Women's football started early

A common starting point for historians are games that took place in the Scottish Highlands, in late 18th Century. A team of married women took on a team of single women in the Scottish Highlands. It was a ‘crude’ version of the football played today. Cruder still, it was played in front and for the benefit of the village men who sought a wife.

The first international took place between Scotland and England in Edinburgh in 1881. The Scots team, Mrs Graham’s XI are credited as being the first British women’s team, and most likely the first in the world. The match did not conclude due to a pitch invasion. Sadly, another habit of Scots football fans.

In the late 1895 pioneers, Lady Florence Dixie (another Scot) and Nettie Honeyball (real name?) were instrumental in forming The British Ladies' Football Club.

If you’re interested in learning more, this piece is a good start.

Dick, Kerr Ladies

Then during the Great War, Northern English factory owners seized an opportunity when their workforce changed. Before long women’s teams played football in stadiums instead of works yards at lunchtime.

The most famous women’s team, Dick, Kerr Ladies became as popular if not more than any successful men’s team era. In 1917, they formed as a team and took their name from the factory owned by, WB Dick (another Scot) and John Kerr of Dick, Kerr & Co.

On Boxing Day 1920, they played St Helen’s, the second-best side in England, in front of 53,000 people at a sold out Goodison Park – home of Everton FC. As many as 14,000 were locked out. Two weeks later they played at Old Trafford in front of 35,000 people.

By the end of 1921 the Dick, Kerr Ladies had played 60 matches in front of 900,000 people. They raised tens of thousands of pounds for returned ex-servicemen. They continued to play until 1965.

Watch this excellent documentary about them.

“A left-footer, her ability was natural, magic, but honed by her refusal to conform to the art of being a woman. She wasn't having any of it.”

LILIAN ‘LILY’ PARR (26 April 1905 – 24 May 1978) played Outside Left. In 1919, she signed for Dick, Kerr Ladies at aged 14. She was paid 10 shillings a week – not quite what stars of commercially-minded European Leagues get now, but pretty decent money for a footballer.

“A left-footer, her ability was natural, magic, but honed by her refusal to conform to the art of being a woman. She wasn't having any of it.” (Gail Newsham).

In her first season, she scored 43 goals. Between 1919 and 1951 she scored over 900. Lily Parr was the first female player inducted into the National Football Museum Hall of Fame, and she continues to inspire today.

Gail Newsham has produced an incredibly rich history of the team and the players. Gail was instrumental in Lily Parr’s induction into the English FA’s Hall of Fame.

the ban
On Monday 5 December 1921, the English Football Association (EFA) declared football ‘unsuitable’ for women.

Earlier concerns had been raised about physical health and appropriate sporting attire. At the meeting, the committee, made up entirely of men, highlighted concerns about misappropriation of funds raised for charity. A lot of money was being raised and given away. Without allowing for the right to reply or evidence, they quickly determined to ban women from playing football. Not ban them from playing, just from playing on EFA affiliated grounds. Women could still play football, just not anywhere people could play football.

A great deal has been written about it. You might learn more from the horse’s mouth here.

The Australian governing body elected to follow suit on February 1922.

It did not stop women playing football.

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