*An earlier version of this article was published in Indonesian on Fandom.id, here: Jawa Pos dan Sepak Bola.
Fajar Junaedi looks at the role played by newspapers in creating football fan culture in Java.
The Jawa Pos (Java Post), a newspaper based in the east Javanese city of Surabaya, recently had a three page report on the city’s football club, Persebaya. The report was titled, ‘Come On, Let’s Develop Persebaya!’ (2nd October, 2015; photo above) Such a feature article further strengthened the link between the newspaper in shaping urban youth identity with the fanatical support for Persebaya. The report gave an overview the newspaper’s links with the club and its fans which had emerged in the 1980s. The club’s fans, who are known as Bonek, are symbolised in the portrait of man shouting (also included in the photo above). The name ‘Green Force’ is another nickname used to refer to Persebaya’s fans. The image and the nicknames of Bonek and Green Force were heavily promoted by the Jawa Pos, making it a key player in Persebaya’s broader identity.
At the start of the 1980s, Jawa Pos was less popular than the Surabaya Post which was the most popular newspaper in Surabaya and East Java more broadly. The dominant national newspapers of the time were Kompas (which has become the dominant player in publishing, digital media and television) and Suara Karya, which was aligned with the Suharto-led Golkar political party. The Suharto-era (1966-1998) was an era of censorship and broad oppression of individual liberties. The media had to be extremely oblique were it to make criticisms of Suharto and his cronies. Attending football games, supporting a football club was one of the few opportunities for expressing and engaging in intense debates and celebrations. Football was considered apolitical; football was a means of containing the behaviour of the urban poor masses, who were considered by the political elite to be on the perpetual brink of rioting. One of the strategies that Dahlan Iskan used upon taking over the Jawa Pos in the mid-1980s to increase its readership was to provide a greater emphasis on football reporting and particularly that of Persebaya. Jawa Pos, in contrast to Kompas, prioritised local football, rather than Kompas which sought to appeal to fans of the foreign leagues. Jawa Pos also included their sports coverage in their main newspaper, rather than developing a separate newspaper which would deal exclusively with sport, as Kompas had done with Tabloid Bola.
Jawa Pos has sided with the original Persebaya and their Bonek supporters in the wake of the splinter-club that also used the name Persebaya (see, Bonek 1927 as Ultras and Bonek against the President). This conflict has now ended thanks to a recent decree from the Minister for Law and Human Rights, which stated that the copyright to use the name Persebaya and the logo belongs to Persebaya1927.
Throughout the 1980s, Dahlan Iskan as editor of Jawa Pos and was successful in broadening its readership: he transformed it into a national newspaper, rather than one just being of interest to a local readership. Part of the newspaper’s success was in the corresponding rise of Persebaya football club. Persebaya had long been one of the most successful clubs in Indonesian football, but, at the start of the 1980s it was in poor shape. Iskan, however, regarded Persebaya as being a central part of everyday life in Surabaya and insisted that stories on Persebaya be included not just in the sports section, but also on the front pages of the paper. Over time, and with a greater interest in the team, the club’s fortune began to turn around.
The role played by Jawa Pos in promoting Persebaya had also been adopted by other local newspapers. The difference being that Jawa Pos and Persebaya were particularly successful in their combination. In Bandung, for example, Pikiran Rakyat (The People’s Thoughts) gave a priority to stories on the main local club, Persib Bandung. In Semarang, Suara Merdeka (Independent Voice) became the main source of information in Central Java for stories about PSIS Semarang. In Yogyakarta, Kedaulatan Rakyat (The People’s Sovereignty) focused exclusively on PSIM, as the city’s two other club’s, PSS Sleman and Persiba Bantul were yet to gain a wide supporter base. The newspapers were able to achieve an emotional link with their readers through their support of the local city’s football clubs.
So, what differentiated Jawa Pos from these other newspapers? Firstly, the Jawa Pos did more than just report on Persebaya, they also coordinated the away trips of the Bonek to see Persebaya play in cities throughout Indonesia. These trips became known as tret tret tret, with fans travelling in huge convoys of buses. Secondly, the Jawa Pos was able to create an identity for the fans that was broadly accepted. The Bonek didn’t question why they were called Bonek; they didn’t question the iconic image known as the Wong Mangap: it was them. The fans also accepted the nickname, Green Force that was used alongside that of ‘Bonek’. Their acceptance of these names and images has led to them being continually used until now in preserving the identity of the young fans who support Persebaya and by extension, represent the popular identity of the city of Surabaya.
