*An edited version of this was published in The Jakarta Post.
Before I got back on the train to Yogyakarta, my friend, Ramdhon said, “take your t-shirt off – it is better not to wear it in Yogyakarta, or even on the train.” Yogyakarta and Solo are seemingly locked in ongoing tensions: two nearby cities competing over claims as being the legitimate inheritors of ancient Javanese civilisation. Solo is on the rise after having been cleaned up and managed efficiently under Jokowi’s years as governor. And now he is President – no doubt a source of much pride for the residents of Solo. Yogyakarta, however, remains graffitied and un-green: in need of heavy dose of civic pride and public infrastructure.
The mid-afternoon sun was strong and bright: it was hot by most standards, but at least there was a green field in front of the supporters. Trees encircled the stadium. This was a crowd made up almost exclusively of young men, teenagers and boys. Anyone over 25 seemed old. Women were mainly working rather than participating in the watching. Nonetheless, a few young women, dressed respectfully in somewhat fashionable veils stood in their own section of the Eastern tribune of Manahan Stadium. The travelling team, PSGC Ciamis had virtually no travelling supporters. The 20 or so of their supporters had draped a banner over their corner of the stadium: Balad Galuh.
Ramdhon, a sociologist with a research interest in football fandom, states that Pasoepati generally maintain good relations with supporters of other teams. Andin the case of Ciamis, – them being a small club – there is little cause for tension and animosity. The day’s conflict was between the referee and the Ciamis players. The main antagonist being Emile Linkers of The Netherlands, who after several and persistent assaults on the referee was belatedly sent off. Even after the match is halted three for the side-show of player v referee violence and police v player violence, most of the players still shake hands at the games belated conclusion. Ciamis, after being up 2-1 briefly in the second half are angry at having two goals disallowed and one penalty decision overturned. This was a game of much tension, excitement and relief for the Pasoepati fans of Persis Solo. The teams will meet again soon for the return leg in Ciamis. Persis can be relieved to head there with a healthy lead of 5-2.
One man with his back to most of the action through the game was Andre, or, Jaran, the dirigen (conductor) of the Eastern Tribune. This stand is also known as being the home to the supporters known as Pasoepati B7. The name is given after the main entrance gate to the stand. This stand is also identified by being favoured by the Pasoepati Campus supporters group. In between this Eastern Stand and the Northern Stand is the corner used by the fans who identify with (primarily) English hooligan culture. The Pasoepati Campus supporter group is made of up largely of students who come from Universitas Sebelas Maret, where Ramdhon teaches. Through his contact with the students, he is able to introduce me to some of the main actors and initiators of the artistic division of Pasoepati. Andre and his co-conductor stand atop a make-shift stand known as a steiger at the periphery of the athletics track that encircles the football pitch. They share a megaphone, perhaps indicative of slightly different and complementary roles atop their rather loose podium. And just like the conductors of symphonic orchestras, Andre is demonstrative, dictatorial and capable of expressing a wide range of emotions in quick succession. Ramdhon observes ‘these figures are very powerful. They are able to control thousands of people. Today there is about 4,000 in this stand – not even the police are able to control them. But these guys are.’
At the game’s conclusion, Andre greets the players as they do a lap of the pitch to thank the fans. Indeed, three of the four main stands have chanted almost endlessly for 90plus minutes. Andre is one of several dirigen who plays a key role in maintaining and developing the home ground advantage for Persis Solo. This game, is part of the play offs to qualify for the ISL and thus victory is particularly sweet as it brings the team a step closer to the highest league. Yet the final whistle was hardly greeted with a specific roar or cheer. The fans have stayed to thank the players and receive their gratitude in turn. Only then is the game/performance finished. After exiting the stadium, Andre, and probably other dirigen too, are greeted by the rank and file with the same reverence usually reserved only for players. Some have their photos taken with them. Andre is loud, but, unsurprisingly a little hoarse.
“I have been doing this for some six years. Previously, I was just a rank and file participant in Pasoepati, like all of these young guys. And then one day, I was asked to be the conductor. There was no choice in the matter. Suddenly it was up to me to take on the role. The regular conductor was absent, so someone had to replace him. I started out at the southern stand (tribune, a Dutch word, is the Indonesian word that is most commonly used). But, one time, I was asked to move to the Eastern stand. People were wondering, why is it so quiet? And so, I went there to make it noisy.”
“A couple of years ago, when it was already certain that we would be relegated (degredasi, in Indonesian) we had 1,000 fans still willing to travel to support the team. The journalist who goes by the name Jakarta Casuals on Twitter called us the most loyal fans in Southeast Asia. Having 40,000 to 60,000 or 80,000 fans in a stadium when you are champions is normal. What is extraordinary is when you get 1,000 fans still willing to travel when you know that the team will be relegated. I don’t use the words ‘win’ or ‘lose’; I simply focus on building the support amongst us fans.”
“It is not exactly easy being a conductor of these fans. At every game the crowd is just a little bit different. Our problem is the stadiums that we use. At games in Europe, the same fans sit or stand in the same place for every game, more or less. They know what to sing and how to behave. Sometimes I have to use a strong voice. It doesn’t mean that I am angry, it is simply because I have to give more precise and direct instructions. Just think, again, these stadiums that we use are not like those in Europe, where there is a roof over the crowd. Here, the noise goes straight up into the air and dissipates very quickly. If we want to be heard, we have to be organised. If we had a roof at our stadium, we would be on a par with the Kop at Liverpool, no doubt.”
This is not the only Liverpool reference of the afternoon. At the northern end of the pitch, there is a banner stating, “You’ll Never Walk Alone” draped over the fence. The Persis Solo anthem, Satu Jiwa (One Soul) by the local band Working Class Symphony, has been appropriated in the manner of You’ll Never Walk Alone has been by the Liverpool fans. Andre states that since the song is ‘so representative of what fans experience through football’ they asked the band for permission to use the song as the club’s and supporter’s anthem. IT is sun prior to kick off and at the end of games. Prior to kick off, players wait and stretch anxiously while the fans sing their utmost, arm in arm with one another, gently swaying.
A week or so after my afternoon with the B7 section of the Pasoepati crew, I meet up with some members of Brajamusti at a soccer discussion held by Football Fandom’s founder, Hasby, and Dimaz Maulana of Forum Bawah Skor. The day before the discussion, a photograph had been circulated on Twitter of myself talking with Andre. “When did you go there?” “When are you going back?” “I’m going next Wednesday. Do you have a message?” “Send them my greetings, from the Number 1 of Brajamusti”, Pak Eko says. There is laughter all round, but, the rivalry is undoubted. I went to Solo to have fun, to participate in the practice of being a fan and to do my research simultaneously. The self-given title of ‘researcher’ doesn’t always trump that of ‘supporter’: one is given loyalties and thus obligations, where one may not necessarily want them. The friends I have made through the Brajamusti supporter group ask what I talked about. I told them, I didn’t discuss violence or conflict – only that of their songs and the practice of being a dirigen. One of them tells me, when it comes to exploring the conflict between Brajamusti and Pasoepati, his information must be ‘cross-checked’. This is a moment in which the tension between partiality, trust and insight are threatened. I want both of their stories and I don’t care too much for their differences: I want to know what it means to be both Pasoepati and Brajamusti and I believe both of their mutually exclusive truths.
A half-time pause for the fans