Southeast Asia Indonesia

“Darkest Day in Indonesian Football” as 125 People were Killed in Stadium Crush

October 1st 2022 became the darkest day in the history of Indonesian football after a Super East Java Derby between Arema FC and Persebaya Surabaya ended in tragedy. 125 people were killed after a pitch invasion at the end of the match led to clashes between Arema supporters and local police force, which ends in a massive crush at the Kanjuruhan Stadium.

Matchweek 11 of the 2022/23 Liga 1 Indonesia season saw bitter rivals Arema and Persebaya squaring up against one another at the former’s Kanjuruhan Stadium, in a late kick-off spectated exclusively by Arema supporters as Persebaya fans were advised to remain at home due to the risky nature of the tie. Matches against Arema and Persebaya have seen clashes occurring regularly between the two set of supporters, but nothing would compare to what happened after Saturday’s encounter.

Persebaya emerged victorious 3-2 in a very pulsating tie, with Silvio Junior and Leo Lelis giving Persebaya a 2-0 lead before Abel Camara bagged himself a brace for Arema to ensure a deadlocked first half. Sho Yamamoto eventually popped up with Persebaya’s winner in the 51st minute that ended the Bajul Ijo‘s 3-match losing streak.

According to numerous eyewitness accounts, fans began streaming onto the pitch after the final whistle, some in protest over Arema’s first home defeat at the hands of Persebaya in 23 years while others wanted to meet up close and personal with their heroes. Regardless of reason, these fans were swiftly intercepted by police officers overseeing the match, equipped with batons and riot shields. At this point, the Persebaya players had been swiftly taken out of the stadium using an Armored People Carrier (APC) while the Arema players were evacuated into the dressing rooms.

Eyewitness accounts from survivors indicate that these fans were beaten by the officers, leading to all-out chaos as more fans began to invade the pitch. Things got even more out of control after police officers fired cans of tear gases towards fans who were still on the stands, forcing them to flee towards the nearest exits. With the exits being unable to contain so many people trying to get out of the stadium at once, a severe stadium crush was inevitable.

In total 125 people were killed from the incident, a number that was confirmed by the Indonesian government on Monday. A good majority of the deceased lost their lives either on their way to the hospital or during treatment, with many suffering from broken bones from the human stampede and suffocation from either the human crush or the tear gas.

FIFA regulations have dictated that no “crowd control gases” are to be used during matches by either stewards or police, but Indonesian police often use tear gas in handling rowdy supporters during football matches within the archipelago nation.

The tragedy at Kanjuruhan shocked not only Indonesian football, but the global football fraternity as well.

FIFA President Gianni Infantino said that the incident marks a “dark day” in the history of football.

“I extend my deepest condolences to the families and friends of the victims who lost their lives following this tragic incident,” said Infantino, “Together with FIFA and the global football community, all our thoughts and prayers are with the victims, those who have been injured, together with the people of the Republic of Indonesia, the Asian Football Confederation, the Indonesian Football Association, and the Indonesian Football League, at this difficult time.”

Numerous Premier League clubs extended their condolences through their social media accounts, where a minute’s silence was held during last weekend’s La Liga games. Several Liga Super Malaysia clubs also shared their condolences on social media, while fans of Thai League 1 side Port FC brought a banner that read out “PRAY FOR AREMA FANS” during their side’s 1-1 draw with True Bangkok United last Sunday.

Both the Liga 1 and the Liga 2 Indonesia were suspended for two weeks underneath the order of Indonesia President Joko Widodo, while a special taskforce spearheaded by Mahfud MD, the Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal, and Security Affairs of Indonesia, was formed to investigate the tragedy. Additionally, Indonesia’s campaign in the AFC U-17 Asian Cup qualifiers was held behind closed doors at the Pakansari Stadium as a safety precaution.

The Indonesian Police received massive public outcry as Indonesians were outraged by their heavy-handed approach in handling the pitch invasion. Numerous anti-police messages were graffitied to the Kanjuruhan Stadium walls, alongside messages of condolences towards the victims and support towards the survivors. Numerous vigils were held across Indonesia on Monday to remember the victims, with protests demanding the police’s accountability accompanying them. An internal investigation held by the Indonesian Police saw the Malang Chief of Police being sacked, while 18 Mobile Brigade members are being investigated for their conduct after the Arema-Persebaya match.

Clubs and supporters alike within Indonesia united together in remembrance of the fallen 125 people. With the league being suspended for the time being, Arema’s league rivals gathered at their respective stadiums and held vigils to respect those who had lost their lives, a similar vigil was also held by Arema at the Kanjuruhan. The Singo Edan‘s management, coaching staff, and players could not hide their sadness as an air of solemnness hung over the stadium.

Bonek, Persebaya’s notoriously fanatical supporters group, held a heartfelt vigil at Surabaya’s Tugu Pahlawan on Monday, where they vowed that they will forgo their age-long grudge towards the Aremania, Arema’s own supporters group, for the sake of a better tomorrow.

“Rivalries only last for 90 minutes, after that we’re all brothers again,” said Bonek member Hussein Ghozali, as quoted from detikSport, “Let this incident be the last one.”

A similar “burying-the-hatchet move” was done by supporters of PSIM Yogyakarta, PSS Sleman, and Persis Solo on Monday, where the three rivaling supporters group vowed to eliminate the hate between them for the greater good.

Arema head coach Javier Roca revealed to Spanish broadcaster Caderna Ser that the incident left him “mentally scarred.” The Chilean said that he and his Arema players helped the victims of the crush into the dressing rooms and he saw a number of Arema supporters dying in the arms of his players. Roca also felt that the police has “overstepped their mark” in controlling the crowd, which led to the tragedy.

A similarly harrowing account was shared by Arema defender Sergio Silva to Portuguese newspaper A Bola.

“I can only mention a terrifying scenario,” Sergio said, “Police cars on fire, everything broken, corridors with blood, people’s shoes. People were desperate, they had seen people die and were trying to escape.”

A thorough investigation to the tragedy is still ongoing.