What Makes This City Yogyakarta

*draft of introduction to my co-authored work with Dimaz Maulana. Perhaps it will form a book. We’re working on it.

The woman at the counter asked me about the work I do. I told her “writer”; which is an arrogant way of saying, “unemployed”. The next day, she asked me what am I writing about, I told her, “PSIM. She laughed out-loud.

Through the grapevine, I’ve heard that supporters of PSS Sleman are somewhat up-in-arms about the Dutchman (sic) writing about PSIM. “What’s so special about PSIM?” After all, they think, it is their team that is on the cusp of qualifying for the Indonesia Super League and it is they who have pioneered the ultras-movement in Indonesia, let alone (nearby to) Yogyakarta.

Fans of PSIM have told Dimaz and myself to get a hurry on with our research: as they know that Persis Solo fans have already travelled to Leiden to find out information about their team.


Indonesia has undergone an intense period of urbanisation over the last 40-50 years. The first steps in this process, however, started to emerge in the early 1900s and through the 1920s. Jakarta has become the benchmark of modern Indonesia. Major cities such as Surabaya in East Java and Medan in North Sumatra have also grown from humble beginnings into being vast modern cities; homes to contested cosmopolitanisms.

Yogyakarta has followed a different trajectory. It has sought more steadfastly to protect their own interests and their own culture. Part of this is channelled through the conflict with the kraton of Solo. This regional city rivalry, we will see, is also played out violently by its supporters. Yogya, as a friend’s dad once told me after he had made a weekend trip to Yogya from Jakarta, ‘is different’. The youth and others wear hats and t-shirts stating: ‘woles’ a Javanese play on the word ‘slow’. Proud of slow. A popular t-shirt slogan is: ‘everyday is Sunday in Yogyakarta’. I joke to myself: ‘yes: a Sunday in 1855..to be precise’.

During the 1920s the rise of modernism and the modernism movement came into sharp relief. This was a great time of establishing unions, social and religious movements, institutions and infrastructure It was also at this time that activists and sportsmen started to form football teams, sporting clubs and to also establish a football league. As such, clubs from Solo, Surabaya and Yogyakarta, amongst others, are older than the nation itself: and all had direct engagements with the modernist and independence movement.

Since 1929 1

Yogyakarta was of vital importance during the early modernist period and the nationalist movement. It is the home of the Muhammadiyah modernist Islamic organisation which has some 30million members throughout Indonesia. It was also the city in which protests of the reformasi movement gained strong momentum leading up to the eventual downfall of President Suharto in May 1998. The city is inseparable from the national imagination. But it plays a curious role in determining what makes up Indonesia and what it says about Indonesia’s national trajectory.

Although the Indonesian domestic leagues are poorly managed and subject to endless corruption scandals and controversy, a strong, lively and creative supporter culture continues to thrive and develop. Arema and their Aremania, Persija and their JakMania, in the top league are examples, while PSS with their BCS and Persis Solo with their Pasoepati also have strong and creative supporter groups. Football, as such, plays an ongoing role in channelling the hopes, dreams, and aspirations of an urbanised society.


Yogyakarta, the capital city of the region known as Daerah Istimewa Yogyakarta, occupies a curious position in the modern Indonesian nation. As a “daerah istimewa”, or “special region”, it is able to enforce its own laws and modes of governance. [be specific]. The DIY is led by Sri Sultan Hamengkubuwono X, who although being linked specifically to Yogyakarta (colloquially known as Jogja) spends much of his time in Jakarta [check]. He harbours political ambitions through the Golkar party and has business developments in Yogyakarta most visibly evident in the Galeria and Jogja City Malls – the former on Jl.Sudirman and the later on Jl.Magelang in the city’s north.

