Inside the Malaysia v Indonesia rivalry: From pitch invasions to armoured personnel carriers

Malaysia, Indonesia, fansGoal

The scenes from Malaysia’s encounter against Indonesia at the Gelora Bung Karno Stadium in Jakarta on 5 September 2019 was a scene to behold and not in a good way. The action on the pitch was exciting but paled in comparison to what happened in the stands.

A small section of approximately 400 Malaysian fans had travelled across the Straits of Malacca for this opening joint 2022 World Cup and 2023 Asian Cup qualification Group G match and they were pelted with objects, hurled abuse and at certain points threatened with violence by the home crowd.

Subsequently, the fans were kept inside the inner confines of the stadium while security personnel worked to disperse the home crowd after the match. The Malaysian national team who had just picked up a valuable 3-2 win on the road, were forced to hop onto the barracuda, an armoured military vehicle, just to return to their hotel.

Article continues below

That one just one of the many blemishes whenever these two Southeast Asian countries face each other. Which is more odd when one considers the many similarities the two countries share from a cultural, language and even food. 

Indonesia v Malaysia, 2022 World Cup qualifier, 5 Sep 2019Getty

The language used in Malaysia and Indonesia are distinctly different but as well not entirely dissimilar and both have good understanding of what each other are saying despite the variances in words and structure of sentences. While celebrated differently, both countries have the same majority religions and festivals.

The animosity between the two sets of supporters isn’t just limited to the senior national team matches. Confrontational situations have also surfaced in competitive under-age matches from the Southeast Asian (SEA) Games to the Under-19s.

Such is the ferocity of the fixture that it even claimed the lives of two fans in the 2013 SEA Games final at the same venue when Malaysian and Indonesia met in the football event final and the mother of all gold medals were at stake.

It would be very easy to tar everyone with the same brush but that isn’t the case. The majority of the 80,000 crowd eight months ago might have sung abusive songs at the away fans but only a small but significant portion of the crowd were looking to do more damage than just the mental anguish a song can cause.

Indonesia v Malaysia, security

In that match, the security presence was nothing short of immense. Over 11,000 were deployed comprising a mix of securities, police and the army. Yet, they did very little to dampen or contain the situation as the ugly scenes were allowed to rear its head.

From seeing how the Malaysian fans were treated at Gelora Bung Karno, Bukit Jalil National Stadium was set as the scene for revenge by some in the reverse fixture on 19 November 2019. Arrests were made, stadium damages were incurred and associations were fined.

Yet on the pitch itself, the hatred isn’t there. There have been players from both countries who have played in the respective domestic leagues. Coaches on both sides of the divide that have been attending the same courses together. 

Between the first whistle and the last, there’s no doubt that both sides want to better each other and secure the bragging rights. They will play hard, fight for every ball and in the process may be kicking lumps out of each other because of what the fixture means to their fans but they very much remained friendly after the match.

It is hard to see where the cycle would end. It would be a real shame for this fixture, whichever competition it is to be played behind closed doors. There’s something special to be inside a stadium to witness this particular fixture with the cacophony of noise that the crowd brings, but the ugly side has to stop sooner rather than later.