Women’s football: an historical factsheet for football mad girls (and boys)

Published on: 22 November 2021 Author: Eve Ainsworth

With the rise in popularity of girls' football and the success of the women's national football team, there is no better time to get involved with the wonderful game. However, like many people, I was completely unaware of the roots of women's football and the highs and lows it has endured over the years.

It was only after working closely with football historian, Gail Newsham, on my children's series based on the real-life football team – the Dick Kerr Girls, that I truly began to appreciate this turbulent journey.

Eve Ainsworth and the front cover of All Together Now

When shared with young football fans, the history of the women's game often starts interesting discussions and create awareness about the prejudices and inequality that women have faced in sport and help us to appreciate the stronger position we are in now.

  1. Over 100 years ago, Nettie Honeyball (an aptly named young feminist) founded the The British Ladies Football Club. In 1895, the first British Ladies match took place at Nightingale Lane, watched by over 10,000 spectators. The match was against players from London and its surroundings - effectively a match of North vs South. Sadly lack of finances meant the club folded soon after and women's football would not come in to the spotlight again until 1917.
  2. Throughout WW1, new women's teams were formed, most notably, the Dick, Kerr Girls. During this period women and girls as young as 13 were required to work in factories to help the war effort. The Dick, Kerr factory in Preston produced dangerous munitions and the women were required to work long and strenuous shifts. During break times, they were encouraged to 'get rid of excess energy'. They would relax by playing football and whilst doing this they were spotted by a clerk, Alfred Franklin, who immediately saw their talent and encouraged them to set up a team. The Dick Kerr Girls were born.
  3. Other women's teams were formed in similar circumstances and these women would play matches against one another to raise money for charities. The Dick, Kerr Girls became the most successful – drawing huge crowds and raising significant amounts of money.
  4. The Dick Kerr Girls were the first team to travel internationally, when they were invited to play a French team in 1920.
  5. The Dick Kerr Girls played in famous grounds across the country including Goodison Park. Old Trafford and Stamford Bridge. They were the first team to play at night with a white ball and floodlights supplied by the war office.
  6. The popularity and huge appeal of women's football grew after the war, but not everyone was positive. Critics claimed that football was damaging to women's health and not ladylike. There were some concerns, that women's football was more popular than men's and this could not be allowed to happen.
  7. In 1921, The FA banned all women's football – meaning they could no longer play on FA approved pitches. The reason cited was that football was bad for women's health, but many privately felt that this was an attempt to stop women in their tracks.Illustration: Erika Meza
  8. The ban stayed in place until 1971, meaning that women's football was held back for 50 years!
  9. The Dick Kerr Girls did not give up. They went onto to tour America and Canada in 1922. However, when they arrived, they discovered the Canadian FA would not allow them to play! The only alternative was to play against men's teams in the USA! Out of nine games they won three, drew three and lost three.
  10. Players such as Lily Parr are considered the best footballers of all time. She was just 15 when she joined the team and had a legendry left foot. Parr scored 986 goals in her 30 years or so playing for the club. She was the first female player to be inducted into the National Football Museum Hall of Fame.
  11. The Dick Kerr Girls are now considered one of the best football teams of all time winning 828 of their games, losing just 24 and drawing 46
  12. At the height of their success, in 1920 the Dick Kerr Girls played in front of over 350,000 spectators across 31 games and raised the equivalent of £1 million. In 1921 they played in front of almost 900,000 spectators across 67 games and raised approximately £3 million for good causes.
  13. In 1965 The Dick Kerr Ladies team was forced to close, due to lack of players – but no-one could forget the legacy of the club. Between 1917 and 1965 they had raised over £10 million for charity in today's money.
  14. oday, the Women's game is now going from strength to strength. Women can now be paid to play for their teams and can represent their teams at the highest level. However, it has still faced battles along the way. Female players are still fighting for equal pay and recognition.
  15. A great example of this is England's Lionesses. They have qualified for the FIFA world cup four times, reached the quarter final three times and finished 3rd in 2015

I would like to think that Nettie Honeyball, The Dick Kerr Girls and all the other early female footballing pioneers will be so pleased to see how far women have come in the footballing world. We certainly wouldn't be where we are today without their efforts and determination to prove that women were just as capable as men to take part in the game.

However, it's vital that these historical points are not forgotten.

We must remember and discuss the challenges that women have faced throughout the years and continue to push for equality and fairness in today's sporting world.

Like the wonderful Dick, Kerr Girls, we must always strive for more.

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