Contextualising the Kanjuruhan Tragedy

by Andy Fuller, Utrecht University

Football is propelled by rivalries. These rivalries exist on and off the field: between fans and players. The passion of the fans boosts the value tv rights for covering the big games. Stadiums are sold to capacity and sports bars and pubs are filled while partisan fans are glued to the game. Inter-city, or intra-city, derbies mark a football fan’s calendar: regardless of where their team sits on the table, winning the relevant derby (or derbies) is of a separate value. The derbies of Feyenoord – Ajax, Everton – Liverpool, Atletico Madrid – Real Madrid, and even in the new league of the A-League in Australia, the Melbourne Victory – Melbourne City – are marked by a heightened atmosphere. Each decision by the referee is given greater importance; tackles are harder; the chants from the terraces are louder and more constant. 

Is Tempo overshooting with using the word ‘massacre’?

Football in Indonesia is marked by two major derbies: in West Java – between Persija and Persib (and their fans, the Jakmania of Persija and the Bobotoh and Viking of Persib) and in East Java: Persebaya (and the Bonek) and Arema (and the Aremania). An equally tense and passionate rivalry is that of PSIM of Yogyakarta and Persis Solo, which although is on a smaller scale, has similar patterns. These rivalries involve semi-organised street fights, random killings of supporters caught out wearing the wrong colours at the wrong time and place, bounties being placed on certain figures’ heads, and a mutual understanding that fans won’t trespass into the city of the opposing team. These rivalries exist well beyond game day and the limited social space of the stadium. Negotiating the otherness, separateness of the nearby-enemy is a daily reality for the fans of these (big) clubs. 

The fledgling top level domestic league relies on its big clubs for revenue and eyeballs. Thus, the Arema – Persebaya game is one of few that is held at night. Many games have 15:00 start times: allowing for people to make use of the limited public transport, much of which evaporates at night. The day games, often held on weekdays, are also more manageable and containable from a ‘security’ perspective. These security steps though counter the leagues’ own ambitions to reach a large as possible audience. IndoSiar, the main broadcaster of the BRI Liga 1, was thus reluctant to follow the advice of the panpel (panitia pelaksana, organising committee) and shift the East Java Derby to an earlier timeslot. They didn’t want their highly marketable product compromised. Also in the name of maximising income,  Arema FC sold 42,000 tickets for the Kanjuruhan Stadium, which has an official capacity of 38,000. The PSSI, indifferent as always, let these factors slide. 

After several years in the wilderness and many conflicts involving the Bonek, Persebaya, the PSSI and FIFA, Covid interruptions etc, it was a minor victory for Indonesian football for this rivalry to have resumed. The close relations between supporters and the team meant that during the week leading up to the game various fans met with the players, telling them of the significance of the game and rivalry to them. This is a courtesy afforded by the club to the fans, which shows the degree to which fans are accommodated into the bigger picture of the life of the club. Some leagues around the world could learn from this. With the Bonek (Persebaya fans) being forbidden from coming to Malang  – only some 100 kilometers away to the south – this was also a chance for them to extend their best wishes to the team as they prepared to play in an extremely hostile environment.

Persebaya gained a 0:2 lead in the 32nd minute before Arema pegged it back to 2:2 by the end of the first half. The winner for Persebaya, coming from Sho Yamamoto early in the second half, wrong-footed the keeper after it came off the ankle of a defender. Who knows how the night would have transpired if that save had been made or if Arema had scored the winner. The game ended after 97minutes. Rather than celebrating on the field, the Persebaya players sprinted for the players’ tunnel. A few Arema players dropped to the ground in disappointment. Curiously, the stands remained full: few fans had headed for the exits. After a few moments of stunned silence a mixture of angry shouts and chanting were being directed at both players and presumably the referees. Footage from the official game highlights doesn’t show any fans running on to the field.

Yahya Al Katiri, the manager of Persebaya, provides a narrative of the night’s events that have largely been missing from the reporting of the Kanjuruhan Tragedy – which Tempo news magazine is now framing as the Kanjuruhan Massacre. In an interview, he participated in with myself and members of the Bonek Writers Forum, he told the story of the riot outside of the stadium:

Not the usual means of transport. Persebaya players getting into the big fish.

“We told the players to come off the field as soon as possible. We gave them five minutes to get changed and then to get into the Barracuda armoured vehicle. There was a riot outside of the stadium. Not just inside. We weren’t able to move. It took us ages to leave the stadium. While we were waiting, I overheard on the police walkie-talkie that two police had been killed.[1] Our Barracuda was also being attacked by fans. Although we felt safe, some of the players, many of whom were quite young and hadn’t experienced such a thing before, were starting to get nervous. We went straight back to Surabaya from Malang. There was little to be gained from staying in Malang. I don’t know the sequence of events of how what happened outside the stadium related to what was happening inside the stadium. All I could see was that we were in a vulnerable position due to the riot outside of the stadium. It was clear during the game that things weren’t going to end well. During the second half, there was the chant: Bonek dibunuh saja (just kill the Bonek[2]) and Bonek tidak bisa pulang (the Bonek aren’t going home). Would things have been different had we lost the game? I doubt so. We lost 4:0 a few years ago and we still had things thrown at us. Win or lose in Malang, we know we are going to be attacked. So far, the police have been identified as being responsible for this tragedy. Indeed they are. But they are not the only parties who played a role in the events of 1st October 2022. The LIB (Liga Indonesia Baru, the New Indonesian League), the PSSI (Football Federation of Indonesia) and certain unknown supporters who committed provocative actions. The broadcasters also need to be held responsible for prioritising night games, even when the lighting at many stadiums isn’t sufficient. All of these parties all need to be held accountable for their actions, too.” 

The fans who ran on to the field have been described as wanting to show their support for their players. This is a transgression of the basic contract between players and supporters. It is naïve to think however that the pitch invasion was full of good intentions: Arema had after all just lost 2:3 to their bitterest enemy. The Persebaya players knew full well of the dangers of what could eventuate. During the riot outside of the stadium, some fans attacked an ambulance as it sought to take a distressed fan to hospital. There are no angels in the broad expanse of Indonesian football. In this case though, the riotous acts of some fans have served as the precursor for the police use of tear gas. This tear gas caused fear and panic: and hundreds, many teenagers and younger children, were trampled on or suffocated to death. These fans hadn’t been invading the pitch or attacking the police let alone the ambulance. They had been minding their own business in the stands until the tear gas was fired at them. 

Joko Widodo is relieved that FIFA is not issuing sanctions to the PSSI. Situation normal. FIFA, who has given the world cup to Russia and Qatar, is hardly the bastion of moral rectitude. Mochamad Iriawan refuses to step aside from his role as head of PSSI. Some members of the panpel have been removed from their roles – albeit seemingly as a means for deflecting blame from the PSSI and police. Rivalries are part of the joy and thrills of football. For them to prosper, they need not to include chants of ‘just kill them’ (a statement of great gravitas, given that killing, in this context, is not a metaphor for ‘defeat’) and invading the pitch – the sacred space reserved for players. As extolled by Mas Yahya and members of the BWF, stopping these practices are two things fans can do to cool down the atmosphere of inter-city derbies and to contribute to the creation of a safer football space.


[1] I wonder at what point the orders to use tear gas came. Were the orders to use tear gas given after news had circulated that two policemen had been killed? 

[2] Although Bonek primarily refers to the fans of Persebaya, it is also inclusive of the team itself. 

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Andy Fuller is a postdoctoral research fellow at Utrecht University. His email address is a.c.s.fuller@uu.nl

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