What has particularly stuck in my mind about Indonesia, is how crazy they are about football. It was something else. Every open space had children and men playing football on it, usually bare foot. I’ve never seen anything like it. Everybody had football shirts on, everywhere. This is how I imagined Brazil to be, not Indonesia. As soon as anybody found out I was English – they wanted to talk football with me. It was great. They’d ask me who I supported, who my favourite player was and then tell me who they liked. What surprised me even more was how much they knew. I met Everton, West Ham and even Sunderland fans. A lot of them even knew my beloved Leicester City, how we hate Nottingham Forest and that we had just signed Yakubu. I couldn’t get my head around it. The majority of these people were so poor they couldn’t even afford shoes, yet they knew all about a mid-table 2nd division English football club. I still can’t comprehend it. It was pretty much the same story in Malaysia.
I was told that the Indonesian branch of the Manchester United fans club has 12 MILLION members. Yes you did indeed read that right. 12 MILLION. Staggering. A lot of people don’t even support Manchester United in Indonesia, at least not the one’s I met anyway.
People think Koreans love football, and yes they like it – but compared to Indonesia, there’s no comparison. As a nation Korea loves computer games and kimchi a lot more than football. In Korea they like football primarily because 2 Koreans play in the Premier League and it’s a source of great national pride. Park Ji Sung is an absolute superstar over here. The most famous and revered man in Korea – by a mile. But that said, you try to speak to a Korean about football outside of Manchester United (Park Ji Sung), Bolton (Chong Yong Lee) and Korea in the World Cup, and they’re generally clueless.
In contrast, there has never been an Indonesian player to play in England, or Europe I don’t think for that matter – but they are absolutely bonkers about football. I would even suggest they are more fanatical about it than we are.
If a Premier League Club, or any European Club managed to unearth an Indonesian (or any South-East Asian player coming to think about it) you could expect them to make an absolute killing financially. In addition to probably gaining an extra 200 million fans or so. I imagine the player would become an almost god-like figure, and quite possibly be considered the greatest South-East Asian to have ever lived by tens of millions in the region. It’s more than believable. Trust me.
When we were in Yogyakarta, (a relatively small city in Central Java) I got chatting to a middle-aged lady wearing traditional Islamic dress and a veil etc… who was sat next to me. We ended up having an in-depth conversation about Leeds United, the ‘glory days’ of the late 90’s, their subsequent decline in the last few years, and her hopes of a revival under Simon Grayson. It was mind-blowing. Reasonable logic would suggest that I have nothing in common with this lady, as we couldn’t possibly be more different in terms of background, age, gender, nationality, religion etc… but here we were, socialising together and thoroughly enjoying a discussion about Leeds United, whilst sat on public transport on the opposite side of the world. The irony was not lost on Amelia, she is not a football lover in the slightest – but even she was taken aback by it all. This was just one example of many I could have used.
One of the things I love most about football, is how it brings people together. Everything else is forgotten. Race, religion and politics are irrelevant. It would seem that wherever you go in the world (except for bloody America) the majority of people love the ‘beautiful game’ with a passion.
Rumour has it that Osama Bin Laden is an Arsenal fan.
I would go as far as to say, it unites us all. I honestly don’t believe that anything unites the world and it’s people as much as football does. From my personal experiences, both in England and Asia alike, I have befriended so many people due to our shared love of football, even though every other sociological indicator may suggest we would probably never be friends otherwise. That for me, is one of the beauties of the sport.
Sport of course, and the Olympics are magnificent spectacles in their own right. They also do wonders for bringing people together and uniting them. But football is on a whole new level. It’s in a league of its own.
After all, what else could the British and Germans have played together on the Western Front in the Christmas Day Truce of 1914?
Even then, and even now. It could only ever have been football. Or ‘soccer’ as our ‘dear’ friends across the pond insist on calling it.