This is the first part of a series I am introducing on this blog, called The Glasgow Series. It will feature football fans in Glasgow, but not your stereotypical rowdy, beer guzzling and loud male fan. Nothing wrong with them, but I am interested in the other fans, not quite visible behind this image of a typical football fan, and I want to highlight them here. What most of these people have in common, except for a love of football, is an interest to do something more. This can be starting up an LGBT+ supporters club or entertaining a weekly kick about on a 5-a-side.
A few weeks ago I met up with Mikaela McKinley, Erin Slaven, and Orlaith Duffy, three women that are extremely passionate about their football club Celtic. But they are equally passionate about equality and politics, and after the Offensive Behaviour at Football act got repealed, they felt the political buzz and decided to act on a different, but just as important matter – period poverty. They launched an online petition, urging Celtic FC to start distributing sanitary products at Celtic Park in the female toilets, at no cost for the fans. This interview is divided into two parts with this post focusing on football fandom, whereas the second part, coming out on Thursday 3/5, will focus on their work with the petition.
-How did you get into football?
Mikaela: All my family have always been football fans, going back generations and generations. You’re just born into it a wee bit. And you always know someone around you, everybody always supported something. Most people were Celtic or Rangers, so I think for me it was a natural course really. My mum and dad are both football fans and both supported the same team.
Orlaith: I’m much the same. I have four brothers and my daddy, so we are all Celtic fans. I know it sounds strange because I’m from Belfast, but it’s much the same as here, everyone’s either Celtic or Rangers and then everybody had their English team, but I wasn’t actually as much into football at the start. I played Gaelic games, I’ve never played football, can’t play football to save my life honestly but watching it and being a fan, definitely. I was always a Celtic fan but as I got older I started travelling with my daddy, we’d go to European games and go over.
… if you ever think about getting married, you would have to think about ‘which date does this fall on, is there going to be a game?’
-How do you feel that football has had an impact on your life?M: I think it’s had a huge impact. When I was wee it’s obviously such a big part of your life. When I was about 10 my mom and my dad split up and they used to have season tickets together, right, at the football, and had to actually get a seat moved – it’s so funny – and so I got a season ticket where my mum sat and my wee brother had a ticket, so it’s a whole family thing really. But aside from that, I met my boyfriend Mark through football, so we had actually signed up to go to Malawi as part of the Celtic foundation charity over there, and help them build schools, paint schools, stuff like that. So I met him, technically through that, we didn’t start seeing each other straight away but eventually we became a couple through that. So that in itself is a huge thing. Then I think that even the fact that we are friends, it sounds harsh but we actually only met through the football and then we started the campaign through the football, it’s just a huge, huge thing. Even things like if you ever think about getting married, you would have to think about ‘which date does this fall on, is there going to be a game?’ – so it’s huge.O: This is probably going to sound the same for all of us (again) but I met my boyfriend – that’s why I live in Scotland – through the football. I used to travel over for games, I was never part of a certain C.S.C because I worked weekends and things like that, and I actually met my boyfriend in Milan, we were both in Milan for the Juve game, in, what year’s this … 2012 maybe? 2013? I’ve been with Kieran five years this summer so whenever that was, I know that. We just met each other and started talking and then I was coming over to a game and met him and, that was it. A lot of my friends I know back home, female and male friends, are all through Celtic. Two of my very best friends back home, we met each other when we were in a pub watching a Celtic game and we’ve been friends ever since and it’s nearly, eight years ago. Everything to do with life really revolves around football. I work as a nursing assistant but I work for the bank because I don’t want a permanent rota, because of games, because I know that I’ll miss out on games. So I just put my daily life around it – it sounds so sad but I can still get my full time hours but I can just pick when I need my days off for the football.
E: That’s class.
O: It’s so crazy when you think about it, when you actually talk about it …
E: Because it’s normal to us!
E: I’ve been much the same. I met my boyfriend through the football as well. I knew of him for ages, just by going there, and I pure fancied him (all laughter) and I tried to play it cool, I’d bump into him all the time at half time but I was so shy, but then we ended up seeing each other and going out so I definitely wouldn’t have meet him if it wasn’t for the football, or either of yous. I met Mikaela because I started going out with Darren and her boyfriend is friends with him, they rescued me the first time I met everybody. Then I met Orlaith when we went to parliament to see the Offensive Behaviour at Football act get repealed, so it’s been totally football based. I think as well the political roots of the club totally influences your life as well. You don’t think certain political ways because of the club but there’s definitely an overlap like it does energise your beliefs so much. Because there’s stuff in the displays that we see and the songs that we sing, there’s definite political roots and it switches you on, makes you want to learn more. I think that’s a definite impact as well.