The main streets of Yogyakarta follow a grid layout. Within these blocks are more intricate networks of alleyways, gangs and semi-open or semi-public spaces. These are divided into clusters of RT and RWs: i.e. Rukun Tetangga and Rukun Warga – a system implemented during the brief occupation of the Japanese between 1942 and 1945. Addresses are determined from the numbers of the RT and RW. Yet if one is looking for a friend’s house for the first time, one will find a series of landmarks to be often as or more useful than the street address. The landmarks used shift from the grand and global to the local and temporal: “turn right at the petrol station, turn left at the SuperIndo, turn left at the Alfamart, turn right at the Indomie warung, turn left into the alley opposite the pos satpam, then Rudy’s house is opposite to Bu Eni’s laundry service. If no-one is home ask the woman who lives in the house with the deer sculptures in her front yard. She will call him.”

Newspaper 1


The grid of Yogyakarta betrays the complexity of negotiating movement through its streets. Despite the city’s smallness and flatness, it is not conducive to cycling. Only the committed and the very poor cycle. The very low amount of money needed to buy a motorcycle (around Rp.500,000 or $50) also facilitates the rapid purchase of motorcycles. When the petrol stations of Yogyakarta ran out of petrol in September 2014 for one day, triops made in cars took less than half the usual time. On my regular south-north, north-south run, I am able to keep pace with a public bus over a distance of 3-4km at around 6:15am. It is only along Jl.Brigjen Katamso that the bus is able to maintain a consistent speed.

Although the city forms a seemingly easily legible city on the map, the names of main streets are not always used as the main reference. Streets are sometimes designated by the direction they head in or landmark business. For example, Jl.Martadinata is frequently referred to as Jl.Wates. Jl.Senopati is best described by saying that it is on the southern side of Pasar Shopping. Jl.Sultan Agung is often referred to as being the street on which there is a famous shiatsu massage parlour. The signs of major streets are written in Javanese lettering – perhaps as an attempt to pay more attention to the streets’ names, or perhaps an effort to differentiate Yogyakarta further from other city’s or regions. My understanding is that Javanese lettering is no longer used or widely understood. The hilly city of Malang has adopted a practice in which the old streets are also given their Dutch names.

The Sultan is deeply revered and occupies a position of unchallenged authority. Some artists, activists and intellectuals critique his lack of vision for the city as well as his conservative and feudalistic take on ‘high Javanese tradition’. The rapper Marzuki is able to do his spruiking for him, while simultaneously appearing hip and cool through his Javanese language hip-hop. This reputation of Yogyakarta for resisting modernism is a part of its attraction for foreign and domestic tourists who make it Indonesia’s second most popular destination after the perennially popular island of Bali.

Yogyakarta of 2014 is not the relaxed, refined and polite city of a period of as recent as the late 1990s: i.e. the moment when I first came to the city to learn Indonesian language. The streets are jammed with cars, motorcycles, becaks and other vehicular miscellanea. Trees are cut down and not replaced, leaving virtually no green space. The famous north and south alun-alun, public squares are quintessential dustbowls. The walls of streets are covered in graffiti, fading murals and a variety of other visual pollution: mainly advertisements, posters and grime. The taxis are unreliable and impossible to book in advance. Networks of preman – thugs or petty criminals – set an intimidating tone on the streets. A banner at the northern end of Jl.Panjaitan in August 2014 read, “you are polite, we respect you; you are impolite, we’ll wipe you out”. Elsewhere in the city, and perhaps along the same street are older signs from the 1990s: “Jogja berhati nyaman” or, “Jogja: the kind-hearted city”.

Pelukan Terakhir 1


The city’s soundscape is dense: it is increasingly dominated by the hum of motorcycle engins. Buses idle in front of hotels or cafes creating a further layer of engine noise. Cafes play their pop music over the din of miscellaneous “background noise” – something which always has meaning to someone – and the conversations of customers. In the relatively enclosed suburban kampungs a quieter soundscape can easily be found: with cocks crowing, recyclers calling out for unused water bottles. Itinerant food sellers make their calls or strike their improvised  percussion instruments to let potential customers know that they are in the neighbourhood.

