Thread: The History of Women's Football in England and it's political supression

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    Default The History of Women's Football in England and it's political supression

    I was playing Football last night and a conversation started about how bad women's football is. I shut them all up by explaining to them that the women's game had been hugely popular before it had been banned. A ban that lasted for 50 years and that it is only now that the sport is beginning to recover. So I got home and decided to get my facts straight in case this ever comes up again. What I found was much more than I had expected, a story of struggle against sexism, homophobia and political suppression.
    I was torn between posting this in women's struggles, in sport or in history so if a mod or admin feels it is more appropriate elsewhere please move it.

    The first women's match was held in 1895 between North London and South London which the North won 7-1. Here's an illustration of the 1895 match with spectators clamouring to see the contest.

    From the start the women came under scrutiny because of what they were meant to wear when playing.
    "The orthodox jerseys were made the basis of the attire, but it was seen that a great deal had been left to the coquetry and taste of the wearers. In many instances they were made loose after the manner of blouses and were relieved at the edges by a little white embroidering. Some of the sleeves, too, were made extremely wide, being evidently made after a decidedly fashion-plate pattern. There was the same variety in the make of the knickers. This would seem to be a personal matter for the ladies themselves. Several of them probably more advanced in reformed dress ideas than their sisters, wore the lower garments in the ordinary football fashion."

    After the match the Manchester Guardian wrote "
    "Their costumes came in for a good deal of attention.... one or two added short skirts over their knicker-bockers.... When the novelty has worn off, I do not think women's football will attract the crowds."
    Another wrote "The first few minutes were sufficient to show that football by women, if the British Ladies be taken as a criterion, is totally out of the question. A footballer requires speed, judgement, skill and pluck. Not one of these four qualities was apparent on Saturday. For the most part, the ladies wandered aimlessly over the field at an ungraceful jog-trot."
    In reply The Sportsman wrote [FONT=Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif][FONT=Verdana]"True, young men would run harder and kick more strongly, but, beyond this, I cannot believe that they would show any greater knowledge of the game or skill in its execution. I don't think the lady footballer is to be snuffed out by a number of leading articles written by old men out of sympathy both with football as a a game and the aspirations of the young new women. If the lady footballer dies, she will die hard."
    The game was immediately condemned by the British Medical Journal who said [/FONT][/FONT]"We can in no way sanction the reckless exposure to violence, of organs which the common experience of women had led them in every way to protect."
    The teams played a number of games that year each with a growing popularity. In Bury they attracted a crowd of over 5,000 people and in a match in Reading they beat the local record for highest attendance previously held by a men's match between Reading and Luton Town, later on their tour they would attract crowds of over 8,000 but in the final few games the numbers had gone and only a few hundred turned up to watch. This was probably due to the negative press coverage they received, the same press took great pleasure in proclaiming that the novelty had worn off.

    [FONT=Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif][FONT=Verdana]WW1 Era

    With more women entering the workforce football teams formed from women working in factories. They played matches for charities to help raise money for injured soldiers. This time they were encouraged by the establishment because they wanted to show that the country was functioning as normal.

    By far the greatest of these teams were the women working at Dick Kerr factory in Preston.

