Passionate, loud and colorful -- the 41,000 fans who turned up at a soccer match in Turkey on Tuesday seemed like any others at first glance. But a closer look revealed a different kind of crowd. All the spectators were women and children, thanks to a ban on men and teenage boys after game-related violence.
The 41,000 passionate fans who packed into the Sukru Saracoglu Stadium in Istanbul on Tuesday night sang, chanted and cheered on their teams, home side Fenerbahce and visitors Manisaspor, as they battled to a 1-1 draw. The Turkish Süper Lig match featured an own goal and a red card, but nothing too far out of the ordinary -- at least on the pitch.
In the stands, however, there was a very noticeable difference -- a complete lack of men and teenage boys.
Male fans of both teams aged over 12 were banned from attending the game, with women, girls and younger boys allowed in for free. There were ID checks to ensure the male fans weren't too old, and supporters were searched before the game by an all-women police squad. Turkish media reported, however, that at least one man, disguised under a headscarf and women's clothing, made it in to the stadium.
"This really is a historic day," said Yasemin Mercil, a female member of Fenerbahce's executive board. "For the first time in the world, only women and children will watch a game."
The reason for the unusual measures was numerous cases of hooliganism among the (mainly male) fans in the league last season.
An 'Historic Decision'
Eventually, the Turkish Football Federation (TFF) ruled in July that reigning champions Fenerbahce had to play two games behind closed doors -- soccer-speak for not allowing any supporters in -- as a punishment after their fans invaded the pitch during a pre-season friendly against Ukrainian side Shakhtar Donetsk. But the federation later amended the rules so that women and children could attend instead, in what it called an "historic decision."
And so Fenerbahce distributed 27,000 free tickets on Tuesday for the match against Manisaspor -- long queues had already begun to form in front of the stadium's ticket office the previous day. The game kicked off with players throwing flowers at the spectators, while the visiting team was greeted with applause instead of the usual jeering, the Anatolia news agency reported.
The unusual crowd seemed to be a hit with the players. "This memory will stay with me forever," said Fenerbahce captain Alex de Sousa. "It's not often that you see so many women and children in one game."
Manisaspor midfielder Omer Aysan, meanwhile praised the "fun and pleasant atmosphere."
Fenerbahce must play another game with similar crowd restrictions, and other Süper Lig games will also be affected following the past excesses of their supporters. On Wednesday, for example, four other Süper Lig matches -- including one involving fellow Istanbul giant Galatasaray -- will be watched by crowds consisting of only women and children.
As for Fenerbahce, violent fans are far from being their only problem. The club is the focus of an investigation into betting and match-fixing in Turkey. In total, 30 players and officials have been arrested in the past few months over the allegations, with the club's president Aziz Yildrim being remanded into custody. The team was also withdrawn by the TFF from this season's Champions League as a result.
--dsk, with wires