One easily hears the local ladies laughing and chit-chatting in low Javanese – very much the city’s dominant and most familiar and representative language. International and national brands such as Streets Ice-Cream and Susu Murni Nasional have also adopted the bicycle propelled itinerant salesperson tactic. Their digital melodies of some 15  or so seconds are endlessly repeated as their workers push the pedals listlessly. The melodies have become a little worse for wear and somehow replicate the signs of stretching of cassettes in the olden days.

Mosques also play a dominant role in shaping the tenor of Yogyakarta’s soundscape. Perhaps, they are too obvious to be heard by some. The five-times daily call to prayer being only one dimension of the Muslim soundscape. The “muezzin” is increasingly a young boy, who to say the least, is often still in training. (The role of muezzin becoming increasingly less esteemed and more about who your father is and how Muslim he wants you to become.) One also hears rambling sermons and occasionally light Islamic Arab pop – just in case the neighbourhood is quiet for a brief moment.

Despite the overwhelming nature of Jogja’s lack of development – in comparison not only to other cities in Asia, but also in Indonesia, such as Solo, Surabaya, Jakarta, Bandung – its poverty and maintenance of feudalistic attitudes, the myth of Jogja persists. It is similar to the manner in which tourists of Paris will proclaim the city’s romance while tripping over homeless people and walking past a group of a dozen police carrying machine guns.

Yogyakarta has the lowest minimal wage in Indonesia and poverty is a part of everyday life. A billboard on the southern ring-road, near the intersection with Jl.Imogiri Barat has a portrait of the rich Sultan next to a statement that reads: “Show off our special culture by not sleeping on the streets”. In the bottom of the billboard there is portrait of an unidentifiable homeless person. Rather than condemning the homeless for their demeaning way of living, it might be more dignified to improve opportunities for education, maintenance of health services, or at the very least, emergency shelter.

Bayern Batik 1


Perhaps it is impossible to reconcile the competing images, everyday lives and politics of Yogyakarta. But, to say that the city ‘just is the way it is’, is also to give up on an intellectual challenge in finding the ‘red thread’ (benang merah) that can tell the city’s story – or, rather, stories. I have chosen the story of its football team: Perserikatan Sepakbola Indonesia Mataram, PSIM, to tell the stories of Yogyakarta. My contention is quite small: by engaging with the fans, with the management (perhaps) and the players (well, at least one or two) I will uncover some of the histories and myths of the team and of the city’s history.


The popularity of replica jerseys worn throughout Yogyakarta and Indonesia seems to suggest that the real or most important football happens elsewhere. I disagree with this idea and am beholden to the idea of “support your local team”. I like and watch the EPL or the World Cup no doubt; but what is lost in this fanaticism, perhaps particularly in Yogyakarta, is an interest in the local game at the broadest possible level. As much as the hardcore fans of PSIM or PSS Sleman are to be admired for the tenacity, dedication and creativity, soccer in the city of Yogyakarta would be healthier if there were a greater involvement and presence of neutral and casual supporters. Soccer, methinks, is broad and open enough to both facilitate the progression of cultural production as well as to facilitate,  re-creation, relaxation and consumer consumption.

This is my book, co-authored with and in consultation with Dimaz Maulana, written for PSIM the club and their fans. Rather than use a translator, we have decided to write two versions: Dimaz writing the Indonesian version and me the English version. I make no apologies about adopting an idiosyncratic approach. It is my hope that it is a starting point for further thinking about football in Yogyakarta – a city that I have deeply mixed emotions for. The city conflicts me, to use an Americanism. I hope that PSIM and their supporters can pull through the current difficulties and conflicts. I hope that PSIM supporters are strong, united and not a polarising element in the city’s curiously mixed, but, often intolerant society. I write as an outsider, but hopefully as an educated one who is inclined towards listening and postulation rather than definitive statements. This is my minor offering of gratitude to Dimaz and others at PSIM for taking me on when I discussed my plans of writing about soccer and the city in Yogyakarta. It is also my work to help me make sense of this city and to find my own place within it.

The Boys 1


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