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.

Photo: Getty
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If the left leaves it to David Cameron, we'll have Brexit for sure

Only an upbeat, leftwing case can keep Britain in the European Union.

After months flapping and hesitation, and with much of the reporting and detail so dull that it has barely penetrated the consciousness of even those who speak the language of ‘directives’ and treaty provisions, the EU referendum is upon us. With David Cameron signalling concrete outcomes for negotiations, we seem to be set for June, whatever the protests from opposition parties about the date being too close to local and national elections.  

Cameron’s deal, whose most substantive element consists of denying in-work benefits to European citizens, exemplifies the kind of debate that Conservative strategists want to create: a tedious, labyrinthine parochialism, blending the EU’s procedural dullness with an unquestioned mythology of the little Englander. Try actually reading the various letters, let alone the draft decisions, that Cameron extracted from Donald Tusk, and the agreement turns to putty in your head. But in summary, what Cameron is negotiating is designed to keep the EU debate as an in-house affair within the right, to continue and formalise the framing of the debate as between two strains of anti-migrant sentiment, both of them backed by big business.

The deal may be reactionary, but it is also mediocre in its scope and impact. The worries that many of us had in the leftwing pro-In camp, that Cameron’s deal would push back freedom of movement and working and environmental protections so far that we would be unable to mobilise for continued membership of the EU, can now be put to bed. Quite the opposite of allowing Cameron's narrative to demoralise us, the left must now seize an opportunity to put imagination and ideas back at the heart of the referendum debate.

The British political landscape in which that debate will play out is a deceptively volatile environment. Party allegiance is at a nearly all time low. Inequality is growing, and so is the gap between attitudes. The backbone of the UKIP vote – and much of the Out vote – will come from a demographic that, sometimes impoverished by the legacy of Thatcherite economic policy, sees itself as left behind by migration and change. On top of the class war, there is a kind of culture war underway in today’s Britain: on one side those who see LGBT rights, open borders and internationalism as the future; on the other side, those who are scared of the future. About the only thing these groups have in common with one another is their anti-establishment instincts, their total disdain and mistrust of politics as usual.

The only political movement to have broken through the fog of cynicism and disillusionment in British politics has come from the left. Jeremy Corbyn’s rise to the leadership of the Labour has unleashed something new - and while large parts of the press, and some Labour backbenchers, have portrayed this rise as a crusade of the “croissant eating” metropolitan elite, the reality is very different. The rise of the new Labour left has given voice to a renewed socialist and working class politics; its explicitly radical, outsider approach has given it traction across the social divides – among the young looking for a future, and among Labour’s old base. 

A politics of hope – however vague that term might sound – is the only real answer to the populist Euroscepticism that the Out campaign will seek to embody. Radical politics, that proposes an alternative narrative to the scapegoating of migrants, has to find voice in the course of this referendum campaign: put simply, we need to persuade a minimum wage worker that they have more in common with a fellow Polish migrant worker than they do with their employer; we need to persuade someone on a social housing waiting list should blame the privatisation of the housing market, not other homeless families. Fundamentally, the real debate to be had is about who the public blames for social injustice: that is a question which only the left can satisfactorily answer.

The outsider-led volatility of British politics gives the EU referendum a special kind of unpredictability. For voters who have lost faith in the political establishment – and who often have little materially to lose from Brexit – the opportunity to deliver a blow to David Cameron this summer will be tempting. The almost consciously boring, business-dominated Britain Stronger In Europe campaign makes a perfect target for disenfranchised public sentiment, its campaigning style less informed by a metropolitan elite than by the landed gentry. Its main weapons – fear, danger and uncertainty – will work on some parts of the electorate, but will backfire on others, much as the Better Together campaign did in the Scottish referendum.

Last night, Another Europe is Possible held a launch meeting of about a hundred people in central London - with the backing of dozens of MPs, campaigners and academics across the country. It will aim to provide a radical, left wing voice to keep Britain in the EU.

If Britain votes to leave the EU in June, it will give the Right a mandate for a renewed set of attacks on workers’ rights, environmental protections, migrants and freedom of movement. But without an injection of idealism and radicalism,  an In vote will be a mandate for the status quo - at home and in Brussels. In order to seize the real potential of the referendum, the left has to approach the campaign with big ideas and demands. And we have to mobilise.