In the words of Bill Shankly:-

“Some people believe football is a matter of life and death, I am very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that”

Let’s not kid ourselves, not every country on this planet will treat the beautiful game on the same judicious pattern as the late Liverpool’s legendary manager would have wanted to. To achieve such a level of devotion, football needs to be deeply ingrained as part of the country’s culture and identity. A good example is one mentions a certain country (e.g. England, Germany, Spain, Argentina or Brazil), football is often the first thing that comes to people’s minds.

How about Indonesia?

The most common replies you will get has to be their gorgeous islands (Bali being on top of the list), UNESCO heritage sites, pristine volcanic mountains, splendid lakes, vibrant food and culture.

What about football?

In early July, me and my fiancé, Mell spent five days in Yogyakarta, the city of culture and gudeg (a Javanese cuisine that is very popular here). I was really excited about this trip as this was my first visit to the country. This city has always been on the top of my bucket list of places that I want to visit, mainly for its famous monuments such as Borobudur & Prambanan and the majestic Mount Merapi.

I have read articles and watch plenty of videos on YouTube that is related to Indonesian football. There is one by James Montague for Bleachers Report which was rather a waggish version.

Then there is also one from David Lipson for ABC’s Foreign Correspondent which I found to be very earnest in its reporting.

Both videos in my view is a must-watch if one wants to delve into the roller-coaster world of Indonesia football. If you’re not blown away after what you have seen from those videos, I’m afraid you’re a golf fan then. Football is not for you.

During my travels, football isn’t far off from my mind. I have made it customary to include stadium visits or watching a domestic match as part of my itinerary. After some researching and Googling, I found out that Jogja (in short for Yogyakarta), is home to not one but three different teams that are based around this Special Region.

Forgive me if you were hoping to read some match day highlights. Though the initial plan was to attend at least one game, my flight schedule didn’t permit me to do so. It’s a regret that I’m still carrying with me even till to this day. This made it even more difficult for me to write this article.

However, just like my Thai trip earlier this year, I wanted to share my experience here as well. And the more I write, the more I realized that I need to make a return trip to Jogja in the near future to fulfil this craving.

PSS Sleman, The World Famous

On our third day, we were scheduled to visit the beautiful temple of Borobudur. As usual in any of my travels, my suitcase is only going to be filled with Huddersfield Town’s jersey. Our driver, Satria picked us from the hotel and apparently he had the impression that I “might be” a football fan judging by my choice of clothing of the day.

After spending half a day marvelling at the majestic structure of Borobudur, our tummy is now screaming for lunch. On the way to the restaurant, Satria was scheming enough that he decided to drive us to pass the world-famous Stadion Maguwoharjo, the home ground of PSS Sleman. My instant overjoy reaction instructed him to drive in as I wanted to visit the stadium.

Why the world-famous? PSS Ultras or Brigata Curva Sud is known globally for their breathtaking tifo, deafening chant and enchanting pyros. So much so, that Copa 90 has dubbed them unofficially as the best supporters in Asia.

I had the privilege to know Liston (also featured in the Copa 90 video) through our mutual friend @FootyTraveller, who was kind enough to give me a tour.

What made me love this stadium, even more, is that there is no running track around the field. Even the pitch was in fantastic condition. A football purpose-built stadium plus the high voltage noise from BSC will surely create a memorable matchday experience.

After this simple walkabout, we resumed back towards our initial destination to have lunch. At this point, I felt like I have already had a satisfying meal and all my hunger has gone away. On the way to the restaurant, I learned that Satria was actually a former professional footballer.

However, he had to cut short his career as apparently he was still owed almost six months of salary. It appears that players not getting paid on time have become endemic in Indonesian football. Knowing the prospect as a professional footballer isn’t reassuring enough, he had to seek employment elsewhere.

During our lunch, we both had a long conversation on the beautiful game. Our discussion ranged from the corruption and to fan violence which had plagued the country’s football. We both acknowledge that skies the limit on football’s potential in Indonesia but there are just too many negative issues that are curtailing its progress.

Satria even showed me that he has a Johor Darul Ta’zim jersey of Aidil Zafuan which was presented to him by a client. He did mention that he has been following Malaysian football since many of his countrymen ply their trade here.

He tried his best to coax me to stay for at least another night as he was so eager to take me to watch PSS game against Persebaya. The match was going to take place on the day of our flight back to Malaysia. With a heavy heart, I had to decline his offer.

PSS was promoted to Liga 1, the top flight of Indonesian football. The aim this season is to avoid relegation. Judging from their first ten games, they might achieve just that and much more this season.

Malioboro, The Home and The Fortress of PSIM

During our time in Jogja, we stayed at a hotel based in Malioboro. A commercial neighbourhood that is known for its shopping street and food vendors. At night, the traffic here can hit a standstill. Just a 2 km stretch could take up to 45 minutes to get from one end to the other!

But it was at this part of Jogja whereby I noticed something interesting. Manifolds of flags and banners can be seen hanging on every building at this street. It is also common to find graffitis in every shop lot wall around this area dedicated to the same colours. It was then I realized that we are now in the vicinity of PSIM Yogyakarta.

