The Most Important Moments in Women's Football History: Part Three

Football is more than just a game. Over the last 150 years it has become a source of identity, conflict and debate for all who follow and play it. It has reached the furthest corners of the globe and boasts more players and supporters than any other sport. In this list, we will be going right the way through the illustrious, colourful and pioneering history of women's football. We will be looking closer at the teams, coaches and individuals who have overcome negative attitudes, antiquated misogynistic views and repressive social expectations to create an inclusive and popular game supported by millions around the world. Let's see which moments have shaped the game we love!




11. Women's Football is Banned (1921)

Image result for women's football banned 1921So long as women's football was being played in front of such large numbers, opposition was never far from the surface. The words from historian Matthew Taylor are a stark reminder of British society and its expectations in the early 1920s. Despite the war seemingly bringing change to social order, much of it remained relatively unaltered. By 1921, during the height of women's football in Britain - everything changed in one draconian act of legislation. The Football Association decided to ban women from playing on FA-affiliated grounds, thus ceasing the opportunity to play in front of substantial numbers of spectators.

The official line of the FA was,
"The Council feel impelled to express their strong opinion that the game of football is quite unsuitable for females, and ought not to be encouraged. The Council requests dubs belonging to the Association to refuse the use their grounds , for such matches, tor the committee is of the (pinion that an excessive proportion of the receipts are absorbed in expenses."
They certainly weren't alone in their opinion that the game was unsuitable for females and a series of letters published in the Western Daily News two weeks later confirms this. Despite such progress, public opinions would still be tough to change.

Not everyone agrees with the FA's stance however. The reasons for the ban, it would seem, are far deeper than if taken at face value. Jean Williams writes that the FA's ban on women players was a 'clumsy attempt of the association and league to reinforce the masculine image of football'. Too many fans, it seemed were drawn to the charitable nature of the women's game which had become a true 'female sporting spectacle'. The FA needed their key demographic back on the terraces to increase revenue and maximise profit. The ban would indeed lead to an increase in male gate receipts and the men's game truly became the public sport once again - the 1923 FA Cup Final at Wembley is testament to this.

12. Lily Parr 

Lilyparr1.jpgIn part one we looked at the innovative efforts of  Nettie Honeyball and Emma Clarke, as certain individuals have helped to shape the women's game. Our next pioneer comes from the Dick, Kerr Ladies - Lily Parr. Parr is indeed the first name many think of when the club from Preston is mentioned, and for good reason. Making her debut at just 14 years of age, she would go on to score upwards of 900 goals.

Parr was indeed the superstar of the Dick, Kerr Ladies and captained the side on their tour of the US in 1922, where she received widespread acclaim. She played for the club until 1951 and helped to promote the game to spectators during a time in which women's football was often ridiculed and seen in a derogatory manner. In recent years, much has been written on Parr's achievements. Further features can be found in CBBC programme Horrible Histories and The National Football Museum celebrating her career. She was inducted into the English Football Hall of Fame in 2002.

After finishing at the Dick, Kerr & Co. factory, Parr trained as a nurse. Working at Whittingham Mental Hospital, she would combine work with play as her career continued into her forties. Parr has left a strong legacy, not just in footballing terms but as an icon for LGBT+ rights. The Lily Parr Exhibition Trophy has been played since 2007 to celebrate the history of the Camden LGBT forum.

13. Dick, Kerr Ladies' World Tour (1922)

After the FA made their decision in 1921 to ban women's football, it was wondered if Dick, Kerr's meteoric rise would be halted? No way! The FA stipulated that women could not play on FA affiliated grounds but manager Alfred Frankland was stubborn: "The team will continue to play, if the organisers of charity matches will provide grounds, even if we have to play on ploughed fields". In 1922 the Dick, Kerr Ladies did perhaps the unthinkable... They went on a World tour!!

Frankland took his side to Canada but was met with a rebuke from the Canadian FA who joined the English FA in banning the ladies from playing on Canadian soil. So the ladies moved south, America welcomed them and they would play their first game against men's New Jersey side, Paterson FC in September 1922. They lost valiantly and goalkeeper Peter Renzulli remarked: "We were national champions and we had a hell of a job beating them". The women pulled in crowds of up to 10,000 in the US and often received positive reviews in the American press who were impressed by their ability, stamina and competitiveness. 

