Welcome to East Java — the Passionate, Crowded Center of Indonesian Football
For people living in East Java, a football match is never that far away. The provincial capital, Surabaya, is home to Persebaya, one of the biggest names in Indonesian football.
Unfortunately, Persebaya has fallen on hard times recently with off-field discontent spilling onto the field and this coming season will see the club play in the second tier.
However, the squad still remains in the headlines, but for the wrong reason: Persebaya’s notorious following, Bonek, a term that has become synonymous with hooligans.
Bonek has been involved in a series of incidents over the years culminating last year with several thousand traveling to Bandung to see their heroes take on Persib.
The country looked on entranced as local media covered the migration west.
Camera crews and reporters were at key stations along the way to record the efforts of local lads to dispel the unwanted green invaders with a barrage of rocks and bottles.
Not all football fans are hooligans, of course.
The fans of Arema Indonesia have turned supporting their team into an art form, a fact appreciated by moviemaker Andibachtiar Yusuf, who made Arema fans a key part of his movie “The Conductors.”
Indeed, to watch Arema in action at Kanjuruhan Stadium near Malang is like a trip to the theater.
A massive side terrace is filled to overflowing long before kickoff, and the fans put on a show that is as Indonesian as the more familiar wayang or Ramayana.
The city of Malang is an unlikely football hotbed.
A relatively quiet town a couple of hours south of Surabaya, it boasts two teams in the Super League and one in second-tier Premier Division.
Persema is very much “the other team.”
Everybody in Malang loves Arema; that’s almost a given.
But there are a few fans who will admit to an interest in Persema and, if the games don’t collide, will go along to see the team in action.
Meanwhile, Persekam Metro Malang will debut in the Premier Division this season.
Between Surabaya and Malang lies the city of Sidoarjo.
Described in the early 19th century as a peaceful village, this industrial overspill from Surabaya boasts an impressive arena, Delta Stadium, and a newly promoted football team, Deltras.
Given a good run, Deltras can pull crowds in excess of 20,000, but recent seasons have seen the club flirt with success in the Indonesian Cup followed by relegation.
Now, Deltras is back with the big boys and it will be looking for good results on the field to tempt the punters back.
Heading west of Surabaya is the town of Lamongan.
Its local team, Persela, has a reputation for being a fairly well-run club with strong home support.
It is a bit like Middlesborough in England — not a major population center, a bit of an outpost geographically and lacking any football tradition.
However, a good home record has put Persela at mid-table and keeps away the specter of relegation.
Perhaps an hour or so west of Lamongan is another newly promoted team, Persibo Bojonegoro.
Unfortunately, Persibo’s stadium doesn’t meet Super League standards and the club is currently using the Brawijaya Stadium in Kediri, which is also in East Java.
Kediri is home to Persik. Back in 2007, it was competing in Asia’s premier club competition, the Asian Champions League.
That Persik team, which had won the title in 2006, was ably coached by the attack-minded Daniel Roekito and featured the Three Amigos — Cristian Gonzales, Danilo Fernando and Ronald Fagundez — ably supported by the technically gifted Budi Sudarsono.
The breakup of that team was the end of Persik as a major power, and it was not much of a surprise to see the squad go down last season.
Every preseason there is an East Java League, a prestigious tournament featuring teams from the province.
This year’s competition was won by Persela, and it will be hoping that it is just the first trophy of the season.
Professional football has been kind to the province, with Persebaya and Persik twice becoming champions, plus of course Arema last season.
Will the 2010-11 Super League champion also come from this passionate area?