Frank Amadio's tireless work and commitment is providing hope for kids who could never see light at the end of the tunnel. (Photo: Supplied; Design by Theo Dimou)

In world football, there are nations classified as underachievers yet with great potential – nations such as India and China, with populations of over one billion people, suffer from disappointing mediocrity.

Cricket in India and basketball in China are the dominant sports in those respective nations. However, Indonesia is potentially a country with almost everything perfectly aligned to dominate the most popular game in the Asia-Pacific region.

Boasted by a population of 279 million, the most robust economy in Southeast Asia, and over 78 per cent of its citizens claiming to love the game, Indonesia has all the resources necessary to be a dominant force in the sport.

Due to issues such as insufficient investment, corruption, and a shortage of experienced and qualified coaches – Indonesia has faced significant challenges in realising its footballing potential.

Despite boasting 14,000 academies, only half are staffed with licenced coaches. Furthermore, the vast majority of these coaches possess only the lowest level of licencing, notably the D licence. This glaring disparity underscores the urgent necessity for comprehensive reforms and strategic investments to unlock Indonesia’s true prowess in football.

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Ranked 142 in the FIFA rankings, with countries like Antigua and Barbuda and Burundi surpassing them, many question whether Indonesia will ever fulfil its vast footballing potential.

Yet, sometimes, all it takes is a touch of unconventional thinking, fueled by passion and a clear vision, to breathe life into a promising project. Frank Amadio is an inspiring figure behind an extraordinary narrative dedicated to uncovering Indonesia’s latent talent within underprivileged communities.

His goals extend beyond revitalising the nation’s football landscape; he aims to offer a way out of poverty for underprivileged children through football.

Through his club, Garuda Lions, established officially in 2022, Amadio is on a mission to change lives, elevate his club to the top spot in Indonesia and Asia and cultivate world-class players from underprivileged backgrounds.

In his selfless commitment to community upliftment, Amadio shared his journey of adapting to life in a new country with The Inner Sanctum.

“Originally from London, I’ve been in Indonesia since 2009, and at the beginning I was never really interested in the football here because I was used to such a high level of football in the UK with the Premier League,” Amadio told The Inner Sanctum.

“I drifted into football because my Indonesian wife started a charity in 2012 to help underprivileged communities.

“We used the profits made from running a small waste management business to pump back into the community for educational and fitness programmes, experiences that these communities rarely get to enjoy.

“Back in my time in the UK, I’d seen the rough side of life with drugs and crime. When I came to Indonesia, everyone was so friendly with the culture built on being respectful and polite.

“As the years passed, what I noticed was that the younger generation where I was living was drinking alcohol, taking drugs, swearing, stealing, and being rude to elders – things I had never seen or experienced in Indonesia before.

“Part of me batted it off as normal due to my own experiences in the UK, but the other part was saying with such strong cultural and religious ethics in place, this should never be happening here in Indonesia.”

A shocking rape case involving a nine-year-old proved to be the catalyst for essential and overdue change, urging the community to band together.

From there, Amadio and his wife, Aprillianty, were the driving force behind the development of a football academy called B24.

“I said to my wife that we desperately needed to do something, so we gathered with the community leaders after the police had concluded their investigation and spoke with many of the younger community members to understand what they were feeling, which was a lack of real hope for the future due to being born poor in a country where good education costs are really high and is usually the only way to get a decent job,” he explained.

“From there, we decided that one way we could help them is by offering them a place to feel loved, be part of the community, and learn important life skills that can help change their mindset, which can help change the direction of their lives. So we created an amateur free football academy called B24.

“At the time, we were not thinking about anything professional but rather purely amateur, where these frustrated kids could connect and feel part of society.

“These kids held the mindset that because they were born into a poor family, it would mean they would live poor for the rest of their lives, but this football program was designed to change that intellect.

“The academy was a real success with hundreds of kids arriving. Then around six years ago, a few kids came up to me and said, ‘We want to play for Indonesia.’ That hit home because I had spent years trying to motivate people from low-income communities to strive for greatness no matter the financial situation, but they would always give me the answer: ‘I don’t have money.’

“On the spot, I said to them: ‘Look, if you’re really serious, I’ll build you a professional football club and make it the best in Indonesia and help you and kids like you become professional footballers.’

“They were very excited about that, and I walked away thinking, ‘How on earth am I going to pull this off?’ However, I’m just the kind of person who doesn’t like to focus and get stuck on the ‘how’. I prefer to take action, move forward, and learn along the way.

“Unfortunately, Covid came along and disrupted our plans significantly to the point where my wife and I lost all our life savings through some corruption that went on in Indonesia, and we lost our jobs.

“It was a hard moment in time for us, as it was for the world. As Covid was at its end, I remember sitting at my desk and asking myself, ‘What the hell am I going to do with my life now, as a foreigner and at my age (52 at the time)?’

“It was then that I remembered I promised to build a football club for those kids who wanted to play for the national team, and that’s what I did.”

Behind every local club embodies a symbol and a special meaning – whether it be the history attached or what the community represents.

“Straight away, I already had in mind the name ‘Garuda’ because that’s the national symbol of Indonesia, and ‘Lions’, which for me was about being leaders, brave, and kings of the jungle,” Amadio said.

“Initially, I was completely naive and clueless about how to start making connections in the football world and building the Garuda Lions brand. I began by jumping on LinkedIn and reaching out to individuals across the football community to share our message and see if they would be willing to help.

“What I quickly understood is that operating in football often entails taking more than giving back and prioritising money over football and the development of the game itself. This approach was the opposite of what I am aiming for with Garuda Lions.

