“No life is worth (losing for) football” Persebaya’s official Twitter account noted sombrely, after a stampede caused from tear gas use by police led to 125 deaths and 180 injured at the Kanjuruhan stadium, home venue of their bitter, arch rivals, Arema FC. The match of the top flight league – called the Super East Java Derby – had ended 3-2, before Persebaya players were evacuated back to Surabaya.
The two teams have some of the most hostile fan groups that have regularly clashed, not just at football matches, but also at rock concerts. Named ‘Bonek’ (Bondho – resource Nekat – reckless), the Surabaya fans are one of the largest supporter groups, of a football team. The ‘Aremania’ of Arema, carry an equally aggressive reputation, and the rivalries are as much cultural as they are sporting.
The two teams had clashed 28 times, withthe Green Force team of Persebaya Surabaya having won 12, the Mad Lions of Malang, having clinched 10, with 6 draws.
Persebaya is five short of completing 100 years, and was formed in its original avatar in 1927. Closely linked to Indonesia’s independence struggle and boasting of local Indonesian footballers, the club rose into national prominence as a foil to a rival local club that comprised mostly Dutch players with close ties to the colonists.
Arema, from Malang regency, also on earth Java’s peripherals, on the other hand came up in 1987. It was spawned by a Malang subculture, that bubbled in the youth (Arek Malang = youth of Malang). It was formed in the Leo months and traced its origins to Malang’s singosari (lion) kingdom, where the fabled ferocious knight Kebo Arama helped the King Kertanegara, In quelling rebellions and fierce expansionism.
However, Arema’s emergence in the 1980s was more about the fierce young population of Malang asserting their distinct and subaltern identity – of differing language, symbols and sport – to counter the dominant East Java mainland culture. Their early scouting was a guerrilla style poaching of established names, and they used barracks and an Air Force field for their first practice sessions. Boxing grew on Malang as well, feeding off this subculture.
While they began picking raw talent, and creative coaches, financial struggles held them back for long, and events as diverse as majority share selling by its owners to British American Tobacco which refused to take on responsibility of a local Indonesian football club. A stabilising ownership arrived soon, but every time the club got dragged down by financial storms, it would hit back on the field, emerge stronger and this in turn increased the fanaticism of its fan base.
Persebaya meanwhile, underwent it’s own churn – mergers and name changes – but when the professional league was formed in 1994, they would win the title in 1996-7 and a second in 2004.
While the two started out with different local rivals, the formation of Liga 1, gave an edge to the rivalry, and when things escalated and cops became regulars, the two were physically separated into east and west divisions of the local league. A joint agreement was made in 1988 forbidding the two supporters to sit together in stadiums.
Raucousness enters music concerts
Musician Iwan Fals, Indonesian legend who crooned many rebellion anthems and was popular amongst the youth for his Jimi Hendrix – Rick Wakeman style ‘rebana rock’ albums, had chosen Persebaya’s Tambaksari Stadium to launch his album, with his Kanta Takwa band on January 23, 1990. Bonek supporters of Persebaya accused Artemania of “occupying” the festival arena and chanting Artema FC’s chants. Riots would break out after the concert between the two groups which carried on to Gubeng train station.
Two years later, again at Tambaksari, Brazilian heavy metal band Sepultura toured and the Bonek this time blocked the entry of Artemania, leading to another round of riots.
Nurkinan, Persebaya’s talented attacking midfielder, was hit when a stone struck a bus mirror that damaged his left eye when the team toured Persema Malang, another club, ending his career after that season in 1995, pointing to trouble being on the corner whenever football took off.
A brawl in 1997 November between two fans was stubbed as Aremania watched a tense match from the VIP tribune at the Tambaksari. However the two groups agreed to truce thereafter.
A Copa Indonesia quarte final in 2006 after relative peace brought out the worst yet again on September 4. The Amuk Suporter Empat September (September Fourth Supporters Riots) followed, after Persebaya were evicted from the tournament despite a 1-1 draw when they needed a win. The Bonek vented burning three cars, and injuring 14 including 13 cops in the riots that followed, the Aseumper riots considered the worst before the Kanjuruhan disaster of Saturday.
“Persebaya’s big family expresses their deepest condolences for the loss of life after the Arema FC vs. Persebaya match. No life is worth football. Condolences to the victims. And may the family left behind be given fortitude. The team has left the stadium area and went straight to the evacuation point so that they can immediately return to Surabaya and rest,” Persebaya tweeted after the police tear gas shelling caused suffocation and stampede killing hundreds.
Arema were coming off a longest unbeaten run in 2021-22 of 23 matches, starting with their 4th match of the season upto 27th under Portuguese coach Eduardo Almeida. This spell was broken when they lost to Persebaya when they lost the Super East Java Derby 1-0 at the Kapten I Wayan Dipta stadium. They would finish the last season in 4th place, their highest. Almeida would get the sack under supporters’ pressure early September.
However, as is Arema’s tide of fortunes, the club would end its partnership with jersey sponsor and gambling related website Bola88.fun as police began investigation into the stink soon after.
Psywars and scary things
Persebaya defender Rizky Ridho last season said in a press conference, reported Indonesian media, that “the match will run with the values that exist in football, including fairplay.”
“This was brought on by the defender from Surabaya because he predicted the match would be fierce with high tension. It was none other than the rivalry between the two teams that had occurred so far. Not only on the field, he hopes that the two supporters will also be courteous, because on social media the two supporters have started reciprocating psychologically.
“Hopefully Bonek and Arema supporters can enjoy the East Java derby tomorrow, and hopefully the match will run with the values that exist in football, such as fairplay and others,” said R Ridho,” the media quoted.
In a Cultural Study Review piece by Yusuf Adam Hilman, he wrote of the Aremania: “The ooccurrence of clashes which Involved Bonek with Persema supporters at the Stadium Gajayana began with the presence of psywar between the Bonek frontman and the mayor of Malang.”
He would write further, chillingly: “The feud between Aremania and Bonekmania not only happens in the real world, but even in the virtual world. Psywar is also scattered, this indicates rivalry where both supporters have penetrated into various lines of
life. From the perspective of Communication Science, actually an act of terror can be equated with the concept of Psywar, the war of nerves (though not always using physical violence) for the sake of
conveying certain messages to other parties.”
The sad tragedy in the bloody rivalry, would end with a pitch invasion after the 3-2 loss and police action, followed by stampede and suffocation.