Johor’s Boys of Straits

While everybody else is in Singapore watching Hamilton and Vettel run around in circles, we are across the border in Johor Bahru, Malaysia’s second city. You may not know the place well; it doesn’t boast much notable cultural output and isn’t a magnet for global tourism. But it does boast the current dominant force of domestic Football, Johor Darul Ta’zim, and the most celebrated fan group in the country. And it didn’t take us long to find their graffiti on the highway.

Johor Darum Tazim graffiti

No Bullshit, “BS” stands for “Boys of Straits”, which may┬ásound mildly homophobic, but the origins draw from the phenomenon that put the Malay Peninsula on the map centuries ago. The Malay Peninsula sits conveniently between China and the Indian Ocean, two areas abundant in dispersed and varying resources and commodities that different powers and civilisations traded with each other between the 11th and 17th centuries across the sea. This network of trade was named “Indian Ocean Trade” and the island of Sumatra and the Malay Peninsula played a key role in its flow.┬áThe natural advantage of Indian Ocean Trade in economic terms was predictable winds that merchant ships used to make planned voyages. Sailors would know when was the right time to sail to e.g. Indonesia to pick up spices or pepper and when the right time to sail to e.g. Africa to pick up ivory or timber.

Graffiti Johor Darum Tazim

But these predictable winds were seasonal. Ships sailing to and from China and states around the Indian Ocean would frequently have to stop in the Straits of Melaka to harbour while waiting for the right sailing conditions in the next stage of passage. You couldn’t simply sail to Arabia or Persia whenever you wanted. You had to wait for the correct winds. In this era, the empires situated in the Straits of Melaka became powerful by taxing trade ships moored in their land as they waited for the correct seasonal winds to complete trade missions. In some cases, this took MONTHS. In doing so, these city states in the Straits of Melaka (most notably Melaka and Sriwajaya, coincidentally both former empires with modern clubs adopting their names- more coming soon) became some of the most powerful contemporary economic centres in the Eastern Hemisphere.

Boys of Straits graffiti

Enough with the history, the “Boys of Straits” name makes reference to that era, eluding to an upbringing on the most sought-after shipping lane on the planet. If their home is less of a big deal in modern times, fangroups frequently refer to earlier times when their city or region was at its economic and political height. Our piece on Hansa Rostock explains this phenomenon well, and in a way you can draw many comparisons between Johor Darum Ta’zim and Hansa Rostock. Both identify stronger with region and state rather than just one city (JDT’s blue and red colour scheme refer to the state flag). Both with historic dependence on maritime trade. And both with fangroups using piratical imagery to identify themselves. The rebellion, counter-culture, barbarity and criminality we associate with pirates make them excellent choices for Ultras to use when designing logos and Aufkleber to convey the message “We Don’t Give A Fuck”.

Graffiti Boys of Straits

We will be present at JDT’s II and First XI both playing at home next week. We are looking forward to seeing the Boys of Straits in action first hand, and to bringing you exciting writing on the subject of Johor Bahru and its fans. Stay tuned.

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