Robbie Gaspar played professional football (soccer) throughout Southeast Asia for over a decade including 7 years in Indonesia. Tim Flicker caught up with him to discuss his experiences of playing for some of Indonesia’s most popular clubs and what the future holds for Indonesian football.
Robbie, you played professional football (soccer) for almost a decade in both Malaysia and Indonesia. Could you please tell us a little a bit about these experiences?
Playing football in Malaysia, Brunei and Indonesia was a great experience and something that I will never forget. What a lot of people don’t realise is that football is the number 1 sport in the region and the passion for the game is mind boggling. You regularly get crowds of over 35,000 to league matches and I was lucky enough to play in a final where there were over 85,000 supporters there. I had a few years in Malaysia at Sabah FA. I lived in city of Kota Kinabalu which was a fantastic place to live. It was like I was constantly on holiday and the people were great as well. I also had a couple of stints in Brunei for QAF FC which I also really enjoyed.
My last 7 years of my professional career I spent in Indonesia. I played for Persita Tangerang, Persiba Balikpapan, Persema Malang and Persib Bandung. Persib was by far the biggest team I played for and their supporters the Bobotoh were unreal. They would travel all over Indonesia to watch us play and we would regularly get anywhere between 25,000-45,000 people for matches depending on who we played. My favourite place to live while I was in Indonesia was Malang. The city is set in the hills and it was really relaxed. No traffic jams to worry about and also plenty of great places to eat and chill out. I was lucky enough as well to travel all over Indonesia with the teams for the games so I saw how beautiful and diverse the country can be.
How does Indonesian football compare to playing football back home in Australia and other countries?
I think being a professional footballer is great wherever you play and we have to be grateful to be able to do what we love for a living but in Indonesia they are so much more passionate about the game than in Australia that you feel like you are playing in one of the biggest leagues in the world. Players who come to Indonesia very rarely want to leave because they enjoy playing in Indonesia so much.
Can you describe the atmosphere of the matches in Indonesia? How does it compare to other countries?
The atmosphere of matches in Indonesia is something you cannot describe until you have actually experienced it for yourself. The crowd is continuously singing, dancing and going crazy. They are definitely the 12th man when you play at home. They can also sometimes fill the stadium an hour before the match. Indonesian fans are also very creative with their songs that sometimes you can’t help but have a laugh. Malaysian fans have now begun to sing Indonesian songs at their matches.
Is there any upcoming talent in Indonesia such as young winger Andik Vermansyah we should be on the look out for?
I think their are plenty of great youngsters coming through the ranks like Evan Dimas, Yandi Sofyan and Kurnia Meiga. I also still think the likes of Boaz Solossa and Ahmad Bustomi are still good enough to play at a much higher level if given the chance. The national U/19’s have been doing well and hopefully these players can continue to improve and help the senior national team qualify for the next Asian Cup.
Why do you think Indonesian players are often hesitant to leave their country and play overseas?
I think what people probably don’t realise is that Indonesians are very family-oriented. By staying and playing in Indonesia, they can do what they love and still be close to their family. Another reason is that the players are also massive stars in Indonesia and you don’t experience the passion for football like in Indonesia in the majority of other countries.
What do you see the barriers holding back the development of Indonesian football on the international stage?
I could talk about this all day but the main reason for this is the people running the game. They are all just in football for themselves and that’s all. Not worried about the players, the fans or anyone else. Just what’s in it for themselves. Indonesian football has so much potential but if the same people continue to be in power than the game will struggle to move forward. Players continue to go unpaid for months on end and when they get injured or sick their contracts are torn up and only given a months compensation if they are lucky, even though they have much longer remaining on their contracts. All parties must work together to see the game move forward and if they don’t I am afraid the game will never reach its full potential.
What is good about Indonesian football and what would you like to see change?
Indonesian players have great skill and technique and the country has an unrivalled passion for the game. The skill and technique coupled with this passion I think Indonesia could seriously qualify for a World Cup within the next 15 years. For this to happen, firstly they would need to change the people in power and bring in people who have the best interests of the game at heart. Then they would need to respect the players rights. Investing in providing decent facilities for games and training for all players so they can develop and become better players is something that also needs to be done because currently the facilities on offer are not good enough.