The Catastrophe of PSS Sleman

The Catastrophe of PSS Sleman

Sofyan, an Acehnese man, living in Yogyakarta runs a small stall by the side of Lapangan Minggiran (Minggiran Field) in the southern part of the city. His regular customers are largely ex-soccer players from the local leagues. Some are doing it tough, others have regular jobs as coaches or accountants. Sofyan, himself, fears for the fate of one of his many old teams, PSS Sleman, from the north of the city of Yogyakarta. On this day, he is wearing a Persires polo shirt. Persires is a defunct team from East Sumatra.

Sofyan says, “oh no, don’t wipe out the history of my team. It is okay if they are relegated to the Nusantara League, but, don’t dismantle them (tapi jangan dibubarkan).” Sofyan has no shirts left from his playing days; he has given them all away. The other former-players who hang out at his warung repeat similar stories. They gave them to friends and family.

Sofyan was carefree with the money he was earning (he claims to have been well-paid) and went bankrupt in the business ventures he tried to start after his career was shortened by untreated injury. “In the past, 20million rupiah meant nothing to me.” On weekends, he plays casual games with Old Crack Mataram, an informal group of ex-players (mantan pemain), many of whom played with PSIM. It is with these ex-players, and some former members of PSIM’s old supporter group, that he shares stories with about both ‘the good old days’ as well as the current decrepit state of Indonesian soccer. The roughly middle-aged men, in their early to late 40s, also use each other as informants about where to find work and how to make the most of one’s limited opportunities in maintaining a steady income. “This warung was rented to me by an ex-player. It was an ex-player who paid for the pavement on which my warung stands.”

28. Sofyan, Lapangan Minggiran, Yogyakarta, December 2014 (Yogyakarta)

Sofyan at Lapangan Minggiran

Sofyan’s fear of PSS Sleman’s dissolution is a result of the pending punishment for the team’s participation in match fixing during a game against PSIS Semarang. Both teams were trying to lose the game so that they wouldn’t face Borneo FC in the semi-final of the playoffs to reach the ISL (Indonesia Super League, the highest division). The match saw five own goals scored after the 87th minute. Although both teams were not playing to win from the beginning of the game, it was PSS Sleman that scored the first own goal and thus have become most heavily implicated in the drama. The head coach of Sleman, has been banned for life. Key players involved in the scandal have been banned for life, while others have been banned for five years or one year. Numerous have been fined Rp.50million ($5,000). The scandal is known as sepakbola gajah, translated as ‘elephant football’.

The story of the elephant football incident, however, complicates the earlier smooth trajectory followed by PSS Sleman. Until late in the 2014 Divisi Utama season, commentators, observers and rival fans, were convinced of PSS Sleman’s eventual rise to the ISL. Their progress was viewed cynically, to say the least, by members of PSIM’s supporter group, Brajamusti, as well as that of Persis Solo’s Pasoepati. A Yogyakarta-based journalist blatantly stated, “those who will go up to the ISL are already determined before the start of the season.” However, a turning point came in October 2014, when members of PSS Sleman’s supporter group, Brigata Curva Sud (BCS, South Terrace Brigata) were involved in the brutal murder of Muhammad Ikhwanuddin, a PSCS Cilacap supporter, on the main street in front of Yogyakarta’s Adisucipto airport at 8:30pm. The bus on which the supporter was travelling, had been chased by a group of 30 or so men on motorbikes for more or less 10km. The suspects were apprehended and PSS Sleman was given the light punishment of playing two home games at venues 100km away from their stadium, Maguwarhojo. One of these games conveniently became a ‘walkover’ after Persiwa Wamena, claiming not to have the finances to travel, didn’t show up for the game.

