Words & Photos Justin Salhani
The Indonesian national team loses, a lot. At least that’s what locals told me when I wore the team jersey around the Indonesian island of Bali this past April.
A bit of preliminary research shows the team is far from elite. Their lone World Cup appearance came in 1938 when they were still called the Dutch East Indies. The team lost 6-0 to eventual finalists Hungary. Since then they've hardly thrived. Their worst loss came just five years ago. Indonesia, a collection of islands, lost 10-0 to the much smaller island nation of Bahrain.
The domestic league has gone through a rambunctious few years. In 2012 the Indonesian football association was suspended from FIFA participation for having two professional leagues. A breakaway league couldn’t be controlled (that’s Guerrilla AF) and the following year the national team called up players from each league.
The Indonesian football association was suspended again in 2015 for government interference and the domestic competition was cancelled. That suspension has since been lifted.
When I was in Indonesia, local club Bali United beat Persib Bandung, the club of storied Ghanian international Michael Essien. I didn’t get to see the match, but supposedly Essien is far from the elite player who featured for clubs like Lyon, Chelsea, and Real Madrid. “Essien is fat,” a local tour guide told a friend of mine.
While in Bali’s capital, Denpasar, honorary Guerrilla (and newlywed) Hani Jaber and I ventured out to find some local kits. We paid 300,000 Rupiah ($22.50) and each of us got the Nike Indonesian National Team jersey and a Bali United jersey (I got black, Hani went red).
The Indonesian kit is clean. A red shirt with a white trim on the front of the collar and green on the back collar, shoulders, and end of the sleeves. The badge is Indonesia’s national emblem -- the Garuda (a large bird or bird-like creature from Hindu and Buddhist mythology) with a shield and it’s feet holding a scroll. The shield has five emblems, each one representing a principle of Indonesia’s national ideology.
The five principles are:
1. Belief in absoluteness of God
2. Just and civilized humanity
3. Indonesian unity
5. Social justice
The scroll reads Bhinneka Tunggal Ika, which loosely translates to Unity in Diversity.
The Bali United kit is littered with sponsors. The front chest has three alone, including a food distribution company, and two motorized vehicle companies. Achilles, a four wheel vehicle company, is written where a brand would normally be. There’s also a sponsor on each shoulder, next to the badge, on each sleeve, and two on the back side of the shirt. The badge is a plaid pattern with a serif-font BU (for Bali United) surrounded by a canary yellow outline. A sans serif BALI UNITED is written above and a black and white soccer ball, also outlined in yellow rests on the base of the outline.
After Hani’s wedding, which featured an incredible speech by his best man on the mouth-breathing Harry Kane’s goal-scoring abilities, we traveled to Ubud -- an inland town in Bali surrounded by rice paddies and noted for its arts and culture.
I wore my Indonesian shirt out to a local restaurant on the first afternoon. The restaurant’s owner commented on my shirt with a smile. “We are always losing,” he told me.
The next day I wanted to get out and play a bit with some locals. A waiter at a venue had told me they play futsal in Ubud so I did a quick google search and drove over on my motorized scooter.
What the Balinese call futsal is small-sided football on turf (as opposed to a weighted ball on a hard floor court). I approached a group of school-age kids who had just finished playing bare-foot with a very light ball.
While the island gets many visitors from Europe, Australia, China, India, and beyond, I don’t think many venture out to local futsal courts. The kids were perplexed by my presence but eventually jumped back on the field to play a bit more. I removed my shoes (by request) and we played for around 30 minutes until the opposing team’s goalkeeper told me, “Sir, my teammates are too tired.”
We took a selfie and called it a day.