After Lebak Bulus

When we talk about football infrastructure in Jakarta, it is easier to talk about the stadiums that have been destroyed than those that have been built. Stadion Ikada was demolished to build Lapangan Monas (Sukarno); Stadion Menteng was demolished to build a park (Governor Sutiyoso); Stadion Lebak Bulus was demolished to make space for a depot for the light-rail network (Governors Bowo/Jokowi/Ahok all being implicated). It seems that football stadiums are one of the first major architectural features to be martyred. Jakarta needs more green space and it needs better public transport. But, Jakartans also have the right and should have the possibility to play sport, to exercise freely. Many have argued for this – Nirwono Joga – for example, was particularly active during the time of the demolition of Stadion Menteng. The destruction of stadia, might just be simple acts of removing the urban poor from potentially lucrative sites in the city.

I was lucky to go to Stadion Lebak Bulus before it was demolished. I was attending a conference nearby and on my way to my hotel, I asked the taxi driver to enter the stadium complex. It was empty. Games had long finished being played there. Again, I felt a sense of wonder at the pastorality of a football stadium within a dense urban environment. I had felt this way before at Stadion Krido Sono in Yogyakarta and Stadion Manahan in Solo. This feeling, I suspect is a direct outcome of the noise, dust and density of the surrounding environment: suddenly the 90m x 45m expanse of the football pitch is agoraphobia inducing.

I watched this video called ‘Lebak Bulus: The Last Stadium‘. Somehow the sub-heading rings true. This stadium won’t be re-created in Jakarta. Instead, it will be replaced with something shiny, something which allows for easy surveillance, and most likely something far away from the core constituents of Persija’s supporters. The cinematography is brilliant and the music is kitsch and moving at the same time. Below are the notes I made while watching it. The newspaper reports in Kompas detailed the bureaucratic bumbling and fumbling and the conflict between the ministry of sport with the city government. The same nostalgia that was present in discussing Stadion Menteng was completely absent, except for one story about the sad fate that had befallen one of Persija’s most ardent supporters who lived at Stadion Lebak Bulus and had become immobile after a stroke. Yet, in this video, ex-players, coaches and supporters speak movingly about the stadium. For all its ugliness and not-up-to-international-standardness, this was a kind of home and a place of becoming.


The green grass has been removed; the smoothness of the pitch has been turned into coarse and rough light brown sand and dirt. A couple of smart SUVs occupy the centre of the pitch – where the ball was once criss-crossed and chased down. Where the crowd once stood, there is now, only rubble. On one wing there still remains a tribune: roofless, unstable and unsafe. There are no shouting, choreographed Jakmania. The camera upon the drone spins to show the surrounding landscape: outer suburban Jakarta replete with low-rise houses, thick with traffic, and occasional pockets of trees. The light towers, appearing as skeletons, are the most evocative articulation of the stadium’s death and its being-turned-into something else. Their lights have been removed and only their steel bones remain. The coverage given to its ruins contrasts the indifference to the stadium during its use. Even here, some 10km from the relative urban centres of Jakarta, a football stadium takes up too much space and becomes the scapegoat for causing traffic congestion.

The ruined stadium reveals its typical outer urban surrounds: a large mosque, a three story shopping complex, a line of ruko (house-shops). What an oasis this stadium might have been; the intense expression of pleasure and disappointment that football mediates in contrast to the humdrum and half-hearted ‘planning’ in which it was a contentious part. The drone moves silently and follows the stadium’s straight lines. The making of the short news feature becomes an excuse to engage with its aesthetic qualities. The camera’s silent and still gliding, is a stronger reminder of the absence of a crowd angry with footballing injustices being played out before them. The ruins of the stadium are more grandiose than the stadium itself.

Ferry Indrasjarief (Jakmania)“When the players came out to warm up, we would already be there. Singing and chanting. The opposition players would already be nervous. We can’t create the same atmosphere at Stadion Senayan, because it is too big and the crowd is too far from the pitch.”  There have been heaps of bands playing here. Metallica, Sepultra and others. But, the only one I attended was Kenny G. All of the others were too crowded and there were riots. Why was there a tawuran during a concert?” cam11576

This is the second time we have experienced the loss of a stadium. Stadion Menteng was demolished based on the reason of blah blah blah. We protested, of course, and Sutiyoso replied, ‘it will be replaced with Lebak Bulus’, so, I replied, ‘but Lebak Bulus already exists.’ Lebak Bulus was built in 1987. We went to Ragunan for a little while, but then we had to leave. But now, after so many great experiences both for Persija and Jakmania, it is hard to leave Lebak Bulus. This stadium has had to become a victim for development. We don’t really have a problem with leaving the stadium, as long as there is a replacement. And, up until now, there is no real vision of the replacement stadium. What we only have is promises. All of the governors of Jakarta, Sutiyoso, Fauzi Bowo, Jokowi, Ahok, have promised us a new stadium, but it has never been realised.”

Maybe it is possible to say that Persija is from Menteng. But, Jakmania is from Lebak Bulus. Everything has its origins here. How we learned to sing and chant. How we learned to engage with other fans. How we learned to accept defeats, the bitterness of defeat. So, for Stadium Lebak Bulus, all that I can say is, ‘thank you’ because it has been the site of history, it helped take Jakmnia from being a small community, to a very large community. Moreover, Persija had been neglected by its fans. But, it is now a team that represents the pride of all Jakartans. And thus, I give my thanks to Lebak Bulus.”

Bambang Pamungkas (legendary player of Persija and the national team of Indonesia): “our keeper used to tell the crowd to be quiet because his voice couldn’t be heard and he couldn’t give his instructions to the other defenders.” “We need another stadium. Make it bigger than Lebak Bulus, but not as big as GBK. The atmosphere is lost as soon as the crowd isn’t big enough. Persija just needs a stadium that can hold around 30-40,000 spectators.” “Lebak Bulus: maybe your form will disappear for ever very soon. But, you’ll always remain in our memories, for ever.”

cam11579Bambang Nurdiansyah, an ex-Pelita Jaya player, “come on, try and find some more stadiums. Not just in Jakarta, but in other cities too. Don’t play too many games at Stadion Senayan. This is the national stadium. It is too much of a pity to play on the grass too much. This pitch belongs to the nation, not just Persija. Okay, the facilities at Lebak Bulus aren’t great. But try and find an alternative. The football infrastructure throughout the country is absolutely minimal.”

And after Stadion Lebak Bulus, politicians make promises and more promises. A stadium by the name of Stadion BMW is in the offing. One day it may appear. Infrastructure in Jakarta is what politicians promise, it is rarely a reality. After Stadion Lebak Bulus has gone, Persija play home games at Stadion Manahan, in the city of Solo, only 571km away.

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