Football Tribe SEA Editor
The province of East Java in Indonesia has long been known as a hotbed of the country’s footballing scene. A number of Indonesia’s best and most decorated clubs came from this province, from Persebaya Surabaya, Arema FC of Malang, Persik Kediri, Persibo Bojonegoro, Persela Lamongan, Madura United, and last but not least, Gresik United. The last name had a long and tumultuous history within Indonesian football – formerly known as Petrokimia Putra, they won the Indonesian top flight title in 2002, before being relegated out of the top flight the following year. Petrokimia returned to the top flight in 2005 but as financial shortages kicked in, they were relegated after just one season. It was at the end of the 2005 season that Petrokimia merged themselves with local rivals Persegres Gresik, thus forming Persegres Gresik United. Persegres Gresik United made their comeback to the Indonesian top flight in 2013, where they remained there until their relegation in the 2017 Liga 1 season. However financial shortages and severe mismanagement affected the Kebo Giras‘ performances on the pitch during the 2018 Liga 2 season and thus a second-successive relegation to the Liga 3 ensued.
The 2019 Liga 3 season did not end well for Gresik United. Allegations of unpaid wages continuously haunt the once successful team, and despite a change in management that saw the name “Persegres” being removed from the team name, Gresik United never recovered and they will play the 2020 season stuck in Liga 3, the lowest tier of Indonesian football. However the hopes and dreams of the people of Gresik, a small port city situated just outside Surabaya, to see a representative of their city in the top two tiers of Indonesian football were still well and alive this season.
During the same season where Gresik United struggled massively in the Liga 3, a new force is rising in the city of Gresik. That force, is Putra Sinar Giri Gresik, better known as PSG Gresik. PSG Gresik romped to the 2019 Liga 3 East Java title and powered through the regional rounds effortlessly. National spotlight began to turn towards them as this relatively unknown team found themselves in the Round of 8 of the Liga 3 National Round – the final frontier that separates them with the second tier of Indonesian football, Liga 2.
The Round of 8 of the Liga 3 National Round saw the eight participating teams split into two groups of four. Playing out a home tournament, the top three teams of each group will be promoted to the Liga 2, while the winners of each group will fight it out for the Liga 3 title. And after 2 out of 3 matches played in their group, PSG Gresik found themselves 2nd in their group after one win and one defeat. Considering that PSG Gresik’s group contained Persijap Jepara, who were once a mainstay in the Indonesian top flight, and Semeru FC, who were playing Liga 2 football last season, that was no small feat at all. All that PSG Gresik have to do now is win their final match of the group against Semeru FC while hoping that Perseta Tulungagung would slip up against already promoted Persijap on December 26th, and that ticket to the Liga 2 is theirs.
A “Tarkam” Team with Big Dreams
PSG Gresik were founded in 2016, during the FIFA suspension of Indonesian football. They initially played their football at the district level, or in other words, tarkam (antar-kampung/inter-district). PSG Gresik won the 2016 and 2017 Pusaka Cup in the Menganti District, proving themselves as the best team in their district for two years in a row. It was in 2017 that PSG Gresik decided to dream big – competing on the national level.
In order to achieve that dream, PSG Gresik bought the license of Putra Ijen, a struggling Liga 3 club from Jember in order to compete in the 2018 Liga 3. Starting off life in the East Java regional round, PSG Gresik became one of the 11 teams that qualified for the Liga 3 Java Regional Round, where teams from all over Java compete against each other for places in the National Round. PSG Gresik dispatched Persitangsel South Tangerang in the first round of the Regional Round, before losing out to PSID Jombang on away goals in the second round, thus ending PSG Gresik’s first foray into national football.
The PSG Gresik higher ups did not rest on their laurels after impressive achievement. They evaluated the team and improved the squad for the 2019 season, signing a number of quality players. One such player is David Faristian, a longtime servant of Gresik United. Forced out of the Kebo Giras due to the club’s financial problems, the midfielder jumped ship to PSG Gresik to continue his footballing career and subsequently found himself as a key participant in PSG Gresik’s rise through the 2019 Liga 3 season. David’s experience in playing football at the highest level, coupled with the expertise of Persebaya alumni Khoirul Anam in the dugout, meant that PSG Gresik were able to do one better from last year in the 2019 season, winning the 2019 Liga 3 East Java Region title after edging Perseta in a penalty shootout.
Goals Galore and the Liga 2 Dream
As fate would have it, PSG Gresik were once again paired with Persitangsel in the Java Regional Round. Receiving a bye from the first round, PSG Gresik went up against their old rivals from South Tangerang in the second round, and it was there that they exploded into life. PSG Gresik destroyed Persitangsel 5-0 in Gresik in the first leg, before the second leg saw Khoirul’s men tearing Persitangsel apart 7-0. Striker Hasbiyanto bagged 8 goals between the two legs, with a hat-trick in the first leg and an impressive five goal haul in the second. With a thumping 12-0 aggregate win, PSG Gresik marched through into the National Round.
The first round of the National Round was played as a home tournament divided into 8 groups, with PSG Gresik, who were groundsharing the Gelora Joko Samudro Stadium with Gresik United, being appointed as a host team for Group F. PSG Gresik were drawn into the group alongside regional rivals PSIL Lumajang, Gaspa 1958 Palopo of South Sulawesi, and PSN Ngada of East Nusa Tenggara. PSG Gresik could only muster one win and two draws from their group, with a crushing 4-1 win over PSIL sandwiching two 1-1 draws against both Gaspa and PSN. However PSG Gresik found themselves being awarded a 3-0 victory after PSN was judged to have played an ineligible player during their draw against PSG Gresik. Those two wins and a draw were enough to earn PSG Gresik top spot in Group F, and a ticket to the National Round’s Round of 16.
The Liga 3 Round of 16 was a straightforward single match affair and PSG Gresik found themselves playing in home comforts once again, taking on Perseden Denpasar at the Gelora Joko Samudro. Bali’s second team proved themselves as no pushovers against PSG Gresik though, forcing a 2-2 draw after extra time that sends the match into penalties. It was during the shootout that PSG Gresik kept their cool, coming out 4-2 winners that eliminated Perseden from the competition and rewarded PSG Gresik with a ticket to the Round of 8.
The Round of 8 saw PSG Gresik being drawn to Group B alongside beaten Liga 3 East Java finalists Perseta, Semeru FC of Lumajang who were relegated out of the Liga 2 in 2018, and an ambitious Persijap side who are looking to fight their way back to the big time. With the Round of 8 being played in a home tournament format, the Gelora Joko Samudro once again received the honors to host Group B’s matches.
It was during this time that PSG Gresik started to garner national attention. A number of Ultrasmania, Gresik United’s passionate supporters, threw their support for PSG Gresik during their campaign in the National Round, though others are fanning a potential rivalry between PSG Gresik and their club. Everyone loves an underdog story and to see a team born out of district competitions on the verge of being promoted to the Liga 2 is something straight out of the fairy tale books. And while PSG Gresik started off their Round of 8 campaign on the wrong foot after losing 2-0 against Persijap, they’ve managed to take the game to their more established opponents, and their ill-tempered 2-3 win over Perseta kept their hopes of promotion alive.
Should PSG Gresik manage to get themselves promoted from the Liga 3 and establish themselves in either the Liga 2 or Liga 1, we might be witnessing the birth of a new force of East Javan and Indonesian football. And should Gresik United recover from their ongoing crisis and regain their footing within the Indonesian football scene, we might have an intriguing rivalry on the cards here.