Trail-blazers who pioneered womens football


It was a full house on a remarkable Boxing Day in 1920 when 53,000 fans packed Goodison Park to watch an English football team at their best.

In fact, one player Alice Stanley recorded in her diary that another 10,000-15,000 supporters were turned away.

Yes, amazingly, it was a women's football match.

Because if you wanted skill, passion and entertainment in 1920, then you watched the Dick, Kerr's Ladies - England's unofficial team.

Dick, Kerr's was the name of the Preston munitions factory where the women worked during the First World War.

Dick, Kerr's played France at Herne Hill on 12 May 1925 to raise money for shipwrecked mariners

In 1917 a team was put together to raise money to help injured servicemen - it went on to beat opposition from all over Britain, to win in France, and to snatch a 5-4 victory against a men's team in the United States.

I first came across this marvellous story more than a decade ago when I was researching Kicking and Screaming, the BBC's history of football documentary.

Gail Newsham, a Preston footballer herself, had just written the story of the Dick, Kerr's Ladies: "The team not only regularly drew large crowds but raised more than £70,000 for ex-servicemen, hospitals and needy children", she explained.

That's about £14m in today's money.

Ironically it was this popularity - their crowds were often bigger than men's games being played on the same day - which played a part in the downfall of women's football.

Not only did many at the Football Association think that the women's game was becoming "too showbiz", there were also mutterings of the rough and tumble not being good for lasses.

So less than a year after the Goodison game, the Dick, Kerr's Ladies, as well as all the other teams that had sprung up around Britain, lost their official recognition.

Not actually barred outright, but banned from all FA-affiliated grounds.

This sent the women's game onto muddy fields and into obscurity until the ban was rescinded in 1969.

It was a setback that did huge damage to the women's game in Britain - it was left to struggle on its own until as late as 1993 when the FA took over its administration and funding.

And it left an enduring legacy that can at least be partly blamed for the fact the sport still has a battle for credibility that simply does not exist in other countries such as Scandanivia and the USA.

Twelve years ago, I had the privilege of meeting Dick, Kerr's right half Alice Barlow, then in her eighties.

Alice recalled the day in 1921 when the team was told of the FA's decision.

"It came as a shock...and we could only put it down to jealousy. We were more popular than the men and our bigger gates were for charity.

"I don't swear so I can't tell you what some of the team said but it was sad because it had been such happy times"

Alice went back to being a spectator on the terraces at Preston North End but not before the team organised a float to Blackpool where they displayed all their cups.

"A group of ex-serviceman saw us and they all stood up and saluted us. It made it all worthwhile."
Actually watched some of Englands first game the other day. Bonus that they have been drawn in a group with loads of Scandinavian countries - strange to have feelings about wanting to sh*g a footballer.

Some of them are babes tho'. Most of the old butch dyke image appears to have gone.
Vonshot: You know, the sport that thousands of American girls grow up playing, from grade school to college-level (and sometimes Olympic gold), but most American men consider too wussy to play?

Yeah, that one. :D

murielson: Thanks for posting. That's fascinating, I never suspected that anything like that existed.

It's sort of funny that the butch idea is so prevalent in the UK when it's a normal part of most femme little U.S. girls' upbringing (including mine). Wonder if these players ever had to do the whole charm school thing that the U.S. womens' professional baseball players had to do???
Its exactly the same with womens rugby - having been a rugby coach for a number of years of both men and women, it is so much more rewarding coaching women as the gameplay is so much more skilled and it really is a thinking game!!

Unfortunately the England match last night clashed with highlights of Lions match and Lions were the preferred option. All England games live on BBC 2 for those interested.

My daughter was surprised to find there is a n English womens football team. If it helps to convince her that she can turn her hand to anything I'm all for it. P*ssed off that I may have to buy her some boots now tho'. To be fair as an 8 year old she is already playing tag rugby at school in mixed games.

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