By Robbie Gaspar

Just before I went to bed on Saturday night, I checked a football website to see what the score line between Persebaya Surabaya and Arema Malang in the Indonesian Liga 1 was.

On seeing it was 3-2 to Persebaya, I was a little bit taken aback as they hadn’t beaten Arema in the East Java derby in over 20 years.

Despite that being a bit of a shock, I didn’t think too much more about it and I put down my phone and then went to bed.

On Sunday morning when scrolling the news, I saw reports of the Persebaya and Arema match – but not the type I was expecting.

The reports were not about the result on the pitch, but images and videos of panicked fans, tear gas ballooning across the pitch, bodies on stretchers, overturned vehicles and reports of spectator deaths numbered in the hundreds.

As the death toll climbed and more details emerged – women and children among the dead, supporters unable to breathe and trapped in the stadium, I felt completely numb.

Having played and lived in Indonesia for almost eight years between 2005 and 2013, I still have a close connection with Indonesian football. 

I lived in Malang – the city where the Kanjuruhan stadium disaster unfolded. I played and trained in that stadium many times and watched games there as well.

I played in some big games against Persebaya in local derbies at really pivotal, important times in the season and the atmosphere was amazing and never threatening. 

I still keep in contact with the head coach of Persebaya, Aji Santoso, who was my coach at Persema Malang. 

I used to live a two minute walk down the road from him in Malang and he was a great mentor for me when I played at Persema.

My time in Indonesian football shaped me as a person – I learned fluent Bahasa Indonesia while there, met so many wonderful people and had a great connection to the fans. 

It has been hard to reconcile the scale of the tragedy and the loss of life. 

To be so close and connected to Indonesian football and see that unfold has truly been gut-wrenching. 

I am truly sorry for all of those people who tragically lost their lives, to the injured still suffering and to the families of those who have lost their loved ones.

The sad thing is, this could have been prevented.

While Indonesian football has grown so much over the last few decades, investment, infrastructure and the authorities’ relationship with fan groups sadly hasn’t progressed. 

While I wish this tragic event never occurred, I hope Indonesian football can properly review what went wrong and why, and ensure the legacy of those poor people who lost their lives attending a football match is respected and never forgotten.

My hope is that from now on, noone goes to a game in Indonesia and experiences violence, unsafe infrastructure and loses their life because of a football match – and most importantly they return home to their loved ones.

This weekend, the Isuzu UTE A-League Men will pay a mark of respect for the 131 victims of the tragedy. Isuzu UTE A-League Men players, clubs and fans will hold a moment of silence at the start of each of this weekend’s matches, the opening round of the 2022-2023 Isuzu UTE A-League while players will wear a black-arm band.