Women and Children First

By | September 21, 2011

Turkish football authorities have pioneered a remarkable anti-hooliganism tactic: allowing only women and children to watch a game. Initially — after violence and a pitch invasion marred a recent Fenerbahce match — authorities had decided to ban all fans from two games. Then someone instead suggested only allowing certain fans. So it was that over 40,000 women and children packed into the stadium, producing an event that seems like it represented a kind of beautiful alternate reality of fandom. “This is a historic day,” one member of Fenerbahce’s board declared. It’s not clear whether the experiment will be repeated. And yet one can imagine, thrillingly, the example being followed all over the world — at PSG, Liverpool, even the NFL. And why not?

After all, watching this video (shared with me by our friends at A Football Report), you can’t but want to participate in such an atmosphere (even if, like me, you wouldn’t have been allowed to). There is, frankly, something revolutionary about the scene.

I was reminded of a testing joke once shared with me by a friend — a geneticist — who asked: What if there was a chromosome that you could find in the overwhelming majority of violent criminals? What if you could isolate it, and perhaps genetically engineer people to remove that chromosome? An eerie, sci-fi, but intriguing idea. Well, he told me, there is such a thing: the Y chromosome. Take it away, and you’d reduce violent crime dramatically. The Turkish FA had the same insight, it seems: if you don’t have any men around, that solves a lot of problems.

Reading this story, I thought back to the brilliant film Offside, which shows the travails of women in Iran who want to watch football but are banned from the stadium, and so attempt to sneak in dressed up as men. (You can watch the entire film on Youtube, starting with the segment below; I highly recommend it if you haven’t seen it: was actually filmed during an Iran match, essentially under the nose of Iranian authorities who were not aware of the way the film critiqued their policies).

The mirror image offered here between Turkey and Iran, two neighbors, is striking. And the whole story has the brilliant effect of suddenly making us realize that what we think of as natural — the stadium as a largely masculine space, defined by certain forms of behavior — could be changed as easily the strange rules of the game played in the stadium itself.

Category: Fans Iran Turkey Women's Soccer

About Laurent Dubois

I am Professor of Romance Studies and History and the Director of the Forum for Scholars & Publics at Duke University. I founded the Soccer Politics blog in 2009 as part of a course on "World Cup and World Politics" taught at Duke University. I'm currently teaching the course under the title "Soccer Politics" here at Duke. My books include Soccer Empire: The World Cup and the Future of France (University of California Press, 2010) and The Language of the Game: How to Understand Soccer (Basic Books, 2018)

11 thoughts on “Women and Children First

  1. Tomas

    I admit that the original way to fight against hooligans but I think that it will not be effective

  2. Android Zone

    The ultras are in football the equivalent to any fundamentalist group in religion, which turns violence very common.
    Thanks for your post!

  3. Wilson

    I do not totally disagree with the idea, it might be a way of making some fans think twice about their behaviour and is much preferable than simply ban everyone from the stadium (as has been done several times).

    But let’s be honest: the problem in football are the ultras, whether they’re men or women. The ultras are in football the equivalent to any fundamentalist group in religion, which turns violence very common. Stupidity does not look at gender, it affects any kind of people.

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  6. Cavan

    If you gave it time, the women would fight just like the male supporters they replaced. People like to puff up how different women are than men. Just give them the chance to “act like men,” at least in large groups, and they do every time.

  7. Özgür Kurtoglu

    Obviously I still think this is immense, a huge win for women everywhere, but by ignoring an attack of this magnitude “for the cause” really bugs me. If anything, the verbal abuse directed at Trabzonspor just shows exactly what most people want in a situation like this: equality. The women were equally loud, but also equally obnoxious. However, they do not throw things at the players, and they do not start fights. And that is progress, regardless of what they do or do not chant.

  8. Laurent Dubois Post author

    Thanks for this comment! That is interesting, and not something I’ve seen in the coverage — certainly worth considering that the differences might be overblown. Still, the whole incident does raise really interesting issues about what the stadium is — and what it might be.

  9. Özgür Kurtoglu

    Even though this was a tremendous victory for women and football, I’m not that fond of people ignoring what became glaringly obvious during this particular game: women are, it turns out, not that different when in a football stadium. According to the biggest newspaper in Turkey (link added above) the women chanted “Faggot Trabzon, you can’t become champions” for a full minute in complete unison, something the television channel also picked up on. So yeah…a victory, but at what cost?


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