Indonesia’s Oldest Football Club: Persatuan Sepak Bola Makassar

This year Birmingham City celebrates their 140th anniversary as a professional football club. It hasn’t been much of a history with a second-tier playoff success, a couple of League Cups and a third-tier title taking pride of place in their trophy cabinet.

Sharing England’s second city with Aston Villa, Birmingham are still able to attract fans through the turnstiles with an average of 16,000 watching their home games at St. Andrews during the 2014-15 season.

To commemorate their 140th year, the club has introduced a one-off badge, and along with it, a range of souvenir merchandise, all designed to encourage supporters to dig deep and hand over their money.

Given how many football clubs there are in England, somewhere some club is celebrating something every year. Closer to home, one Indonesian football club is celebrating its centenary this year. Persatuan Sepak Bola Makassar (PSM) from Sulawesi boasts the distinction of being the oldest football club in the country and 2 November sees football enter unchartered territory when it comes to remembering its past.

PSM were founded on 2November 1915 as Macassaarsche Voetbal Bund (MVB) by a gentleman named M L Hartwing, an employee of the Dutch Government who, at the time, ruled the archipelago. The club attracted a smorgasbord of players with Dutch, Chinese and local players and they certainly had plenty of opponents, with the likes of Prosit (founded 1909) made up of colonial Dutch players, and Bintang Priajoe (1910) featuring local players. In 1914 the Chinese community formed their own club, Sportvereeniging Excelsior, which played at Lapangan Karebosi.

Little is known of MVB’s early days, even though two names do live on – Sagi and Sangkala.

On 2July 1928, a touring Australian team preparing for the 1928 Olympics in Amsterdam stopped off in Makassar and earned themselves a moral-boosting 2-1 victory in unfamiliar territory.

The Second World War saw Japan invade the Dutch Indies but there was still football, and amid the carnage a humble becak rider from Barru in South Sulawesi made the first tentative steps towards a career that led one pundit to describe him as the original ‘Special One’.

Rusli Ramang grew up playing sepak takraw, a mix between volleyball and football known for its graceful and athletic movement getting a rattan ball over a net. He moved to Makassar after he married and soon came to the attention of PSM after scoring seven goals in one game for his then club Persis All Sulawesi. In 1952 he was called up by the national team on a tour around Asia, taking on the Philippines, Hong Kong and Thailand, where he netted an impressive 19 goals.

The 1950s were a glorious time to be a PSM fan. With Ramang rattling in the goals for fun, they won the Perserikatan (the nearest thing Indonesia had for a national league in the years before and after independence) in 1957 and 1959 before adding back-to-back titles in 1965 and 1966 – and a final one in 1992.

When professional football was introduced in 1994, PSM had one more sniff of success when they were crowned champions in 1999/2000; their last piece of silverware.

With the title in their pocket, PSM set about conquering Asia in the Asian Club Championship, later known as the AFC Asian Champions League. They started their campaign with a flourish, defeating Vietnamese side Song Lam Nghe An 4-1 on aggregate in the first round to earn a tie against the Royal Thai Airforce. The goals kept flowing as PSM battered the Thais home and away, winning 6-1 and 5-0 respectively.

The goal glut ensured PSM’s place in the quarter finals, which they were chosen to host. Joining them were Japan’s Jubilo Iwata, South Korea’s Suwon Samsung Bluewings and Shandong Luneng Taishan. The goals continued to flow, but unfortunately for the home fans, known as the Macz Man, they were in the wrong goal.

They lost their opening game 3-1 against Shandong with the fans waiting until the 90th minute before Suwandi Siswoyo gave them something to cheer about.

Their next game saw them take on Suwon and this time the fans didn’t have so long to wait; legendary striker Kurniawan Dwi Yulianto scoring on the 35th minute. Unfortunately its impact was the same as Suwandi’s; little more than consolation as the Koreans had raced into a five-goal lead in the opening 25 minutes! PSM went on to lose the game 8-1.

Jubilo Iwata coasted to a 3-0 win in the final game, leaving PSM bottom of the group, winless and pointless; a sour-tasting lesson but a harsh reminder of the gap between the best Indonesian football and the rest of Asia. How sad the lessons are still yet to be learned.

They were back in 2004 and 2005, but in a much larger competition they continued to struggle and failed to get out of the group stages on both occasions, winning just three games out of 12 over the two years.

And that has been pretty much it. Success has evaded PSM as the likes of Persipura and Sriwijaya Palembang have dominated the domestic scene and the Eastern Roosters have failed to keep up. In 2011, they backed the wrong horse when they opted to withdraw from the Indonesia Super League and join the breakaway Liga Premier Indonesia when football split into two opposing camps.

With the game reunified in 2014, PSM found themselves once more back in the ISL, forced to play their home games in Surabaya as the authorities deemed their Andi Mattalatta Stadium unworthy according to guidelines. Home games were thus played in a cavernous 60,000-seater bowl on the outskirts of Indonesia’s second city in front of crowds that rarely topped four figures.

The 2015 season saw them return home with a good start defeating Persiba Balikpapan 4-0 and drawing 3-3 against widely-fancied Sriwijaya before the season was stopped due to infighting between the Government and the football association, where the Government refused to recognise the PSSI.

Compromise may be in the air and the ISL are hoping to start a new league in October. Until then, Makassar is hosting Gresik United, Persipasi Bekasia Raya and Pusamania Borneo in the President Cup.

The clock, however, is ticking towards their 100th anniversary and it doesn’t look like much, if indeed anything, is being planned to celebrate the occasion. When Indonesian football clubs are forever whining about the lack of cash they have, it does seem a bit remiss that nothing is being done to take advantage of this unique event. Surely having the oldest football club in the region is something to be proud of?

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Antony is a freelance writer based in Jakarta. Please send comments and suggestions to antony@the-spiceislands.com