A gruff voice boomed across the ground, magnified to ensure absolute clarity. The chatter of noise from the terraces stopped abruptly. All spectators shuffled to their feet. On the ground floor, I was already on mine, but to my left a handful of young men in one of the media boxes end their conversation and put their smartphones away in haste before bowing their heads. The exact message of the announcement was lost on me, but I fell silent in respect.
A second voice was then heard over the tannoy system. The gruffness of the first gentleman’s voice had been replaced by a slightly higher pitched voice, calling out long, stressed, reverent vowels. Deliberately slow and with a greater sense of authority and gravitas, the rhythm of his speech was extremely unorthodox, elongating each syllable far beyond the norms of the language. I still achieved a sense of the austere tone with which the man spoke in spite of my appalling Malay. The voice was void of warmth. There was little comfort in the unfamiliar words.
Then it finally hit me. I wasn’t listening to a stadium announcement. I was listening to a prayer.
This was my second visit to the Tan Sri Dato Hj Hassan Yunos Stadium (more commonly referred to as the Larkin Stadium) in uptown Johor Bahru. Four days earlier, I had popped into the office of this very stadium for a quick tour of the facility conducted by one of Johor Darul Ta’zim FC’s marketing managers. This time, I had the honour of standing pitchside for the club’s final match of the season and the subsequent presentation ceremony of the “Southern Tigers'” fourth consecutive Malaysian Super League title.
After the prayer concluded, a giant flag of the state of Johor unfurled across the north stand and the noise levels rose again. The Boys Of Straits occupying this section of the Larkin Stadium would continue to build the atmosphere throughout the match against Kelantan (which JDT FC comfortably won 3-0), and there they remained during the trophy presentation ceremony. Thousands remained inside the ground long after the final passage of play had concluded.
One of the best stadium experiences we at FBTG have ever witnessed in Southeast Asia was courtesy of JDT FC and the Boys Of Straits in the Larkin. The raucous, rhythmic chanting coordinated by a minor percussive orchestra down at the front of the curve really left a strong impression. It remains a highlight to this day. We would argue that the only way to beat the excitement and pure atmosphere of a JDT FC home fixture would be to take a trip across the water to watch a live Football match in Malaysia’s Big Brother.
Persija Jakarta brings the noise just as JDT FC does, but “Jakmania” fans are seldom outdone in terms of numbers by Malaysian Football clubs. 50,000+ is not uncommon for home fixtures. While the style of support in both Malaysia and Indonesia is notably similar, everything is intensified in the latter, and certainly so in Jakarta. The second largest metropolis on Earth when measured by population size has a natural competitive advantage when it comes to packing out a Football stadium and building the atmosphere. Roughly a month after my evening with Johor Darul Ta’zim FC, I was stood on the terraces of the Candrabhaga Patriot Stadion, watching the Persija starting XI stroll out onto the pitch for a home league fixture against Semen Padang FC.
As had happened in the Larkin Stadium a month ago, a smooth, male voice filled the stadium. However, this time it was filled with warmth, song and joy. An acoustic guitar plucked out the graceful melody, as 55,000 Jakartans held their bright orange scarves aloft and belted out their club hymn as powerfully as they could in unison. A hypnotic two minutes of passion finally crashed into a crescendo of pure fervour. The vocalist screamed a brief few words of encouragement into the microphone and took his leave. A 45 minute chorus of incessant bouncing, singing, clapping and drumming then engulfed the 23 men working on the grass below.
Excluding the surf, sun and sex opportunities of Bali’s more prominent resorts, the average Westerner knows lamentably little about Indonesia. This seems a little unfair, given that the country’s geographical and demographic size. But it is common knowledge that Indonesia is home to more Muslims than any other country on the planet. In rough figures, 90% of 300 million Indonesians claim to be practicing Muslims, and more Indonesians attend the Hajj every year than citizens of any other country.
Given this fact, it is easy to make the mental leap that Indonesia is “more Muslim” than its sibling Malaysia is. But if that is the case, why are Koranic prayers read at before Football matches in Malaysia and not in Indonesia? The answer perhaps lies in the path to independence of both modern nation states.
For part II of Sunnis, Sukarno and Soccer, please click here.