Life

Bonek, hated and loved

Soccer religion: Several Persebaya Surabaya soccer club fans, locally called bonek, gather in a soccer merchandise shop in Surabaya to monitor the news following a riot after the club’s defeat in Bandung.

You call me a bonek (daring hooligan)/You label me a bonek/You say you hate me/‘Cause I’m a bonek/You scold me/‘Cause I’m a bonek/Is it wrong to love me .../  (“Bonek”, sung by the late Mbah Surip)

The song, strongly critical though it may seem, remains meaningful to the bonek, a group of fanatical fans of Surabaya’s Persebaya soccer team, particularly after their hooliganism last week.

After wrecking havoc while traveling through Surakarta by train — from Surabaya to Bandung, many fans forced their way into the Bandung stadium without paying. Their unruly behavior following Persebaya’s 4-2 loss to Persib Bandung left a sour taste in nearby residents’ mouth and match organizers.

The incident led to two deaths, a row with residents of Surakarta, Central Java, and hefty financial losses for match organizers in Bandung.

In fact, their rowdiness has triggered widespread protest, including calls for the group to be disbanded because their unruly behavior has caused public angst and disturbed Indonesian League soccer matches.

The origin of the word bonek is still unknown. But according to Wikipedia, bonek first appeared in the morning newspaper Jawa Pos in 1989 to describe the phenomenon of Persebaya supporters pouring into Jakarta in large numbers.

To date, bonek have always been associated with Persebaya’s soccer matches. The bonek’s “ritual” of following their team wherever it competes has become part of their culture.

A journalist from the local sports newspaper Surya, Fatchul Alami, can’t forget what befell him in early May 2009 at Petrokimia Gresik Stadium, East Java, following a match between Gresik United and Persebaya, ending in a 1-2 win for Gresik.

“I was riding my motorcycle to make the deadline for a report on the match when bonek fanatics stopped me, dealt some blows that tore my lips and removed two of my teeth. Ignoring the fact that I was a reporter, they stole my cell phone and motorcycle,” he told The Jakarta Post on Tuesday.

On another occasion in September 2006, bonek set fire to the car of a television crew after host team Persebaya came to a 0-0 draw with Malang’s Arema in Surabaya in the Copa Indonesia competition.

In Surakarta, local TV reporter Erwin Kartinawati suffered left eye and eyebrow injuries from stones hurled by bonek passengers onboard a Surabaya-bound train transiting through Solo’s Jebres Railway station on Sunday.

A resident and pharmacy owner in Gresik, Agustin Purwati, 43, said she hoped the government would not allow any more soccer matches to take place in her town because she was deeply traumatized by bonek behavior last year.

Rest for a while: A fan takes a nap after arriving from Bandung to support his favorite club. JP/Indra Harsaputra

At the time, the hooligans not only attacked journalists but also looted food stalls, drugstores and cell phone shops, apart from damaging a number of public facilities and private vehicles in Gresik.

With the bonek invasion and looting, Agustin ordered her employees to close the dispensary although it was only six in the evening.

“It’s like an imminent war. I heard children crying and glass breaking amid the screams of young hooligans forcefully demanding food and drinks,” she said.

The Gresik regency administration claimed to have lost over Rp 100 million as a result of bonek acts of vandalism. Meanwhile, the police caught several people suspected of having instigated the pillaging.

However, the rowdy supporters of the Surabaya soccer team are not always seen as brutal, anarchic and criminal. Jojo Raharjo, 31, an Indonesian CVC Australia Radio bureau employee in Jakarta, will always have a soft spot for them despite the public scolding after the Solo commotion.  

“I think the behavior of soccer fans is the same everywhere. Yet not all supporters like rioting, of course, and some of them are even striving hard to change their image by building sympathy among their peers and society at large,” he said.

On the evening of Nov. 18, 2006, Jojo was stopped by The Jack, a group of fans of Jakarta’s Persija soccer team, after accompanying his colleague to get a taxi in Pondok Pinang, Jakarta.

“I happened to be wearing a Persebaya T-shirt and they asked me to take it off, saying they had once been ‘beaten up’ by bonek in Surabaya,” he added.

Jojo’s back was pressed against a big wall with the words “Fat Doni, Stupid…” Doni was Persija’s icon when the team won the Indonesian League VIII and he had already moved to Bandung’s Persib by that time, which was seen as the enemy of Jakarta soccer enthusiasts.

Jojo explained he was a reporter, not a supporter. “I took off the T-shirt worth Rp 30,000 that I had bought during the final round of Indonesian League XI in Senayan, Jakarta, in 2005. Then I walked home bare-chested,” he remarked.

Jojo said such actions were a form of fanaticism and this type of behavior was displayed in nearly every football competition.

Deputy chairman of the Surabaya Supporter Foundation, Nurhasim, 40, acknowledged there was a long way to go before bonek became sportsmanlike fans. Of the tens of thousands of them scattered over East Java and Jakarta, only 5,249 have been sanctioned.

 “Most of the bonek youths that have been reprimanded are senior high school and jobless college graduates, whereas those that have not yet been properly handled are junior high school graduates,” he said.

An anthropologist from the School of Social and Political Sciences at Airlangga University, Surabaya, Laurentius Dyson, said bonek should be understood not only in an individual context, but also as a collective spirit and soul.  

“They are showing their disappointment with the elite’s condescending attitude towards them by going without footwear, without pocket money and by relying on audacious boldness. It’s a form of challenge to the establishment,” he noted.

Dyson suggested they aspired to play a role as rioters on a national scale.

 “After watching TV with so many reports on corruption and power abuse, their collective memory records these images. While they have so far remained viewers, they think the time has come now to be real actors,” he added.

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