Football Tribe SEA Editor
When one mention the Indonesian region of Papua and football in a single sentence, the name Persipura Jayapura would immediately pop up in our minds almost straight away. The Mutiara Hitam have always been known as the region’s premier club, one of Indonesia’s most successful teams of all time and a regular competitor in Asian competitions, be it the AFC Champions League or the AFC Cup. Persipura have also produced a plethora of talented players who have represented the red-and-black at some point of their careers – the likes of brothers Ortizan and Boaz Solossa, Eduard Ivakdalam, Ian Louis Kabes, the Wanggai brothers – Patrich, Izaac, and cousin Imanuel, Titus Bonai, brothers Yustinus and Victor Pae, Prisca Womsiwor, Rully Nere, Gerald Pangkali, Yohanes Pahabol, Ricky Kayame, Ruben Sanadi, Osvaldo Haay, and Todd Rivaldo Ferre to name a few. To footballers hailing from the provinces of Papua and West Papua within the region, Persipura is seen as the ultimate destination to further their careers. With financial backing from both Bank Papua and mining giants Freeport Indonesia, Persipura still stood strong as Indonesian football enters professionalism in the late 2000s, which saw clubs becoming independent from their local governments.
However, one must also remember that the Papua region is a huge region brimming with footballing talent, and a number of other teams also coexisted alongside Persipura and even challenged them for regional glory. Far-flung trips to the region made playing teams from Papua a nightmare for oppositions from all over Indonesia and combined with their wealth of footballing talent, teams from Papua have proven themselves to be competitive in the national stage. Unlike Persipura though, these other teams doesn’t have the same powerful financial backing and excellent infrastructure that the Mutiara Hitam had, and as time went on, they started to wane and slowly, these teams began to disappear off the map, ensuring Persipura’s stranglehold over the region. This article will go through five teams that have attempted to challenge Persipura’s dominance over the region, some with relative success, before sadly perishing off the Indonesian footballing map.
Let’s start with Persiwa Wamena. The men in green-and-black were perennially known as the region’s second team and the closest challenger of Persipura’s dominance. The likes of Pieter Rumaropen, Yesaya Desnam, Ricardo Merani, Yopen Wandikbo, and the late Timotius Mote have represented the Badai Pegunungan, alongside foreign talents in Boakay Eddie Foday and Erick Weeks Lewis. Persiwa’s Pendidikan Stadium was located within the high altitudes of the Baliem Valley in the Jayawijaya Regency, forming a natural fortress that tire oppositions quickly. This meant that Persiwa were quite fearsome at home, which contributed to their status of being Persipura’s closest rivals. Persiwa were once runners-up of the Indonesian top flight in the 2008-09 season, with Persipura being the champions of that season. This earned them an appearance in the 2010 AFC Cup, where the Badai Pegunungan got to face off with Thai League giants SCG Muangthong United, Hong Kong titans South China AA, and VB Sports Club of the Maldives. However, with the Pendidikan failing to meet AFC standards, Persiwa were forced to play their home games almost 3000 kilometers away in the city of Malang, East Java. Deprived of their strongest asset, Persiwa finished bottom of their AFC Cup group. Persiwa remained competitive in the years following that, however, they were relegated in 2013, in a year that saw Rumaropen being banned for life by the Indonesian FA (PSSI) after he had assaulted a referee. That year, Persiwa’s home record were quite decent, but their woeful away form – which saw them lose almost all of their away games – would prove to be their downfall. Determined to claw their way back to the top, Persiwa fought their way through the second tier in 2014, however financial troubles had began to set in, and combined with the Pendidikan failing to meet the PSSI’s increasing standards, Persiwa were forced to stay in the second tier despite finishing as runners-up that season. The year 2018 saw financial troubles finally catching up with Persiwa, who were almost unable to play in that season’s Liga 2 before merging with amateur side Bina Putra FC in order to have the required resources to survive the season, albeit very limited. The merger meant that Persiwa were playing their home games at Cirebon, West Java, the city where Bina Putra were once based at. Deprived of their fortress, playing with almost little to no resources at all, and even being deducted 6 points by FIFA due to being unable to pay their foreign players’ wages in the 2013 season, Persiwa crashed out of the Liga 2 at the end of the 2018 season and to rub salt into their wounds, they were disqualified from the 2019 Liga 3 season due to their financial woes. Until today, Periswa has yet to kick a ball, with their final game of the 2018 season, a 3-1 away defeat to Blitar United, being the last time a Persiwa team has taken the field.
Infrastructural problems were also the main cause behind the demise of our second team. Perseru Serui were the latest team to challenge Persipura’s dominance in the Papua region, although unlike Persiwa, they came nowhere near the Mutiara Hitam. Based in the Yapen Islands Regency, like Persiwa before them, Perseru’s greatest asset lies within their stadium – but it also doubles as their greatest liability. The Marora Stadium is notoriously hard to reach, often leaving teams fatigued even into matchdays. This meant that Perseru were able to frustrate and overpower most oppositions at home. However, the Marora lacked the floodlights required to play evening games, and with the holy month of Ramadan requiring games to be played at night, the Cendrawasih Oranye were forced to up sticks and play games temporarily in Malang during that time. This continuous cycle of playing games out of Serui every Ramadan, having to play away games at far-reaching places, and the inability of the Serui local government in fixing the Marora’s problems, meant that Perseru’s finances were hit severely every year. The strain of maintaining Perseru every year in the top flight finally reached its breaking point after the 2018 season, with Perseru’s owners considering pulling out of the league due to the exorbitant costs that a top flight season could pose on them. Former Pelita Bandung Raya director Marco Garcia Paulo came in with money in his pocket and bought Perseru off their owners, before subsequently relocated the club to Lampung Province in Sumatra, branding them as Badak Lampung FC, ending Perseru’s existence in Indonesian football in the process. In terms of footballing prowess, Perseru’s men in orange-and-black were expert relegation battlers, often escaping the threat of relegation in the most critical of moments. Notable names that have donned the Cendrawasih Oranye jersey were Arthur Bonai (brother of the aforementioned Titus), Yance Youwey, Liston Fonataba, and Franklin Rumbiak, as well as foreigners in Kunihiro Yamashita and Silvio Escobar.
