Big Issue Vendor

After hearing Erin, Orlaith and Mikaela laugh and joke with one another, you’d be surprised to learn that just over six months ago the three weren’t really friends. Yet after just weeks of planning, in March they took on the biggest club in the Scottish Professional Football League.

The trio saw their petition to have free period products available at Celtic Park signed by almost 3,000 people. On May 2, after discussions with senior football officials around periods, period poverty and the visibility of female fans and their needs, Celtic FC agreed that from August 2018 it would lead the way and become the first football club in the UK to offer free period products.

Now the trio has launched On The Ball, a campaign to replicate their success across the SPFL by giving football fans across the country the means to tackle period poverty in their own clubs.

The three met through their support of Fans Against Criminalisation (FAC), a cross-team organisation that sought to repeal the Offensive Behaviour at Football Act. A seven-year grassroots campaign from the organisation saw the act repealed in April this year and sparked an idea for politics student Erin Slaven

Slaven had noticed the lack of sanitary products in the Celtic FC stadium toilets earlier this year, but admitted she “didn’t know what to do with it”. It was the success of the FAC campaign that encouraged her to share her idea with fellow fans, mental health nurse Orlaith Duffy, and banker Mikaela McKinley.

“After seeing the repeal and their success we felt really motivated seeing that working class people really are able to enact change,” Slaven said.

But the three fans weren’t expecting their own fight for change to see success as quickly as it did.

“By no means did we think in a matter of just six weeks we would have seen it go through,” said Duffy. “We went into those meetings armed with a load of information and I think that won them over.”

Duffy said how every concern and query Celtic FC had, they were able to get back to them, such as figures of how much it would cost, and what sort of distributors already did this type of work. “The fact we went in and were able to lay everything on the table and all they had to do was put it in place really helped,” she said.

The trio set up On The Ball this summer, which they hope will empower other football fans in Scotland to fight period poverty.

“One of the most important things for us is this remains fan-led. We want to keep this grassroots,” said McKinley. “We wanted to give female fans of all ages a platform for activism, because so often it can be male faced. It’s really empowering knowing we did it and we’re helping other women do the same,” added Slaven.

The women have called on fans to get in touch through Twitter with the offer of their new-found expertise there to help fans lead their own campaign.

“We want people to have the tools they need to fight their own fight,” McKinley said. “We’ve encouraged the fans to reach out and when they do we give them the information they need to hopefully see it happen in their own clubs.”

Duffy added that the group recognise every team is different, and “it might take a long time to see it happen, but when it is implemented in every single club we hope the fans would feel the same way we did when it happened.”

Stark figures illustrate the reality of period poverty in the UK. Plan International says one in 10 girls have been unable to afford sanitary products and 12 per cent have improvised and it’s groups like On The Ball that are enacting real change, from the bottom up.

Image: On The Ball