A pitch invasion at a pre-season friendly could have led to an empty stadium for Fenerbahce, but instead they banned men. Will the idea spread?
There was something so unusual about Fenerbahce's 1-1 draw with Manisaspor in Istanbul on Tuesday that it is surely destined to feature in pub quiz questions for years to come.
The Turkish league game took place in front of a packed crowd comprising 41,000 women and children after adult men were barred from attendance. Fenerbahce, the defending champions, became the first club to pioneer a new sanctions code under which clubs that would normally be ordered to play matches behind closed doors in the wake of crowd trouble will instead exclude males over the age of 12.
After their fans had stormed the pitch during a pre-season friendly against Ukraine's Shakhtar Donetsk, Fenerbahce were originally poised to be handed the more usual punishment of being forced to play two league games in an empty stadium. Courtesy of some nifty lateral thinking on the part of the Turkish FA, though, the rules were amended to allow women, girls and boys in, thereby ensuring the miscreants felt they were missing out.
Anxious to create a high decibel, as well as a high-pitched, soundtrack from the stands, Fenerbahce distributed free tickets for Tuesday's match and women – some carrying babies bedecked in club colours – duly formed long queues outside the Sukru Saracoglu stadium ahead of the turnstiles opening.
Before kick-off, players from both Fenerbahce and Manisaspor tossed flowers at home fans who, in turn, greeted the visiting team with the sort of wholehearted applause rarely extended to opposition sides at one of Turkey's traditionally more hostile venues.
Not that the girls were that sporting. "The same anthems and the same chants as usual were sung," Yasemin Mercil, a female member of Fenerbahce's executive board, said. "The women knew all the words."
She added proudly: "This really is a historic day. For the first time in the world, only women and children watched a game."
Would England's Premier League benefit from a similar experiment? If free tickets – not to mention the absence of bare-chested, pot-bellied, foul-mouthed male fans – would surely serve as an incentive, this country already boasts a strong female fan base. In August 2010 a Populus survey found that 19% of people attending Premier League games during the 2008‑09 season were women.
Considering diversity is something of a buzzword in English football's corridors of power, the Premier League described this finding that almost one in five of its match-goers was female as "a powerful advert for English football". For its next marketing trick it could do worse than look east – to Istanbul – and it seems the players would approve.
"We have to thank the ladies for coming to support us," says the Fenerbahce defender Joseph Yobo, who is on loan from Everton. "It's difficult to play without fans." Manisaspor's midfielder Omer Aysan would not mind a repeat. "It was such fun and pleasant altogether," he said.