Having added the final signature, Fandi Ahmad Yani threw down the pen with a sigh, turned to his counterpart and extended a firm hand. As Kaji Riki (a representative of Ultras Gresik) shook it, a polite round of applause rippled among the journalists and reporters gathered in the conference room. The six men sat at the table congratulated each other on the business conducted that day before turning to force a smile for the photographers.
It had happened at long last. Gresik United Football Club is owned by the fans once again. The road to that moment began in 1988.
Gresik is an industrial port city on the northern coast of East Java. Given its close geographical proximity to Indonesia’s second city, Gresik’s economic and cultural profile is similar to Surabaya’s; both depend heavily on their commercial ports, both are afflicted with the typical social ailments of port cities and both are Football mad. The junkies, prostitutes and extortionists easily unite together with the regular townsfolk whenever their team is playing at home.
Surabaya is considered the Football powerhouse of the two. Persebaya Surabaya is a true giant in the Indonesian game, having been founded as long ago as 1929 – making it older than Indonesia itself. The “Bajul Ijo” (Green Crocodile) is one of the most successful and best supported clubs in the country, and its vast fan base known as “Bonek” are famed for their nefarious extra-curricular activities as much as for their wild and colourful coreographies. It was not until 1988 that Gresik finally got its own Football club at the bequest of petrochemical conglomerate PT Petrokimia Gresik. Though the club was connected to a fertiliser factory owned by the conglomerate, other Gresik residents quickly gravitated towards the new club to get their fix.
Though the new outfit’s name was perhaps a tad clumsy, “Petrokimia Putra Gresik” quickly became a strong side in national competition. Petrokimia Putra Gresik came within a whisker of taking top honours in the 1995 Indonesian league, but managed to convert their long-documented potential into victory in 2002. A small club from the Football heartlands of East Java had soared to the top of the Football pyramid in Indonesia in 14 years, and some of its first time squad were evening playing regular international Football at the dawn of the new millennium.
Yet in 2005, financial woes hit the parent company. PT Petrokimia Gresik had to balance its books quickly and looked for assets and overheads that it could offload or shut down entirely. In spite of the success its Football team had had, Petrokimia Putra Gresik was seen as surplus to the corporation’s immediate needs and requirements.
Fans reacted sharply to the news that their beloved Football club was to be euthanised so suddenly. To them, it was a cause worth taking a stand for. Supporters of the club began to demonstrate frequently outside the offices of the Gresik Regency People’s Representative Assembly, calling for a new holding company that could acquire the Football club to be found in order to continue the sporting traditions of the city. On the 2nd of December 2005, the People’s Representative Assembly office became the legal owners of Petrokimia Putra Gresik, merging it with Gresik-based semi-professional Football Persegres to create Gresik United Football Club.
Gresik United FC largely picked up where Petrokimia Putra Gresik had finished, continuing to be a thorn in the sides of Indonesia’s big clubs and a difficult team to face away from home. However, in 2017 disaster struck. The East Javanese team flopped in that year’s Liga 1 season, winning only 3 matches and finishing in last place with a poultry 10 points which became 7 after a league sanction against the club and a three point penalty came into effect. Ultras Gresik barely had time to get accustomed to their surroundings in Liga 2 in 2018 before the outfit was relegated once again. Two consecutive relegations in two seasons was seen as unacceptable for a former national championship-winning side. Fans suspected a rat – and quickly found one.
It transpired in the second half of 2019 that PT Persegres Joko Samudro (the holding company that owned the Gresik United FC at that time) had failed to pay the multiple months worth of wages to 22 separate players dating all the way back to 2017. The news finally broke in the media when Gresik United midfielder David Faristian eventually blew the whistle and spoke to the local papers about what had been going on. It transpired that a total of around 458 million Rupiah ($31,000) was owed to 22 players. The continued absence of this money earned fairly was no doubt a contributing factor to the players’ lack of drive on the field over those two years.
Urjensi (a Gresik United fanzine run by members of Ultras Gresik) reported the case of members of Ultras Gresik urging other Gresik United fans to boycott matches and instead donate the money they would have paid for tickets to a fund to cover the outstanding player wages. At time of writing, to the best of my knowledge several players are still owed several million Rupiah.
On the 3rd of October 2019, the fans went a step further, gathering outside of the People’s Representative Assembly offices again to demonstrate. Their agenda was to highlight the continued ineptitude of PT Persegres Joko Samudro and – in true socialist revolutionary fashion – to push for the club to become owned and managed by a different entity, preferably majority owned by the supporters. The demonstrations did become heated, but the police were able to maintain calm and order on a day that was to prove to be very productive.
Thus, it was on the 10th of February 2020 that 4 representatives of PT Persegres Joko Samudro, Fandi Ahmad Yani of the People’s Representative Assembly offices and Kaji Riki of Ultras Gresik came together to sign the final piece of paperwork to confirm the transition of Gresik United FC to a new public company headed by Fandi Ahmad Yani himself. Full details of the remuneration that PT Persegres Joko Samudro has received as part of the process have not yet been disclosed, but at long last, to the people of Gresik, the destiny of their Football club feels like it is back in their hands.