The Biggest Football Clubs in Java

Football is unquestionably Indonesia’s favourite sport. Java is the most populous island in the world’s 4th most populous country with around 56% of the 265,000,000 Indonesians living there. As such, Java is home to some of the biggest Football clubs and wildest Football fans in the country, and we have done our part to let you know which ones you really should know about.

This is the FBTG list of the biggest Football clubs in Java, based on average match attendance figures and general fan reputation. Enjoy.

Persija Jakarta, Liga 1

We had to start with the capital. The greater metropolitan area of Jakarta is home to approximately 28 million people, making it the second largest metropolis in the world right now behind only Tokyo. Persija without doubt are the choice club of the majority of Football enthusiasts in Jakarta. The ramshackle nest of economic migrants fighting for their survival has contributed toward a frenetic culture of personal space violation and unapologetic rowdiness. Persija fans “Jakmania” fill the buses, trains and terraces on game day by the absolute masses, and are unquestionably one of the best fan groups we have been witness to to date.

Persija Curva Nord

Persib Bandung, Liga 1

Jakmania of Persija are known internationally for their rivalry with fellow West Javanese outfit Persib Bandung. Bandung is a smaller city but still large by anyone’s standards and the area around it is the modern home of the ancient Sundanese culture and language. Sunda is the name for the prehistoric landmass that connected the Malaysian Peninsula, Sumatra and Java, and the Sundanese were one of the larger tribes occupying and living in West Java for centuries. Indeed, a lot of European records from around the 16th and 17th century refer to Sunda as frequently as they refer to any other place within the archipelago. Sundanese culture survived European colonialism and many modern speakers of the Sundanese language identify with the Persib Bandung fan group “The Vikings”, seeing themselves as protectors of a long standing civilisation. The hardcore elite of the Bandung Vikings refer to themselves as “Bobotoh” and they certainly stand out as some of Indonesia’s fiercest.

Persebaya Surabaya, Liga 1

Surabaya is the second largest city in Indonesia and sits on the North Coast of the central Java region. We can barely think of anywhere else in the world where the “Port City” character is more recognisable. Surabaya boasts little in the way of arts or entertainment and the city itself has little glamour. Dockside industry is critical to the local economy and two phenomena perennially associated with port cities are endemic there; prostitution and pollution. Surabaya’s tough character lends itself to the fans of the city’s single professional Football team. Persebaya have an absolute die-hard following known as “Bonek”; a combination of the words “Bondo dan Nekat” or “Penniless and Fearless”. Unfortunately stories of extortion and violence committed against not only rival Football fans but also against fellow Surabayans by criminals taking advantage of the scary Bonek image are common.

Bonek graffiti

Arema FC, Liga 1

Malang sits approximately 50km south of Surabaya but life here is entirely different to life in the larger port city to the North. Though its political importance has waned over time, the charming architecture of the former elite of Malang survives and paints the picture of a wondrous ancient civilisation thriving on fertile volcanic plains at the foot of Gunung Bromo Volcano. Arema are the club of pretty Malang, and their rivalry with fellow Central Javanese Persebaya and Persegres Gresik United stems from a very familiar story line; fans of Arema celebrate their far more inspiring and attractive city in the face of fans of Persebaya and Persegres, who occupy the position of tough working-class citizens who use their Football club to get back at their neighbours.

Persegres Gresik United, Liga 2

Gresik is somehow even less appealing than Surabaya as a place to visit. It is smaller but even more industrial and drab. Economic growth of Surabaya has resulted in its expansion and subsequent swallowing of Gresik to the extent where there is no unoccupied land between the two cities. An outsider would expect a similar rivalry to the one you see between for example Newcastle United and Sunderland, but in actual fact the Gresik Mania and Bonek fan groups are in a sense united by their common dislike of both Arema to the South and Lamongan to the West. The club suffered relegation last year after the PSSI docked Persegres Gresik United points due to managerial scandal, and the majority of fans chose to stay away from matches toward the end of the season in protest of the perceived incompetence of the club’s directors.

