Source: Lizzy Ashcroft Collection

St Helens Ladies FC + Lily Parr

Much of what is known and written about early women’s football is nonsense. This is particularly true about my granny’s great friend and teammate, Lily Parr. One of the abiding mysteries has been the question of whether Lily actually played for St Helens before she was recruited to the Dick Kerr Ladies. New evidence has emerged and I can now answer that question. Please note, this article is about the real person, Lily Parr, not the mythical 6ft tall, rude, professional, openly gay creature who never existed.

Women’s Football – So Good They Banned it Twice

Sterling Ladies FC “Dagenham Invincibles”
Poster Girls of World War 1
Source: Lizzy Ashcroft Collection

Women’s Early Football Timeline – Key Events

1881 – ‘Scotland’ v ‘England’ Tour

Most historians now accept that this was associated with Music Hall Troupes. The tour descended into chaos with riots at games and this was heavily reported across Britain and Ireland.

1895 – British Ladies Tour

This was initially a more ‘middle class’ attempt to legitimise women’s football. The famous ‘Crouch End Game’ received some positive coverage but the eventual overall media outcome led to negative articles numbering in the thousands. It is also worth noting that in his autobiography in 1935, the man who signed off the 1921 English FA Ban, Sir Frederick Wall watched the Crouch End game and decided there and then that ‘football was unsuitable for women’.

1902 – 1st English FA Ban

“Item 23- It was decided to instruct affiliated Associations to refuse permission for its players to play against lady football teams.” It is important to remember that Britain had just come to the end of the Victorian era and this ban was widely interpreted as including all women’s games.

1914 – Portsmouth Women’s Game Banned from Fratton Park

On Thursday 19 March a crowd of 5,000 watched a male game and a separate female game at the United Services Sports Ground, Pitt Street. The Directors of Portsmouth FC had denied the use of Fratton Park because there was to be a female game, citing the 1902 English FA Ban. The games were organised to raise money for a submarine fund by the staff of the Royal Yacht and the implementation of the English FA ban caused quite a fuss.

WW1 – 250+ Teams Play Over 1,000 Games

By the end of the 1918-1919 ‘war season’ over 1,000 games had been played up and down the land. Most reporting was confined to local media. However, in the early part of the war the Portsmouth Ladies became nationally famous, featuring regularly with their picture in the Daily Mirror. The nationally and internationally famous team during the war was the Sterling Ladies FC whose exploits were championed as far away as the New York Herald. They were frequently filmed by Pathe News and were seen in cinemas up and down the land. Other teams were well known in their local areas such as Preston, Blyth, Chelmsford, Belfast, Glasgow, Cardiff, etc.

1920 April/May – France Tour England

This was a nationally significant tour. The National French Team played four high profile games against the Preston team, the Dick Kerr Ladies. The team was captained by the glamorous Madeleine ‘Mado’ Bracquemond and included the young Carmen Pomies. This tour received huge media attention and was instrumental in the explosive growth of the women’s game, after a post WW1 lull.

1920 Sat 22 May – Lily Parr Debut for St Helens

15 year old Lily Parr played her one and only known game for St Helens at Ewood Park in their 6 v 0 defeat to the Dick Kerr Ladies. She was described as ‘the success of the side’.

1921 – 1922 The ‘Ban Season’ – 2nd English FA Ban

On 5 December 1921 the English FA signed off its long 49 year ban. The ban was already largely in place by the time of the signing and very few high profile games took place on affiliated pitches during this season. (See article link at the end of this article.)

1923 St Helens 5 v 1 Dick Kerr Ladies

The game was played in the Queen’s Park in St Helens. Lily Parr scored the consolation goal for the DKL as they were thrashed 5 v 1 by St Helens in their last known game. After this game my granny Lizzy Ashcroft, Lydia Ackers and Susie Chorley were recruited from St Helens to continue their long careers with the Dick Kerr Ladies. Both Susie Chorley and Lizzy ended up as captain with my granny leading only the second ever tour to France.

In 1925 the Dick Kerr Ladies toured England, Scotland and Northern Ireland with Femina Sport. In 1927 and 1928 Rutherglen Ladies FC toured the UK and Ireland branding their teams ‘Scotland’ and ‘Ireland’ for various matches. During the 1930s tours were made each year by teams from France and Belgium, usually with Carmen Pomies involved playing against the Dick Kerr Ladies. In 1939 Edinburgh City Ladies FC recorded over 30 games and a Belgium team, Atalante of Brussels toured to play a 10 games tour against the Dick Kerr Ladies. This growth was halted by the outbreak of WW2.

Women’s Football continued to be played after WW2.

1935 Stade de Paris – Dick Kerr Ladies in Red Kit

France 6 v 2 England (Dick Kerr Ladies)
Madeleine Bracquemond + Lizzy Ashcroft
Stade de Paris
Source: Daily Telegraph

Captaincy of Dick Kerr Ladies

My granny Lizzy Ashcroft was great friends with Lily Parr. In 1933 and 1934 she was vice-captain of the Dick Kerr Ladies under Lily Parr as Captain. My research indicates that Lily Parr took a two year career break from football in 1935 and 1936. As a result Lizzy was made captain for the 1935 season. In Easter of 1935 manager Alfred Frankland decided that the Dick Kerr Ladies would embark on only their second ever continental tour. It is not known why Lily took a break but I would hypothesise that she might not have wanted to tour. She was also playing a lot of hockey and cricket.