    The photo was taken before their first match on Christmas day 1917 which was played at Deepdale, Preston North End's ground. The match attracted over 10,000 people and raised £200 for charity which in today's money is £41,000. The popularity of the women's game continued to grow even after the war even though many of the women had lost their jobs in the factories they had not lost their love for football. In September 1919 they played Newcastle United ladies which drew in over 35,000 fans raising £250,000 for charity for which they were paid £100 plus travel expenses. Now to put that in perspective I looked up the current average attendance figures for the newly launched Women's Super League, which were reported as 600, yes 600 people in the 2011 season was the average attendance of our highest league. I should also note that it took me a long time and many different searches to actually find that figure in this interesting article.
    [FONT=Verdana]Lily Parr was one of the main stars of the team and in her first season scored 43 goals for the club. Gail J. Newsham wrote about Parr "Standing almost six feet tall, with jet black hair, her power and skill was admired and feared, wherever she played. She was an extremely unselfish player who could pin-point a pass with amazing accuracy and was also a marvellous ball player. And she was probably responsible in one way or another, for most of the goals that were scored by the team". [/FONT]
    [FONT=Verdana]In 1920 a local newspaper wrote about this talented 14 year old: "There is probably no greater football prodigy in the whole country. Not only has she speed and excellent ball control, but her admirable physique enables her to brush off challenges from defenders who tackle her. She amazes the crowd where ever she goes by the way she swings the ball clean across the goalmouth to the opposite wing." [/FONT]
    [FONT=Verdana]One of her team-mates, Joan Whalley, remarked on Parr's sense of humour "When the older players were getting ready for a match, there were elastic stockings going on knee's and strapping up of ankles, there were bandages here there and everywhere. Then Parr walked in, and she stood looking around at them all and said, "well, I don't know about Dick Kerr Ladies football team, it looks like a bloody trip to Lourdes to me!"[/FONT]
    [FONT=Verdana]Unfortunately it was still not easy even for the most successful team as they dealt with pressures from family and friends to give up football. For example Molly Walker who was treated as an outcast by her boyfriends family as they disapproved of her wearing shorts.[/FONT]
    [FONT=Verdana]In 1920 the manager of Dick Kerr ladies[/FONT] Alfred Frankland arranged [FONT=Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif]f[FONT=Verdana]or the Federation des Societies Feminine Sportives de France to send a team to tour England. Madame Milliat who had founded the federation, was a great advocate of women playing football: "In my opinion, football is not wrong for women. Most of these girls are beautiful Grecian dancers. I do not think it is unwomanly to play football as they do not play like men, they play fast, but not vigorous football." [/FONT][/FONT][FONT=Verdana]Frankland believed that his team was good enough to represent England against a French national team. Four matches were arranged to be played at Preston, Stockport, Manchester and London. The matches were played on behalf of the National Association of Discharged and Disabled Soldiers and Sailors.[/FONT]
    [FONT=Verdana]Caption reads: "It was noticed in the Anglo-French ladies football match at Stamford Bridge that many wore knickers so scanty as would be frowned upon by the F.A, if worn by men.[/FONT]
    [FONT=Verdana]On the final game of the French tour media controversy followed them again when the captains Alice Kell and Madeline Bracquemond shared a kiss.[/FONT]
    [FONT=Verdana] [/FONT]
    [FONT=Verdana]Dick Kerr ladies then went on a tour of France and on their return Alice Kerr said [/FONT]"If the matches with the French Ladies serve no other purpose, I feel that they will have done more to cement the good feeling between the two nations than anything which has occurred during the last 50 years."

    On Boxing day 1920 Dick Kerr ladies played the second best team in England St. Helens ladies at Goodison park in Liverpool the home ground of Everton FC 53,000 people attended with an estimated 14,000 disappointed fans locked outside. It was the largest crowd that had ever watched a woman's game in England. The game at Goodison Park raised £623,000 in today's money. Two weeks later the Dick Kerr Ladies played a game at Old Trafford, the home of Manchester United. Over 35,000 people watched the game and £392,000 was raised for charity.
    The French team arrived for another tour of England in May, 1921. Their star player was[FONT=Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif] [FONT=Verdana]Carmen Pomies. She was an outstanding athlete and was a champion javelin thrower in France. Pomies could play in goal or outfield. She was so good that Alfred Frankland[/FONT][FONT=Verdana] persuaded her to live in Preston and play for Dick Kerr ladies. [/FONT][/FONT][FONT=Verdana]Her first game was against Coventry Ladies on 6th August, 1921. [/FONT]
    [FONT=Verdana]In 1921 the Dick Kerr Ladies team was in such demand that Frankland had to refuse 120 invitations from all over Britain. They still played 67 games that year in front of 900,000 people. It has to be remembered that all the players had full-time jobs and the games had to be played on Saturday or weekday evenings. As Alice Norris pointed out "It was sometimes hard work when we [/FONT]played a match during the week because we would have to work in the morning, travel to play the match, then travel home again and be up early for work the next day." In February 1921 25,000 people watched Dick Kerr Ladies beat the Best of Britain, 9-1. Lily Parr scoring 5 goals. Representing their country the Preston team beat the French national side 5-1 in front of 15,000 people at Longton, Parr scored all five goals.

