from Abdulaziz Al Anbari (Al Kuwait) scoring twice. Faisal Al Dakheel (Al Qadsia), Fathi Kameel (Al Tadamun) M Karam (Al Arabi) and Jasem Yacoub (Al Qadsia) finished the rout and left the home team sitting pretty on top of the table after the first game.

South Korea were nowhere near the power they are now back in 1981 but they were always favourite to come there or thereabouts in the group. However they struggled to break down a plucky Malaysian side, even falling behind in the first 10 minutes. Unfortunately the Malaysians failed to build on that early lead and appeared to wilt in the Arabian heat. It needed Jung Haw-wong to save their blushes, netting the winner with a long range effort with just five minutes remaining.

The Malaysian coach was furious. Karl-Heinz Weigang slammed his players saying ‘I can understand if only one or two players were to play badly but in this game it was the exact opposite, only one or two players gave their all.’

It was hardly the best preparation to face the hosts three days later who were fully acclimatized and comical defending by the Malaysians allowed Kuwait to take the lead in the first minute of the first half through Al Qadsia’s 23 year old striker Jasem Yaquob making it two in two for him. Nassir Al Ghanim from Kazma weighed in with one while Mahboub Juma hit a brace and after the comfortable victory Parreira said ‘as expected Malaysia was too adamant about chasing goals and we only had to wait for them to make any mistakes to launch our offensive move.’ A wait of less than 60 seconds!

The win confirmed Kuwait’s position at the top of the group but on goal difference as South Korea had beaten the Thais 5-1 24 hours earlier in a game refereed by the superbly named Hardjowasito from Indonesia. For the cunning linguists out there the Indonesian word for referee is wasit!

When Malaysia met Thailand on 27 April their World Cup was over and they played out a thrilling though futile 2-2 draw.

Everything hung on the final match up between Kuwait and South Korea two days later. They were level on points but the home team had by far the better goal difference. Second half goals from Al Anbari and Al Ghanen secured their spot in the next round of fixtures which would take them to the other side of the world six months later.

By now there were four nations vying to represent Asia at the World Cup the following year. Joining Kuwait were New Zealand, who had overcome Australia, Indonesia, Chinese Taipei and Fiji, China and Saudi Arabia over a three month period.

Kuwait’s first game came on 10 October in Auckland, New Zealand and if they showed any signs of tiredness or nerves after a long journey to the Land of The Long White Cloud they didn’t last for long. The early 1980s were not known for their political correctness and as the Kuwaiti side came on the pitch in Auckland home supporters were reportedly waving banners that said ‘Go Back to Your Camels’. As an aside, New Zealand’s home qualifiers were sponsored by a cigarette manufacturer!

The home team took the lead halfway through the first half when English born Steve Wooddin scored with a fine left foot volley from 18 yards out but Kuwait were given the chance to level things early in the second half when they were avoided a soft penalty.

The New Zealand keeper made a good save but less than 10 minutes later the ref, our friend Hardjowasito from Indonesia, gave a second penalty, even softer than the first.  Players went wild, fans went wild.

The ref walked off the pitch and threatened to call off the tie complaining about the lack of security. New Zealand FA official Charles Dempsey got involved, telling the ref If you call this game off, it's the last game you will referee, He looked at my Fifa badge - he had no idea what my position was - and I added: 'I'm warning you. Call this game off and you have had it.

'I had no authority to say that because I was not the match inspector. But I had to bluff it.'


Before Al Daheel could step up and take the kick a young supporter ran on the pitch and threw a can at the match official before disappearing into the record 35,000 crowd who offered him a standing ovation

Kiwi assistant coach Kevin Fallon later joked the pitch invader copped a $10 fine throwing the can and a further $20 for missing but in the wake of the decisions there was no such much laughter coming from his side’s camp.

Yacoub scored the winner with a close range diving header and when the ref finally blew the whistle white helmeted policeman ran on to the pitch to protect the match officials from irate New Zealand players.

