Last summer I had the opportunity to practice with Gresik United in Surabaya, Indonesia. However, the interesting story is from two summers ago, when I played for Rheza Mahasiswa, a club that plays 1st division amateur football in Surabaya, Indonesia.
Culture shock was an understatement.
I was initially introduced to the team by a retired Brazilian footballer who made a name for himself in Indonesia. I’d be spending the summer in Surabaya so he recommended I play for Rheza Mahasiswa.
First day, he walks me to the training grounds. After some 20 minutes driving down a one-way road, filled with motorcycles, bicycles, cows, dogs, children running, horns beeping, real poverty on both ends and finger pointing at the white boy (aka me), we take a right into an even smaller dirt road. I see over 15 worn-down motorcycles parked next to a tall concrete wall; I’m told behind that wall is the training ground.
Walking past all the muddy puddles and tall bushes, I enter the field. To my disbelief, half of the field was pure dirt, and the other half the grass was so tall it had not drained all the monsoon rain from the night before. You could pick, play in legit dirt or play in a swamp.
Not to my surprise, as I walk in every single soul stares at me; players, coaches, fans, family of players, you name it. They could not believe a white person had entered. Most of those people are so poor they’ve never traveled outside the city or country, most have never seen white men up close. They all whispered to each other while looking at me; something I grew used to every practice. I was clearly the center of attention; it wasn’t surprising the number of people watching our practices grew exponentially after my arrival. I was getting pictures taken, and it wasn’t for my football skills – it was for the mere fact I was white.
Great – so by day one this is what I had learnt: No one in my team speaks English, the field conditions are critical and everyone loves staring at me. Off to a good start.
First week I perform well and quickly earn a starting spot. The weeks pass and the global language of football predominates. Through hand gestures, finger counting and drawing in the dirt, I started figuring out names, ages, Facebook contacts, soccer opinions and most importantly, game formations. I had to pass on a pre-season travel tournament for safety reasons. Something about being the only white foreigner who doesn’t speak Indonesian in a sketchy, long bus ride to some unheard of city didn’t sound too promising to my family.
Since my summer was ending, I only got to play one pre-season local tournament. I never ended up playing season games for Rheza Mahasiswa at the Petrokimia Stadium (where next summer I practiced with Gresik United).
Either way, it was an experience to remember. I’ve built friendships with other players that I cultivate through google translate and facebook. I learnt that friendship goes beyond your immediate group of friends and is stronger than any language barrier.
Here are pictures of the tournament. The field quality was the best I had ever played on in Indonesia. There is something special about being Brazilian and playing in front of 300+ Indonesians staring at specifically you, with a live narrator calling your name every time you touched the ball.
The tournament bracket. Who the other teams are, where they're from, how good they are, what the teams mean.. don't ask me.. I have no idea. Most of the questions I had could never be answered because no one ever understood me.
Concession stands? They have them in Indonesia too!
Apparently the word around the stadium had gone around that "a white kid was playing today"
So, if you’re not of Asian descent and you want to be the center of attention, go play football in Surabaya, Indonesia!