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

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!





16. The WFA is Formed (1969)

In 1966 England's men won their first ever World Cup on home soil. The victory, combined with the European Cup's initial popularity in the 1960s had seen a spike in the desire to play the game. This was not just men's desire for football but also ladies wishing to take up the sport. However, the FA's 1921 ban on ladies playing in FA affiliated grounds still stood firm but there were those who were fighting it.

Arthur Hobbs of Kent was a keen agitator of allowing women to play football. Recorded in the Daily Mirror (right), 13th November 1968, he called on the Prime Minister and the Minister for Sport to force the FA to lift their ban on women's football. He had arranged a tournament in 1967 for ladies' teams and saw 8 take part, in 1968 this tournament grew to 32 teams. Hobbs lambasted the FA, calling them "dictators" and stating how "it's outdated nonsense to say the game is unsuitable (for women)". On 1st November 1969, less than a year after Hobbs' comments, the Women's Football Association was formed. This was not linked to the men Football Association but as a way to draw together 44 ladies' clubs.

Hobbs has his wish and he formed part of the WFA's original committee as Honorary Secretary. Patricia Dunn took the role of Chairwoman and Pat Gwynne took the helm as Vice-Chairwoman. On the 6th June 1970, the WFA held an official AGM, where the 44 clubs were registered formally. Some of these included: Manchester Corinthians, Spurs Ladies, Swindon Spitfires, Hull Ladies and Dundalk (Ireland). The WFA represented a range of towns and cities across the UK and Ireland but the FA still maintained its ban. However, a search of the British Newspaper Archive finds an increased presence of women's football in its reporting. An example below from the Coventry Evening Telegraph on 27th August 1970 advertises 'The Heart of England Ladies' Football League', the WFA was certainly an important moment in the history of the game!



17. The Ban is Finally Overturned (1971)


Southampton Women
In 1971 UEFA began to recognise the growing women's game across Europe. They called upon European associations to make a decision about female associations, conducting a vote of the 32 UEFA members. 31-1 voted to allow individual countries to decide what would happen about a governing body in their nation. Along with the likes of Italy and Portugal, England elected to recognise what already existed in the country, meaning that the WFA were considered the official and sole body running women's football in Britain.

Women's football was no longer 'banned' by the FA and this opened up a huge array of options to ladies' teams. These sides could now be recognised as official and so could play on council owned pitched, train in better facilities and be refereed by qualified, FA referees. It goes without say that is was a major moment in the history of the women's game, an opportunity for all to play the beautiful game.

1971 was also incredibly significant for the WFA as they hosted the first WFA Mitre Trophy (the cup that would later become the Women's FA Cup) featuring teams from England, Wales and Scotland. At Crystal Palace National Sports Centre, Southampton played Scottish side Stewarton & Thistle in the final and were victorious 4-1. Southampton dominated those first 11 years of the Mitre Trophy, reaching the final an incredible 10 out of 11 times, winning it on 8 occasions. Saints player Sue Lopez told the BBC: "For us, it was just relief to be at a decent ground, with decent referees, decent goalposts with nets and our fans there with us, playing a decent team."

Another significant impact of the FA overturning its ban on women's football was the fact 'official' international matches could take place. In November 1972 at Ravenscraig Stadium, Greenock, history was made as England beat Scotland 3-2 in Britain's 'first ever women's international'. England were 2-1 down at the break after goals from Scotland's Mary Carr and Rose Reilly took them ahead despite Sylvia Gore netting for the visitors. In the second half though, Lynda Hale and Jennie Allott stole the game for England and made confirmed the ladies were on the international scene to stay!


18. Scottish Women's Football & Rose Reilly (1970s/1980s)

Rose Reilly - Scottish and Italian goalscoring star
Scottish football, despite that first official loss to England, has a proud history of the women's game. There is reportedly evidence of a match between England and Scotland taking place in Edinburgh in 1881, Scotland winning that 3-0. Of course north of the border the game grew during the First World War too, Dick, Kerr Ladies' visiting but also a rapid growth in Scottish based sides as well. The SFA though, much like the English FA, did not allow women to play football into the 1920s but that would change come the 1970s.

The Scottish Women's Football Association was formed in 1972, following the UEFA pressure mentioned above. The SFA agreed to recognise it as the governing body of the ladies game in Scotland. This led to a re-growth in popularity for women to play the beautiful game, attendances and quailty growing during the next two decades.

