Semen Padang v Gresik United, Saturday 17th December 2016, 4pm

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Whilst the football season has been over for a couple of months in Malaysia and most of the nearby countries, the Indonesian Soccer Championship has been dragging its feet. As there’s a direct flight from Kuala Lumpur to Padang in Sumatra, Jen and I popped over for the weekend to take in a top division game between Semen Padang (yes, really) and Gresik United from East Java.

I was looking forward to checking in to our Padang hotel as the booking information made it clear that couples would have to produce a marriage certificate. When you have the added bonus of being able to legitimately make the reservation under the names ‘Mr and Mrs Smith’ I was hoping for some Basil Fawlty style fun before eventually handing over the certificate.

Sadly, we must have looked too respectable for the trip to be for any extra-marital monkey business and we weren’t asked for any documentation other than our passports, which these days both show the same surname.

Padang is a seaside town that doesn’t really  seem to be a tourist destination. Bit like Skinningrove, really, although with fewer burning tyres. It’s more the sort of place that people land at before moving on to somewhere with a bit more going on. I quite liked it though and we had a couple of walks along the river and the coast.

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I’m not sure that they get too many strangers in Padang. Everywhere we went people called out a welcome to us, even if they were passing on a scooter and would be ten yards into the distance before the greeting could be acknowledged.

We passed a school graduation ceremony and were pleaded with to come in. People were turfed out of their chairs to make way for the two new guests of honour and we were given food and drink whilst posing for photographs with everyone present. After ten minutes we tried to make out escape and had to submit to even more photos as people took their last opportunity to record our presence.

I’ve never had any desire for fame and ten minutes of having to pose for shot after shot with people I didn’t know reinforced my view that it wouldn’t be fun at all. I can see how celebrities get a bad press though as you only need one person to be disappointed and nobody will remember the twenty photos that you did pose for.

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Before the game we called into some museum in a nearby park where we had a similar welcome, with groups of kids following us around as if we were dishing out handfuls of sweets or tickets for Top of the Pops.

One young lad was waving a small cage that contained two finch-like birds. There was just enough room for them to stand up and they seemed to spend most of their time bouncing off the interior of the cage. It’s unlikely that they would have survived much longer in that cage than goldfish would have done. I tried to get a photo but had to settle for one of the whole family. You can see the cage on the ground though if you look closely enough.

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Later that day we took a taxi to the Stadion GOR Haji Agus Salim. With half an hour to go to kick-off it was busy outside, although I suspect that most people were selling or buying stuff rather than intending to go to the match.

Jen bought a couple of football shirts with the home team’s name on the front. After all, what girl wouldn’t relish Semen being splattered all over her chest?

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I asked around as to where to buy tickets in the shade and a women walked with us half way around the ground to meet with a tout. I doubted we needed his services but he only charged a total of sixty pence premium on our two seven quid VIP tickets.

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As it turned out, there are different levels of VIPness. It’s no surprise really and at the match our school graduation celebrity status counted for nothing. I remember having VIP tickets at Barcelona for a Champions League game once and after laying out a couple of hundred euros for the privilege we got to sit near the corner flag and queue for a still-chilled in the middle hot dog at half-time. I doubt Sepp Blatter was in our section.

On this occasion a fence separated us from a more central viewing position and what might have been slightly more comfortable seats.

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We were positioned behind the dugouts and shaded by the roof above, but as the sun sank lower we could feel it on the backs of our necks. It was the final game of the season and the home side’s players had brought their kids on to the pitch for the pre-game photos. Some were taking selfies with their teammates, perhaps knowing that they would be off for good at the end of the game.

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A fella was selling cartons of water at the equivalent of thirty pence for three. I offered a note that was enough for six cartons and was given three bags of boiled peanuts as change. There were also duck and quail eggs as well as sugar cane for sale.

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I didn’t see any away fans but there were three separate groups of home ultras amongst the two thousand or so fans. We had one lot behind the goal to our left that tended to focus on flags and banners. Given the clues in the banners I’m going to call them The Kmers.

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There were a second lot of fans at the other end who had decided to show their support by waving balloons. They might have called themselves Spartacks. Both of the groups kept up their singing just about all of the way through the game.

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The third set of fans didn’t do any singing. There was a small group of around fifteen of them dressed mainly in black and stood around doing their best to look menacing. Their banners appeared to commemorate something that happened in 1980. I’ve no idea what though.

If I think back to 1980 it’s memories of The Jam, house parties with Woodpecker cider and the Boro thrashing Arsenal 5-0 one sunny evening at the end of the season. I’d like to believe that those Indonesian lads in black were harking back to exactly those same things.

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Whilst the fans were top quality, the standard on the pitch was poor with many of the players unable to judge the pace or flight of the ball. If a pass was hit in their direction they often looked as if running in quicksand as the play passed them by or the ball bounced off their shin for someone else to then take his turn to mis-control it.

After twenty minutes of nothingness Semen took the lead when the rebound to a missed penalty was scrambled home.

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The hosts had a few chances to clinch the victory in the second half but had to wait until the final moments for the money shot. The Gresik keeper fumbled the ball on the edge of the box leaving a Padang striker to collect it and walk it into an empty next.

The two nil victory relegated Gresik and brought the Indonesian season to a long-awaited climax.

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