To read Part 1 of this series click HERE and for Part 2 click HERE 


Judged by many similar displays in the past the football, considering that they were ladies, was pretty good, and at times the spectators, who had made merry at the start, were not slow to applaud good bits of play.

Hartlepool Northern Daily Mail, 28 April 1921


There was plenty of merriment in the second half. The more seriously the teams tried to play the more comical their mistakes, as they scrambled and tumbled about.

Burnley News, 1 June 1921

These extracts from the Burnley News and the Hartlepool Northern Daily Mail neatly encapsulate the revealing and challenging nature of contemporary press coverage. Writing a history of a team like Fleetwood inevitably becomes a study in the nature and interaction of local, regional, and national media coverage. It involves trying to understand how the male dominated media industry worked and the role of individual journalists in shaping the coverage we encounter as historians.

Given the predominance of male journalists in the 1920s, especially in sports reporting, it is likely that most of the reports about Fleetwood Ladies were written by men. At each game, male writers were presented with a choice on how to structure and frame their report. The reports that immediately strike modern readers or those that make the gender of the players central to how they discussed what they saw, contrasting with established patterns of reporting for male games.

Before discussing such reports though, it is important to emphasise a striking feature of the Fleetwood Chronicle’s coverage: the gender-neutral tone of most of its reporting. Unlike many others, there are no prejudiced remarks, no qualified praise. Indeed, aside from headings such as ‘Ladies Football’, these reports often read like those for male games. This poses several intriguing if unanswered questions. Did a particular reporter take an enlightened approach and if so, why? Or were they provided by someone associated with the club? One observation to make is that in a small community like Fleetwood, perhaps it made more commercial sense to treat the team fairly, whereas in larger cities, it was perhaps easier for journalists to decry, criticise or mock female players.

An example of gender neutral coverage
Fleetwood Chronicle 3 June 1921
Thanks to the British Newspaper Archive

There are benefits though to reports that treated them differently. For example, one reveals the colour of the team’s kit: red and white striped shirts and blue shorts. This report was a rare one in the Fleetwood Chronicle’s coverage, in that it presented comment and colour, as opposed to blow-by-blow descriptions of the play.

The effect was rather like a crowd of animated “humbugs” running about. Chic little caps coloured to match the jerseys, served only partly to hide little brown curls. But though they never forgot to put their little curls back into place as often as they came peeping out, the players took their football in deadly earnest. Right from the moment the Mayoress kicked-off, both sides went at it “tooth and nail.” It nearly amounted to that, for as many hard knocks were given and taken in the average men’s match.[1]

The writer went onto focus on several incidents that proved the physicality of the game. The Preston keeper was injured in a ‘scrimmage…whereat the entire teams, officials and “traineresses”, the latter armed with business-like towls and paraphernalia, clustered round her.’ In return, the Fleetwood keeper was later bowled over by three Preston forwards, while Wright was similarly bowled over when scoring Fleetwood’ third goal. We get similar glimpses of the physical and competitive nature of these games from a report of their first game in Ireland, where ‘one of the visitors appeared to resent a previous charge by a home player, and proceeded to get her own back, and was pulled up for dangerous charging.’[2]

Evidence of physicality
Fleetwood Chronicle, 11 March 1921
Thanks to the British Newspaper Archive

Opinions on the players skill tended to come from newspapers outside of Fleetwood. The Hartlepool Northern Daily Mail wrote:

Judged by many similar displays in the past the football, considering that they were ladies, was pretty good, and at times the spectators, who had made merry at the start, were not slow to applaud good bits of play.[3]

The most critical report was provided by the Burnley News. The writer was clearly not enamoured with the idea of women’s football, starting their report by stating, ‘Ladies are not physically cut out for running, and as footballers they are not speed merchants.’ It went onto describe the views of the spectators:

The crowd was not all sympathetic; they had gone out for a bit of fun, and they got it, one of the tit-bits being when plump Miss Silcock, of Bolton, bowled the Fleetwood goalie over and earned the cognomen of “Andy.”….There was plenty of merriment in the second half. The more seriously the teams tried to play the more comical their mistakes, as they scrambled and tumbled about.[4]

The Burnley News may have provided a jaundiced view of the players, but it did pay them the complement of printing photos of both teams and the kick-off.  These were not the first photos of the team though, with the Fleetwood Chronicle printing one on the 11 February 1921, as well as one from their game with Horrockses, Crewdson’s in Blackpool.

