The German Bundesliga recently celebrated its 50th anniversary and just one team has been in the most watched league in Europe since its inception. Not Bayern Munich, though, but Hamburger SV.
The city of Hamburg, a onetime Hanseatic trading state, has always looked to the seas with its large port. The Beatles played there before achieving fame and of course HSV signed Kevin Keegan.
Today the side boasts one of the few English players on the continent, Michael Mancienne, as well as Lam Zhi Gin, who has a German-Hongkonger heritage.
It seems appropriate that it should be Hamburg that bucked a trend this summer. With the likes of Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool heading to Jakarta to be feted and adored, little fuss has been made of the Indonesian team that made the return journey.
Pro Duta isn’t the biggest name in Indonesian football. In fact, it’s one of the smallest clubs. A minnow among minnows. Don’t bother trying to find it on a map, it’s not there.
One of the few privately run clubs in the country Pro Duta has moved home as often as Pelita Jaya (or in its latest incarnation as Pelita Bandung Raya). From Bandung to Yogyakarta to Medan, it has traveled in search of home and security. It is this transient nature that has contributed to its status.
There is a large ethnic basis to many Indonesian clubs. PSMS Medan is closely identified with the Batak people, Persib Bandung with the Sundanese. Pro Duta? No one!
So it came as a surprise to many when it was announced that Pro Duta would be heading to Europe during the Indonesia Premier League’s mid-season break to take on HSV along with a few other friendlies. Here at last was an Indonesian club doing something that could help Indonesian players rather than just hosting the mega stars on their highly choreographed jaunts.
In keeping with its anonymity, even at home, Pro Duta is a club with few stars. Keeper Deniss Romanovs is a Latvian international as is striker Girts Karlsons.
And that’s about it.
The rest of the squad that traveled to Europe was made up of journeymen professionals who don’t even warrant a Wikipedia entry.
The tour started spectacularly with a 7-0 win over local side TSV Winsen. In the absence of a traveling media party one of the team’s players, Rahmat Hidayat, informed a local Medan newspaper of the result by Blackberry Messenger, advising the goals had come from Yusuf Effendi, Ghozali Siregar with a couple, Rahmad himself, M Syamir, Arif Sajali and M Nur Adli.
Next was the big game. Given its 50 years in the Bundesliga it would be tempting to suggest HSV promote its game with Pro Duta as a commemorative exhibition, but no such luck. Indeed, the game wasn’t even played at its impressive Imtech Arena.
Instead, Pro Duta had to make do with HSV’s training ground, although some advertising hoardings had been set up and the game was shown live in Indonesia.
With many players away on international duty the home team fielded a team depleted of big names but still with too much in the tank as it overcame the visitor 4-0 with goals coming from Dennis Aogo, Godjo Kacar, Maxi Beister and Valmir Nafiu.
Next up was a game against HSV Under-23 that Pro Duta lost by the same margin.
From Hamburg the team traveled south, across the Alps, to Italy for a couple of friendlies. It celebrated Independence Day on Aug. 17 in the capital Rome with a game against AS Roma’s youth team, falling 4-1 with Ghozali scoring again for the Indonesians.
Its second game in Italy came against AS Pro Cisterna and was a much closer encounter. Despite losing 3-2 (Karsons and Hidayat) the team felt it deserved a draw and indeed could have managed one had Karlsons not missed a penalty.
After its Italian tryst the team headed back north for one final game against Ajax Jong (the Ajax reserve team) suffering a narrow 1-0 loss at the home of the Dutch masters despite being cheered on by a section of the sizeable Indonesian community residing there.
Also watching were Ajax legends Marc Overmars and Edwin van der Sar, two figures who embody the continuity that runs through that football club.
As g oes the Chinese saying, falling leaves return to the ground. Overmars and van der Sar received their football education at Ajax, added knowledge from playing abroad and now are back home to pass their experiences on to the next generation.
A continuity sadly lacking in Indonesia.
Pro Duta has now returned home to the uncertainties of the Indonesia Premier League. It sits fourth and is striving for a top three position that could see it take its place in the Super League next season.
The European trip will certainly have given it an edge over its rivals. It pitted its wits against some of the finest young players on the continent on some of the finest playing fields.
It imbibed a professional football culture far different from the rough and ready world of Indonesia and returns with memories and experiences that could stand it in good stead if Indonesian football ever loses its insularity.