Being a football fan is serious business. Ultra fan groups are highly competitive within their own group and with other supporters of other clubs. Some fans will kill for their club; ultra fans recognise that taking on a loyalty to a club and fan group puts them at risk, meaning that they need to hide their identity if they are to avoid violent attacks from rival fans. For example, Andre Jaran, one of the conductors of the Pasoepati fan group in Solo, apparently has a bounty of one million rupiah on his head – as such, he doesn’t travel to Yogyakarta. An Arema fan was killed in the small town of Pasuruan in eastern Java in December last year, for wearing his Arema t-shirt just at the wrong moment, when a group of Bonek supporters saw him and immediately attacked him, leaving him for dead. But, there is more to being a fan than engaging in brutal and organized violence. They have fun, too. They are fashion designers, craftsmen and women, they are entrepreneurs, they are artists and musicians and film makers, they are activists (see Fashioning a Statement). They also develop skills in management. They are ‘diplomats’ and networkers. I like to think of these fans as ‘professional’ fans. That is, fans who make it their work to support and promote their team and to strengthen the fan group they belong to.
PSS Sleman is a club founded in 1976. Up until the 2000s it lived a fairly plain existence as a football club. But, the change in autonomy laws started to play into the hands of the region of Sleman and the money the kabupaten earned was no longer siphoned off into the coffers of the city of Yogyakarta. Suddenly, Sleman became rich. And like any self-respecting city or region, the club needed to make a grand statement through a stadium: and thus, the Maguwoharjo Stadium was built. The stadium is owned by the Kabupaten Sleman and its design is based on the San Siro of Milan, no less. The stadium, unlike the Mandala Krida in central Yogya and the Manahan Stadium in Solo (and Gelora Bung Karno in Jakarta), has no athletics track around its periphery. Thus, the fans are able to sit/stand in tribunes that are close to the field of play. Moreover, the stands are compact and highly segmented. The fans thus are easily orchestrated by their conductors (dirigen in Indonesian, or, capo). Each tribune is able to produce its own, clear, individual message or chant and interact and respond with the other chants and choreographies that are being performed in the other stands. Such a style of chanting and performing differs greatly with that of the Aremania in Malang, who form one long seamless sea of fans.
Most clubs in the Indonesia Super League and the Divisi Utama are in precarious financial positions. Club administrators are irresponsible, unclear and vague about the club’s finances. Clubs do not have members and thus they are usually officially run by a small clique of businessmen with highly transient loyalties. PSS Sleman over the last several years, however, has became increasingly successful thanks to the mobilisation of its ultras. The ultra fan groups of PSS Sleman, Slemania and Brigata Curva Sud, not only managed to attract large crowds to attend their games – mainly through the attraction of great crowd performances – but were also successful in setting up merchandising stalls. Unlike at other clubs, a percentage of the money earned through merchandise sales went back into the club, rather than solely back into the hands of the boutique that sold the goods. The up-shot of this is the club got themselves to the brink of promotion to the ISL at the end of the 2014-15 season, before they implicated themselves in two crises: the killing of a rival supporter and a vulgar display of match fixing. This saw the club relegated to the Divisi Nusantara, the third tier of Indonesian football.
During the 2013 Divisi Utama season, PSS Sleman did not wear a sponsor’s name on their shirt, but instead their jerseys were adorned with the slogan: ‘no ticket no game’. Sirajudin Hasbi, founder and editor of the Indonesian-language football website, Football Fandom (.id) writes:
“the campaign for ‘no ticket no game’ gained strength when the club’s management started to take on board the idea of the supporters. The idea of ‘no ticket no game’ might be simple, but the truth is that many fans go to games without expecting to have to pay to enter. By paying to watch the games, the fans were helping the club to survive. Throughout the 2013 Divisi Utama season, the panpel (organising committee) was able to garner 300-400 million rupiah (30-40,000 US dollars). From this fee 50million would be used for the cost of holding the game, but the rest could be used for players salaries and other salaries” (see: Arti Penting Peran Suporter dalam Mendorong Profesionalisme Klub).
The Pasoepati supporters of Persis Solo in the city of Solo have also active in creating a culture of financial transparency regarding income from tickets. Pasoepati release the figure earned from tickets sold and also provide specific details on the crowd number. Over time, this has created a greater trust in both the club and its supporter group, encouraging more fans to act responsibly and purchase their tickets, rather than taking advantage of lax security and breaking into the stadium by climbing over fences. After a particularly violent away trip to Ciamis in late 2014, in which the supporters buses and cars were severely damaged, the Pasoepati supporters actively sought donations from the people of Solo to help cover the tens of millions of damage caused on the trip. These figures were also released publicly.
Football fans employ and develop a range of skills to support both their club and their individual supporter group. The relationship between a club and its supporter groups is often tense and antagonistic. Yet, in some cases, like that of PSS Sleman above, the two parties can work together for mutually beneficial outcomes. This doesn’t guarantee that it won’t ‘end in tears’ (see The Catastrophe of PSS Sleman), but, PSS Sleman’s large supporter base has shown that they are capable of bouncing back quickly from the calamitous match-fixing scandal of 2014. The top two tiers of Indonesian football are far from professional and are riddled with mismanagement and ‘corruption’. This leaves many gaps for fans and supporters to fill in a variety of roles whether it be in a kind of parallel management role or that of the clothes design or through performing songs and chants.