The Dick, Kerr Ladies' record across the pond was incredibly impressive. They played mainly against men but they lost only three matches out of nine game. Dick, Kerr's returned to Britain as heroes and despite the FA ban, fame was still great for this side. The team managed to keep going upon their return, playing on non-FA affiliated grounds and keeping on winning too! Frankland stayed with the Dick, Kerr Ladies team till his death in 1957, his managerial record was staggering: Played 752, Won 703, Drawn 33, Lost 16. What a team!

So much of what we now know about the Dick, Kerr Ladies comes from researcher Gail Newsham who has written extensively about the Dick, Kerr Ladies. Her book can be found here...

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14. Windsor Park (1925)

The 1920s is a decade  synonymous with prohibition, flappers and art deco - an era which today is easy to be viewed with rose-tinted glasses. The idea of glitz and feminine glamour is accurate to point, but for working-class women in Britain - life was anything but liberating. The 1926 General Strike for example, left workplace conditions on the decline and focus on 'male led' industries like mining and steel. It is no surprise therefore, that the FA came to such a disappointing decision in 1921.

For all the progress promised in 1918 - antiquated beliefs still outweighed any real liberation. Although banned from FA-affiliated grounds - this didn't stop the sides from developing behind the scenes. The Dick, Kerr Ladies for example would continue touring the nation and playing local sides at smaller venues. Elsewhere, French teams would occasionally tour the UK in order to generate revenue for business' across the English Channel. In 1925 it is possible to see articles offering excursions to watch a French side (Femina Sport Club of Paris) take on "Dick Kerr's Famous XI". The venue? Northern Ireland's Windsor Park.

Articles which mention ladies football are quick to question the morality of such a game at the start of any piece - but will often later comment on the skill of the players. Dick Kerr ran out 2-0 winners with the French side improving drastically on the nation's previous attempts to face the English in 1920. Following the result, both sides were greeted and invited to dine with the Lord Mayor and Lady Mayoress of Belfast. For a game which caused such mass moral panic - it would seem those in office didn't see as much of a threat in women's football. What this moment really shows, is that in spite of the adversity from the FA - it didn't stop these women playing the game they loved. Indeed, other clubs also began to be formed in the next two decades, further exemplifying that the women's game was not dead. This struggle and fight to overcome the odds would be echoed in all walks of female life in the 20th Century and even our most recent history. Without stubborn brilliance of these women - modern life would be a whole lot different.

15. Football in Relation to Other Sports Between the Wars (1918-1939)

Despite the grit and determination of women's players around the country - the game would begin to decline. Football's decline would hit players hard - players who were predominately working-class. Wider recreational games undertaken by women had an middle-to-upper class feel to them - sports like golf and tennis brought with it a social entitlement and one which was not to be mixed with those less privileged. Despite the negativity towards football, the inter-war period was one in which certain sports began to flourish. The Sheffield Independent noted the improvement in facilities, concerning lawn tennis. Furthermore, the introduction of serious practice, club memberships and suitable fashion led to a more inclusive game for women.

For the writer it is clear that women can become equally as efficient on the court as their male counterparts, "Indeed, it is an ideal sport for women, and the girl who takes it in earnest will find self growing happier, healthier and more physically fit every day." However, by 1930, female education had also seriously adopted physical exercise as an important element to wider femininity. Again, this growth fails to recognise the working-class, but it did offer women a voice on all matters sporting.

Hockey, rowing and golf all began to develop into major sports - ones in which men could be firmly put in their place by female grit and skill. Unfortunately, football had been left behind in this broadening of female sport. Views contradictory to the evolution of the nation had meant old-fashioned values had led to a moral dilemma over including women in the country's 'national game'. The idea of being on show to thousands of spectators had worried those at the top, a predicament easily disguised in other leisure pursuits between the wars.

Nevertheless, the interwar period can be seen as generally radical for women's sport in Britain - an increase in participation and a more specific scheme of work in schools meant it was beginning to become more accessible. Football would rise again - but it would take tireless effort from pioneers for the next four decades.
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