In August 1935 Carmen Pomies brought a French team over for a six-game tour against the Dick Kerr Ladies and granny Lizzy Ashcroft retired as captain on Thursday 13 August 1935 beating the French 5 v 2 at Barrow-in-Furness rugby club. Both Lily and Lizzy started their careers with St Helens and finished them with the Dick Kerr Ladies. Here is confirmation of Lily’s short career with St Helens.

1920 May 22 – Lily Parr Plays Starring Role for St Helens Ladies FC

Ewood Park – Home of Blackburn Rovers FC
Source: BNA Lancashire Evening Post Wed 19, Fri 21 May p1

Lily Parr St Helens Debut on 22nd May 1920

It is important to put this game in context. St Helens had re-formed only recently from the famous WW1 team described by the Lancashire Evening Post in 1919 ‘as the solitary undefeated ladies’ team in Lancashire’. This game was the 12th game of a 14 game season for the Dick Kerr Ladies. So far they had recorded eight wins, three losses and a draw. Early in the season they had lost two close games against Liverpool ladies. The four high profile ‘International’ games against the glamorous French tourists were played at Deepdale, Stockport, Manchester (Hyde Road) and Chelsea (Stamford Bridge) and had attracted a combined crowd estimated at around 50,000 spectators. The DKL won the first two games but drew 1 v 1 in Manchester and then lost 2 v 1 in front of a crowd of 10,000 at Stamford Bridge. More importantly, the games had been widely profiled in newspapers other than the Preston newspaper, the Lancashire Evening Post and the Dick Kerr Ladies were now nationally famous. The loss to the French had taken place just over two weeks earlier.

*** May 1920 French Tour – Lily Parr was not yet a Dick Kerr Lady ***

*** May 1920 – The Dick Kerr Ladies had only just become very famous nationally ***


Dick Kerr Ladies Now Famous by May 22 1920

Dick Kerr Ladies “STARS”
Alice Kell, Jenny Harris, Florrie Redford
Source: BNA Lancashire Evening Post Saturday 28 June 1919 p5

“Gained National Fame” – Playing the French Ladies in early May 1920

The Blackburn Times presaged the game in its Saturday 22 May Edition with some fascinating detail. Whilst stating that the game will not be up to ‘League standard’ the paper states that the game ‘will be well worth seeing’. Under the title ‘Lady Footballers at Ewood’ the paper states:

Dick, Kerr and Co’s ladies’ football team, whose prowess against a French women’s side gained them national fame, will meet the St Helens ladies at Ewood to-day.

In another article in the same edition under the title ‘The Whitsuntide Holiday’ the game is promoted as one of the many outdoor options for entertainment. There is also detail of ‘extended mill stoppages at Blackburn’ and ‘rationed’ railway carriages to the seaside resorts. It is important to remember that Britain was still very much a ‘broken’ country after WW1 and this situation continued up to and after the 1926 General Strike.

Ewood Park, Blackburn – Lily’s Debut and Final Game for St Helens Ladies FC

St Helens Ladies FC
Legendary Football Team
Only Defeated by Dick Kerr Ladies
Thrashed the Dick Kerr Ladies 5 v 1
Source: Lizzy Ashcroft Collection

The Game

Here are the team lists reported in the Blackburn Times after the game. The Dick Kerr Ladies had Louise Ourry, the French national keeper in goals. The team had soaked up talent from the rest of the Lancashire  clubs and the great Jenny Harris had joined Florrie Redford to make up a formidable goal scoring front line.

Dick, Kerr’s

Goal – Louise Ourry

Backs – Alice Kell (Captain), Annie Crozier

Half-Backs – Jones, Jessie Walmsley, Sally Hulme

Forwards – Daisy Clayton, Annie Hastie, Florrie Redford, Jenny Harris, Hearne


St Helens

Goal – Bragg

Backs – Jones, Lily Parr

Half-Backs – May Ranson, E Britch, Edith Waine

Forwards – Swift, Ethel Woods, Johnson, Whalley, Fanny Hayes

A crowd of 5,000 watched a very one sided affair with the Dick Kerr Ladies running out winners by 6 goals to nil. The Blackburn Times report stated:

The Preston team combined and passed with much skill, and though their backs repeatedly mis-kicked thanks to the fine play of Miss Harris, who was a veritable box of tricks, and played quite good football, they proved victorious by six goals to nil. Miss Redford* did the bulk of the scoring with five goals to her credit, but Miss Harris, who secured the other point, with fine swinging passes, largely made the openings.