    The Ban

    The money raised from the women's matches had mainly been used to help ex-soldiers recovering from the war or returning to poverty. But in 1921 the mining industry which had been nationalized during the war was returned to private ownership. Mine owners significantly reduced wages and a strike was called by the Miners Federation of Great Britain. Under the terms of the Triple Industrial Alliance the National Union of Railwaymen and the Transport and General Workers Union were supposed to strike with the miners. At the last minute the NUR and the TGWU backed out this event was named Black Friday. [FONT=Verdana]In March 1921 the mine-owners announced a further 50% reduction in miner's wages. When the miners refused to accept this pay cut, they were locked out from their jobs. On April 1st and immediately after this provocation, the government put into force its Emergency Powers Act, drafting soldiers into the coalfields. [/FONT]The government and the mine-owners attempted to starve the miners into submission.

    Many of the Dick Kerr Ladies team came from mining areas and were naturally in support of the miners. They travelled to mining areas around Britain playing to raise money for the miners on strike. This was seen by the government as a political act at a time where they saw women as having served their purpose filling in for men during the war and were now supposed to return to traditional roles. Women's football had gathered large support filling grounds around the country to capacity, defying the traditional roles and supporting workers. It had to go
    A propaganda campaign was started against the game in the national media.

    Caption reads: "The ruling passion in the fair sex is strong even in the excitement of a football match. The Lyons ladies goalkeeper seizes a lull in the game to gather up her straying tresses, and thus present her usual well-groomed appearance to friend and foe alike.

    [FONT=Verdana]Once again the issue was raised about the health risks of women's football. [/FONT][FONT=Verdana]Dr Elizabeth Sloan Chesser said "There are physical reasons why the game is harmful to women. It is a rough game at any time, but it is much more harmful to women than men. They may receive injuries from which they may never recover." Dr Mary Scharlieb, a Harley Street Physician added "I consider it a most unsuitable game, too much for a woman's physical frame." Barbara Jacobs argued in her book "The Dick Kerr Ladies" [/FONT][FONT=Verdana]"the FA brought out its tame doctors to verify that, in fact, football did terrible things to women's bodies. Mr Eustice Miles had a scientific reason for believing this, or so he said "The kicking is too jerky a movement for women and the strain is likely to be severe." So are we to assume that women's bodies are unsuited to jerky movements? That's put paid to sex, hasn't it?"[/FONT][FONT=Verdana]
    [FONT=Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif]Frankland [/FONT]invited Dr Mary Lowry to watch a game being played by Dick Kerr Ladies. Afterwards she commented "From what I saw, football is no more likely to cause injuries to women than a heavy day's washing." The captain of Huddersfield Atalanta argued "If football were dangerous some ill-effect would have been seen by now. I know that all our girls are healthier and, speaking personally, I feel worlds better than I did a year ago. Housework isn't half the trouble it used to be, because there is always Saturday's game and the week night training to freshen me up." The captain of Plymouth Ladies gave an interview where she argued "The controlling body of the F.A. are a hundred years behind the times and their action is purely sex prejudice. Not one of our girls has felt any ill effects from participating in the game."

    On the 5th of December 1921 the FA issued this statement.
    Originally Posted by The Football Association
    Complaints having been made as to football being played by women, 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.

    Complaints have been made as to the conditions under which some of these matches have been arranged and played, and the appropriation of the receipts to other than Charitable objects.

