March 13, 2023
JAKARTA – On a windy day in a vast field south of Tangerang, over 50 boys were playing soccer together in groups. It is a common sight in Indonesian neighborhoods, except this one was a registered soccer club under the Soccer Association of Indonesia (PSSI) and there were licensed coaches helping them out.
“It just rained this morning, usually over 100 kids come here,” coach Fabio Oliveira told The Jakarta Post during our visit to the training ground on Jan. 29. Fabio is a well-known former player and coach of several senior Indonesian soccer clubs, as well as the former assistant manager of the Indonesian national team in 2012.
The club he is coaching now is Garuda Lions FC, a Tangerang soccer club and development program exclusively for underprivileged kids, who do not have the means to pay for the usual academies. Here, they can play and hone their skills meticulously.
“I think this is an interesting concept because in my hometown in Brazil, 95 percent of our greatest players, Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, Neymar, all came from underprivileged families,” Fabio said.
It is possible, then, that Indonesia’s future players are currently training on this field.
“People often say that, right? ‘We have over 270 million people here, there’s no way it’s that hard to get 20 great soccer players!’” he added.
Making a difference
Garuda Lions was founded by a married couple, Frank Amadio and Aprillianty, both of whom also met each other through soccer.
“I was in this coffee shop in Cilandak Town Square, and there was a match playing on TV […] and every so often I’d hear loud screams from a lady who was watching the game with her friends,” Frank, an British-Italian man who has been in Indonesia since 2009, shared with the Post on the same day.
“Then we started talking and the rest is history.”
Established when the couple was living in Cinere, Depok, at the time, the soccer club was one of the many grassroots movements they started, a seemingly natural altruistic response toward the surrounding community.
“There was a huge waste-management problem in Cinere, mountains of uncollected rubbish, which, as we know, is an issue in Indonesia as a whole. So Aprillianty got together with the local leaders and preman [street gangs], set up this recycling program called Bank 24 Hidup Aman Bersih Sehat [live, safe, clean and healthily], and taught the whole community about collecting and recycling trash,” Frank said.
But a year or so after the waste-management program was launched, an incident shocked the couple to their core: The rape of a 12-year-old girl by 10 boys aged eight to 15.
“It was all over the news, and what was even sadder was that some people in the community were blaming the young girl as if her behavior incited the rape,” Aprillianty said. “So I was like, ‘We must do something.’”
Aprillianty then rallied all efforts to organize classes and lessons on Sundays for kids in her surrounding area.
“We started painting classes, guitar, yoga, English, any classes, I brought in friends and teachers who could help these kids to be more productive,” she said.
But seeing their passion for soccer, it was easy for Frank, who is also a soccer enthusiast, to turn that into another idea.
“I thought, ‘Okay, there’s a big political problem that we cannot solve here, but maybe we can give them somewhere to come two or three times a week and feel part of a community,” the 52-year-old said.
And so the amateur soccer academy, called Bank24, was born and started running in Cinere, It was entirely self-funded by the waste bank foundation and provided these kids with coaching, kit and competitive matches all free of charge. Even after the couple moved to Tangerang, it was still running well in Cinere.
Aprillianty (right), having recently acquired a professional license to be a soccer coach, gives directions to the Garuda Lions FC players on Jan. 29. (JP/Radhiyya Indra)
A chance to play
Thanks to the couple’s soccer initiative, the kids in the area were elated, but they had a bigger desire.
“In 2017, a couple of our players came up to me after a match and said, ‘Mister, we really want to become professional soccer players, and hopefully play for Indonesia,’” Frank said, which he considered “a real watershed moment”.
“Up until then, many of the underprivileged communities I had come across always stopped themselves from dreaming [due to their financial situation],” Frank said. “So to hear these kids just thinking ‘I want to be a soccer player’ without knowing how? That was a mind-shift for me.”
Frank then decided to register them all as a professional club, with the cost and everything taken care of by the couple. But the plan took a backseat when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, which saw Frank and Aprillianty both lose their jobs and most of their life savings.
Regardless, the couple persisted. They “make a little bit of cash here and there” through “small businesses” and finally registered Garuda Lions with the PSSI in mid-2022.
The kids, ranging from elementary to high school students, were also visibly happy during the Post’s visit to the ground.
“It’s fun, I can improve my skills here,” 10-year-old Sirojudin told the Post. He had been playing in the club for over seven months and got to befriend other kids he had not known previously.
Meanwhile, nine-year-old Fajar spoke about his wish to be an actual player.
“I want to be a professional soccer player at age 20, but we’ll see,” he told the Post.
Coach Fabio believes some of the players, if well nurtured, can get to the big leagues.
“Creating great players is not that easy, their development needs time, and Indonesians always want everything to be quick and instant,” he said.
More than soccer
Some of the parents during the Post’s visit were also enjoying watching their kids from the sidelines.
“I like seeing him play here. With the coaches, he can get more experience and knowledge of how to play,” Sirojudin’s father, Aminudin, 55, told the Post.
Like some of the parents there, Aminudin hoped his son would be a professional soccer player one day.
“These days, soccer players can make quite a fortune. It’s a nice career to have,” he said.
But realistically speaking, coach Fabio knows that not everyone here will become a soccer player. Regardless, that is also the club’s aim: to make the players better people first.
“We’re not really chasing trophies, we just want to build a good life for these kids. So even if they don’t end up becoming professional players, they become better humans,” Fabio said.
After all, that is what drove Frank and Aprillianty to build the club in the first place.
“We have to try to make them better citizens, so they can go into the world and be productive,” Frank said.
And it was already apparent on and off the field: all the players cleaned the balls after use, picked up any rubbish on the sidelines, and lined up to make the formal Indonesian greeting by pressing the hand of the senior person to their foreheads.
“When I recorded how they greet [someone older] on our Instagram video, I got so many messages from people [around the world] saying ‘Wow, that’s beautiful’, and I’m like ‘That’s normal here’. That should be normal,” Frank said.
Their good manners were also apparent throughout the time Garuda Lions took part in two tournaments in Tangerang, even though they “got smashed,” Frank added with a laugh.
“But I came away so proud because all the parents and referees came up to us and said ‘We are so impressed by your kids, as soon as we arrived, they started cleaning up around the stadium,’” he shared.
Aprillianty, sitting next to him, shared a smile. So big was her love for the kids that she also decided to become a licensed soccer coach, which makes her one of the very few women soccer coaches in Indonesia.
“Because this club came from all of us and for ourselves. Who else can change our environment other than ourselves?”