Retrospective: Andrew Barisic

Two years ago I ventured on a three week journey around South East Asia, watching and chatting to a range of Australian footballers and coaches. A number of stories followed from these meetings. Here is a retrospective look at the three days I spent with Andrew Barisic in Malang, Indonesia. Andrew is a well-travelled attacker, and is currently playing his football with Kerala Blasters in the much-publicised Indian Premier League. Since leaving Arema Malang, Andrew’s played in India (twice), Australia, and Hong Kong. Andrew is pictured with Kerala Blasters co-owner Sachin Tendulker above. 


Andrew Barisic is a name most ardent Hyundai A-League fans would be familiar with. The 26-year-old striker spent two seasons with Gold Coast United in Australia’s top flight, scoring a handful of goals during a stop-start spell with the now defunct club.

Stuck behind the likes of acclaimed marksman Shane Smeltz and Joel Porter during his days on the glitter strip, it was in 2011 that Barisic swapped Skilled Park, Robina for the Gelora 10 November Stadium, Surabaya, embarking on a fruitful spell in Indonesian football.

Barisic’s move to East Java and one of Indonesia’s biggest clubs, Persebaya Surabaya, not only rekindled his passion for the game, it also sparked a flurry of goals during his time with ‘the green crocodiles’. It was this form, combined with a change in coach at Persebaya that led him to southern rivals Arema Malang.

Now united with Australian fitness coach Nathan Hall at Arema, Barisic will tonight aim to help his side overturn a two-goal deficit against Saudi Arabian outfit Al Ettifaq at the Prince Mohammed Bin Fahad Stadium in Dammam.

“It’s been really good, to be honest,” Barisic said of his time in Indonesia. “When I first came to Arema we had a whole change in team management and coaches, so at the start we only got one or two good results.”

“But slowly the team gathered some experience together, and playing as a group we slowly gelled. 13 games we went without a loss which got us through to the second round of the AFC Cup where we beat Kitchee from Hong Kong.”

Indeed, Barisic and Hall’s experience in Asia’s second tier club tournament has taken them to a variety of unique destinations around East Asia thus far. From Myanmar to Malaysia, Vietnam to Hong Kong, the pair are working towards advancing to the final four of the AFC Cup should they manage to fight their way back into the contest tonight.

Last Tuesday, Al Ettifaq won an eventful first leg in Malang 2-0. With the floodlights at the Gajayana Stadium failing in the 51st minute, the home team struggled to find their rhythm after the unplanned 20-minute break.

The return match against the Saudi’s marks the duo’s first foray into West Asia, and along with Slovakian attacker Roman Chmelo, Barisic will be tasked with netting the goals to take the Lions a step closer to AFC Cup glory.

“It was very hard to fight with the likes of Shane Smeltz who has gone to the World Cup,” Barisic said. “I didn’t get much of a chance [at Gold Coast]. But I scored eight goals in 11 games when I first got to Persebaya.”

Barisic would end the controversial Indonesian Premier League season with a total of eight strikes in 15 appearances for Arema, level with Chmelo with whom he has developed an acute understanding. But it has been working with experienced Serbian coach Dejan Antonic, and his assistant Darko Vargec, which has provided further reward. Vargec is a former captain of Red Star Belgrade, and represented the club in the UEFA Champions League.

“Dejan has quite a good name in South East Asian football and is very experienced,” he said. “But Darko and I have private sessions all the time and it’s really helped my game. He [Darko] has certainly helped me on a personal level.”

While Barisic gets by in Indonesia with an ever improving and expanding knowledge of Bahasa, one colleague he has no trouble communicating with is his compatriot Hall. Hall’s journey to Malang can be traced to his time in Sutherland where he worked in the New South Wales Premier League.

After “sacrificing probably four or five years of weekends” studying the philosophies of top teams in Spain, Germany and Italy, Hall earned his break in South East Asian professional football with Thai Premier League club Thai Port. Stints with Thai Tobacco and MuangThong United followed, before Hall was tempted to Malang to try something new.

“For me Bangkok is my second home,” Hall said. “[But] I was working in Thailand for three years and I was umming and ahhing about the possibility of exploring another South East Asian country.

