Persegres Gresik United are a current Indonesian Liga 1 outfit hailing from the East Java port city of Gresik on the North coast, bordering Indonesia’s second city Surabaya. The club is apparently embroiled in a scandal concerning top-down match-fixing according to fans I met (I cannot confirm for legal reasons), but Persegres currently languish at the bottom of the table anyway, relegation certified, with a string of 6 consecutive defeats. Many fans are staying away in protest at both the perceived managerial incompetence and poor on-pitch showing. Thus the home game against Perseru Serui (coming all the way from fucking Papua) was played to a small gathering of spectators.
Gresik is everything you’d expect from a port city. The only thing exciting on the long scooter ride (at FBTG, We Go Native) to the Stadion Petrokimia Gresik was another sports stadium called “Stadion Semen Gresik” (we are not above such humour). As extensive industry and unending glum compensate for charm and cultural importance, the Football club representing the working people of drab Gresik gets a fierce following. An outsider would expect there to be fierce rivalry with fans of next door Persebaya, as is common with elbow-rubbing neighbours Wolverhampton and Birmingham or Darmstadt and Frankfurt for example. But in truth, Ultras Mania of Persegres and Bonek of Persebaya both revel in their mutual hatred of Arema, the team of pretty Malang, 50km down the road but within the same state. The fans of Arema gloat at their life in a far more inspiring city, while Persegres and Persebaya fans get their vengeance in the arena of Football.
The Stadion Petrokimia Gresik itself looks like a gulag from the outside. An imposing mass of concrete and stone. The inside is just as elegant; drying grass and cracked terraces perhaps match the gritty character of Gresik. And as the game kicked off to little audible excitement from the crowd, I initially feared a long and lonely night of sport. The Curva Nord was where I eventually stuck myself, which slowly grew in numbers of young men whose attire was obviously inspired by the Casual look. These were members of Ultras Mania, who chanted throughout the first half and paid me limited but suspicious attention. One lad smiled and offered me a cigarette and another nodded in my direction, but it wasn’t until halftime that my white face caught their collective attention.
The usual questions of where I’m from and what I’m doing in Gresik, and then the lads really began the roast. The conversation turned to Hull, hooligans, the police and corruption. More and more of the lads turned to listen. Pretty soon I had every face gazing at me, but not with a dumbstruck awe at the White Man. It also wasn’t resentment, which would be the reaction an outsider to the Ultra block would receive in Rome, Dresden or Krakow. It was a combination of humour, intrigue and testosterone.
They cackled when a senior member explained that Arema fans lack testicles. They encouraged me to take on the feds that evening. They ridiculed the English response to the Russian aggression in Marseille. The exchange and banter helped win the group’s respect, and as the second half begun, we as one removed our shirts, raised our arms and chanted together throughout. I was requested to come down and join the capo. I declined, it being disrespectful for a visitor to the block to behave as a capo. But don’t worry, I took the opportunity to pitch in a handful of Hull City songs later on….
All anger at the scandal was directed at the club owners, not at the players. Perseru Serui won 5-2 but the Ultras did not boo their own. Post game, the lads climbed onto whatever they could and sung the club anthem at the players who came down to thank them, a great sight to see players and fans sticking to traditions even though the numbers and enthusiasm were so low.
Greeeesik Football Mafia! Mafia! Mafia!
Greeeesik Football Mafia! Mafiaaaa Football.
The Curva Nord would be truly impressive and intimidating when full, I am sure. Then the attention turned once again to me as it was time to depart. This was the point when I treated them to our gameday songs, met with laughter, cheering and a lot of failed attempts to sing along with. Our raucous unit continued to march out of the stadium and through the grounds to the exits. The agreement was made; away day together against Bali United and the chance to get fucked up in a few weeks. Sounds a plan.
If I had one criticism of the evening, it is a cynical British one. Being a club whose name features the word “United”, several choruses of “United Till I Die” rang out during the game (which I chose not to partake in). This was however after the Ultras Mania sung a long rendition of “You’ll Never Walk Alone”. If there is a bigger faux pas to be made in Football, I have yet to hear it. And if that wasn’t bad enough, I was treated to a growling version of “I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles”. Clearly wearing the badge is more important than knowing what it represents….