“Ironically, it’s starting to ignore the very communities that made football the biggest sport in the world—provided us with the best players in the world—and gave us the most passionate supporters. Now, these communities don’t even watch games on TV because it’s too expensive or they can’t
afford to participate in academies.

“Those who run football have this imbalanced, unhealthy obsession with making money at the expense of the game’s integrity. I have no problem with making football a profitable business; I’m all for it.

“But when it starts to exclude the very underprivileged, low-income communities that, throughout football history, have provided us with the best players and the most passionate fan support, that’s where I draw the line.

“These communities struggle to pay for boots, let alone academy fees. They even find it difficult to watch games live on TV or at the stadium. This is where I take issue, as the game is not living up to its fullest potential. This is where I believe Garuda Lions can become beacons of light.

“By offering free holistic football development to children from these communities, we not only allow them to become professional footballers, coaches, or other roles in football if they can make it but also to become leaders in their communities with a newfound positive mindset that enables them to aim big in life, regardless of their circumstances.

“Since the inception of the Garuda Lions, I’ve maintained a steadfast commitment to fostering a club deeply rooted in Indonesian culture. It’s paramount for me to showcase the authentic beauty of Indonesian culture to the world of football, as the Japanese did in the last World Cup.

“Through our players’ unwavering adherence to cultural principles, we exemplify the essence of respect for the game’s rules, referees, opponents, and coaches—an ethos that not only distinguishes us but also sets a standard for others to emulate because respect should be the cornerstone of the sport.

“Embarking on this journey with no prior experience has been an arduous yet rewarding endeavour. Reflecting on the remarkable strides made by the Garuda Lions in such a short span is a testament to
the unwavering dedication of all involved.”

Throughout the journey, he explained the valuable skills he learned along the way.

“There is still so much that I want to achieve and I haven’t reached the top because I’m still in the process,” he said.

“I love sharing my story now, while I’m still in the struggle at the bottom, because it’s great to offer a perspective from someone currently in the process as opposed to someone who has already conquered their goals, in the hope I can inspire others to go for their dreams.

“Dreaming big and taking action to achieve it is a real rollercoaster of emotions, and it is easy to get attached to those emotions, but I have learned to stay calm regardless of what is going on or, in many cases, isn’t going on.

“I do so because, in my mind, I am already ten years down the line having achieved many of the big goals I want to achieve with the Garuda Lions. So if it already happened, then the current struggles and realities fail to break my will to succeed.

“I understand why people call me crazy for offering something for free and risking so much, but then I’m seeing a vision of something that they can’t see, which means if they can’t see it, then they can’t understand it, and I get that.

“In terms of skills, this experience has made me more resilient and pushed me to heights that I thought I wasn’t capable of reaching. I’m learning that, from where I started, I’m so far ahead of other established academies which I can take immense pride in.”

Over the course of history, nations such as Uruguay (two-time World Cup winners) and Croatia (2018 World Cup finalists) have exceeded expectations on the world stage despite registering a population of less than four million people.

If anything is possible, why can’t Indonesia reach those same heights one day?

“I believe greatly that Garuda Lions will be successful in its endeavours, and I believe so much in the potential of Indonesia and football here, both as sporting and business enterprises,” Amadio said.

“I often find resistance and a lack of understanding of what I am doing. I am often accused of being crazy by Indonesians themselves, but for me, it’s crazy that Indonesia is in the position it is currently in within football.

“When I look at amazing examples such as Uruguay, with a population of only 3.5 million compared to Indonesia’s 279 million, yet Uruguay has won two World Cups, two Olympic gold medals, and 15 Copa Americas. The number one business in the whole country is developing and selling football players.

“I think if they can do it, Indonesia definitely can. With a population of over 85 million children, we can produce many super stars in the future, and if I have anything to say about it, we will do it because the raw talent is here for anyone in the world.”

Football unites people in all sorts of ways, but perhaps one of the most touching stories involves meeting the love of your life over the round-ball game.

This was the case for Amadio when he happened to be sitting at a coffee bar in south Jakarta when he heard his now wife, Aprillianty, screaming at the top of her lungs while watching an Indonesian football match. The rest is history.

Amadio spoke about the importance of his wife’s endless support and credited other people who have helped him endure a tiring but rewarding ride.

“They say behind every great man is a great woman. I have to give an enormous amount of credit for what I am doing at Garuda Lions to my wife. If it weren’t for April starting the B24 foundation, the waste management business, and its community programs, none of this would be happening because it was from that that I actually got the football idea,” he admitted.

“Outside of my wife, the incredible support we have received from people like our volunteer coaches, Amsir and Rohman, along with the communities we operate in, has been amazing. Of course, due to not making any money from this so far, we have had to rely on sponsors and donations from companies like Koach Hub, Trent Port Services, and Drible that have allowed us to stay afloat and survive. I am forever grateful for their contribution.

“I always remind people who decide to walk through the trenches with us during the challenging moments that Garuda Lions is going to be big and we will never forget those who have supported us, and in time we will.”

From an ‘unrealistic’ dream to a quickfire reality, the Garuda Lions have captured the imagination of kids around the world with a reason to believe that anything is possible and that sport and business can work together hand in hand with social impact causes, giving and taking in equal amounts.

As the academy enters its second year, Amadio shared his objectives and where he hopes to see the club in the future.

“We have achieved so much with so little in such a short space of time, but we are still far from where I want us to be. This year, I am confident we will guarantee the right passion for football and social impact investors and sponsors to help us take things to the next level and not just partake in football, but one of the most successful and globally respected clubs in world football.

“You heard it here first. Watch this space.”

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