You may have heard of the ‘On The Ball’ campaign, recently. If you haven’t Orlaith, Erin and Mikaela are three women who have been campaigning hard for football clubs to provide free period products at no expense to fans. They started off high - and managed to bring their football club, Celtic FC around to the idea that football fans, all football fans, are comfortable attending football matches.
"We've had people say: 'you shouldn't even have toilets' at the football."— BBC Radio 1 (@BBCR1) January 5, 2019
Meet the founders of #OnTheBall, who are campaigning for better period provisions at football grounds.
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Cc: @OnTheBaw pic.twitter.com/BBu0tyqUtB
In a subject named ‘Social issues – free tampons’ from the Aston Villa Fan Consultation Group meeting minutes dated the 6th of December, Aston Villa seemed to be intrigued by the idea of supporting the local area. I note that this does not include the actual stadium of Villa Park.
‘On being made aware of clubs looking to tackle period poverty, the club had felt that there are areas around Villa Park that would benefit from our support in this area. Our Foundation have been looking at ways to support period poverty via our local community links. We are happy to reconsider this approach and will look to use the next FCG to explore the best options in more detail.’
While period poverty (more on that later) will of course be an issue in the residential areas around Birmingham, it should also be treated as an issue within the stadium itself. Thus it saddened me to learn today that Aston Villa were ‘not pursuing’ the On The Ball campaign at this point in time.
Resistance from @AVFCOfficial & Villa Fan Consultation Group members to provide such provisions at Villa Park. Then again, it's being discussed by a table of blokes with little empathy. I personally think it's a no-brainer & you could even get a sponsor like @Tesco to support it https://t.co/Npqz4ML8k8— My Old Man Said (@oldmansaid) January 7, 2019
The FCG itself seems from the minutes provided to be a group mostly made up of males, and for the most part that doesn’t have to be a problem, but I do feel slightly concerned when an issue that affects women is debated by a panel that includes at most, one or two women.
As for why? I’m pretty certain the club have their own reasons, but I’d like to think that this is a flexible situation and upon demand, that minds can be changed. There are plenty of options here. I’m pretty sure that Villa fans would be happy to donate products themselves, or the costs can be covered in an emergency via fan donation, but it should be noted that period products are a low cost item - and it’s not like these products will be wasted - they will be used in emergency situations and ideally, these emergency situations will not be at all frequent.
Here’s the thing; it’s a pretty easy idea to dismiss, after all it’s easy to build a straw-man argument against the idea of free period products. But why? If even one Villan is caught out at Villa Park, I reckon that’s one too many. Again, let’s highlight the word emergency in all of this.
There are plenty of arguments that have reared up in a weird opposition to this campaign, and many revolve around deconstructing the idea of period poverty itself. For example, how could someone not afford a tampon yet afford a ticket to a football match? There is no answer worth giving to that answer bar the product itself. Toilet paper, water, tissues and soap are provided at football games and fans who are going through menstruation should be accounted for - and not caught out at football games. It really is that simple.
What’s more, the question raised above discounts the fact that it won’t just be fans who are using the toilet facilities - but staff. Not everyone working in our football grounds are paid well, at all. Contractor staff are likely taking in small sums on an hourly wage - and if 2019 is the year of something, it’s the year of the working homeless. In situations where hourly waged staff are giving birth in company toilets because they can’t lose out on that hourly wage, it would not surprise me at all if there are staff members of football clubs out there who are experiencing discomfort because sanitary products, by default, are not provided.
I recall reading an article that lead with a quote from a schoolgirl in Leeds. The girl was undergoing menstruation, and didn’t want to be shouted at for bleeding. Her solution was to wrap socks around her underwear and then sellotape it all together. I probably don’t need to explain why that might be so uncomfortable for someone. That’s not right. It’s not modern. It’s Eraserhead. Our surrealism is a reality for a rapidly growing group. The annoying thing is that the solution to the issue is easy.
Time and time again, we are realising situations that should not be happening in 2019. There are plenty of front-lines to occupy and plenty of battles to fight - and make no mistake, this is one of them. Period poverty is still poverty and in 2019 we should be crushing poverty - in all forms. Every. Single. One.
As for the footballing fandom aspect, it might seem that there will be little gain - and maybe there will be - but at the very least, not one person will be caught out when following the club they love. Positive attitudes do not have to start and end on the pitch, and Aston Villa can help highlight a massive issue - and ensure blanket coverage for all supporters, by working to provide free period products for fans.
It’s with this that I ask Aston Villa, and Aston Villa fans who may not see the point in all of this, to reconsider their position on the topic.