-When did you start realising – if this was a conscious thought – that being into football was not a “woman’s thing” and was not always accepted?M: I suppose this probably comes back to the first time someone asked ‘do you even know the offside rule?’ (everyone sighing and nodding).E: Name five players!
M: I suppose these wee things happen when you’re young and you’re not conscious that that’s what it is. It’s just as if you need to reaffirm that you actually know what you’re talking about to be allowed to be there, isn’t it. It still happens …
E: It does!
M: I don’t think people half the time even realise that it comes across like that.
O: But they wouldn’t ask guys. You wouldn’t see a guy go ‘oh you’re a football fan, tell me the offside rule’ to a guy.
M: It’s just a given that they understand it, they have a right to be there as such. But I think for me, my mum always went so for me it’s been more of ‘that’s a thing women do’, and my mum and auntie, even my nana, everybody’s always supported, whether that be watching on the telly or actually having a season ticket, so for me it’s not ever been too much of an issue I would say. There’s been wee things that happened where you think, you’ve not realised you’re viewed that way.
O: Growing up, if you were a girl and enjoyed football, you’re a tomboy. There was no other way around it you know. The pubs I watch games in back home, you never would’ve got a woman in a it, until like 6-7 years ago. It was a man’s pub. I don’t think women were allowed in. It sounds terrible I know but years ago I know because my granddad was drinking there it was a man’s pub, women were not allowed in. Nowadays I think people are just starting to accept that women are there. But you are always seen to be a tomboy, so that’s probably why I didn’t play football, I always played sport like I said but back home if you played football it was kind of ‘oh you want to be English, you want to be this’ you know because we have Gaelic games so it was nearly like a dividing community, if you didn’t play Gaelic football or hurling you played soccer and then you weren’t really Irish or anything, you know.
E: Aye, that’s crazy.
O: I know sometimes there are people being ‘boys can watch the football and the girls can sit in the kitchen and talk’. Like I was at a party a while ago and it was like all the guys in the living room watching the game and the girls were in the kitchen talking. I tend to get along with the guys, even our friends, a lot more, if you’re at a group thing, because you have a lot more in common. They’re talking about football and about what’s going on and you want to be involved in it because you’re passionate about it. None of us would be here if we weren’t.
E: What we said earlier about naming five players, it all just comes back to this narrative that women only like football for male attention, people can’t grasp the idea that you enjoy football, that you are not doing it for the validation of the guys. It’s not as prominent now but it definitely is still there. You see it on social media a lot as well.
O: Even to this day certain males in my work will go to me ‘ah you got a ticket? Surprise surprise wonder how you got that’ and you’re like ‘you need to go to games to get that!’ Honestly, I think that’s the biggest fight. That’s probably the most you hear it, when it comes to big games, what they call big games. If you’ve got a ticket – ‘how did you get that?’ But they wouldn’t think twice about a guy having a ticket.
M: I find people often act surprised that you go to football ‘so you’re actually going to the games?’ As if like they just assumed that you’re a Celtic supporter in a different form, not going to the games.
Growing up, if you were a girl and enjoyed football, you’re a tomboy
-What do you think is a necessary step to be taken in order to bring equality in football? Amongst supporters as well as players.E: It’s hard to operationalise it because it is such a … in terms of inequality in football it’s so systematic, because of how we’ve been brought up and in these conditions, you think it’s a male-dominated sport and there are lassies that are just not into it, and that’s alright, it’s fine.
O: I kinda think for us being Celtic fans it is a lot easier than a lot of other clubs. Celtic are so open on equality and you know, they are for everyone. You do hear a lot of things and you do read things online about people getting hackled in the stance and I think for us, it’s not something …
M: It’s not really my experience. I do notice there isn’t enough girls and I think compared to when I’ve went to games elsewhere. I went to games in South America, in Buenos Aires, and there were hundreds of women there, so many wee girls. You don’t quite see that as much here. I just don’t really know why or what could be done on it. Not pink tops anyway! I do hope just the attitude and other female fans being more visible just encourages people. Actually seeing people going to games and that it’s just a normal thing.
O: It is just females being more visible, especially for younger kids. They’re the one’s we want to bring through.