During our travels for Indonesian football we meet a lot of like-minded fans of the beautiful game. One of these persons is Joey aka Footytraveller. Joey is a passionate researcher from India, who loves to travel around the globe to watch and document on football. We met for the first time at the championship game of Bali United last season. In between hordes of celebrating Bali United supporters, we sat down and shared some beers while talking about football culture.
Joey has been in Indonesia multiple times and has a lot of knowledge about Indonesian Football Culture due to interviews with fans, clubs and football enthousiasts. You can even check out his findings and experiences on Youtube and Instagram. Because of his interest in the local football scene, we asked him: “What are the 10 things you find most interesting about Indonesian Football Culture?”.
Joey: “I often summarize my impressions of football in Indonesia with the line ‘Indonesian football culture is crazy.’ I’ve been following Indonesian football culture for over 3 years now after being introduced to it by a German called Tobias Enkel who co-runs a Youtube Channel by the name of Football Fans Asia.
While all of that is portrayed in the media – ‘Passion, emotion, choreographies and fighting’ holds its own in a large puzzle called ‘Sepakbola Indonesia’, in this piece I’ll share 10 things which had a profound impact on me as a researcher, supporter and a human being. These are the 10 Things I find interesting about Indonesian Football.“
10. The Football Infrastructure is Great
There are approximately 90+ football stadiums in Indonesia, most of them concentrated in Java, not only is this number really high per square mile for an Asian country, some of these stadiums are state of the art and belong to second or third division clubs. Coming from India where we lack enough good stadiums in the first division, let alone teams playing in the second, I was in for a surprise. Check out the Full overview of football grounds in Indonesia here.
9. Big Communities Even At The Lowest Divisions
Communities surrounding football clubs are massive. For example, almost the whole of West Java are Persib supporters. If you think of East Java you immediately think of Arema and Persebaya. But the beauty of the community surrounding Indonesian football is not just in its biggest clubs but also in its smallest clubs. Every club in Indonesia has a supporter community whether they play in the first or the third division in the league system, which sets it apart from other Asian countries.
Of course the size of the community varies, but the localization of supporter identity is very pronounced like most European footballing nations. Most Asian countries do not even have a 3rd division and barely any supporters in the first. Compare that to Indonesia and one can feel how deep rooted football is in the fabric of society in the country.
8. They Like To Drink
Indonesians love a drink before a game. While in Bali it is legally permissible according to Hindu religious customs, in a majority Muslim population in Java alcohol is consumed discreetly. In Java, they do what we call a ‘punch’ in Kolkata – mix alcohol in cola/water bottles and take swigs. They even incorporate the drinking culture in their songs for example at Arema they have a chant which goes like – “Equality, Equality, for you and me forever, Arema sing and drunk together”.
Alcohol is a staple at football in Indonesia, and is often the reason for strong friendships as well as fights. An ABC News documentary on Indonesia with a misguided title “Inside the world’s most dangerous league” puts down Indonesian energy and craze inside the stadium to ‘ice tea’ – “In this Muslim nation, it is not alcohol, but ice tea fueling the fervor of fan mania”, which is as misguiding as the title itself.
7. Women Supporters Groups
The proportion of women, watching football matches in Indonesia is quite high compared to other footballing nations in Asia. Women are actively involved in supporter’s groups under various subcultures and play an active role in day to day functioning of these groups. A unique feature of Indonesia’s football culture. They are well organized and have a major role in attracting more women to the stadium. Notable groups are Aremanita of Aremania, Bonita of Persebaya, Ladies Curva Sud of PSS Sleman and JakAngel of Persija.
6. The Mania Sub-culture
Indonesia is probably the only country in Asia to have their own distinct style of supporters and they call it ‘The Mania’. The Jakmania of Jakarta, Slemania of Sleman, Aremania of Arema, Viking of Bandung are notable Mania groups. The style of support adopted in Mania culture is said to have been derived from South American supporters groups – which involves chanting combined with choreographed movements of the hand and body inside the curva.
