Bonek 1927 as Ultras

“GreenNord27 belongs to all of us. It doesn’t belong to a particular community. No one [group] dominates and no one has a monopoly on it. No one feels the most heroic; no one takes credit for having given the most service or having the rights to it. Everyone: One Heart, One Attitude and One Movement. Green Nord 27 is a collective, owned by us all, together. Conviction makes as stronger. One Heart, One Attitude, One Movement. Against Politics in Football!!” (from Green Nord 27).

It is a damp Thursday night and I am driven on the back of a motorbike along slippery and busy roads to Airlangga University, where I meet up with Arif, a researcher and football activist. He makes some phone calls, speaking in Javanese (with an East Javanese dialect and strong accent) and soon five of his mates have arrived. He orders a tarpaulin from one of the nearby street-stall operators and we sit down and order our drinks of coffees (with condensed milk) or varieties of herbal drinks. Arif and his mates withdraw their packs of thick clove cigarettes – the classic macho brands of Dji Sam Soe, Gudang Garam and Djarum – one of the former main sponsors of the Indonesian domestic football league. These are simple and egalitarian circumstances: all are welcome here – with only one condition, that one is a supporter or sympathiser with the cause of the Bonek 1927. This gathering, however, is one of the meeting places for the sub-group of Bonek, known as the Green Nord 27. (see, separately, Warkop Pitulikur) And out of deference to one of its most fervent activists, the meeting place is at his university, where he is finishing his Bachelor’s thesis on women’s football in Indonesia. His fellow-Green Nord 27 mates tease him about the length of time that it is taking him. Arif, it emerges, devotes most of his time to the cause of Persebaya 1927, Bonek 1927 and his own Green Nord 27. Arif is a typical Bonek: someone who lets his football fandom take over his life. Being a Bonek has nothing to do with being a passive fan and enjoying the game from the stands once a week. Being a Bonek doesn’t allow for a separation between ‘normal life’ and ‘football life’.

Back in the town of Yogyakarta, I meet with another Bonek 1927 activist, Cak Tulus. After introducing himself he says, ‘I am a ronin. Do you know what a ronin is? It is a samurai without a master. I am a ronin, because I am a supporter [ultra, football activist] without a team.’ His full-name is never given and he is only ever addressed as ‘Cak Tulus’. ‘Tulus’ could be his name or his nick-name (meaning ‘sincere’), either way, the Cak (an honorific appellation meaning ‘brother’) is never separated from his name. Cak Tulus carries with him a backpack seemingly always filled with Bonek 1927 t-shirts, while also seemingly always wearing one variety of Bonek 1927 t-shirt or another under a heavy jacket. His hat, pulled down low over his forehead is also adorned with Bonek and Persebaya pins. Cak Tulus, a long-time Persebaya fan and Bonek activist, spends his time going back and forth between Yogyakarta and Surabaya as well as visiting other cities where the ‘Bonek diaspora’ are active. Cak Tulus has made a name for himself within the Bonek fraternity not only as having astute entrepreneurial acumen, but also as a negotiator and mediator between conflicting groups of ultras. In a group that espouses egalitarianism and denounces hierarchies, he is a respected figure. His role is particularly important with the absence of a Persebaya1927 team in either the ISL (first division) or Divisi Utama. Cak Tulus, and other Bonek, particularly those based outside of the city of Surabaya are charged with galvanising support for a broad movements against the PSSI – Football Federation of Indonesia. This means attemption to forge alliances with previously bitter rivals such as the ultras from Malang (Arema), Solo (Pasoepati) and Jakarta (Jakmania).


The Bonek of Surabaya, i.e. supporters of Persebaya, are considered to be the oldest and largest supporter group in Indonesia, having emerged in the 1980s with the support of Dahlan Iskan, owner of the Jawa Pos newspaper group (Junaedi, 2012, see Bonek). The Bonek earned a reputation as lawless (male) youth who would travel by train from Surabaya to wherever their team played, without taking any money with them. They would ride on the roofs of trains, or jump on the backs of trucks, hitching from one town to the next. For food, they would ransack the stalls at train stations or bus stops. The term ‘Bonek’ was coined to describe their brazen, lawless, courage and their undying support for their team. After a conflict between Persebaya and PSSI, Persebaya formed a break-away league, Liga Primer Indonesia in 2011. After the unification of the two leagues in 2013, the original Persebaya was replaced with Persebaya Surabaya, which was a team that had been moved from East Kalimantan. The majority of Bonek fans rejected this team, even though it had been filled with stars and would prove successful. In order to differentiate themselves from the Bonek who followed this team, they added the affix 1927 to their designation of Bonek.

The Bonek 1927, of which Green Nord 27 forms a significant sub-group, has transformed into a football-protest movement which seeks to confront the various political and footballing hierarchies which continue to corrupt and compromise the domestic league (and thus the national team, too) and their club in particular. Their protests carried out in the streets of Surabaya do not engender much public sympathy; for the protests only entrench their image as troublemakers. But, amongst football fans, they are as legendary as the club. The Bonek 1927 have a multitude of grievances: against the PSSI, against the Minister of Sport (Imam Nahrawi), against the Persebaya Surabaya (regarded as the Persebaya palsu or Persebaya gadungan), against the Bonek Persikubar (derogatory name given to those supporters who support Persebaya Surabaya) and against the managers of any league or competition that permits the participation of Persebaya Surabaya. The imagery and slogans adopted by the Bonek 1927 and Green Nord clearly invoke some of the mainstays of ultra fandom. The fashion artefacts such as hooded jumpers, scarves pulled up over faces (leaving nothing visible except for the eyes), an appropriation of the Fred Perry logo, the use of a pair of hammers and the ubiquitous imagery of silhouettes of capos and megaphones. The slogans include ‘Love Persebaya Hate Management’ and All Cops Are Bastards (often abbreviated to ACAB). Green Nord and Bonek 1927 use the hashtags of ‘Surabaya Melawan’ (Indonesian for ‘Surabaya resists’), ‘wani’ (brave, in Javanese) and ‘respect’ (in English) in their twitter campaigns.


The Bonek 1927 persist as a barometer of football fandom in Indonesia. Being a bonek has shifted from being loosely affiliated with the team of Persebaya and the city of Surabaya to being an indication of one’s attitude of contempt for the status quo of Indonesian football. Bonek 1927 and their activists condemn the PSSI and the corruption of football management by politicians who seek to use football as a means for gaining (illegitimate) wealth and access to a mass of potential supporters. The last fifteen years has seen the Bonek (and subsequently the Bonek 1927) supporter group increasingly identify with practices of global ultra fandom. Bonek 1927 remains the heart and soul of Indonesian football; it is not possible for Indonesian football to progress without the reconciliation of Bonek 1927 with a completely reformed PSSI. Until that happens, the protests will only grow and spread further amongst ultra groups throughout Indonesia.


Reading Sideways