I come from the northern English city of Manchester, a city of soccer, music and rain. For all of my 32 years as a Mancunian, I have supported Manchester City FC.
I was born into a family of “Blues” — as City fans are more commonly known. If I had opted to support any other team, my father would have never forgiven me. From an early age he told me my blood ran Blue.
“Through thick and thin, you’ll always be a City fan,” he said. Needless to say, it was set in stone.
Supporting City was never easy. The team regularly snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, never won anything, ploughed the depths of the lower divisions and even stared into the precipice of extinction. But to me, none of that mattered. It was a case of “once a Blue always a Blue”, as City fans say.
Come rain or shine, win or lose, I would forever belong to the Blue side of Manchester. I will tell my children exactly the same thing. For them, as it was for me, there will be no other option.
This summer, Indonesia welcomed City’s Premier League rivals — Arsenal, Liverpool and Chelsea — to Jakarta. This is a real coup for the Soccer Association of Indonesia (PSSI) and Indonesia’s soccer-crazy fans.
When two bomb blasts led to Manchester United cancelling its pre-season trip to Jakarta in 2009, many of this country’s soccer-loving fans must have thought they would never see the days when the Theo Walcott’s, Steven Gerrard’s and Frank Lampard’s of this world would grace the turf of Bung Karno Stadium. But today, the dream is real.
I have always been intrigued by Indonesians’ support of English soccer clubs. When I watch City matches with the club’s Indonesian fan base in Jakarta, I ask them: Why do you support City and not your local team? I always hear the same answers. First, Indonesian soccer just doesn’t cut the mustard when compared to the excitement and speed of the English game.
Second, it is just too caught up in politics and corruption, with the domestic leagues being a mess for so long that many fans could not care less if their local team won the latest incarnation of the Indonesian league.
So rather than frequenting the local stadiums of Bung Karno or Lebak Bulus, they choose to sit in cafés, in the early hours of the morning if need be, to support the teams of their choice on the other side of the world.
At first, this was an alien concept to me. Where I grew up, you just did not “choose” teams. You simply got whatever team you were given and if it was trash, then so be it.
But slowly, as I joined Indonesian City fans in Jakarta to watch more matches and learned more about the chaos of Indonesian soccer, I began to understand — albeit a little — why they adopted City, and perhaps why others cheered on United, Arsenal, Liverpool and Chelsea.
It is so easy to become depressed about Indonesian soccer. Aside from the domestic league situation, even when Indonesians have the chance to come together to support their national team, they have little to shout about.
Indonesia has never qualified for the World Cup in over 50 years of trying and is currently bottom of its qualifying group for the 2015 Asian Cup, with zero points. Recently, a so-called Indonesian “Dream Team” was on the receiving end of a 7-0 drubbing at the hands of Arsenal. That sounds more like a nightmare to me.
The Premier League — and the visits of Arsenal, Liverpool and Chelsea — provides an antidote to this endless malaise, a shot in the arm to those fans sick of waiting for something interesting to happen, like a half-decent Indonesian player to emerge, or a strong domestic league to take shape.
Supporting a Premier League team, on the other hand, allows fans a short cut to success and when the trophies do come, the results are exhilarating. I have seen this first hand.
I was in a café in Jakarta with my fellow Indonesian Blues when City snatched the Premier League title from United in the dying seconds of the 2012 season.
As City lifted the trophy, I looked around the café and asked myself — as adopted fans, are they enjoying this like I am? The answer was yes. The language of the Premier League had travelled millions of miles east and had been effortlessly translated into the milieu of this Indonesian café.
They knew what had just happened; their passion was there for all to see, with the café rocking just like the Etihad Stadium in Manchester. There, in a nutshell, was why my friends had turned to City. We felt like kings, champions of the best league in the world. For them, no Indonesian team could come close.
And so, as the new season is with us, this Mancunian will once again sit in a Jakarta café in the early hours of the morning with his City brethren from Indonesia.
We will again don our City shirts, which are, incidentally, made in Indonesia. We will sing songs about our dislike of Manchester United and together, we will consume the Premier League’s global product. We will watch large TV screens as the action on the pitch unfolds and the sounds of crowd roar down from the terraces, onto the pitch and then are pumped into our venue through loudspeakers.
We will enjoy the antidote of the Premier League, which serves to banish the endless soccer woes of this soccer-loving nation.