90 Minutes with the North Koreans
Forget the football, the match between the Pancasila state of Indonesia against one of the last communist countries in the world by the name of Democratic People’s Republic of Korea on Monday night was one that shouldn’t be missed by all accounts.
After a series of pointless friendly matches against foreign clubs – which were nothing but cash-rollers for the committee – finally the Indonesian national team was pitted against somebody their stature. A match against another national team is recognized by FIFA as a formal encounter in contrary to the country vs club match which is a football-equivalent of pro-wrestling. Nothing too serious about it.
On Monday, I hurried myself to the hallowed ground of Gelora Bung Karno which was unsurprisingly empty. I took along a couple of friends who had never watched live football before – I brand them “stadium virgins” – but they couldn’t be baptized in the famous atmosphere GBK because the stadium looked deserted. The police outnumbered the fans that night.
The night before, only 1000 people – some even claimed 300 – turned up for the U-22 match between Indonesia and Malaysia to see the host lost 1-0. Expensive ticket price was arguably the main reason behind public’s refusal to come to the stadium. You had to pay Rp 160,000 for a class II seat behind the goal. And why would anybody pay that amount of money for an U-22 exhibition match?
Other reason is because the fans were fed up with the ongoing trouble within Indonesian football that denied some star player the opportunity to play for the senior. The most ridiculous excuse to not going to the game I heard, however, was because losing is almost a certainty to the Indonesian team. What the heck. We’re Indonesians, we’re used to losing. Man up.
I haven’t checked the report of how many spectators were there Monday night, but the low enthusiasm from the fans hit the hardest on the notorious GBK ticket touts. The desperate scalpers, who couldn’t find interested customers, were forced to sell VVIP tickets to me for a price of Class II. The VVIP tickets supposed to cost 5 times the class II tickets, so it was a bargain of the year, right on the backyard of these touts who were supposed to squeeze up your cash to the last bill.
The game itself went typically Indonesian. The home team had a couple of decent chances in the first half with veteran Elie Aiboy provided the biggest threat down on the right flank, which was seemed to be Indonesia’s only strategy. None of the chances were converted into goals though. In the second half, Indonesia looked exhausted and when one of the defenders was sent off for a blatant foul, it’s all downhill from there.
The most intriguing aspect – and somewhat entertaining – actually came from the stand where I was surrounded by the North Korean fans. Yes, North Koreans. They apparently do exist and in between the match, they checked upon their BlackBerrys and iPhones – a luxury their fellow countrymen would love to have back home.
I couldn’t help but to stare in marvel as their manners were strange to Indonesian eyes. For a start, the GBK VIP seats were all numbered which was nothing but a formality as you can seat anywhere you want once you get the ticket, but these North Koreans insisted to sit accordingly to their ticket numbers before they’re ushered all in one area. I can tell that The Supreme Leader has taught his people a thing or two about obedience.
Of course, there was also the infamous Indonesian hospitality towards the foreigners which ripping them off is almost customary. I bought a bottle of water for Rp 5,000 from the same vendor who sold it for Rp 20,000 to the North Koreans. Seeing such uncomfortable scene, I couldn’t help to mutter “Indonesia tanah air beta” (“Indonesia my motherland”), but the North Koreans didn’t seem like they mind it at all.
They also didn’t mind being jeered off by a few home fans, especially after their team scored two.