“I went on a short holiday to Vietnam and I received a phone call from my manager. He said Arema had made an offer and that I had 24 hours to accept. At the time I had no job and obviously as a coach you want to keep coaching. For me it was a no-brainer. I made the decision like that to come to Indonesia.”

With the Indonesian league system currently in a state of debate, Arema Malang had not played a competitive match for over two months before last Tuesday’s tie with Al Ettifaq. Limited to a string of friendly fixtures, Hall, along with Antonic and the rest of the Arema coaching staff have had only four weeks to prepare their players for what is arguably one of the biggest tie’s in the clubs history.

Describing the challenge as “unique”, Hall has also had to contend with Ramadan during the preparation phase. 90 per cent of the Arema squad are Muslim, which has made training during the sacred annual period practically impossible.

Still, Hall refuses to throw in the towel.

“They [Al Ettifaq] are a top team,” he said. “They have a smorgasbord of under 23 Saudi national team players, and probably on the whole they are stronger than what we are. But in a knockout match, anything’s possible.”

With a cloud over when the new Indonesian league season will start, neither Barisic nor Hall can confirm where their personal futures exist following the knockout duel with the ’Commandos’ from Dammam.

Nevertheless, both are excited by the chance to carve their names into Indonesian club football history at a time when Indonesian club football is at one of its most historically significant junctures.

 

Retrospective: Robbie Gaspar

IMG_2303Two years ago I ventured on a three week journey around South East Asia, watching and chatting to a range of Australian footballers and coaches. A number of stories followed from these meetings. Here is a retrospective look at the five-days I spent with Robbie Gaspar in Bandung, Indonesia. Robbie is a great man who these days has over 83,000 twitter followers rather than nearly 50k. He’s hung up the boots, too, but is still fighting for the rights of professional footballers across the globe.


With a Twitter following fast approaching 50,000 and instant recognisability on the streets of Bandung, Australian midfielder Robbie Gaspar is on the frontline of the fight to fix Indonesian football.

It’s a mild Saturday morning in Bandung, Indonesia. Traffic relentlessly snakes its way through the narrow, winding streets as locals trade their wares at the edge of the road.

Having risen early to venture to training, Robbie Gaspar beams as his blurry eyes catch sight of a youngster buzzing by on his motorbike.

It’s not the daring speed at which the rider is travelling, nor the dangerous swerves through oncoming traffic that makes Gaspar smile – that he has witnessed many times before. It’s the fact that etched on the motorcyclists back sits his surname: “Gaspar”.

Born in Perth, Western Australia, and with just a handful of Australian national league games in the early 2000s to his name, Gaspar is far from a household name in his homeland.

But in Indonesia the former Sydney Olympic players’ celebrity extends from the beaches of Balikpapan to the markets of Malang, and most certainly to the bars of Bandung.

We arrive at Stadium Si Jalak Harupat. As Gaspar and his then teammate, Montenegrin Miljan Radovic, emerge from their car some 250 kids who have gathered to watch their heroes train swamp them. Dozens of mobile phones instantly appear and the kids clamber for a photograph.

The youths are insistent, but not rude. Gaspar and Radovic fulfil every last request and eventually make it to the relative comfort of their decaying change room 15 minutes after their arrival.

“It feels good to be recognised for what you do,” Gaspar says.

“They love their football here and they’re very passionate about it. When fans come up to you and ask for a photo or autograph in the street it makes you feel appreciated and it makes you want to put that bit extra in on the field. Each team from each city has that loyal, die-hard following. Footballers here are like footballers in England.”

It’s true, footballers in Indonesia are like footballers in England – they’re revered. Trouble is, football in Indonesia isn’t like football in England.

Political infighting has dogged the Indonesian game for years, holding back the undoubted potential of the domestic scene, and subsequently Indonesia’s national teams.

Unratified rebel leagues, match fixing, player strikes, and games being postponed – even cancelled – at the very last minute are an unfortunate reality of the current landscape.

Having spent seven seasons in the many incarnations of Indonesia’s “top flight”, Gaspar is well placed to outline the problems that plague the game.

“Some of the things I’ve seen and heard in the last seven years are a disgrace,” he says.