Gresik scarves

Persela Lamgonan, Liga 1

The final chapter in the hooligan hotbed that is Central Java. Lamongan itself is far smaller than some of the other cities found in Java with major Football clubs, but the Liga 1 stalwart certainly packs a punch when it comes to fan culture. Persela fans are united with Arema and to a lesser degree Jakmania of Persija Jakarta in one of those “Friendships” that English Football fans find simultaneously arbitrary and baffling. Fans of anonymous and culturally indistinct Lamongan (sitting a handful of KMs inland from Java’s North Coast) reserve their vitriol almost exclusively for Bonek of Persebaya and Gresik Mania of Persegres.

Persela Lamongan stadium
Original photo by Nugroho Khoironi.

PSIM Yogyakarta, Liga 2

It is almost inconceivable that the charming, elegant city of Yogyakarta could be capable of producing such fanatical fans. The collective name for PSIM fans is Mataram, a reference to the former empire that dominated Central Java for several centuries. The Blue, White and Black Mataram of PSIM identify with the long political independence and importance that Yogyakarta has held within Java. Other cities and regions do not share the same elevated status that Yogyakarta does, a fact that feeds the pride deep within many Yogyakartans and PSIM fans. But poverty, unemployment and corruption provide the extra incentive for many young PSIM fans to involve themselves in game-day aggression all to frequently.

Graffiti PSIM Jogjakarta

Persis Solo, Liga 2

The Yin to Yogyakarta’s Yang. Confusingly, the city called Surakarta is almost exclusively referred to as Solo by Indonesians, a fact that still eludes Google Maps. Surakartans have what can only be described as a blood feud with Yogyakartans, a rivalry born of dynastic politics in the 15th and 16th centuries, elevated by tensions as the different monarchies failed to collaborate against foreign invaders, and relived each time clubs from the two cities meet. Persis Solo fans are numerous and create breathtaking tifos and choreos, but their meetings with primarily PSIM Yogyakarta fans often end tragically. Surakarta has also been the location of some of the worst racial riots in modern Indonesia and is allegedly a stronghold for Islamic extremism in the country, though we cannot confirm this to be true.

Persis Solo sticker

PSIS Semarang, Liga 2

Another little-known city that boasts a surprisingly strong Football club is Semarang, the industrial city on the North Coast of Java, a short drive Eastward from Bandung. Recently promoted PSIS Semarang completed mission Liga-1-survival in 2017 and now look to keep their Erstligist status. But as we all know, the second season is always tougher. By no means the biggest club in terms of fan volume in Java, the Semarang mob in many ways behave similarly to fans of clubs like Schalke, Gladbach or Leverkusen. Their derby disputes with Persijap Jepara are what put them on the map, and the main Semarang fan group Panser Biru (Blue Tank) reliably create something special for those special occasions, though tend to be a little more reserved outside of the derby-day context.

PSS Sleman, Liga 2

Although Sleman exists as its own administrative city, it borders Yogyakarta so closely that the two feel inseparable. The two principal fan groups of PSS Sleman are Slemania, who represent a very traditional Ultra-type fan group, and Brigata Curva Sud, a fan-merchandise manufacturing company that successfully use profits to sponsor the club and protest against hooliganism and violence among Indonesian Football fans. BCS’ level of creativity and focus on support instead of slander have earned the fan group extensive praise and have been moderately successful in discouraging physical conflict between fans when PSS Sleman play against old nemesis Persis Solo for example. PSS Sleman are fast becoming a cult club, as they are one of the most well-known Indonesian Football teams in the Western World, a feat that is entirely thanks to their proactive fans, rather than on-pitch achievements.

Sleman scarves

We had to stop the list somewhere. If your club didn’t make it, maaf.


5 thoughts on “The Biggest Football Clubs in Java

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.