The first known Mania in Indonesia is debated; however it is widely believed the first organized movement came about in 1997 with the Jakmania. In an interview, the founder of Jakmania says the adoption of the suffix ‘Mania’ comes from the meaning of the word itself and was inspired by the intense fans frenzy in the 1960’s for the English Pop Band- The Beatles. The craze surrounding the Beatles in that era was called Beatlemania.
The colours of the club take precedence over the colours of the group and there is no distinct dress code inside the stand. The Mania often have good relations with the club, and from time to time receive benefits from the club in terms of discounted tickets and merchandise, and often are a part of the club’s promotional strategies.
5. The Role of Internet and Mass Media
With the internet being more and more accessible over the last two decades, football culture in Indonesia has changed dramatically. There has been a widespread adaptation of other sub-cultures in football – Ultras, hooligans and casuals, mostly fuelled by Youtube Videos, books and movies like “Green Street Hooligans”. The adaptation is not just limited to the behaviour inside the stadium but also in lifestyle changes- in the way they dress, the vehicles they ride and music they listen to. Unlike Mania, where there is strong local influence in its style, the style in these newly adopted subcultures have considerably less local influence.
4. Working class youth
Football in Indonesia is a working-class sport. Although football is enjoyed by all classes within the nation, the proportion of the middle and upper classes watching football in stadiums in Indonesia is very low. The majority of those who come to the stadium in Indonesia are young and work blue collar jobs, with an average age of 16-25. Football forms an integral part of their escape mechanism by providing not just entertainment but also identity, friends, brotherhood and a reason to look forward to tomorrow and every-day after.
3. Strong overlap from non-footballing subcultures in Indonesian football culture
Football is not the only thing that the west influences in Indonesia. A lot of other youth movements in music, motorcycles, graffiti and street art have developed over time with ready access to the internet. For example, Indonesia has an incredibly strong Punk Rock scene, a well-established Vespa culture and in cities like Yogyakarta and Bandung -where art and creativity form an integral part of the city’s identity- graffiti on street walls are commonplace. All of these subcultures function parallel to football and infiltrates Indonesian football culture in a profound way as they are practiced simultaneously by the same youth who are involved in football.
2. Strong brotherhoods
The first thing you read about Indonesia in western Media is how dangerous the rivalries are. There is no denying the fact that they are dangerous, but what no one talks about is how strong their brotherhoods are.
For example, football fans in Jakarta look forward to two fixtures every year, one against their eternal rivals Bandung and one against their eternal friends Arema FC. Each season 10,000+ away fans travel from Jakarta to Malang (850+Kms) to their second home every year, while no fans are allowed to travel from Jakarta to Bandung(150+km) for the “El Clasisco” of Indonesia. Half and half scarves signifying the strong bond between these two cities can be seen everywhere in Jakarta and Malang, irrespective of whether they are playing each other or not on the day. There are no arguments, no fights, and no injuries in matches like these irrespective of the result or the importance of the match.
1. The Indonesian league is not dangerous
In the international media, the Indonesia league has been portrayed as the most dangerous league in the world. While violence is undoubtedly a problem, the majority of the supporters are polite and welcoming. As an outsider, it is easy to fall in love with the football culture in the country – the colour, the sounds of the stadium and the sheer number of fans make it one of the top 10 things to do on your visit to Indonesia.
As a researcher, Indonesia offers a unique blend of local and western supporter culture practices unlike anywhere else in the world. Supporters groups are relatively easier to approach and a lot more cooperative than underground movements in other western societies and have equally fantastic and intriguing stories to tell.
I fell in love with Indonesia the first time I stepped inside a stadium in Bekasi, 3 years ago. I had been to a few stadiums in England and Scotland before, but I had never seen anything like I witnessed on that day. There was a sense of struggle in every voice I heard from the stand, and heart in every face my eyes rested upon. From that day, onwards wherever I went over the next 3 years in Indonesia, I witnessed the same irrespective of the team I watched or the town I was in. You can follow my Youtube Channel for more documentaries, vlogs, and interviews on Indonesian and world football.
And with this final point, we come to the end of the list with the 10 most interesting things about Indonesian Football Culture. We want to thank Joey for his contribution and insights in the local football Culture and hopefully we meet again in the near future. Do you think we missed an important part of Indonesian football culture? Leave us a message. Which subject on this list is most recognizable for you?