Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Soccer Mayhem!

In what felt like an episode of "Don't Tell My Mother," we had some crazy adventures this past week that I probably shouldn't tell my mother about... but here I am, telling my mother:

As part of the 2011 Southeast Asian (SEA) Games held here in Jakarta, we went to 2 soccer games at the Gelora Bung Karno Stadium.  The games were between notorious rivals, the national U-23 teams for Indonesia and Malaysia. The photos don't really do justice in showing pure craziness that ensued at the games, but they do show how sweaty we got!

The first game was a qualifying match in the first round of play, and was actually a non-event in a sense because Indonesia had already qualified to move on (Malaysia was hoping to do the same).  Indonesia only played their B-team to rest up their players for the next round of games... and yet the game was totally packed with super-excited Indonesia fans, all decked out in red and white, cheering (clap-clap clap-clap-clap-clap, IN-DO-NE-SIA!), waving flags and blowing horns (as well as occasionally booing the Malaysian team).

The game was totally sold out in advance, but we walked over to the stadium anyway to see if we might be able to scalp some tickets nearby.  After doing almost a full lap around the stadium, weaving through hundreds of people with the same idea, we finally found a guy (with a mullet, incidentally) who offered to get us in, for a fee, of course. No tickets, just a promise to get us in.  We basically followed him up to a gate that was closed, guarded by police, and surrounded by tons of people trying to shove their way in... he squeezed his way in, said something to one of the guards, and then gestured for us to follow him.  We pushed and shoved our way through the crowd and the policemen grabbed us and squeezed us through the fence.  Then we paid the mullet guy through the fence (ah, commerce...!) and went on our merry way.  We found some seats and sat through the hottest, smokiest, craziest game I had ever been to to date, but we all had a good time.  Ultimately Indonesia lost the game 1-0, which was a bummer, but both teams advanced to the next round in the tournament, so we had another chance to see them play.

Random fun/interesting facts from the game: 
  • The "concessions" in the stadium consisted of bottled waters and a large cardboard box full of fried chicken. 
  • The game clock was analog.
  • Other fans thought it was really hilarious that we were at the game, so they yelled out "Hey! Bule!!" (translation: "Hey! Whitey!!") and occasionally took our photo.
  • Fans set off road flares inside the stadium when Indonesia scores.  Safe.  Really safe.

Hard to get a sense from the photo, but the streets were so packed with motorbikes, people, flags, vendors and traffic heading to the game... you could barely walk.
Enthused by our first successful soccer outing (and since Tim hadn't been able to join us for the first game since he was in Nepal), we decided to head to the SEA Games final match, also between Indonesia and Malaysia, also in Jakarta.  We had a feeling that this game would be crazier than the last since it was the final, so we left plenty of transit time and time to find tickets, but in reality we had no idea just how much crazier this game would be than the last.  If we'd know the extent of the pre-game ticket rioting that had happened earlier in the day, we probably wouldn't have gone to the game, but we didn't hear about it until the next day. 

Anyway, our evening unfolded in a similar manner to the previous soccer outing evening, except with about twice as many people squeezing into the same space and twice as much time for us to find someone with tickets to sell.  
A pit-stop during our ticket hunt outside the stadium
 Even once we had found someone with tickets to sell (in the "VIP" section of the stadium), the prices were exorbitant.  It was until just a minute or two before the game started that some of the sellers got nervous and decided to lower their prices...  this time, with actual tickets (well, we hoped they were actual tickets and not fakes) in hand, we squeezed up to a gate (where a bunch of other people, ticket holders and otherwise, were pressed) and were finally let (i.e. shoved/pulled) in past the security, sweaty and relieved.

After having been man-handled, we were excited to make it just inside the first gate due to our "VIP" tickets.
However, we weren't quite there yet.  We walked up the stairs to the tunnel that leads to the inside of the stadium, squished inside the gate, and then were stopped short by a mass of people pushing and trying to squeeze into the stands to get a view of the field.  We got really claustrophobic (a little panicked, actually), so we left and went down to the next gate, where the crowd was only just slightly less crazy.  After standing there for several minutes getting frustrated because we were unable to see anything or get anywhere, we noticed that it was slightly more spacious above the tunnel, but we had no way of getting around the corner and up there, unless we climbed up the side, over the railing.  I was not interested in climbing, but suddenly some dudes (including some of the police, I think) were pulling us up and Tim and Ben were lifting us from below... all 4 of us ultimately scrambled up the wall and some stairs to the area above the tunnel, where there was about 2 square feet of standing space that we squished into, just to the side of the stadium's media area.  We watched the whole game standing in this space (although some particularly generous guys offered Erin their VIP seat), sweating (and thus dehydrating ourselves), cheering and high-fiving the other fans around us.  We also spent a little bit of time worrying about whether Tim's choice of shirt color (orange) was going to cause us trouble at any point at the game or on the way home, because it was close to Malaysia's gold.
Squished together but finally able to breathe a little.
Doesn't quite capture how packed and sweaty it was... and yet people around us were wearing winter hats, jackets and sweaters.   Really?

At the end of the tightly matched and roughly played game, the score was tied 1-1 and the match went into overtime.  Neither team scored in the overtime and the game went into shoot-outs to decide the winner of the tournament.  Sadly, Indonesia ended up losing the shoot-outs by 1 goal...

Significantly more sad than Indonesia's loss in the soccer match, although we made it home safely at the end of the game, many fans did not fare as well as we did... there were 2 deaths and several injuries to fans at the game due to crowding and trampling. I feel really lucky that we made it out fine, but really upset that not everybody did, especially because the chaos and dangerous conditions at the game could have been prevented if there had been better planning on the part of the organizers. 

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