The numerous flags and graffiti representing the Mataram Warriors (PSIM’s nickname) is a prime example of just how deep is the love and affection that Indonesians have for their football team. This sort of allegiance is almost non-existence from where I come from.

My trip to their home ground, the Mandala Krida happened on the morning of my last day in Jogja. Hotel check-out was like 4 hours away, so I quickly decided to Grab to the stadium while my fiance paid a visit to the morning market. Shopping is her thing, after all, football was mine.

The stadium looks pretty new, from what I’ve found out it was just reopened earlier this year after undergoing renovation. You could still get that typical odour that originates from the fresh coat of paint on the wall.

At first, I was refused entry by one of the staff at the front office. But after taking a stroll around the ground, I found an open gate which leads directly to the field. I didn’t hesitate to walk straight into that path despite several maintenance workers that were around and felt perplexed by my presence. After all, what harm a trespasser like me could do?

The pitch looked in perfect condition. The green grass was trimmed nice, neat and moisturized well. Though I disapprove of the running track because it creates a decent gap from the stands to the field. But I’m pretty sure the presence of Brajamusti (PSIM’s hardcore fans) will ensure those inside the stadium will have an unforgettable matchday experience.

In case you didn’t know, PSS and PSIM are city rivals and there is deep abomination between them. And because of Malioboro is the bastion for PSIM, it’s very common to find fans from nearby cities hanging around this area in case their team are in town to play against PSS.

That weekend, Persebeya supporters otherwise known as Bonek were easily spotted around the streets of Malioboro. From what I’ve gathered, many have arrived without money to buy tickets for the football match. Some can be seen begging on the streets or knocking on car windows asking a few dimes.

Hence why it is advisable to keep your colours in your bag to avoid any confrontation. This is something which I have learned from our driver, Satria. Luckily, the Terriers colour of Huddersfield Town is a universal symbol that is accepted everywhere.

PSIM is playing in Liga 2 which is a division below the top flight of the Indonesian football pyramid. However, they have made some big acquisition this year, adding Indonesian internationals Raphael Maitimo and Cristian Gonzáles. Part of their effort to get promoted to Liga 1.

Hopefully, by the time of my next visit to Jogja, PSIM will be rubbing shoulders among the big boys. So far, things are looking good for them.

Persiba, The Heartbeat of Bantul

After my visit to the Mandala Krida, I still had at least another two hours before my hotel check out. So after much deliberation, I decided to request for a Grab to take me to the last venue which I wanted to visit.

The last stadium in my list is known Stadion Sultan Agong which is situated in the Bantul Regency. The journey from Mandala to Agong is only about 30 minutes drive but due to the heavy traffic in Jogja, it could take up to at least an hour. It was a bit of a risky decision but I said to myself, let’s just do it then.

Sultan Agong is home to Persiba, who currently plays in Liga 3. Even for a team from the third tier, the red and white colours of the Laskar Sultan Agung can be seen vividly around Bantul. That says a lot just how immense the support they have over here.

This stadium, from one look around it, is the most hardcore home ground. Every part of the outside wall is being sprayed painted with the team’s name. Not much of graffiti but more like being vandalised wall to be more precise.

I told my Grab driver to wait as I should be done in 10–15 minutes. I walk through the front entrance was greeted by someone from the club’s office. I just told the guy that I just wanted to visit around and take some pictures. He was cool about it.

It’s a pretty sufficient stadium which has all the necessary element for a professional team home ground. The pitch was neatly maintained and the stands were all smartly decorated. There was no sign of ramshackle. I think the running track is undergoing some refurbishment.

For a team that is playing in the third tier league, Sultan Agong is kept in a top-notch condition which makes it somewhat of an envious ground for many other teams. The club doesn’t own the stadium, that honour apparently belongs to the local council. I have to say they have done a commendable job.

As for Persiba, they aren’t short of their own staunch followings. They are a team that is deeply entrenched in the heart of the Bantul community. If you browse through on their Twitter account, you will notice that they have groups like Paserbumi and Curva Nord Famiglia giving them a voice on matchday. For a Liga 3 side, they do look like a well-managed club.

Believe me, when it comes to its fan culture and fanaticism, Indonesia is right up there amongst the best in the world. Make no mistake, football also plays a deep centric role in the Indonesian way of life. It is not an overstretched to say the game is a “religion” in this country. I’ve seen enough during my stay in Jogja to verify the veracity behind this.

But this is just isn’t limited to the domestic football scene. Even the saintliness shown for European clubs is incomparable. News about Liverpool fans in Bandung gathering for the Champions League went viral throughout the world.

I started this article by quoting the famous words from Bill Shankly just to prove a point to what extent there is a certain truth on football being more than just life and death. It’s only fitting that I had to end it with pictures of fans who fell in love and adore with the very same club that Shankly built, so much that this reverence is even felt in a country that is 70,000 miles away from Merseyside.

Once again, the experience I took from the trip is a reminder that just how “global” the game of football has become. A country like Indonesia with little success to boost for can display their endearment for the beautiful on a messianic level which I’ve never seen. Now the only thing is left for me to attend at least one Indonesian game so that I can consummate that thirst which I have been craving for.

P/S — This trip would not have been possible if it wasn’t for my fiance, Mell. Thank you so much honey, now when are going again to Jogja? 😃

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