Tambak Sari Stadium, Surabaya
There is something mournful about an empty football stadium. The stands are empty; the pitch is free of action. The air lacks the buzzes of expectation and the urgent statements of PA announcements indicating which player is coming off, which player is coming on or which player has been awarded a red or yellow card for his mistimed tackle or poor behaviour. This stadium is a symbol of the struggle between the two Persebaya’s that have emerged over the past couple of years. There is now the Persebaya 1927 (the original Persebaya) and the Persebaya ISL – who are also known insultingly as Persekubar. The story of the team’s division is complicated. But, one of the simple and clear outcomes is that Persebaya ISL no longer train or use the Tambak Sari Stadium: the Bonek 1927 do not give them permission to do so, and nor are Persebaya ISL brave enough to oppose them. The Bonek 1927 are the legendary supporters of Persebaya. They are known for their unwavering support for Persebaya (1927) and their willingness to use all of their means to watch their team, no matter where they play. Now, though, they have no team. They have though, a persistent struggle against the PSSI (Indonesian Soccer Federation) and against the Persebaya ISL who have hijacked the identity of Persebaya.
The pitch was sodden and a few young players sat bored beneath the dugout shelter. A couple of coaches waited for time to pass. The main storm had moved eastwards, but, it was still raining at a level above drizzle. There must be a Dutch word for such a kind of rain. Outside, the city of Surabaya seemed to be holding up pretty well. The wheels of life continued to spin. The early to mid-afternoon storm lashed the city: causing traffic to slow and motorcyclists to adorn their cloaks and ride with their feet somewhat raised. The canals rose significantly; but there was a resplendent absence of rubbish. Hats off, many hats off to Ibu Risma, the city’s mayor.
Earlier in the day I had been at Tunjungan Plaza Mall. I sat at Starbucks and read a book on postcolonial theory: homework for an essay on Marah Rusli’s novel, Sitti Nurbaya. While reading, I tried to count the number of different layers of music I could here: I think it was four. And now and then, one of them would rise. Arrogantly, I asked the waiter to turn off the music coming from Starbucks’s speakers. He did. I told him I couldn’t notice the difference. The multi-level layering of pop musics rendered each song impossible-to-enjoy; made each song impossible-to-listen to. It was a decentering experience: probably this is the intended effect. It is like the design of the building itself: deliberately discombobulating. The levels are difficult to negotiate; there is no clear center. And, it was this commercial chaos of the mall which I found countered in the quiet and clarity of the inside of the Tambak Sari Stadium. No signs of the Persebaya 1927 team (for they don’t exist); no signs of the Bonek (1927): but just the faint echos of their boots striking the leather ball; their cheers and jeers still vibrating, still ringing in the air.
Ibu Risma’s successful managing of Surabaya has been marked by the implementation of a recycling program that was derived from a project originally started in Yogyakarta. Recyclers have an efficient method of being paid for their turnover of all sorts of rubbish. And thus, it is not uncommon to see teams of recyclers on the streets with their carts. These men are muscular and full of purpose. The fruits of their labours are evident in the general absence of rubbish. The team of sweepers, collectors, recyclers have their own rhythms and specific jobs. Recycling and waste centers are highly-localised. Along one section of the Kali Mas river in central Surabaya, there is a skateboarding and BMX park. The youth perform their tricks in the sweltering heat. Elsewhere, parks and gardens such as Kebun Bibit Wonorejo and Taman Prestasi provide much needed green space. Whatever the developments made by the mayor, this remains a city in which private vehicles dominate: there is no subway, no trams, no busway. And thus, the beauty of the trees inside the Tambak Sari Stadium is striking: the trees provide shelter for fans, but, also further integrate the city into the stadium. The stadium maintains a degree of its ‘park-quality’. Like the trees, the light towers are also on the inside of the stadium.
This is a beautiful stadium in a city which has been turned around thanks to the enlightened policies of Bu Risma. But, its proud club, Persebaya has been torn in two. The supporters, Bonek, too have become divided. The Bonek 1927 remain strong and vastly outnumber the ‘Bonek’ who have chosen to support Persebaya ISL. Howard Dick, historian of Surabaya, wrote in the early 2000s of how the city had lost its former glory and its livability. The current state of Surabaya suggests how possible it is turn a city around within the space of a few years, provided that citizens buy into the plan. Bu Risma came from a background in which she was relatively independent from political affiliation. This contrasts with the highly politically charged conflict of Persebaya ISL and Persebaya 1927. As long as Persebaya remains fractured, Surabaya will remain a city, compromised.