Southeast Asia Indonesia

A Tribute to Bambang Pamungkas – An Indonesia and Southeast Asia Great

Krishna Sadhana

Football Tribe SEA Editor


As referee Faulur Rosy blew for full time, a sea of orange immediately descended down from the Gelora Bung Karno stands and into the pitch yesterday. Persija Jakarta may have lost their last home match of the 2019 Liga 1 season 1-2 to their old rivals Persebaya Surabaya, however the result meant little for the thousands of Jakmania packing the Gelora Bung Karno on that day. Because what matters the most on that day, was an end of an era. An era that spans for 20 years with numerous goals, skill moves, and achievements. An era that defined both Persija and Indonesian football as a whole. An era where one of Southeast Asia’s most talented sons was allowed to grace the pitch.

Wearing the proud Persija jersey with that special number 20 emblazoned on the back for the very last time, was Bambang Pamungkas. No longer the deadly finisher that he was during his youth, Bambang was an elderly statesman of the game on that day, a beacon of inspiration for the next generation of players who represented the Persija badge alongside him. At the ripe old age of 39, Bambang decides to call time on his 20-year long career. He had came into the Macan Kemayoran setup as a spritely young boy and left, for the very last time, as a living legend.

Bambang Pamungkas was born in Central Javan city of Semarang, on June 10th, 1980.  Even though initially football wasn’t Bambang’s passion, he had proven himself to be quite the talented player in his youth. Bambang had played for various different clubs in and around his hometown, before kickstarting his senior career at Persija Jakarta in the buildup of the 1999-2000 season. Bambang lit up the Liga Indonesia that year, scoring 24 goals for Persija as they marched on to the semifinals of that competition. This inevitably attracted some overseas interest and in 2000, Bambang left Persija for the first time, to Dutch Third Division side EHC Norad in a loan move. However, after four months that yielded 11 appearances and 7 goals, Bambang decides to return home to Macan Kemayoran, a club that would since become synonymous with his name.

For the next five years Bambang represented Persija, winning them the 2001 Liga Indonesia title and with it, the accolade of being the best player of the league. Bambang also felt the heartbreak of narrowly missing out on titles, with his Persija side being pipped to the 2004 Liga Indonesia title by Persebaya. It was during the buildup towards the 2005 season that foreign clubs began to once again take notice of his talents, and then-Liga Premier Malaysia side Selangor FA was the one fortunate enough to acquire Bambang’s services.

Alongside fellow Indonesian Elie Aiboy, Bambang led Selangor to Liga Premier glory in his first season with the club, earning himself the league top-scorer title with 23 goals. Bambang also led Selangor to the 2005 Malaysia FA Cup and 2005 Malaysia Cup titles, thus earning Selangor a unique treble as they weren’t playing at the top flight during that time. Bambang spent a total of two years with Selangor, scoring a total of 63 goals for the Red Giants in five different competitions – Liga Premier Malaysia, Liga Super Malaysia, Malaysia FA Cup, Malaysia Cup, and AFC Cup. His immense contributions for the Red Giants despite his short tenure earned him a place in the hearts and minds of Selangor fans, and long after his departure Bambang is still fondly remembered by Selangor fans everywhere.

Bambang returned to Persija with much fanfare in 2007, remaining loyal to the club for the next five years as Indonesian football went through a very turbulent period. It was during Bambang’s third tenure with Persija that the Indonesian top flight underwent a revamp, with the previous Liga Indonesia Premier Division becoming the country’s 2nd tier league in 2008 with the formation of the Liga Super Indonesia. While Bambang’s Persija team sailed into the Liga Super with relative ease, what happened in the next few years rocked Macan Kemayoran quite a lot. The year 2011 saw the Indonesian top flight split into two, with clubs such as PSM Makassar, Persema Malang, and Persibo Bojonegoro representing the breakaway league known as the Indonesian Premier League (IPL). Things became messier as IPL was later deemed as the legal representation of the Indonesian top flight and the ISL being deemed illegal. This led to numerous clubs splitting into two and representing both leagues, such as Arema, PSMS Medan, and also Persija. Bambang remained loyal to the Macan Kemayoran during these turbulent times, representing the capital side in the illegal ISL as its captain while Indonesian football tries its best to sort itself out.

However, during these turbulent times, Bambang still garnered attention from foreign clubs, and in 2008, Derby County, fresh from their humiliating 2007-08 season in the Premier League, declared their interest for the Indonesian striker. Bambang’s love for Persija won out though, and he declined Derby’s offer. In 2010 Bambang went on trial with German side FC Ingolstadt 04, however he failed to secure himself a contract with the Bavarians.

The year 2013 saw the Indonesian top flight being reunified once more as the Liga Super Indonesia, and Bambang once again represented Persija during that season. But by the time the 2013 season came to an end, Bambang made a shocking decision by leaving Persija for the third time, this time for Liga Super Indonesia upstarts Pelita Bandung Raya (now Madura United). The 2014 season was a weird one for Persija fans, as not only they were unable to see Bambang in that iconic Persija shirt, they were also treated by the alien sight of Bambang wearing the navy blue shirt of Pelita Bandung Raya, which was made even weirder by the fact that during that season Bambang scored three times against Persija. Thankfully for the Jakmania faithful, Bambang remained attached to Macan Kemayoran despite scoring against them as he refused to celebrate his goals against Persija. Together with Pelita Bandung Raya, Bambang led them to the semifinals of the 2014 Liga Super Indonesia, where they lost 2-0 against Persipura Jayapura.