“Football here is such a powerful tool that a lot of people want to get involved for the wrong reasons. I just want to see people getting involved for the right reasons.

“What’s happening to the players shouldn’t be happening. The players need to be treated with respect. The players and the fans are the most important part of the game. If everyone put their own agendas aside and worked for the betterment of the game this place could be anything.”

Gaspar doesn’t hide the fact that when we met, he was one of the lucky few. His club at the time, Persib Bandung, is one of Indonesia’s biggest, routinely drawing crowds in excess of 30,000.

Studies have shown that across the diverse archipelago approximately 20 million people watch Persib’s matches on television, while hopeful entrepreneurs hawk unofficial merchandise around Bandung. Importantly, the club pays their squad and staff on time.

Others at Indonesia’s 90 professional outfits are not so fortunate. Many players go months without their salaries, with club owners simply refusing to stump up the cash promised in their contracts.

Gaspar admits players routinely break down, departing their teams and with that losing hope of recouping what they’re owed. Others battle on with their fingers crossed, all the while struggling to provide for their families.

Having seen the plight of his fellow professionals first hand and advocated for them unofficially for years, Gaspar was recently appointed an executive of the Asosiasi Persepakbola Professional Indonesia (APPI), Indonesia’s first players union akin to Professional Footballers Australia (PFA). In essence, his voluntary fight was formalised.

“Being from Australia we are from the culture where we like to stick up for ourselves and stick up for our mates,” he says.

“As footballers we are like family, so when you see a fellow footballer not being paid, it’s unacceptable. I just want to help out the boys. The players in Indonesia are not used to having a players union so we need to educate them that we can help them.”

While APPI have enjoyed some success in securing payments for players thus far, Gaspar’s support of his fellow professionals extends beyond merely campaigning for cheques to arrive in their bank accounts.

It’s Sunday dusk and Gaspar takes me to meet Juan Marcello Cirelli, a 28-year-old Argentinean player who counts River Plate among his former clubs, and Andri Ibo, a 22-year-old Indonesian defender of Papuan decent. Cirelli and Ibo play for Persidafon Dafonsoro, a small side based in West Papua near the city of Jayapura.

Tomorrow, Cirelli and Ibo will line up against Gaspar’s Persib. Tonight, they are brothers in arms.

We share dinner at one of Bandung’s popular malls and as the passionate, articulate Cirelli outlines that Persidafon’s players have gone six months without salary, Gaspar listens attentively.

Like an investigator he probes the Argentine for more information. His phone buzzes numerous times throughout the two-hour rendezvous, usually with another Indonesian-based professional on the end of the line.

When the bill arrives Gaspar insists on picking up the tab for his guests.

“Every day I am on the phone getting feedback from the guys,” he says.

“There’s a lot of work in it because there are a lot of professional players in Indonesia, but we are speaking all the time. APPI is holding regular meetings with the federations and working hard to sort this out as soon as possible. When we do, the potential for football to grow in Indonesia is phenomenal. We’re slowly trying to implement PFA models.”

Indeed, Gaspar believes Australia can and should do more to contribute to Indonesia’s development, while reaping rewards of its own.

From player and coach exchanges to Hyundai A-League clubs marketing themselves in Indonesia, Gaspar reckons the opportunities that can be enjoyed by a close relationship between the nations is limited only by imagination and endeavour.

“We’re neighbours,” he says.

“There are 240 million people here compared to less than 25 million in Australia. Australia would be crazy not to tap into it, and Indonesia could learn a lot from Australia’s professional practices.”

“Sport breaks down boundaries and football is a great way for Australia and Indonesia to communicate.”

Due to the current restructure of the Indonesian league system, Gaspar – along with Radovic, Brazilian Marcio Souza and Singaporean Noh Alam Shah – was recently released from his Persib Bandung deal. He hopes to sign at another club prior to the commencement of the new Indonesian Super League season – whenever that may be.

His impassioned mission off the pitch continues unabated.

FC St. Pauli – The Coolest Club?

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It’s quite a strange thing, my passion for FC St. Pauli – the German football Club from the port city of Hamburg which has spent most of its time of late in Deutschland’s 2. Bundesliga.

