Untold Stories, Southeast Asian Clubs: Carsae FC, Timor Leste

This is it, the final instalment in our inaugural journey uncovering the stories you haven't heard from football clubs across Southeast Asia. We end this year's series with Timor Leste's Carsae FC, a club shut down during the bloody battle for independence and now fighting its way back...

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November 12, 1991. For the million-plus citizens of East Timor it’s not just a date, but rather the moment that changed their nation forever, as bloody and barbaric as it was.

When footage of the massacre was smuggled out of the country it prompted international condemnation

That afternoon several thousand people gathered at a church in the capital Dili for a memorial service for slain independence supporter Sebastiao Gomes, shot dead by Indonesian troops occupying the nation a week-and-a-half earlier as tension built throughout the nation.

After the service they made their way from the Motael Church, where Gomes had been murdered, and walked towards the nearby Santa Cruz cemetery, crowds continuously swelling in a land where public protest had been forbidden for more than a decade.

Various scuffles broke out between the Indonesians and the group, several of whom had flown Timorese flags and raised banners, crudely drawn on bed sheets, supporting the independence movement before they were confronted by a reported 200 troops inside the cemetery.

There, in the afternoon sun, they were mowed down in cold blood. At least 250 men, women and children lay dead amongst the tombstones and on the concrete footpath that led to and from the burial ground.

This season's first team line-up

When footage of the massacre was smuggled out of the country and released it prompted widespread international condemnation, with several nations cutting diplomatic ties with Indonesia, which in turn become a crucial step along the path to independence, finally realised in 2002.

I formed the club in 1986 when I was a high school student. But I closed it just after the massacre

- Founder Pedro Carrascalao

Known as the ‘12th November Massacre’, the event touched every aspect of life in East Timor including, as trivial as it may seem, football.

In the aftermath of the massacre Pedro Carrascalao, president and founder of one of Timor’s most successful and popular football clubs, Carsae FC, decided that so volatile was the situation he could no longer continue the team.

As Carrascalao tells FourFourTwo, even the name of the club had to change to avoid scrutiny by the occupying forces during a brutal reign where an estimated 100,000 people died from 1975 to 1999.

“I originally formed the club in 1986 when I was a high school student during the period when East Timor was still under Indonesian occupation,” he explains. “But I closed it just after the incident at Santa Cruz, which we refer to as the 12th November massacre.

“Originally the name of the club was based on a cultural expression, Kumpulan Anak Remaja Lorosae, which in Indonesian means the ‘youth from where the sun rises.’

A unique Timor Leste pitch

“But I had trouble when I used that name as some of my players were active in the clandestine movement and were being chased by Indonesian intelligence forces, so I decided to simplify things and base the new name off an abbreviation of my surname.

“My father was working as a governor at the time and it was the only way for me to protect my friends and keep the Indonesian military off.”

It would be almost two-and-a-half decades before the chance arose for Carrascalao to revive the club and, despite some reservations with how football was being run in the country, he decided it was the right time to try to give young Timorese footballers a stage on which to display their talents.

In less than four months the club was reassembled, staff was hired and players were recruited to participate in the top flight of the new government-funded Liga Futebol Amadora, or LFA, the first official league in the nation’s history.

The maiden season of the LFA began in late February with eight teams scheduled to play each other in a home and away format, all matches held at the centralised Dili Municipal Stadium.

Carsae made a winning start by defeating D.I.T 1-0.

With another division below the top flight there will also be a cup competition, aptly named the 12th November Cup, and then a Super Taca which will pit both the league and cup champions against each other.

The hope is this can be a new dawn for the sport, which is easily the most popular throughout the nation.

Celebrating a goal!

At the end of the first round of home and away matches, Carsae FC sit mid-table but the club is taking more of a long-term approach to its second coming.

Our goal for the next three years is to become the biggest club in East Timor

“I decided to open the club again in 2015 when there was a clear sign that there was going to be a national league in place for the very first time,” Carrascalao said. “And we have very large targets for the club.

“Our goal for the next three years is to become the biggest club in East Timor just as we were when the club was first founded from 1986 to 1991; then we started with football, then volleyball, then basketball for both men and women and we were pretty much number one year after year.

“That is our aim again, but also we want to raise and train athletes who can compete in the international arena; we already have one young player, Nataniel de Jesus Reis, who is in the national team and that’s part of our goal over the next decade of helping to see East Timor qualify for the World Cup.”

That goal itself – at least in the short term – has had something of an unwanted global spotlight cast upon it recently following claims that the nation has been illegally naturalising players, mostly Brazilians, and then playing them in the recent round of FIFA World Cup qualifiers.