Football Tribe SEA Editor
Football and religion. These two words may seem worlds apart and are rarely said in the same sentence let alone being in the same context, however football and religion have joined forces together and coexist together in harmony way longer than one might expect. Scottish giants Celtic can trace their roots to the Roman Catholic background of their Irish founder, while South Korean giants Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma (now Seongnam FC) had close ties to the Unification Church movement prior to their takeover and subsequent rebrand by the Seongnam city government in 2014. In Southeast Asia alone, we have Gospel For Asia FC (now Chinland FC) of Myanmar, founded by the eponymous non-profit missions organization in Myanmar’s Chin State. And now, in the 2020 Liga 2 Indonesia season, we see the birth of a new religious football club in Southeast Asia – PS Hizbul Wathan Sidoarjo, or PSHW.
As one of the two major Islamic organizations in Indonesia, the Muhammadiyah had overseen the growth of the religion in the world’s fourth most populous country. They also had a major role in the birth and subsequent development of Indonesian football – the first president of the Indonesian FA (PSSI), Soeratin, was a Muhammadiyah cadre. Another Muhammadiyah cadre, Abdul Hamid, was credited as one of the founding fathers of current Liga 2 side PSIM Yogyakarta. Both Soeratin and Abdul Hamid, the latter being a disciple of Muhammadiyah founder KH Ahmad Dahlan, contributed in the creation of PS Hizbul Wathan Yogyakarta, an amateur football club currently plying their trade in Liga 3 Yogyakarta underneath the ownership of the Muhammadiyah University of Yogyakarta, alongside other influential Muhammadiyah figures in the region such as Ki Bagoes Hadikoesoemo and Farid Makruf. The current incarnation of PS Hizbul Wathan Yogyakarta play at the Asri Field in Kuncen, Wirobrajan, Yogyakarta, which is now part of the Muhammadiyah University of Yogyakarta’s campus.
The establishment of PS Hizbul Wathan Yogyakarta encouraged other Muhammadiyah members in different regions to found their own teams, which led to the birth of PS Hizbul Wathan Bantul, PS Hizbul Wathan Sleman, PS Hizbul Wathan Gunung Kidul, PS Hizbul Wathan Solo, PS Hizbul Wathan Banjarmasin, and PS Hizbul Wathan Malang, among others. Like the Yogyakarta Hizbul Wathan, these teams were amateur sides, but unlike the Yogyakarta team, they didn’t play in any of the three PSSI-sanctioned leagues, instead playing in internal competitions held by their respective region’s football clubs. These Hizbul Wathan clubs played a significant role in the growth of Indonesian football during the first few years after the country’s independence. A number of Indonesian national team players from the 50s had plied their trade with at least one Hizbul Wathan club, among them Persija Jakarta legend Djamiat Dalhar.
Prior to their decision to enroll a team in the 2020 Liga 2 season, the Muhammadiyah had assisted Indonesian football from behind the scenes in modern times. The organization provided the office building for Persis Solo and when current Liga 1 giants Arema FC were undergoing financial turmoil in 2000, the Muhammadiyah University of Malang stepped in to sponsor the team and steadied the Singo Edan ship. However, supporting other teams alone wasn’t enough, and after PS Hizbul Wathan Yogyakarta were eliminated from the 2019 Liga 3 Yogyakarta group stages, the Muhammadiyah decided that they need a bigger platform to spread their values through football.
Enter Semeru FC Lumajang. Formerly known as Persigo Gorontalo, the club was relocated to the East Javan city of Lumajang in 2017 after a change in ownership, subsequently playing both the 2017 and 2018 seasons of Liga 2 as Semeru FC. The team were relegated to the Liga 3 at the end of the 2018 season, however they bounced back in 2019 and made their immediate return to the second tier of Indonesian football. However, Semeru FC were plagued with financial troubles, and they had problems securing funds for the upcoming 2020 season. With the Liga 2 season demanding the team traveling to far-reaching places such as Biak in Papua and Manado in North Sulawesi, it seems that promotion comes as a curse rather than a blessing for the financially-stricken Semeru FC due to the potentially massive financial strains that the season could pose to them.
With the Muhammadiyah needing a fresh platform and Semeru FC needing a change of ownership, the two came into a mutual understanding with the Muhammadiyah, through their East Java Regional Leadership, purchasing Semeru FC off the hands of their old owners. The Muhammadiyah then rebranded Semeru FC into PSHW, switching the club colors from red and black to yellow and blue, presenting a new badge, and relocating the club to the city of Sidoarjo, with the Gelora Delta Stadium in downtown Sidoarjo acting as PSHW’s new home.
Sidoarjo itself is currently undergoing a period of footballing crisis. The city’s number one club, Deltras Sidoarjo, have decided to sit out the 2020 season after the arrest of Sidoarjo Regent Saiful Ilah due to allegations of corruption, with the result of said corruption being allegedly used to fund Deltras. The city’s second club, Persida Sidoarjo, is set to spend another season in the Liga 3, with another uphill battle to the Liga 2 in store for them in 2020. With the decline of the city’s two clubs, the majestic Gelora Delta, constructed for the 15th National Sports Week in 2000, was relegated into a mere alternative venue for Liga 1 clubs, with the likes of Bhayangkara FC and Persipura Jayapura hosting their home games there temporarily. It is hoped that the arrival of PSHW would revive the city’s enthusiasm towards football, especially amongst the Muhammadiyah cadres within the city.
In order to achieve their goal of promoting the values of their organization and the values of Islam through PSHW, the Muhammadiyah decided that their players should not only be skilled in football, but also morally just, with PSHW players being expected to play in a polite and discipline manner that adheres to the values of sportsmanship. PSHW players are also being expected to avoid bribery, liquor, and the temptations of performing sinful actions off the field. With this in mind, PSHW recruited a bulk of their players from the multitude of Hizbul Wathan clubs spread across the East Java region, but also opening their doors from players from outside Muhammadiyah, with the condition that they will adhere to PSHW and Muhammadiyah’s philosophies.
While keeping PSHW within Liga 2 or even promoting them to Liga 1 becomes a short-term objective of the Muhammadiyah with their current project, in the long term the Muhammadiyah through PSHW wishes to create generations after generations of talented and morally just players, through the establishment of footballing academies and dormitories within East Java. Muhammadiyah’s previous football-related programs have created a wealth of talent and facilities waiting to be utilized, mostly through the organization’s universities, and they believe that PSHW could become the perfect springboard for up-and-coming Muhammadiyah footballers.
A couple of notable names has been drafted into the PSHW project. Persebaya legend Yusuf Ekodono was appointed as PSHW’s inaugural head coach, while former Deltras, Arema, and Persik Kediri midfielder Juan Revi was appointed captain. Revi, fresh off winning the 2019 Liga 2 with Persik, was seen as a senior mentor figure for the young footballers at PSHW, and his experience will be important in leading the team through the arduous 2020 season. PSHW also managed to recruit Mufutau Ogunsula into their ranks. The Nigerian-born naturalized midfielder had experience playing in Indonesia with Persewangi Banyuwangi before, and it is hoped that his physical strength will add more steel into the PSHW midfield.
And while PSHW’s debut in the Liga 2 ended in a sour note – a second-half Asri Akbar penalty condemning the team to a 1-0 defeat away at Persijap Jepara – the suspension of the Indonesian leagues brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic meant that we have to wait for an indefinite amount of time until we can see PSHW’s true strength in full display. Will Muhammadiyah’s pet project succeed or fail? The only way to find out is to sit through this suspension, wait until the pandemic’s over, and watch Yusuf Ekodono’s men in action throughout the 2020 Liga 2 season.