The ‘Battle of Heroes’ was a friendly game held at the Stadion Gelora Bung Tomo in Surabaya in June, 2015. It featured players from Persebaya Surabaya in the team ‘Andik and Friends’ against a team of players from South America who are currently based in Indonesia. The game was partly possible because of the suspension of the domestic leagues. But it was also an opportunity for Persebaya fans to see one of their favourite players – Andik Vermansyah – grace the field of the Bung Tomo stadium once more. Andik had left Indonesia to play at Selangor FC, a Malaysian football club. He chose to do so after his beloved club, Persebaya (‘1927’) was no longer recognised by the PSSI (see here and here), the Indonesian Football Association. At the time, Persebaya was still being punished against by the PSSI and wasn’t allowed to participate in official football competitions in Indonesia. The purpose of the game was to celebrate the anniversary of Persebaya’s founding in 1927. Due to an ongoing legal dispute, it was not possible to use the name ‘Persebaya’; and as such, the name of the game was ‘Battle of Heroes’ – a name which referenced the city’s importance during the fight for independence where it became known as a ‘city of heroes’ (kota pahlawan).
I arrived at the stadium around 4pm – even though the game would not be starting until 7pm. Many of the loyal fans of Persebaya, the Bonek, had already arrived. As the sun started to set, the stadium gates were opened and the crowds started to line up and enter the stadium in an orderly manner. Fans started to fill the lower levels of the northern end. I entered the north end with Capo Ipul – the conductor of the north end and several other Bonek (Persebaya fans) who had departed for the stadium from Warung Kopi Pitulikur. ‘Pitulikur’ is ’27’ in Javanese – referring to the year of Persebaya’s founding. We took our places in the first row of the north stand of Gelora Bung Tomo.
The lower part of the north end was already full to capacity long before the game started. Feeling claustrophobic, I went to sit higher up and where I could also get a better view of the crowd’s performance. At the moment the game started, the crowd in the north end started to sing one of their standard and most important chants: You’ll Never Be Alone (Kau Tak Akan Sendirian) – not to be confused with an Indonesian rendering of You’ll Never Walk Alone. The lyrics to the chant are:
In the stadium
we are brothers
all supporting Persebaya
Our spirit burns
For the hope of
being the champions
up in the sky
what Surabaya is made of
Persebaya: is the emotion of my soul
will never diminish
our voice will never be silenced
believe that …
you’ll never be alone
The lyrics reflect the dedication of the fans of Persebaya: a club that is important in the history of football in Indonesia, but, a club that has been repressed by the Indonesian Football Association (PSSI). The fans sang, ‘You’ll Never Be Alone’ with the emotion that they have been known for in their struggle for their club in their conflict against the PSSI. Oka Eko Purisetyo, one of the activist supporters of Persebaya wrote the lyrics and he worked on the melody with Angga Wakbreng, Peter Ambong and Dhika Mahardhika. Making the chants is a communal process. These supporters are all affiliated with the Bonek supporter group known as ‘Green Nord’ – and when they meet, they work on writing new chants or improving their already existing chants.
This particular chant emerged when Persebaya started to be in conflict with the PSSI around 2010. Various fan groups started to hang out at the Korean Garden (Taman Korea) in central Surabaya. These fan groups included those who were attending university and were thus known as ‘Bonek Campus’ and ‘Bonek Student Class’. Such names were deliberate plays on the references to the wildness and unruliness of the Bonek that has so often stained their reputation. The chants were practiced by around 30people. Then, leading up to the Battle of Heroes the fans started to sing the chants at Karanggayam football field, where Persebaya were training. The recording of the chants at Karanggayam were then uploaded to YouTube and then spread through email, Twitter, Soundcloud and Facebook to the Bonek network and Persebaya fans. As such Kau Tak Kan Sendirian quickly became known amongst the Bonek supporter groups. Angga Wakbreng became known as the first person to have led the fans in singing this chant – even if the exact author of the chant is not exactly clear. The chant has quickly become owned-jointly by the Green Nord, the northern end fans of Persebaya.
Oka Eka Purisetyo says that the lyrics ‘our spirit will never diminish, our voice will never be silenced’ are directed specifically towards the administrators at the PSSI; stating that they will never forget or bow to their demands. The chant’s lyrics are easy to remember and they further position the club as being a ‘club of resistance’ and representing the broader fan communities and their gripes against football management. Persebaya and the Bonek 1927 have, however, often fought a lonely battle against the PSSI. The chant strengthens their resolve and sense of belonging to a unique, proud and idealistic football supporter group.
The oppression from the PSSI and the exclusion of the club from any official competition hasn’t diminished the spirit of the Bonek – something that is known as the ‘nyali’ of the Bonek fans. Instead, the sense of a ‘resistance towards injustice’ has been adopted as an essential part of their identity. To use a term from Althusser, the lyrics in this chant are ‘a call’ (interpellation) which have an ideological association in the name of Persebaya-ism. The chant rings out loudly and proudly from the northern end of the Gelora Bung Tomo stadium. This reminds me of what Althusser said in his work, Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses: ‘ideology interpellates individuals as subjects. There is no ideology except by the subjects and for the subjects. Meaning, there is no ideology except for concentrate subjects, and this destination for ideology is only made possible by the subject : meaning, by the category of subject and its functioning’ (Althusser, 1976, p.166).
The discourse of their resistance to the PSSI as well as that of their love for PSSI calls them to sing chants with full and strong emotion. The supporters of Persebaya and Oka Eka Purisetyo, Angga Wakbreng, Peter Ambon and Dhika Mahardhika are individual subjects who experience interpellation in the emotional singing of the chant, You Will Never Be Alone.
Translated by Andy Fuller