Only girls allowed

Turkish club Fenerbahçe hosted a historic night of football on which no men were allowed in the grou

Spending a "girls' night out" at a football match might appear to be something of an oxymoron. Yet in what is thought to be a world first, more than 41,000 women and children aged under 12 packed the Şükrü Saracoğlu Stadium in Istanbul last Tuesday evening - home to Turkish first division side Fenerbahçe - in a league match where men were banned from attending.

The Turkish Football Federation (TFF) had initially ordered that the club play their first two games of the season behind closed-doors in a bid to combat violence and hooliganism after fans had invaded the pitch during a pre-season friendly against the Ukrainian side, Shakhtar Donetsk. However authorities had a change of heart and instead decided to admit only women and children for free to the matches.

Following the game, both the players and the Turkish football authorities felt the "experiment" had gone well and called for a greater push to increase the number of women and families present at football matches. The vice-president of Fenerbahçe, Ali Koc who was speaking to CNN, described the atmosphere as being one of a kind and "historic in the sense of Turkish football as well as international football".

One fan, American-born Charlotte Surmeli told the Guardian that "grandmothers in their 70s with their daughters and their grandchildren [were present]. For these women it could be the first and only match they ever go to but I really hope they continue to do it".

Players from both Fenerbahçe and the opposing side, Manisaspor, tossed flowers to the women in the crowd and were eager to champion the whole experience as a great success. Fenerbahçe's captain, Alex de Sousa revealed that the memory of the night would stay with him forever whilst Everton loanee, Joseph Yobo said "we have to thank the ladies for coming to support us. It is difficult playing without fans." Omer Aysan, midfielder for the opposition, agreed saying it was "such a fun and pleasant atmosphere".

After reading about this historic game, it got me thinking about whether the idea would be feasible for a Premier League game. There are already a large number of women attending football matches in England. According to a Populus survey in August 2010, 19 per cent of match attendees in the 2008-09 season were women.

A stadium packed to the rafters but with no men present would certainly be quite a sight. But it would no doubt also feel strange. The man launching a foul-mouthed tirade at the ref and the guy offering his expert analysis at half-time are an essential part of the English football experience.

Hooliganism is not as much of a problem as it once was and there have been some initiatives taken by some clubs and the FA to broaden their fan base and make it more diverse. For example, at England matches, the FA has launched a discounted price for a family ticket of four, which allows the match to be enjoyed from a specially designated enclosure.

Karen Espelund, the first women's delegate appointed to the UEFA executive committee, who was speaking at a UEFA meeting in Cyprus, has also advocated the need to involve more families in the game. She said "the answer has been quite clear that the more families you have in the stands, the better the atmosphere you get".

The Premier League and other divisions should definitely learn from Fenerbahçe's experiment and attempt to increase the number of families present at football matches, but it's hard to imagine a Premier League match attended by women alone. If the scheme were ever to be implemented over here, I fear we'd have a riot from football-starved males on our hands.

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Will Euroscepticism prove an unbeatable advantage in the Conservative leadership race?

Conservative members who are eager for Brexit are still searching for a heavyweight champion - and they could yet inherit the earth.

Put your money on Liam Fox? The former Defence Secretary has been given a boost by the news that ConservativeHome’s rolling survey of party members preferences for the next Conservative leader. Jeremy Wilson at BusinessInsider and James Millar at the Sunday Post have both tipped Fox for the top job.

Are they right? The expectation among Conservative MPs is that there will be several candidates from the Tory right: Dominic Raab, Priti Patel and potentially Owen Paterson could all be candidates, while Boris Johnson, in the words of one: “rides both horses – is he the candidate of the left, of the right, or both?”

MPs will whittle down the field of candidates to a top two, who will then be voted on by the membership.  (As Graham Brady, chair of the 1922 Committee, notes in his interview with my colleague George Eaton, Conservative MPs could choose to offer a wider field if they so desired, but would be unlikely to surrender more power to party activists.)

The extreme likelihood is that that contest will be between two candidates: George Osborne and not-George Osborne.  “We know that the Chancellor has a bye to the final,” one minister observes, “But once you’re in the final – well, then it’s anyone’s game.”

Could “not-George Osborne” be Liam Fox? Well, the difficulty, as one MP observes, is we don’t really know what the Conservative leadership election is about:

“We don’t even know what the questions are to which the candidates will attempt to present themselves as the answer. Usually, that question would be: who can win us the election? But now that Labour have Corbyn, that question is taken care of.”

So what’s the question that MPs will be asking? We simply don’t know – and it may be that they come to a very different conclusion to their members, just as in 2001, when Ken Clarke won among MPs – before being defeated in a landslide by Conservative activists.

Much depends not only on the outcome of the European referendum, but also on its conduct. If the contest is particularly bruising, it may be that MPs are looking for a candidate who will “heal and settle”, in the words of one. That would disadvantage Fox, who will likely be a combative presence in the European referendum, and could benefit Boris Johnson, who, as one MP put it, “rides both horses” and will be less intimately linked with the referendum and its outcome than Osborne.

But equally, it could be that Euroscepticism proves to be a less powerful card than we currently expect. Ignoring the not inconsiderable organisational hurdles that have to be cleared to beat Theresa May, Boris Johnson, and potentially any or all of the “next generation” of Sajid Javid, Nicky Morgan or Stephen Crabb, we simply don’t know what the reaction of Conservative members to the In-Out referendum will be.

Firstly, there’s a non-trivial possibility that Leave could still win, despite its difficulties at centre-forward. The incentive to “reward” an Outer will be smaller. But if Britain votes to Remain – and if that vote is seen by Conservative members as the result of “dirty tricks” by the Conservative leadership – it could be that many members, far from sticking around for another three to four years to vote in the election, simply decide to leave. The last time that Cameron went against the dearest instincts of many of his party grassroots, the result was victory for the Prime Minister – and an activist base that, as the result of defections to Ukip and cancelled membership fees, is more socially liberal and more sympathetic to Cameron than it was before. Don’t forget that, for all the worry about “entryism” in the Labour leadership, it was “exitism” – of Labour members who supported David Miliband and liked the New Labour years  - that shifted that party towards Jeremy Corbyn.

It could be that if – as Brady predicts in this week’s New Statesman – the final two is an Inner and an Outer, the Eurosceptic candidate finds that the members who might have backed them are simply no longer around.

It comes back to the biggest known unknown in the race to succeed Cameron: Conservative members. For the first time in British political history, a Prime Minister will be chosen, not by MPs with an electoral mandate of their own or by voters at a general election but by an entirelyself-selecting group: party members. And we simply don't know enough about what they feel - yet. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog. He usually writes about politics.