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Indonesian fans among the most passionate in Asia, but it's time they learn from their Malaysian arch-rivals

06:29 WAT 10/09/2019
Indonesia v Malaysia, 2022 World Cup qualifier, 5 Sep 2019
Malaysia fans' level of support is nowhere near that of their Indonesian counterparts', but they have shown how fans can play a positive part.


BY        ZULHILMI ZAINAL       Follow on Twitter


No one who has been following football in the Southeast Asian region regularly would have been surprised by the crowd troubles that transpired in the recent World Cup Indonesia qualifying match between Indonesia and Malaysia.

In the past 10 years or so, it's quite rare for matches between the two sides at any level that were held in Indonesia to not take place without any incidents. Just one year earlier, Malaysia U-19 players and officials were pelted by missiles after edging the 2018 AFF U-19 Championship hosts in the semi-finals, in another infamous incident.

In the most recent incident, last Thursday, the away fans were given hell by the home supporters from their moment of arrival at the Gelora Bung Karno Main Stadium. Pelted by stones upon arriving hourse before the match, the 300 Malaysian fans then had urine and missiles hurled at them during the match, while several attempts were made by the Indonesian fans to trespass into the away fans area. They had to cut short their celebration after the match ended 3-2 to the visitors, because further and more dangerous attempts were made by the home fans after the final whistle, necessitating the visitors' evacuation through the stadium's tunnel by security personnel.

Perhaps they would feel a sense of pride at successfully terrorising their archrivals' supporters, a sentiment that is not unusual among football fans all over the world that pride themselves on being 'hardcore'. 

However, at the end of the day, the home fans' actions have hurt their own team, and are likely to further affect its international reputation. Their antics caused the match to be briefly suspended, with the resulting eight-minute additional time used by the visitors to score a dramatic last-minute winner. Following the match, the Malaysian FA (FAM) is filing a complaint to FIFA over the match, which may end up in a stadium ban from the world football governing body.

It's unfortunate that Indonesian fans are more likely to utilise their sheer number and fiery support to win the bragging rights in what is essentially a pissing contest, something that the football ultras scene can at times devolve into, when they could learn a few things from the Malaysian fans themselves.

Perhaps it is unfair to say that the Malaysian ultras; Ultras Malaya are the only fans in the country to care about Malaysian football, but from their early days back in 2007, they have been set on doing more than just supporting the team on matchdays. Realising that they as a group have the visibility and voice, they have never been shy of using them to to push the country's football administrators into adopting modern management approaches.

And that is not to say that their effort has been easy. Only in the past five years or can it be said that the basic football administration issues they raised; such as the importance of FIFA ranking position, ambition and targets, ticketing convenience and professionalism of league organisation, have finally been heeded by Malaysian administrators.

Photo from AFF

This is not to say that Indonesian fans do not protest the Indonesian FA's (PSSI) mismanagement at all, but their protests rarely seem to be loud enough, for long enough.

Perhaps the biggest contributor of the Malaysian ultras' relative success is their members' ability to set aside their domestic differences to work together under the Ultras Malaya banner every now and then. Unlike in Indonesia where the general fans are more eager to actively join in fan groups, Malaysian fans (when they do attend matches) are not as likely to participate in fan groups, and for this reason Malaysian fans who call themselves ultras only have each other, including fans of rival clubs, to work with.

Indonesian fans are numerous in comparison, but have not been quite successful in harnessing the might of their domestic clubs' gargantuan supporter bases, and their protests against PSSI are usually reactionary in nature, and organised by supporters of particular clubs following a recent PSSI decision that is deemed unfair. Just last October, Persib fans boycotted Indonesia's friendly against Myanmar for a prior decision that went against the club.

But more importantly, Malaysian fans have learnt that fiery displays of outrage only work to a certain extent. Ever since their match-suspending protest during the 2015 Malaysia vs Saudi Arabia game, which resulted in their members' arrests, they have made themselves more available for discussions with football administrators and competition organisers, who have also begun seeing the importance of engaging match-attending fans in the decision-making process. The ultras too now have the ear of the general fans, who take cue from the boys in black. In March this year, the ultras' decision to give the Airmarine Cup the miss due to exorbitant ticket prices was enough to keep the rest of the supporters away from the two matches.

Photo by Asiana.my

Indonesian fans and those who view themselves as supporting culture purists may deride the Malaysians for their reluctance to engage in ultras-style feuds, but the 'Ekor' have always been about helping Malaysian football progress and the national team go far, instead of fleeting bragging rights.

After all, Malaysia, the supposedly smaller nation has one AFF Championship title to Indonesia's none, has clubs in the AFC Champions League this year and in 2020, while Malaysia's junior teams have been constantly defeating their Indonesian counterparts in the past few years.

If Indonesian fans cannot accept falling behind to a smaller nation such as Malaysia, then surely it would be more productive for them to pay more attention towards their own federation's failings, as opposed to behaving violently towards their rivals everytime the two teams meet in Indonesia. The Malaysian ultras are certainly no angels and sometimes even require prodding to attend matches, but can be depended upon to help improve the sport in the country.

And If Indonesian fans can collectively redirect their fanaticism towards improving the running of the game in their country, it is certainly not impossible for the football-mad country with a population of 270 million to become one of Asia's best footballing nations in the future.

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