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Is The Indonesian Super League Ready To Become One Of Asia's Biggest?

Akhyari Hananto
Akhyari Hananto
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Is The Indonesian Super League Ready To Become One Of Asia's Biggest?
October 2 was Batik Day in Indonesia. President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono asked all of his compatriots to wear the national costume to mark the day when UNESCO officially added the hand-made shirts to its representative list of intangible cultural heritage of humanity. In the face of a dispute with Malaysia as to which country could stake a claim for the shirt, it seemed as if the whole of Jakarta had heeded the call and on every street you were greeted by a bevy of batiks. They were also out in force in the offices of PSSI, Indonesia’s football association. The governing body lives in the bowels of the Soviet-designed Gelora Bung Karno Stadium and its home is a rabbit-warren of brown and beige (not quite as colourful as the batik), large offices , small nooks and crannies. Compared to some of the bright and breezy offices that some of Asia’s associations call home, the place may look a little old-fashioned but the fact that the corridors follow the curves of one of Asia’s best football arenas adds an authentic atmosphere that is not easy to find elsewhere. The same can be said of the passion that Indonesia has for the beautiful game and, ahead of the new season that kicked off last weekend, there is a real sense that football in the giant archipelago is going places.

The Indonesia Super League has not only become the one to watch in south-east Asia, it is becoming the representative league of the region and the place to play despite the strides made by leagues Vietnam and Thailand. Like most of the region, Indonesia has long been football crazy but fans in Sumatra, Java and elsewhere are equally at home watching the likes of PSM Makassar as Manchester United. The local league rivals the big ones out west - even Serie A which remains hugely popular – and there is little of the snobbery towards the domestic scene that can exist elsewhere.

One of those places is definitely Singapore and football there is struggling these days in the shadow of its huge neighbour to the south. S-League stars such as Noh Alam Shah and Alexander Duric have made the short journey across the Straits of Singapore attracted by the prospect of playing in front of large numbers of people.They are not alone, partly due to the fact that Indonesia allows each team three foreign players and two from Asia – the league is probably the most cosmopolitan on the continent. Persija Jakarta have the Singaporean pair of Mustafic Fahruddin and Baihakki Khaizan while Persib Bandung boast Thailand international goalkeeper Kosin Hathairatanakool and compatriot Rangsan Viwatchaichok. These new players were not disappointed by an excellent opening day of the season. Over 40,000 were at Balikpapan to watch Persiba defeat Persib Bandung 2-0. Over 50,000 watched Arema Malang down Persija Jakarta 1-0. It is such attendances that have local officials quietly satisfied with their jobs. Despite the lack of official figures, Nugraha Besoes, the general secretary of the PSSI assured me that the average attendance in the league outstrips those of Asia’s traditional big leagues such as South Korea, China, Saudi Arabia and Iran – only Japan is ahead and maybe not for long. There are still problems of course, it wouldn’t be an Indonesian season if all went smoothly. Crowd trouble rears its ugly head from time to time – this leads to clubs being forced to play far from home in front of empty stadiums. Teams have been known to walk off the pitch when decisions go against them and the police are not averse to getting involved with the fixture list too. Last year’s election meant that the authorities didn’t allow games in Jakarta for months and games can be switched around at a moment’s notice – the season’s curtain-raiser, the Community Shield, was moved away from the Gelora Bung Karno few weeks ago. Quoted from: John Duerden Asia Editor
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