The province of West Papua rarely had any representation in Indonesia’s top flight, however, two teams had proudly represented their province, as well as the overall Papua region, in the highest tier of Indonesian football. Underneath the tutelage of Englishman Paul Cumming, Perseman Manokwari were a force during the 80s, with players such as Adolof Kabo and Yonas Sawor lighting up the top flight in the colors of the Hino Cofu. Playing in a yellow-and-black attire, Perseman were runners-up of the top flight in the 1986, before they slowly declined into obscurity. During Perseman’s decline, another West Papua team stepped up to the plate in the top flight, Persiram Raja Ampat. The men in blue-and-black were a top flight mainstay during the early 2010s, with the likes of Dominggus Fakdawer, Elthon Maran, Moses Banggo, Nehemia Solossa (brother of Ortizan and Boaz), Joice Sorongan, and Gideon Way honing their skills with the Dewa Laut, who were led by Liberian Kubay Quaiyan during this period. In 2013, during the height of Indonesian football’s league dualism crisis, both Perseman and Persiram did decently in their respective leagues – Persiram were a solid mid-table side during the 2013 Liga Super Indonesia, while Perseman were runners-up of the 2013 Indonesian Premier League, with Kornelis Kaimu leading the way for the Hino Cofu. Sadly the overall turmoil of Indonesian football during that time hit both West Papua teams quite hard. Perseman were denied a place in the newly unified Liga Super Indonesia in 2014 due to the club’s financial problems, before being relegated out of the Divisi Utama Liga Indonesia (2nd tier) later that year. Persiram remained as a mainstay in the Indonesian top flight after the league’s reunification, however their stay in the top flight was cut off by the FIFA suspension of Indonesian football in 2015. Out of these two teams, Perseman had the more fortunate outcome – they can still be seen playing in the Liga 3 West Papua. As for Persiram, the Dewa Laut has ceased to exist – being bought out by the Indonesian army and merged with their own football team, PS TNI, for the 2016 Torabika Soccer Championship A. And when Indonesian football was reinstated in 2017, PS TNI took Persiram’s place in the newly re-branded Liga 1.
Last but not least, we visit a team that was the closest thing Persipura has got to a city rival. Based in the suburbs of Jayapura, Persidafon Dafonsoro were named after the Cyclops Mountains, or Dafonsoro, located to the west of Jayapura. Despite being a intra-city derby, Persipura’s rivalry with Persidafon wasn’t as intense as the Mutiara Hitam‘s rivalry with Persiwa, and for a good cause. Persidafon were more known for being a mid-to-lower table team with only two stints in the top flight – 2011-12 and 2013. The Gabus Sentani, captained by former Persipura captain Eduard Ivakdalam during their top flight stints, finished a solid 10th place in 2011-12, before slipping into a 16th place finish – and with it relegation – in 2013. Other than Ivakdalam, brothers Patrich and Izaac Wanggai, Edison Ames, Selsius Gebze, Yohanes Pahabol, Victor Pae, and Izak Ogoai have donned Persidafon’s white-and-black jersey. In fact, most of these former Persidafon players had represented or went on to represent Persipura in their careers, signifying a close bond between the two city rivals. Despite only spending two seasons in the top flight, the Gabus Sentani‘s most memorable achievement happened during their promotion season of 2010, where they smashed PSIS Semarang 10-0 at the Barnabas Youwe Stadium in Jayapura. Financial problems meant that Persidafon had to pull out of the 2014 Divisi Utama, thus sitting out the chaos brought on by the 2015 FIFA suspension of Indonesian football. Thankfully, like Perseman, Persidafon is still active to this day, plying their trade in the Liga 3 Papua. Only time will tell if Persidafon were able to challenge their city rivals once again or not.
The aforementioned five teams have at least shared a season or two with Persipura in the Indonesian top flight’s various incarnations. There are plenty of other teams plying their trade in the lower two tiers of Indonesian football – as of 2020, Liga 2 has PSBS Biak Numfor and Persewar Waropen representing Papua, while Liga 3 has a plethora of teams from both Papua and West Papua – apart from the aforementioned Perseman and Persidafon, we have Persemi Mimika, Perseka Kaimana, Persiss Sorong, Persigubin Pegunungan Bintang, and many others. However, without the proper financial backing that Persipura had, the fates of these smaller teams may hang in the balance. These smaller teams might disappear like the likes of Persiwa, Perseru, and Persiram, unless some degree of support can be shown to these teams. The disparity between Persipura and the other teams in the Papua region is quite prevalent – which is quite a shame, considering the huge wealth of talent and potential that the provinces of Papua and West Papua have. Should these smaller teams receive the same amount of support from relevant stakeholders as Persipura have, we might have a number of exciting Papua rivalry matches in the top flight within the near future.