A star of Scottish football in the 1970s and 1980s was Rose Reilly. The Kilmarnock born striker started her playing career in boy's sides as a youngster and was immediately recognised as a talented player and natural goalscorer. Rose then featured in the unofficial ladies teams and won the first ever Scottish Cup in 1971 with Stewarton & Thistle before coming runner-up in the first WFA Mitre Cup also in 1971.
Scotland's women celebrate!
Rose Reilly featured for the Scottish national side scoring against England in 1972 before moving to French and then Italian clubs where the ladies' gave was further developed. Reilly starred in the Italian league for 20 years, playing for 9 clubs and winning 8 league titles with 4 Italian Cups. Reilly then made the perhaps unusual decision to feature for the Italian national team too, despite not having any Italian heritage. Rose made over 20 caps for the side as they won the Women's World Championships in 1984 in a 3-1 victory over West Germany. Reilly was inducted into the Scottish Sports Hall of Fame and Scottish Football Hall of Fame in 2007, a real Scottish legend!

Read more about Scottish Football via the Scottish Football Museum.


19. Doncaster Belles (1980s)


The original Belles in 1969 (credit)
Ask any women's football fan about great teams through the decades and almost every time the 1980s Doncaster Belles side comes up. By popular demand therefore, let's check out the finest decade of this fine ladies team on their 50th anniversary.

The Doncaster Belles were founded in 1969, originally known as Belle Vue Belles (named after Doncaster Rovers' home ground 'Belle Vue'). Sheila Stocks, Doncaster Rovers men's team fan, recruited ladies to join her cause and by 1971 their name was changed to the Doncaster Belles. Initally the side played in the Sheffield League before moving to the Nottingham League a few seasons later. After victory in the Townsend Cup in 1977, their first major success came in the WFA Mitre Cup (now Women's FA Cup) in 1983. Playing St Helens at Lincoln's Sencil Bank, founder and captain Shiela Stocks netted a brace to help Doncaster Belles lift the trophy for the first time.

That would be the first of many for the Belles, however it did not come without trial and tribulation. The Belles reached the final each of the next three seasons but unfortunately finished as Runners-Up to Howbury Green, Friends of Fulham and Norwich respectively. Success would come again though for Doncaster, cup winners in: 1987, 1988, 1990, 1992 and 1994. In 12 years the Belles reached 11 finals, winning 6 times. The Belles are rightly remembered as one of the greats, boasting 8 England internationals at times during the 1980s, one of which was England Women's former record cap holder Gillian Coultard (119 caps), who served the Belles for 21 years.

Shiela Stocks is now known as Dr Shiela Edmunds and the six time Women's FA Cup winner still stands today as the club's President and General Manager. Read about her and the club in greater depth here.


20. Women's World Championships (1980s)


As mentioned, a UEFA members' vote encouraged the introduction of women's football associations across Europe in the early 1970s, however the first official FIFA Women's World Cup would not take place till 1991. So what happened before that? Well, there was a series of tournaments that took place throughout the 1970s/80s, the 1980s particularly being where the growth took place.

In 1970, the Coppo del Mondo was held in Italy featuring the unofficial Italy, England, Czechoslovakia, Germany, Denmark, Mexico, Austria and Switzerland teams. Denmark beat the hosts Italy 2-0 in Turin in-front of a reported crowd of 40,000, showing there was a desire for an international competition. The following year in Mexico a larger scale tournament was hosted with greater attendances as Denmark again lifted the trophy. The 1980s though, would be where international women's tournaments would continue to develop, laying the foundation for what we know today.

1984 saw the first fully recorded Women's Mundialito (meaning 'little world cup'). 1981 and 1982 had seen minor versions of the tournament, Italy lifting the crown in 1982 but it would be 1984 that the Mundialito took shape. Each occasion was hosted by the Italians and consisted of an initial round-robin format. 1984 saw England, Belgium, West Germany and Italy compete as Scottish-born Rose Reilly (Moment 18) netted in the 3-1 Final victory over West Germany. The tournament was repeated the following year: Italy, England, Denmark and a debuting USA this time seeking glory. 1985 would be England's first major tournament win, the English seeing off holders Italy in the Final 3-2.

In 1986 the previously four-team structure was expanded to six as Italy, USA, China, Brazil, Japan and Mexico made it a truly global affair. Two groups of three battled it out for a Semi-Final place, USA and Italy making it to the Final, the Italians re-gaining their grown stolen by the English the year before. The final edition of the Mundialito took place in 1988, once more six ladies' nations taking part. Italy, as ever, made the Final but England would again steal the title on Italian soil with a 2-1 win. The success of the Mundialito perhaps encouraged FIFA to create the Women's Invitational Tournament in 1988, the first time FIFA had got involved on the international ladies' scene. In 1991, the FIFA Women's World Cup would follow, but more on that to come...

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