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22 Feb 2019 2:59
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  •   Home > News > International

    Indonesia's hooligan football culture has killed 74 fans

    It's a football league where players are forced to travel in armoured personnel carriers for their own protection. And for the fanatical fans, attending a match can be fatal.

    Wearing dog tags around his neck and a hat emblazoned with the insignia of the Hard-Liners, Irlan Alarancia barks at his foot soldiers through a megaphone.

    The troops stand to attention.

    "I want you to be strong, mentally and physically. We cannot expect the weak to fight," he bellows.

    They look like a militia, training in the jungle for deployment to a far-flung conflict zone.

    But they're just Jakarta football fans hoping to support their team and get home alive in one of the world's most deadly sporting leagues.

    Such is the animosity between teams, Indonesian Premier League players are regularly transported to games in armoured personnel carriers.

    There are 18 teams in the Premier League and a multitude of violent, often deadly rivalries.

    Many have fan clubs and "commanders" like Mr Alarancia, who lead armies of fanatical foot soldiers to matches across the Indonesian archipelago.

    Often, to avoid rival fan groups rioting in the streets, only the home team supporters are allowed anywhere near the stadium.

    And mafia involvement in alleged match-fixing is spoken about as openly as the match statistics.

    Fans 'until death'

    "Sampai mati" is a common refrain for Indonesian football clubs. It translates to "until death" — and they mean it.

    Since 1994, 74 fans have been killed in football-related violence.

    Seven fans have been killed in the past seven years during matches between Jakarta's team "Persija" and neighbouring Bandung's "Persib".

    The commander of Jakmania's Hard-Liners, Mr Alarancia lost his front teeth in a fight and bears several scars from past brawls.

    "Every man likes fighting," he tells Foreign Correspondent with a grin.

    "Since I was in high school, I liked fighting … But then I joined Jakmania, which has this rivalry with the neighbouring team [Bandung], so of course I got to fight every time we met."

    The fierce Jakarta-Bandung rivalry has been going on for decades. Some believe it's a vehicle for fighting old tribal wars.

    Others say it's due to the fact the cities are geographically close to each other — just four hours' drive, a quick trip by Indonesian standards.

    Whatever the reason, the violence has spiralled so far out of control, even some of the hardest brawlers like Mr Alarancia believe it's gone too far.

    "Now, I have to try to calm the situation. If we let loose it'll become even more dangerous," he says.

    "Our rivalry has crossed the line."

    The victim of a deadly rivalry

    Haringga "Ari" Sirla wasn't looking for a fight when he went to a Bandung match in September last year.

    A fortnight earlier, the 23-year-old finally received his first membership card for Jakarta's official fan club, Jakmania.

    Despite Jakmania fans being banned from attending the Bandung stadium, Sirla went along, alone and incognito, hoping to silently support his team.

    But he never made it to the stadium.

    On the way to the match, he was identified as a member of Jakmania and set upon by a mob of rival Viking fans.

    They beat him to death.

    "Why did this have to happen to Ari?" his grieving mother Mirah asks through tears.

    "A good boy becoming a target, just for watching a soccer game. He wasn't looking for trouble. He just loved watching football."

    After the lynching, Sirla's limp body was dragged through the crowd as his attackers yelled: "God is great!"

    The entire gruesome episode was filmed on a mobile phone and widely shared online.

    "People told me that he was stabbed, his head was fractured, his neck broken, his nose broken. How can I not think about that every single day?" his mother asks.

    Thirteen people have been arrested for the crime — including seven juveniles — and charged with murder and assault causing death or injury.

    Sirla's father Siloam wants the attackers given the death penalty.

    "When I look at their pictures, I hate them so much," he says.

    "I can't imagine what would happen if I ever saw them in the flesh. I'd hit them. If necessary, I'd kill them, too."

    Saving Indonesian soccer

    After Sirla's murder, the Premier League was suspended for two weeks and Bandung supporters were banned from attending matches.

    But violence and rowdy behaviour continued through the remainder of the season.

    Joko Driyono has been acting chairman of the Premier League Federation (PSSI), since the former chairman Edy Rahmayadi stood down late last year amid allegations of mismanagement.

    He says the whole league felt Sirla's death.

    "We feel very sorry [for] that," Mr Driyono says.

    "Everybody [was] never expecting it [would] happen and hope that it's the last case that we want to see."

    Mr Driyono says the federation's attempts to make the game safer for fans is "not an overnight effort".

    "We believe it is a long-term project and [requires] long-term planning," he says.

    He cites "step-by-step" changes to the way matches are regulated, the infrastructure of stadiums and the capacity of individual clubs to manage games, but few fans have faith the changes will be effective.

    Former sports journalist Akmal Marhali, who now runs local NGO Save Our Soccer (SOS), says Indonesian football has "become a graveyard, not entertainment".

    Mr Marhali has been collating incidents of violence and investigating allegations of league corruption for years.

    He says the tit-for-tat killings between Jakarta and Bandung fans have been going on for far too long.

    "This is partly revenge from past events; when Persib played at Persija's home ground, someone died. When Persija played at Persib's stadium, someone died," he says.

    "This is a very ugly tradition for Indonesian soccer."

    Despite his own football fanaticism, he says he'd rather see the league shut down entirely, than watch another fan killed.

    "It's sad the federation doesn't have a solution for this. So that loss of life at a soccer match, is considered normal," he says.

    A violent finale

    But even after Sirla's death and threats the league would be shut down, violence has persisted.

    At the championship match, when Persija-Jakarta won the premiership, police lost control after hundreds of fans swarmed the gates and forced their way into the stadium.

    The previous week, at a supposedly "friendly" match between Persija-Jakarta and Bali, fights and scuffles broke out before the game even started, without any intervention from police.

    When the match got underway, it had to be stopped several times as rowdy Bali fans threw flares onto the field, chanting "mafia dogs".

    Dozens of riot police on the field could only stand by and wait for the flares, and passions, to burn out.

    The Bali crowd weren't angry at the other team, but their own team officials, after rumours spread like wildfire that the match had been fixed by an international gambling mafia.

    "Match fixing is a chronic disease in Indonesia," Mr Marhali says.

    "Before [the fans] even get into the stadium, they have already found out the result. And it happens on the field, which makes them furious."

    Indonesian police have now set up an Anti-Soccer-Mafia Task Force, involving 145 officers tasked with weeding out corrupt officials.

    They've raided several offices and declared 11 people as suspects.

    Millions of fans are demanding the league be cleaned up, but few have faith Indonesian Football will feature a truly "beautiful game" any time soon.

    Watch Foreign Correspondent's Running Amok tonight at 8pm on ABC TV and iView.

    © 2019 ABC Australian Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved

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