Flicker - Gooners 1

Love Thy Arsenal

*Tim Flicker, a long-distance Gooner, hangs out with some other long-distance Gooners, where his credentials for being a real Arsenal fan are tested. Even when watching football is boring; singing, chanting, hanging out with friends makes up for the lack of action.

The Arsenal Indonesia Supporters (AIS) Club was formed in 2004 and has since formed over 100 regional branches throughout Indonesia. With over 12,000 registered members AIS aims “to be the biggest Arsenal supporters’ club in Southeast Asia or even Asia.” Nevertheless, Liverpool remains the most popular English team amongst fans in Indonesia. In 2013, Arsenal embarked on an Asia Tour visiting Indonesia, Vietnam and Japan. The tour marked the first time Arsenal had visited Indonesia for 30 years as they played a game against an Indonesian representative XI, winning 7-0. Regular events for the AIS include screenings of matches (nonton bareng) events at each of the branches and an annual national gathering attended by 600 Arsenal supporters. While in West Kalimantan I had the chance to go watch a match with the Arsenal Indonesia Supporters Pontianak.

Stoke Me More

It was 10:30pm on a Sunday night (18 January) in Pontianak. As I rode along the main thoroughfare Jalan Jenderal Ahmad Yani I noted how the usually busy streets had started to quieten down as people headed home to get some rest before the start of a new week. A road that only earlier that morning had been lined with roller bladders, skateboarders and people doing aerobics for Car Free Day was now relatively empty as only a few motorbikes and cars lined the street. While the rest of my host family slept, Yoga (my host brother) and I rode to Fulltime Cafe to watch Arsenal take on Stoke City at the Britannia Stadium on the big screen. I had expected that the café would be empty at such a time on a Sunday night, but rather it was hard to find a spare seat.  The homebase of the Arsenal Supporters Club Pontianak is rocking and there are no early nights for these passionate supporters when the “Gunners” are playing.

The game kicked-off at 11:15pm and it was to be the beginning of what would be a forgettable game of football. The matched finished 0-0 and with the exception of a fantastic double save from Petr Cech at around the hour mark the game provided few real clear cut chances. The anticipation of the game was the highlight. The night was nothing but forgettable in the company of these Arsenal supporters. Yoga and his friends spent the entire match singing and chanting, singing chants such as “We Love You Arsenal (We Do)”, “One Arsene Wenger”, “What do you think of Tottenham…?” and “Alexis Sanchez baby” just to name a few. Even the supporters with little background studying English had memorised all the chants and could sing along such was their passion for Arsenal. Many of the chants were aimed at Manchester United, Chelsea and of course their arch-rivals Tottenham Hotspur. Jose Mourinho may have left Chelsea, but he was also the target of some of the more vicious taunts from the Arsenal fans.

Get your official Arsenal Batik

After half-time several announcements were made and I was invited to the front and presented with an Arsenal scarf. I explained how I have long been an Arsenal supporter and Dennis Bergkamp was my favourite player growing up during the 90s. It made me think back to my own childhood memories of watching the English Premier League highlights show every Monday night on SBS. I remember always hoping that Arsenal would beat Manchester United. But, they needed proof I was a “real” fan and I was then asked if I knew any of the Arsenal chants, I murmured a few words of the “We Love You Arsenal (We do)” chant as it was the only one I could vaguely remember. The crowd responded enthusiastically and when I told them my favourite player at the moment is Alexis Sanchez, they belted out the chant “Alexis Sanchez baby”, it was certainly a memorable experience. Naming the right favourite player was a key to joining the in crowd of Arsenal fans.

It did seem somewhat strange though that a football match in a country that many of these supporters would never visit would evoke such passionate responses. Surely, these fans would be better off supporting an Indonesian team where they could go watch the games live with the atmosphere that can only come with being at a football game. Ah, atmosphere. Unlike the Emirates, one was allowed to watch the game standing up and smoking.  Yoga and I would often go play futsal together why we were in Pontianak and I knew he was passionate about football. I asked Yoga whether he ever watched football in Indonesia and he said he had no interest. I wanted to know more about his relationship with Arsenal and Indonesian football.

Yoga- Arsenal and Indonesian Football

Yoga started supporting Arsenal in 2011. There were several teams who he liked their style of play (including Bayern Munich and Barcelona FC), but he decided a team from the English league made the most sense as most of the matches are televised at a better viewing time in Indonesia. He then joined the Arsenal Supporters Club Pontianak in 2012. He loves Arsenal for their style of football, “I like Arsenal because they have many young players, they have good tactics and they are like the Barcelona of the EPL.” He loves their tiki taka style of play that involves short passing and movement, working the ball through various channels, and maintaining possession. Of course, this is a far cry from the Arsenal of the 1970-1980s who became famous for winning 1-0 and their defensive style of football.

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Photo: Arsenal play NIAC Mitra at Surabaya’s legendary Tambak Sari Stadium. See: Tambak Sari Stadium

But, what about the Indonesian national football team? The team is currently banned by FIFA from all competitions as an ongoing dispute between the Indonesian Football Association (PSSI) and the Ministry for Youth and Sports (Kemenpora) is yet to be resolved. Nevertheless, Yoga found the team difficult to support before the ban. “I support the Indonesian national team so much, but I don’t like the way they play, they are too easily defeated.” In regards to the problems of football within Indonesia Yoga feels that its mismanagement is the biggest issue. “The biggest problem with Indonesian football is the arrogance of those in government, they always mix football and politics. They talk about regulation but they don’t care about how to develop young players, how to manage the national team.”

I also asked him about local side Persipon, but he said the team is not currently playing and previously they were only a third division side. Yoga’s experience is not unique and reflects the sentiments of many of his friends. Indonesia has fallen to its lowest ever ranking in international football, the conflict between the federations are yet to be resolved, match-fixing and no proper league structure has seen many fans turn away from Indonesian football.

Indonesian football is not only a shambles internationally but also domestically. Currently there exists no domestic league in Indonesia and only several cup competitions give players any opportunity to play competitive football. For lower league teams such as Persipon the abandonment of the league has meant that they no longer get to play competitive football as only teams from the first division are invited to play in these cup competitions. Instead, players from Persipon have been reduced to playing in matches in their local villages (antar kampung). For a football crazy nation such as Indonesia it is imperative that the domestic league is re-established so that local fans return to watching Indonesian football.

Football fans in Pontianak lack the opportunity to watch a high quality team, playing in a well-organised league. The Fulltime Cafe is a long way from the Emirates Stadium or Britannia Stadium, but it gives these fans a sense of rhythm, belonging and fandom to the enjoyment of football. The crisis in Indonesian football shows little sign of being resolved. And thus, the good football-lovers of Pontianak and Indonesia need not be doubted for their long-distance fandom.

arsenal say thank you

Related:

Andy Fuller, “Arsenalism”, Tiger Tiger Burning Bright

Samandeep Chouhan, on Leicester City’s problematic foray into Thailand, before they became favourites for the Premiership.

Rowan Kane, Protests, Politics and Corruption.



Reading Sideways