Following the game Charles Dempsey, who was the head of New Zealand football at the time hedged his bets. ‘I don’t say he was bribed, but what did concern me was the confident way the Kuwaiti Sheikh Al Sabah was talking before the game and at half time. It had best be left at that.’

Speaking years later, Wooddin, who had given New Zealand the lead, said ‘it’s hard to say he was cheating or wasn’t cheating...the bad decisions seemed to be all one way.’

Controversy, it seemed, was a constant companion on Kuwait’s march to Spain.

At the time though and without the benefit of hindsight and the knowledge we have now about match fixing while many felt the ref was culpable, they were not too many who would come out and say he had been bribed. Match officials were still deemed to be human and without the 24/7 coverage the game gets these days people were more willing to give them the benefit of the doubt when it came to controversial decisions.

A week later and Kuwait were in Beijing taking on China and they lost 3-0. On 4 November they were in Riyadh and defeated hosts Saudi Arabia 1-0 with that man Al Anberi scoring again.

Kuwait then had the luxury of three successive home games spread over a two week period. Al Anberi scored the only goal of the game against China and they followed that with a 2-0 win over Saudi Arabia with a pair from Al Dakhil as good as securing Kuwait’s spot in Spain.

Their final game came against New Zealand with 100 camels walking around the pitch before the game as a riposte to some of the comments directed towards the Kuwaitis in the first game in Auckland and as a way of saying ‘yep, camels’.

With moments remaining it was the visitors who were leading 2-1 but 22 year old defender Sami Al Hashash from Al Arabi levelled the scores and ensured history would be made for Kuwait.

When the draw was made for the World Cup Finals early in 1982 Kuwait found themselves alongside England, France and Czechoslovakia at a time when 24 teams vied for the crown.

Ahead of the finals a Spanish newspaper decided to go down the road of cheap stereotypes and claimed the Kuwaitis would be arriving late because they ‘would be travelling on the backs of their camels’. I am sure you can imagine what a hoot that particular joke was, even for those times.

As it turned out Kuwait arrived early but no one knew they were even there. The head of the football association Sheikh Fahad Al Ahmed Al Jaber Al Sabah, a member of the country’s ruling family, told a French journalist he would be taking Kuwait home if he wasn’t allowed to bring their mascot with them.

Interest finally piqued by these exotic visitors, the media converged on the hotel. The Sheikh ordered a camel from Morocco and the hotel manager said it was ok for the camel to stay on the grounds of the hotel but no doubt drew the line at it using one of the rooms.

So, as a reaction to the lazy racism of the era who were these mysterious Arabs? Who were the players to watch out for and who did they play for? Time, I think, to put some flesh on the bones of the players marking their nation’s first ever tilt at the World Cup.

(Insert WC Squad)

Their first game came against the Czechs, this was before the split with Slovakia, and was played on 17 June in Valladolid. Antonin Panenka, he whose name would later be immortalised with the cheeky penalty chip down the middle, opened the scoring half way through the first half with a more traditional penalty. The prolific Al Dakhil equalised on 57 minutes and Kuwait held on for a point.

Then came the game against France at the same venue. The French were highly fancied to do well and boasted a squad that included such talismanic figues as Michel PlatiniAlain Giresse, Jean Tigana and Dominique Rocheteau. Kuwait? Well, so perceived wisdom held, had camels!

The French were leading 3-1 when Giresse broke through a static Kuwaiti defence and made it 4-1. Well, he thought he had, his team mates thought he had and so probably did most of the people watching the game around the world. The referee agreed and pointed to the centre circle.

Unfortunately the Kuwaiti players were less convinced. In fact they were positively irate, claiming they had stopped because they had heard a whistle. TV replays showed the ref waving play on as the defence stopped for a moment questioning whether Giresse was offside or not but a whistle can be heard in the footage. Thinking it had come from the ref  Kuwait did what every schoolboy around the world is taught; they played to the whistle and they stopped. And they were gobsmacked to see the ref give the goal.

They surrounded the hapless official from the Soviet Union Miroslav Stupar but, in the manner of all good match officials, he would not change his mind. With the mood getting ugly the Kuwait players were threatening to walk off the field and out of the World Cup, no doubt leaving their camel mascot at the hotel.