The success of Jawa Pos in supporting Persebaya’s rise became a grand narrative that was applied by the Jawa Pos Group in other cities. Later, after the implementation of ‘regional autonomy’ policies after the fall of the Suharto regime in 1998, the Jawa Pos group sought to develop regional newspapers through the Radar group of newspapers. Keeping in mind a potential attack on Jakarta media, which is dominated by Kompas, the Jawa Pos Group sought dominance in regional Indonesia, before a possible attempt at penetrating the Jakarta-based market. Over the last decade or so, the regional press has become synonymous with the Jawa Pos Group newspapers, while only more recently has the Kompas group counter-attacked with their own regional newspapers, known as Tribun (Grand Stand).
With the emergence of the Radar newspapers, they too, have made football a staple of their coverage. In Yogyakarta, which is largely dominated by Kedaulatan Rakyat, they offered Radar Jogja as an alternative. As a result of Kedaulatan Rakyat’s already established identification with PSIM, Radar Jogja, instead emphasized coverage on PSS Sleman. The rise of PSS Sleman as a football club was also replicated in its full stadium – a mini San Siro – and its well-coordinated and militantultras.
In Semarang, the Radar Semarang was opposed to the Suara Merdeka which was already identified with the PSIS Semarang football club. They had already established the team’s nickname: Mahesa Jenar. The Jawa Pos attempted to create a new identity for the club, as opposed to that of ‘Mahesa Jenar’ with its origins in Suara Merdeka. In 1997, the newspaper referred to them as the Banteng Raiders (26 June, 1997). The name ‘Banteng Raiders’ referenced the legendary army of Diponogoro that was based in Semarang. This name failed to catch on; the reference being too distant to be drawn into the popular imagination of the youth at the time.
With the intensification of conflict between the supporters of Persebaya and Arema (of Malang, also in East Java) during the late 1980s and 1990s, the Jawa Pos founded two newspapers in Malang: the Malang Post and Radar Malang. Given that the Jawa Pos itself was too strongly identifiable with Persebaya (and their much hated Bonek fans), the Jawa Pos had been unsuccessful in Malang. Through the Malang Post and Radar Malang, however, the Jawa Pos group was able to reach a new audience through covering the games and news relating to Arema and their fans, known as Aremania. The concurrent rise of the Malang Post and Radar Malang replicated the rise of the Jawa Pos and Persebaya from twenty years earlier in Surabaya. One of the Malang Post’s journalists, Husnun N. Djuraid, released a book on Arema (Arema: Three Years, Three Championships). The Radar Malang, through their journalist Abdul Muntholib, released their own book to compete with Djuraid’s: Arema Never Die [sic] (2009). Both of these books were the collected columns of the two journalists. The identity of the Arema supporters (Aremania) was founded on the icon of the Ongis Nade, which is a term derived from the Javanese words for ‘Crazy Lion’ – i.e. ‘singo edan’. Using the ‘Bahasa Walikan’ (back to front language), this becomes ‘ongis nade’. Unlike the attempt to instill Banteng Raiders in Semarang, the icon of Ongis Nade has stuck in Malang and is central to urban youth identity in the city.
The Jawa Pos, initially with its links to Persebaya, and more recently with its regional newspapers (Radar Malang, Radar Jogja etc) has been central to the promotion of urban football youth culture. The disbanding of the ministry of information in 1998 and the implementation of the regional autonomy laws over the last fifteen years has also played a significant role in opening up press freedom and the intensification of regional identities.
Football fans in present day Indonesia use social media, websites, blogs for their primary consumption and writing of their experiences as fans and supporters of teams. Most fans do not rely on the traditional media of newspapers, radio or television. The mediascape has changed significantly over the past 15 years, with there being little centralised censorship. Censorship still takes place, but it is more likely to be meted out by informal societal based groups acting on behalf of those with strong financial clout. Although a much greater variety of material is available through online sources and social media, the (traditional) print media is still respected. The article, pictured above, was retweeted heavily and posted on Facebook pages as a means to further rallying support for (the original) Persebaya. The article provided another source for the Bonek’s pride in their club.
**Fajar Junaedi is a lecturer at Muhammadiyah University, Yogyakarta. He is the author of Merayakan Sepak Bola: Fans, Identitas dan Media (Celebrating Football: Fans, Identity and the Media), (Yogyakarta: Buku Litera, 2015) and Bonek: Komunitas Suporter Pertama dan Terbesar di Indonesia (Bonek: The First and Largest Supporter Group in Indonesia) (Yogyakarta: Buku Litera, 2012). His Twitter handle is @fajarjun
***Edited and translated by Andy Fuller