Truth be told, I can’t pinpoint when it was I started following this unique football institution, whose home is the 29,063-capacity Millerntor-Stadion (right near Hamburg’s famous Reeperbahn district) oozing with what some unsuspecting fans, and probably rival outfits, would find downright obscure traditions and culture.

Certainly, St. Pauli the football club, plus their matchday, is about as far removed from the Hyundai A-League experience as any could imagine. And most probably, therein lies its appeal.

You see, FC St. Pauli has a rawness and edge to it that you just don’t get at most clubs, or in most countries or cities around the globe. Even so, don’t mistake this rawness and edge for anything confrontational, anything that ought put you off venturing to a game – attending a FC St. Pauli home fixture in Germany’s north is an extremely welcoming and rewarding experience.

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Evident to my eye on my sole visit to the Millerntor for a matchday is FC St. Pauli’s vast and varied fan base. Packed into the Club’s boutique, beautiful Stadium on game day one of the 2. Bundesliga 2014/15 season as FC St. Pauli hosts Mathew Leckie’s FC Ingolstadt 04 are men and women of all ages. The most common thread that identifies them to the eye is the shades of brown and black in which they sport.

But the FC. St. Pauli fan base unite for much more than just their team. Indeed, the Club itself were the first in Germany to integrate a set of fundamental principles to dictate how the Club is run. These principles – chief among them “tolerance and respect in mutual human relations” – ensures that support of the Club extends far beyond sporting success, which is probably why the Club is so widely renowned and respected.

FC St. Pauli supporters regard themselves as anti-racist, anti-fascist, anti-homophobic and anti-sexist, and included in the Club’s principles is that the Club “owes its identity” to the “particular city district” from which it stems. This gives the Club “a social and political responsibility in relation to the district and the people who live there”. Beautiful.

The Millerntor then, is the shrine that represents the people of the district, and those who share the Club’s ideals. Graffiti and stickers adorn the walls, it’s rough around the edges, and not necessarily kept spick and span. I’d love to visit again with time up my sleeve to explore the venue in full – the stories the walls would tell. More Hyundai A-League clubs could look at this type of integration to tell their narrative, and reflect their fans – though until Clubs begin to start owning their own Stadiums, I won’t hold my breath.

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The way FC St. Pauli integrates its sponsors and partners, plus sells its merchandise, is also unique and innovative – undoubtedly the Club would have it no other way. Half a Mini sticks out near the scoreboard, while everything from toasters that burn the Club’s unofficial emblem of a skull and crossbones into bread, to tees and scarves are sold from modified yet purposeful shipping containers dotted around the precinct. At the game I am told FC St. Pauli, despite playing in the second division, have merchandise sales ranking third in Germany behind Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund. I can’t verify this, but if the sheer range of products, and products changing hands in the Club shop and from the shipping containers is anything to go by, it could possibly be true.

The entertainment outside the Stadium? An authentic fan and his guitar singing FC St. Pauli songs in a mix of German, English and Spanish. An open-minded lad probably pushing 40, but with brown and black running through his veins. It’s beautiful, and could well be adopted here. The guy’s clearly a hero among his comrades. And, like many places I have been in Germany, and generally Europe, the attitude to sipping a cold beer – in this case an ‘Astra’ – just outside the gates is also liberal. It’s great, and makes for a party atmosphere even before you step inside the venue proper. The sun shines, and life is good.

FC St. Pauli’s matchday programme, the 16 page VIVA ST. PAULI, is printed in on rough newspaper. It’s distributed free, but fans can opt to drop some shrapnel in the distributor’s tins if they wish – the money re-invested into game day tifos. The design of VIVA ST. PAULI is clean and cooky – in a positive way – and ticks the boxes from a content perspective, balancing partner promotion, community chatter, and match information. Even with only limited German I can get the gist of the articles – if I was fluent it’d be better still.

So, if you’re in northern Germany between August and May, do yourself a favour and look up when FC St. Pauli will next be frequenting the Millerntor. You won’t regret the experience if you attend, nor will attending break your travel budget – tickets are very fairly priced. Plus, if you’re the type of supporter who loves to immerse yourself in all sorts of football fandom and culture, then you’ll find this particular visit immensely refreshing.

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