Asia's Biggest Rivalries: When football turns to bloodshed

Rivalries and derbies are the lifeblood of football the world over and it’s no different in Asia, which has some of the most fiercely contested rivalries anywhere on the planet. 

What makes derby matches so special and the spectacles they are is the fans in the stands. Full stadiums of vibrant colour and noise; it’s what people travel to experience.

But while the fans are what make these matches special, sadly they are also responsible for some of its darker moments, when fans value three points against their rivals more than life itself.

Here we take a look at three of Asia’s biggest rivalries and the darker moments in their history…

The Indonesian Classico

It’s May 2012 and Persib Bandung have scored a late equaliser against fierce rivals Persija Jakarta at a heaving Gelora Bung Karno Stadium, home ground of Persija Jakarta.

“We left the ground in an armoured vehicle,” Robbie Gaspar, who was an unused substitute for Persib that day, recalls. “You could only fit 10 or 12 people in there and we had someone from the army there with an AK47 sitting alongside us.”

Welcome to the Indonesian Classico, one of the most heated rivalries in Asia.

“If you don’t play for Persib or Persija, I don’t think you know what it’s like until you actually live it,” Gaspar continued.

Matches between Persija and Persib are so fierce, away fans dare not travel to watch their team play. Those that do literally put their lives on the line and in 2012 two Persib Bandung fans would never return home after a trip to the Gelora Bung Karno Stadium in Jakarta.

Attending the Indonesian Derby is a serious business

The match passed without major incident, ending in a 2-2 draw thanks to an 88th-minute equaliser from Persib defender Maman Abdurrahman, but it’s the action off the pitch for which this game will be remembered.

A Persija fan was beaten to death at half-time by his own fans, with a leader of Persija’s supporters group, Jakmania, claiming the fan had been caught stealing a wallet.

Post-match two Persib fans were set upon in the car park by Persija fans and bashed to death, becoming the 34th and 35th people to lose their lives at Indonesian football matches since 1995.

“It was pretty devastating,” Gaspar says of the moment he learned of the fans’ death.

“(It makes you question) is it really worth it? What has it come to when fans are fighting and fans are passing away? It was pretty devastating for the players.”