The first is notable because of the extremely positive headline given to the image. The framing of images is arguably as important as the type of image used. In this context a simple team photograph was supported by a sub-heading highlighting the size of the crowd that had come to watch them.

Fleetwood Chronicle, 11 February 1921
Thanks to the British Newspaper Archive

It is quite like this better-quality image found held by Getty Images

http://Embed from Getty Images

The second photo, seen earlier, provides further evidence of the interest that some papers had in the physicality of the women’s game. The photographer was perhaps also drawn to the presence of the ‘lady trainer’, a relatively rare example of a woman in one of the auxiliary team roles.

The Burnley Express’s coverage is quite typical of coverage seen in other local newspapers, when they decided to give space to women’s games. Three photographs were printed, one of each team and one of the Mayoress of Burnley kicking off the game, underscoring the game’s charitable links. The team photographs mirrored the conventions of male team photos – two lines of players, the front seated, with the captain sitting in the middle of the front-row with the ball, with officials at either end or behind the team.

The photo of kick-off captures deserted terraces in the background, bar a few individuals. In contrast, the team photograph has a large crowd in the background, suggesting that most of the spectators watched from the relative comfort of the main covered stand at Turf Moor.

Annie Cullen waits for kick-off
Burnley Express, 4 June 1921
Thanks to the British Newspaper Archive and the Johnston Press PLC

Burnley Express, 4 June 1921
Thanks to the British Newspaper Archive and the Johnston Press PLC

The visual prominence given to the teams by the Burnley Express stands in contrast to the negative portrayal offered by the Burnley News. The relatively lavish visual treatment also illustrates the greater resources that the Burnley Express had in contrast to the Fleetwood Chronicle, which was a smaller newspaper with less visual material.

We should remember that digitisation is still in its relative early days. It is quite likely that there is more information and images to be discovered as further newspapers are added to the British Newspaper Archive and other digitisation projects.

There is one curious coda to this media coverage. On the 30 July 1921, the first women’s game of Australian Rules Football in Melbourne was held. The two teams were called ‘Fleetwood’ and ‘Chorley.’ In Play On! The Hidden History of Women’s Australian Rules Football, Brunette Lenkic and Rob Hess ascribe the use of these names to the influence of Trixie West, a recent arrival from the North of England. She was also influential in encouraging Australian women’s teams to abandon the restrictive outfits they had worn in war-time football. As she told one Australian newspaper, ‘some people…seem to think we should play in skirts. Well, if that’s to be the case, no football for me, thank you! If they don’t like to see girls playing in shorts they can stay away.’[5] Lenkic and Hess also point to how Australian newspapers referenced women’s Association Football in England and France and women’s Rugby League in Australia when discussing women’s Australian Rules Football at this time.

Table Talk, 28 July 1921
Thanks to Rob Hess and the State Library Victoria

The apparent influence of Trixie is particularly interesting when we factor in time and distance. By 1921, the sailing time from England to Australia was between thirty-five to forty days.[6] If Trixie had arrived in Australia in July or June, she was presumably still impressed by the games she might have seen played in the first part of 1921, when Fleetwood were particularly active. In less than six months, Fleetwood activities were impacting on the development of another women’s sport on the other side of the globe.

This seems an apt place to leave the Fleetwood story. Despite the club’s short lifespan, I hope I have showed that they are an important part of the history of women’s football. It forms one part of the mosaic of women’s football history that is gradually being uncovered. There is much more to be discover and I would be delighted to hear from anyone who has more information or any views on these articles. If you would like to find out more about women’s football, please come and see the National Football Museum’s new Lilly Parr gallery which opens this summer.

Article © of Alex Jackson


I would like to thank Steve Bolton and Professor Robert Hess for their help with these articles.



[1] Fleetwood Chronicle, 11 March 1921.

[2] Fleetwood Chronicle, 27 May 1921.

[3] Hartlepool Northern Daily Mail, 28 April 1921.

[4] Burnley News, 1 June 1921.

[5] Brunette Lenkic and Rob Hess, Play On! The Hidden History of Women’s Australian Rules Football (Echo Publishing 2016), chapter 3.