Friday, August 04, 2017


Empty Seats At Liga 1 Games Highlights Football's Strength In Depth

I have been the first to sing the praises of Indonesian football supporters and their passion for their clubs but a graphic currently doing the rounds on the excellent @PengamatSepakbola Instagram account suggest the numbers are not what they could be. Yes, I like to write down the crowd figures as released and yes we can go ooh and aah accordingly but when we look at the attendances as a percentage of stadium capacity we can see that in fact much more should be done to attract fans to games than is currently being done.

The one team that has no problem filling a stadium is the one team that lacks its own stadium. With Persija not being able to use the 88,000 seater Bung Karno Stadium they are being forced to use Patriot Stadium in Bekasi but that doesn't seem to be damaging their fan base with their temporary home showing an 88% occupancy for their home games over the first half of the season. And don't forget one of their games was played in front of an empty stadium after disturbances at an earlier game.

The only other team that is able to fill their stadium to such an extent is PSM. Robert Alberts' men of course led the table for much of the first half of the season so it could be argued the fans have been flocking to see an attractive, winning team but we should bear in mind PSM have their own history and heritage and even during the darker times were capable of pulling decent crowds to their home games.

Only two other teams can boast a more than half full stadium; Persela and Persib. Persela may be a surprise only to people who are not regulars to this here blog. They may not be the most fashionable club in Indonesia, nor indeed East Java, but they are without doubt one of the friendliest and even though success evades them the fans continue to come out in large numbers to support 'their local side'. 

That Persela should be above the mighty Persib is a surprise. The Blue Princes have not enjoyed the best of campaigns and rumblings of unrest off the field and poor performances on it have seen numbers stay away. Be sure though, a good run and they will be playing in front of full houses again but the current numbers should still be of concern.

Another four teams are playing in front of a stadium filled to between 40 and 49% full; Barito Putera, Borneo, Persipura and Sriwijaya and none of these clubs boast the lengthy traditions the likes of Persib, PSM and Persija can call upon. Persipura and Sriwijaya have been two of the most successful clubs in recent years but they are still unable to attract large numbers on regular occasions. Indeed Sriwijaya have only pulled just over 8,000 for each of their last two games while Persipura's dominance over the last few years rarely sees the Sold Out signs go up at their Mandala Stadium.

A look at the top of the Liga 1 table shows some unfamiliar names with Madura United and Bali United sharing top spot yet their on field success isn't translating to the turnstiles clicking over with their stadiums being 25% and 38% full respectively. Neither team come from traditional football hotbeds and both are new to the national scene with Madura United only taking over from Pelita Bekasi Raya in 2016 and Bali United replacing Persisam in 2015, not long enough to lay down roots in new territories despite their best efforts.

I have discussed Arema's woes a few times recently. Simply put the team that once took more than 50,000 to Bung Karno to see them win the old Indonesia Super League back in 2009/10 are now struggling to attract crowds of more than 10,000 to their Kanjuruhan Stadium. Persiba started the season in Malang playing their home games at the Gajayana Stadium which goes some way to explaining why their hone games are witness by slightly over a quarter full stadium. That number could get worse when, or if they move to the new Batakan Stadium later this year.

Bhayangkara and PS TNI are never going to play in front of large crowds no matter how well they do, their close association with the police and the military will see to that, hence they are happy when the likes of Persija or Persib come to town to boost their coffers. 

With crowd violence being in the news so much recently, the sports ministry recently held a meeting between fans of different teams in a bid to stop the violence, as ever Indonesian football is reacting to circumstances and not being proactive but it would do itself no harm to look at why fans are staying away. The new general secretary of the PSSI, Ratu Tisha, has a grounding in statistics, she founded the excellent website and data crunching outfit Labbola, and she will be aware of the empty seats in the stadiums across the country. What to do is not so easy.

Fans are critical of the way TV gets to dictate kick off times but that is nothing new. There have been afternoon games on work/school days going back to before I started this here blog. Perhaps the biggest influencer on attendances is the large number of newer clubs in newer towns and cities that lack any kind of history or shared experiences upon which a fan culture are built. Half of the 18 teams in Liga 1 are less than 30 years old, we are only now seeing a third generation of supporter move on to the terrace, but as mentioned earlier some clubs will always struggle for a fan base beyond their natural constituency. 

The fans are still out there and they are still going to games. But with so many new, unfancied sides in the top flight much of the excitement is taking place in Liga 2 where clubs like Persebaya, PSS, Persis, PSIS, PSIM, Persijap, PSMS, Persik and so on are fighting for promotion. Despite the official reticence over releasing crowd figures for Liga 2 anecdotal evidence, me going to games, suggest interest in more than a few clubs remains high. While nine Liga 1 teams have a history that can be written on the back of a postage stamp Persebaya, Persik and PSIS have won the title in the last 20 years. The history we pine for in PS TNI and Perseru is present in Persebaya and Persik.

Football in this country is changing and newer, more professional clubs have come along at the expense of those old school clubs which have been allowed to fall into decay by mismanagement and lack of funds. Perversely it is the strength in depth of Indonesian football that sees so many empty spaces in the stands in Liga 1. The newer clubs are here by merit but it is in the interests of Indonesian football that those historic old clubs get their own houses in order if they want to take their place at the top table. Let's face it. What would you rather watch? PS TNI v Perseru or Persebaya v PSMS? 

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