Responses to the killing of Ikhwanuddin were varied. The brutality of the murder brought the Divisi Utama into Kompas newspaper, while the sports-focused Harian Bola gave little attention it; placing it in the middle pages of the tabloid. Tribun Jogja and Kedaulatan Rakyat ran the story as front page news. On Twitter, Brajamusti account holders sent out messages denying their involvement. Further complicating the incident was that a Bonek 1927 supporter from Cilacap was injured in the attack on the bus. Some members of Brajamusti expressed their ambivalence over the killing of Ikhwanuddin, stating that it was a risk all supporters participate in; while another member of Brajamusti regretted that it was his friend who was killed. Both of these Brajamusti, however, celebrate their own involvement in violent encounters between themselves and other supporters. Andre Jaran, a conductor of Pasoepati, regarded the killing as an outcome of the lack of discipline within BCS and the inability of its ‘respected figures’ to assert their authority over their followers. Dimaz Maulana of Bawah Skor, a PSIM affiliated forum, responded by uploading a short essay on his brief encounter with the victim. BCS and Slemania members stated their undying support for the team and saying that their punishment was merely ‘a trial they would have to face before making it to the ISL’.

According to Fajar Junaedi, the rise of PSS Sleman and their supporter groups, Slemania and more recently, BCS, emerged as a result of decentralisation in the post-Suharto era. Regional governments were now in greater control of their budgets. Sleman is a part of Daerah Istimewa Yogyakarta (Special Region of Yogyakarta, DIY), and is regarded as having many sources of income. The era of decentralisation thus saw the rise of a greater sense of identification with one’s team. Moreover, BCS and Slemania were highly organised and mobilised. The BCS became known for their intricate choreographies, chanting and performances during PSS Sleman’s games. Ultras websites and YouTube channels feature their ultra-style performances. PSS Sleman were successful in the ‘no ticket no game’ campaign to encourage supporters to buy tickets, as well as running successful PSS Sleman, BCS, Slemania merchandise shops, with a portion of takings going to the running of the team. The marketability of the club was an essential part of the indication for its readiness for qualifying for the ISL. Moreover, the relegation of Persiba Bantul from the ISL to the Divisi Utama, would mean that there were no teams from the DIY in the ISL. PSS Sleman, it was considered, would be the ‘logical replacement’ for Persiba Bantul’s relegation.

The Brajamusti have been particularly delighted by the controversy of ‘elephant football’. Signs have been erected on the streets of Yogyakarta, sarcastically mocking both PSS Sleman and its BCS supporter group. FIFA’s possible erasure of PSS Sleman after just under 40 years since its founding, provides Brajamusti with glee, as they reinforce the idea of PSIM’s own longevity through many murals that state PSIM 1929. The Brajamusti deride PSS Sleman’s fans as being both ‘glory hunters’ and ‘soulless’ in their pursuit of soccer-euphoria. PSIM’s very failure at capitalising on the decentralisation era, and PSIM’s supporters persistent infighting, has lead to its inability to reach even the later stages of attempts at qualifying for the ISL. The glee of these supporters contrasts sharply with those of the former PSS Sleman players, who have seen their former team becoming the laughing stock and source of collective shame for Indonesian soccer fans. The BCS and Slemania, however, have struggled to deal with the outcome: seeking in turn to deny that the own-goals were deliberate, blame PSIS Semarang, blame the PSSI for their own corruption, to intimidate the journalists covering the story and more recently, to argue that the real agents behind the drama haven’t been punished.

The struggle for soccer in Indonesia is one against forgetting: whether it be the death of a supporter, the corruption that brought about a victory. Some activists remain persistent in their pursuit of a middling supporter culture. A practice that involves moderated passion, as much production as consumption and an openness to dialogue with other fans. Ex-players, such as Sofyan, persist in their identities as mantan pemain, unwilling to let go of what soccer brought them. The game, for all its thuggery, politicisation and corruption, however, always provides not only moments to consider ‘what makes Indonesia’, but, also moments when the sheer joy of the ball hitting the back of the net takes us out of our context and makes us forget any troubles or divisions. Momentarily.

29. Tribun Jogja, October 2014.

The masses dragged Ikhwan of the bus and beat him up

Reading Sideways