2015 saw a sense of normalcy returning to Persija as Bambang dons the Macan Kemayoran jersey once again. However, 2015 also saw Indonesian football being hit with another turbulent event that shook the sport to its core – a suspension from FIFA, due to government interference within the Football Federation of Indonesia (PSSI), the interference itself being brought upon the legality issues surrounding Arema Cronus and Persebaya (Liga Super Indonesia), a byproduct of the two clubs’ dualisms during the IPL-ISL conflict. Like before Bambang stayed loyal to Persija despite the tough times, captaining Macan Kemayoran in the 2016 Indonesia Soccer Championship A, the unofficial league held to fill the void left by the absence of the Liga Super Indonesia. Indonesian football soon sort itself together back again with the legality issues surrounding Arema and Persebaya (Liga Super Indonesia) pretty much resolved – the former split itself into both Arema FC who plays in the top flight and Arema Indonesia who plays in the third tier, while the latter were acquired by the Indonesian Police and became Bhayangkara FC, allowing the one, true Persebaya Surabaya to make their comeback. This paved the way for the Liga 1 – a brand new incarnation of the Indonesian top flight.

The 2017 season saw Bambang remaining loyal to Persija as usual, however he had given up the captain’s armband that he had worn since 2015 to his fellow elder statesman in Persija, Ismed Sofyan. The Ismed-Bambang duo became a pivotal figure of leadership in the present day Persija, leading the capital club to a 4th placed finish in the 2017 Liga 1 season. Despite their position on the table, legality issues surrounding league champions Bhayangkara and the failure of 3rd placed PSM to get an AFC license meant that Persija will represent Indonesia in the 2018 AFC Cup alongside league runners-up Bali United. Despite not enjoying as much playing time as he did in the 2006 AFC Cup with Selangor, Bambang’s leadership and influence helped rally Persija to the ASEAN Zonal Semifinals of the 2018 AFC Cup, with memorable results such as a 1-0 last-minute win at the Gelora Bung Karno against Song Lam Nghe An of Vietnam and even more memorably, a 4-0 home demolition job of Malaysian champions Johor Darul Ta’zim where Marko Šimić, the heir to Bambang’s usual position up front in the Persija lineup, scored four.

The Ismed-Bambang leadership duo played its influence once again in the 2018 Liga 1 season, which saw Persija finally ending a 17-year title drought by winning the 2018 Liga 1 title. Prior to that, Persija had also won the 2018 Indonesia President’s Cup, which, along with the league title win and their success in the AFC Cup, capped off a very successful 2018 for Macan Kemayoran. While Ismed had only joined Persija in 2002, the 2018 Liga 1 triumph meant a lot for Bambang as he has successfully led his beloved club to the top prize in Indonesian football once again after his prior success in 2001.

The 2019 season saw Bambang’s influence in the pitch waning as his age began to caught up with him. However, Bambang remained an influential figure for Persija and despite Andritany Ardhiyasa taking over as captain with Ismed as his deputy, Bambang’s leadership skills were still taken into consideration with his role as 3rd captain during the season. The 2019 season was tough for Persija as the defending Liga 1 champions flirted several times with relegation, but Bambang influenced his teammates to persevere and fight on, eventually leading Macan Kemayoran to survival. The final 14 minutes of the Persija vs. Persebaya match was a moment all Persija fans won’t forget – despite Persija losing 1-2 on the day, the sight of Bambang and Šimić playing together, the past and present of Persija’s spearhead in attack together in unison, was indeed a sight to remember.

Bambang’s greatness doesn’t stop with Persija, EHC Norad, Selangor, or Pelita Bandung Raya alone. Wearing the proud red jersey of the Indonesia national team, Bambang has also proven himself as quite the player on the international stage. He began his international career in 1998 in the age groups, before making his senior debut in 1999, scoring the equalizer in a 2-2 draw against Lithuania in Estonia. Bambang would later went on to make 86 appearances for Timnas Garuda, scoring 38 goals in the process – effectively making him Indonesia’s all-time top goalscorer and all-time appearance maker. From his international debut in 1999 to his retirement from international duty in 2012, Bambang had appeared in a total of four FIFA World Cup qualifying attempts (2002, 2006, 2010, and 2014), three AFC Asian Cups (2000, 2004, and 2007), and 3 AFF Championships (2002, 2008, and 2010). Bambang became top scorer of the 2002 AFF Championship with 8 goals, however injury prevented him from appearing in the 2004 edition. That doesn’t stop Bambang from scoring 4 further goals between the 2008 and 2010 tournaments, placing him on 5th place in the AFF Championship’s all-time top goalscorer list with 12 goals to his name. Bambang had also proven himself to be capable of scoring in the highest level of Asian competitions, scoring once in a 2-1 win over Bahrain in the 2007 AFC Asian Cup. Bambang’s skills on the pitch and his general friendliness off it made him the face of the Indonesia national team during his time representing Timnas Garuda – a role that he’s all too familiar with. After all, he is also the face of Persija Jakarta – one does not simply say Persija without the name Bambang Pamungkas springing up in one’s memory.

Bambang’s leadership skills also extends beyond the pitch – he had helped advocated for the rights and welfare of players everywhere in Indonesia, and alongside several other players, founded the APPI – the Indonesian Professional Players’ Association. He had also penned a book depicting his autobiography up until the 2010 AFF Championship and in 2012, he was appointed as a torchbearer representing Indonesia in the buildup of the 2012 Summer Olympics. Last but not least, Bambang has done a number of charity works outside of football, raising funds for cancer charities while establishing the Bambang Pamungkas Foundation that helped improved education in Indonesia.

What an incredible figure both on and off the pitch. Truly not only an Indonesian great but also a Southeast Asian great. The country and region are proud to have you, Bambang! Go forth, enjoy your retirement, you legend!