It’s not that exciting when you see that Fenerbahce attracted 41,000 fans to their last home game. But take a closer look at the demographics, and it’s a bit more thought-provoking. Those 41,000 people were either women or under-16s. No men were to be seen – apart, of course, from those on the pitch.
This rather unusual state of affairs arose because the club were subject to a two-game stadium ban because of crowd trouble, but the Turkish FA decided that it only applied to male fans. That is, of course, because all men are intrinsically violent, and no women or children ever misbehave. Those naughty men must be banned from football, every single one of them, because they cannot be trusted to behave themselves, while all women and children are welcomed in because they are always exemplars of perfect behaviour.
Of course, I’m being sarcastic, but this isn’t an unusual view. Sociologists have been arguing for the last 30 years or so that more women ought to be encouraged to watch sport – not because it’s fun, but because they would be a ‘civilising influence‘ on men, who all become animalistic and violent when left to their own devices.
That a country’s FA is encouraging this kind of binary divisive thinking worries me hugely. I’m definitely in favour of making football grounds welcoming places to all new fans – goodness knows, most clubs need all the support they can get. And it’s hard not to be touched by comments like “This memory will stay with me forever,” from the team captain Alex de Sousa.
But it also reinforces two ridiculous dichotomies – first, that all men are violent and will misbehave at football while all women conduct themselves perfectly. My own research (about female sports fandom) shows this to be ludicrous – women football fans can be just as rowdy and drunken and, yes, occasionally violent as their male counterparts.
Second, though, it also implies that it’s totally out of the ordinary to see women at football. Various statistics over the past 15 years have estimated the female attendance in England at anywhere between 15 and 25 per cent – not a huge proportion, but certainly significant. I don’t have the statistics for Turkey available, but I’d suspect that some of those 41,000 women and children were certainly at the Fenerbahce match when the original disruption occurred. So it’s wrong when people assume that the men are the “real”, “regular” fans, while these women and children are just fancying an interesting day out for a change. Fenerbahce’s Joseph Yobo, on loan from Everton, has clearly bought into that myth: “We have to thank the ladies for coming to support us…It’s difficult playing without the fans,” he’s quoted as saying.
Yasemin Mercil, a Fenerbahce director, has more of a clue. She said: “The women know all the chants. The same anthems, the same chants will be sung.” Quite. Football fans are football fans. If clubs and FAs are really interested in creating a “fun and pleasant atmosphere”, as one player commented, then lots of changes need to be made in the game: from big tasks like stamping out discrimination to more achievable ones like providing more ladies’ toilets. Imposing gender divisions – however well intentioned – helps nobody.