Untold Stories, Southeast Asian Clubs: PS Batam, Indonesia
There is a scrawl of red and black graffiti just outside PS Batam’s stadium that reads simply: ‘RIP, bola ibu pertiwi.’
RIP, football of our motherland.
They’re basically a club in name only as they wait to emerge from hibernation when the FIFA bans are finally lifted
It’s an apt description of the impact that a series of bans and cancelled tournaments are having in the sprawling nation of Indonesia, particularly at the lower levels of the game.
Two years ago, the leading football team from this gritty, northern island, PS Batam, was on the cusp of an historic promotion to the second highest tier of the professional game.
Today, they are a ghost club.
In fact, they’re basically a club in name only, with no players, no training sessions and no organised activities as they wait to emerge from hibernation when the various government and FIFA bans are finally lifted.
Earlier this year, FourFourTwo travelled to Batam and to see the state of the club’s facilities is akin to walking around an abandoned town.
At the club’s home stadium, tattered signs flap in the breeze, the dressing rooms are empty bar a floor missing a collection of tiles, seats are torn and abandoned in the stands and the pitch would be deemed unsuitable for the most casual of kickabouts, let alone a competitive match.
What little grass remains is overgrown and browning, the surface is mud-caked and bumpy and the empty shells of the goals at either end stand as a sombre reminder of faded glories.
PS BATAM FACTBOX
STADIUM: Temenggung Abdul Jamal
BEST ACHIEVMENT: Last 8, 2014 Liga Nusantara
OWNERS: Batam City Government
This is a club owned by the island’s government which previously devoted a decent chunk of its annual budget to the oldest and most successful team in the province and it’s a stark reflection of what happens when football is abruptly shut down.
With more than 15,000 far-flung islands, organising the sport in Indonesia has always presented unique challenges, but by 2014 there was at least some semblance of a streamlined process.
The Indonesian Super League (ISL) sat at the top of the pyramid, the Premier League below that and then came the Liga Nusantara, a vast regional competition from which four clubs emerged to earn promotion to the second tier.
The first season of the new-look Liga Nusantara occurred in 2014 and after PS Batam won their regional division they made it all the way to the final group stage in Yogyakarta in December.
There, after a run of three matches in a week, they narrowly missed a top-four finish and promotion to the Premier League, but they were determined to build on that success and push for promotion the following season.
Then came the ban or, more correctly, series of bans.
Firstly, in a push to ‘clean up’ the sport, the Indonesian Sports Ministry moved to shut down any competition run by the game’s governing body (PSSI) over a dispute involving which clubs were eligible to participate in the Super League, which meant all top-flight football ceased.
FIFA banned the nation from competing in international tournaments after what it called ‘political interference’
Secondly, after years of warnings, through the so-called period of ‘dualism’ where two competing leagues were run side by side, through even a spell where a man behind bars ran the governing body, FIFA finally acted.
In June last year, FIFA banned the nation from competing in international tournaments after what it called ‘political interference’ following the dispute between the government and the PSSI – and the circle was complete.
There would be no officially sanctioned football at any senior level, although there continues to be a series of smaller, localised, tournaments in addition to the recently formed Indonesia Soccer Championship.
That event started last weekend and is scheduled to be played over a period of eight months, involving a series of old, modified and merged clubs intended as a ‘bridge’ to the resumption of the ISL when the FIFA dispute is cleared up.
All well and good then for those clubs, supporters and players fortunate enough to be in a position to resume their careers, but for those teams on the lower rungs who aspire to reach the top it’s of precious little comfort.