    The Council are further of the opinion that an excessive proportion of the receipts are absorbed in expenses and an inadequate percentage devoted to Charitable objects.

    For these reasons the Council requests the clubs belonging to the Association refuse the use of their grounds for such matches.
    This new rule made sure that the games could not be seen by large crowds or allow them to raise significant amounts for charity. Just to add further insult to injury the FA also made sure that no official referees or linesmen were allowed to take part in any women's match.
    [FONT=Verdana]The Dick Kerr Ladies team were shocked by this decision. [/FONT][FONT=Verdana]The captain[/FONT][FONT=Verdana] Alice Kerr spoke for the other women when she said "We play for the love of the game and we are determined to carry on. It is impossible for the working girls to afford to leave work to play matches all over the country and be the losers. I see no reason why we should not be recompensated for loss of time at work. No one ever receives more than 10 shillings per day." Alice Norris [/FONT]pointed out that the women were determined to resist attempts to stop them playing football "We just took it all in our stride but it was a terrible shock when the FA stopped us from playing on their grounds. We were all very upset but we ignored them when they said that football wasn't a suitable game for ladies to play."[FONT=Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif] Alfred Frankland[/FONT] responded to the action taken by the FA with the claim "The team will continue to play, if the organisers of charity matches will provide grounds, even if we have to play on ploughed fields."
    Some supporters of women's football welcomed the decision of the FA. "Football Girl" wrote a weekly column in the Football Special Magazine. She wrote "Women's footballers have at last been roused to the necessity of organisation if they are to carry on, and the F.A. ban, having made us independent of outside bodies, has given us the additional impetus that will probably make us organise ourselves far more thoroughly than we should have done if we had been in a half-and-half situation, neither definitely sure of having F.A.'s assistance and yet to a large extent relying on it."
    The English Ladies Football association (ELFA) was formed 5 days later and introduced new rules some of which were adopted by the men's game many years later. Women's football remained strong for a time in the Midlands and the North but the ELFA found it difficult to recruit clubs in the South of England. In 1922 East Ham Ladies were forced to place adverts in local newspapers appealing for clubs to join the ELFA. The ban had started to work and eventually by the 30's women's football was reduced to a mere sub-culture.

    The Banned Years
    The ban had done severe damage to the women's game and to Dick Kerr Ladies in particular who did not adjust well to some of the new rules of the ELFA like the introduction of a new lighter ball and less physical contact. The factory where they worked was bought by English Electric and Frankland and many of the team were laid off. They changed their name to Preston Ladies. During WW2 games could could not be organized due to petrol rationing prohibiting teams from travelling to matches.
    Lily Parr who joined the team aged 14 played on until the 1950's and was considered one of the great players of the day
    Lydia Ackers who played for many years with Parr said that "I have never seen any woman, nor many a man, kick a ball like she could. Everybody was amazed when they saw her power, you would never believe it." [FONT=Verdana]Joan Whalley was another one who played in the same team as Lily Parr later wrote "She had a kick like a mule. she was the only person I knew who could lift a dead ball, the old heavy leather ball, from the left wing over to me on the right and nearly knock me out with the force of the shot.... When she took a left corner kick, it came over like a bullet, and if you ever hit one of those with your head... I only ever did it once and the laces on the ball left their impression on my forehead and cut it open." [/FONT][FONT=Verdana]Some shrewd observers believed she was good enough to play for a club in the Football League. Bobby Walker, a Scottish international player, belied that she was the "best natural timer of a football I have ever seen." Alfred Frankland went further describing her as the "best outside left playing in the world today."

    Photo of Preston Ladies Lily Parr is third from the left.

    During the 1950's awareness of homosexuality was on the increase and openly lesbian Lily Parr bore the brunt of the abuse from fans.

    The ban was lifted in 1971 although women's football in England has not come close to a full recovery. We can only imagine what might have been if the women's game had been supported and promoted as vigorously as the men's game.
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    Very informative, thanks

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