Sheikh Fahad Al Ahmed Al Jaber Al Sabah, who had been seen waving to his players as if he was trying to get them to walk off the field, got involved, striding on to the pitch and taking his turn to get Stupar’s face as the world looked on with incredulity.

Was this really happening? Was a sheikh yelling at a ref during a World Cup tie in front of millions watching around the world? This was reality TV long before Simon Cowell came along and if there had been a social media back in 1982 Twitter would have gone into overdrive!

Apart from playing to the whistle, another great adage about football and referees is that the man with the whistle is the final arbiter of what happens on a football field. If he says it was a goal then a goal it was and that was the end of the matter. Until the Sheikh got involved. The ref disallowed the goal, now angering the French players, and restarted the game with a free kick for Kuwait in their own half.

As it happened moments later France did score a fourth goal thus ending Kuwait’s adventure but unlike other nations lacking in any football pedigree (according to certain prejudices) Kuwait have never since been seen as plucky. North Korea have, Jamaica have but nope, not Kuwait. I guess it is difficult to patronise people who are richer than you are.

The Sheikh, by the way, was certainly never one to shirk conflict. He was killed on the first day of the Iraq invasion of Kuwait in 1990 during the defense of Dasman Palace, home to the Emir, ruler, of the country.

One of his sons, Ahmed Al Fahad Al Ahmed Al Sabah has kept the family name alive in the politics of world football and in 2015 was appointed to the FIFA Executive Committee in April 2015.

From the dodgy penalties in Auckland to the phantom whistler in Valladolid Kuwait had never been far from controversy which is a shame for many Kuwaitis look back on the era as their golden age in footballing terms. And they are not alone. Their Brazilian coach Parreria may have won the World Cup with his own country in 1994 with a side that boasted players like Romario and Carlos Dunga, now of course coaching the national team himself but he has fond memories of his time with the Kuwaitis.

Brazil he said were expected to win the cup even though their triumph in the USA broke a 24 year drought. Expectation were less lofty in the gulf state and Parreria remembers with pride not just the World Cup adventure but other triumphs from that successful side. ‘My best and most successful time was with Kuwait. It was amazing - we won the Gulf Cup twice, reached the Olympics and World Cup,’ he recalled in 2008.


1976 had seen Kuwait reach the Asian Cup final for the first time, only to lose 1-0 to hosts Iran but four years later they went one better. In 1980 they won the Asian Cup for the first and so far only time in their history defeating South Korea 3-0 in the final in a game interestingly enough refereed by our friend Hardjowasito! Watching the goals from that game played over 30 years ago one cannot help but be struck not just by the hairstyles of that bygone age but also how Keystone Cops the South Koreans were at defending as time and again the home team carved them apart on their way to success.

The Asian Cup 1980 featured just 10 nations, Kuwait, South Korea, holders Iran, Bangladesh, China, Malaysia, North Korea, Qatar, Syria and United Arab Emirates and midway through the competition Iraq invaded Iran, the start of a long and bloody conflict that left hundreds of thousands dead. Iran, who had won the trophy in 1968, 1972 and 1976, went on to stumble in their defence of the title and finished with third place while Kuwaiti TV gleefully supported Iraq’s invasion on its channels.

In 1984 the Asian Cup moved to Singapore and it was the Kuwaitis turn to finish third, this time defeating Iran on penalties as Saudi Arabia defeated China 2-0 in the final and it seemed like Kuwait were on the verge of turning regional success into continental success.

Since the first Gulf Cup of Nations in 1970, an event featuring Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and of course Kuwait in that first year, Al Azraq had gone on to win the trophy in 1972, 1974, 1976 and 1982, finishing runners up to Iraq in 1979. The Asian Cup successes and of course reaching the World Cup in 1982 seemed to add to the sense Kuwait was becoming a major player in world football but for all the success there seems to be little analysis of what made them so successful, at least in English. 

NOTE - this was to form the genesis of a chapter in an aborted book I proposed to write about football in the Gulf during my spell there.

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