*In December 1921 the Daily Mirror reported that Florrie Redford had scored 368 times in 5 seasons (it may be wise to treat this figure with some caution)

Lily Parr – Left Full Back – Able to use Both Feet

Lily Parr and Her Famous Left Foot
Source: Cheltenham Library

Alfred Frankland Witnesses A Future Legend

In a very illustrative sentence the Blackburn Times has helped the story of the women’s football legend. The paper states:

The success of the St Helens side was undoubtedly Miss Parr, who, with her hair down and tied back with ribbon, played a great game, and was in no wise to blame for the defeat of her side.

This is incredible. Lily Parr was singled out as the best St Helens player on her debut as a full-back in May 1920. It is therefore reasonable to surmise that Alfred Frankland made up his mind there and then to recruit the young St Helen’s player, who had only just turned 15 to his side. This was at the end of the 1919-1920 season. Evidence so far would indicate that this was Lily’s one and only high profile game for St Helens Ladies FC. Lily continued the next season (1920-1921) playing at left-back with the Dick Kerr Ladies. Alice Kell, legendary captain and leader of the Dick Kerr Ladies was the other full back and probably had her hands full tutoring and coaching the precocious talent that Mr Frankland had signed.

Lizzy Ashcroft + Lily Parr – Strong Women of St Helens

Stunning Mural in Parr, St Helens
Source: Author’s Collection

“May We Know Them, May We Raise Them, May We Be Them”

My Granny Lizzy Ashcroft was raised on Broad Oak Road in the St Helens neighbourhood of Parr. Just a little along from her childhood home, also on Broad Oak Road is the ‘Connie’ Club. In July of this year thanks to Merseyside based Community Arts organisation Heart of Glass, internationally renowned ceramic artist Carrie Reichardt was commissioned to make the stunning mural pictured above. Carrie is famous for her mosaic house in Chiswick. Lizzy and Lily form the ‘E’ and the ‘N’ of ‘STRONG WOMEN’.

Owned by the Community

One of 400 Hearts Made by Local People
Source: Author’s Collection

Passionate Contribution from Hundreds of Locals

Carrie and her team spent a great deal of time in St Helens getting to know the ‘Strong Women’ of Parr. The local boys and men were encouraged to identify a strong woman in their life and unsurprisingly they found that quite easy. Anybody who wanted to was encouraged to make a clay heart and dedicate it to a Strong Woman who meant something to them. I remember my granny’s generation (both sides) who went through two World Wars, decades of depression and deprivation and yet somehow kept their homes and families together, as women have so often done.

I would like to share two ‘stories’

Carrie tells me that whilst busy in the club making hearts with one of the women’s community groups, one of the local male drinkers came in and (for argument’s sake we will call him Frank) and she asked if he would like to contribute a heart. He looked at his mates and declined. The formidable landlady of the Connie Club heard this exchange and shouted out: “Frank, when your Mary finds that you didn’t do a heart for her you are going to live to regret it.” ‘Frank’ thought for a moment, and duly scribed a simple heart to his beloved Mary.

Although I identify as a ‘northerner’ I stick out like the proverbial sore thumb walking around Parr. One evening after the unveiling I had dropped by to get some photos of the mural just as the sun was setting. Three male teenagers happened to be looking intently at the mural and I had to fight the urge to wait until they had gone and I approached and said hello. One of them became quite animated and showed me ‘his’ heart and said that although it was dedicated to his mother, it was in fact his Aunty. His exact words were: “She wasn’t my real mum, but she brought me up. That’s a Parr thing”.

Lily Parr Claimed to Practise Boxing

Dick Kerr Ladies in 1925 at Herne Hill Velodrome
Lily Parr – Arm around Famous Comedian George Robey
Lizzy Ashcroft (5ft 8in tall) – two to the left of George
Source: Lizzy Ashcroft Collection

“Enjoyed Football Better Than Dancing”

I have uncovered a fascinating article from the next season where extensive interviews were conducted and fascinating detail emerges. The male interviewer is astonished to learn that one girl enjoys football better than dancing.” He is also mightily relieved when his question about their marital status does not cause offence. They were all unmarried. The most interesting quote for the purpose of this article is the following:

An enquiry as to who was the lady boxer of the team elicited the information that this young lady was Miss Parr, the youngest player, who is only 15 years of age. A portrait was produced showing Miss Parr ready for action with gloves and everything complete, and very business-like she looked.

There is some documentary evidence to back up this quote. There are a number of clips of the Dick Kerr Ladies which are available to view on British Pathe. There are two which show the Dick Kerr Ladies boxing whilst training. These are the references for the two clips:


PLAYING ADAM’S GAME (1931) (Actually 1922)

‘Eve and the Noble Art’ shows two of the team boxing in a very amateurish manner with Lily Parr watching on. The Playing Adam’s Game (1931) is somewhat mislabelled because it is obviously filmed during the 1921-1922 season at the Dick Kerr sports facility at Ashton Park. Lily Parr has Carmen Pomies in a headlock and then when released they have a good old punch at each other. The juxtaposition of the upper middle class Parisian, Carmen slugging it out with the lower working class St Helens girl Parr is fascinating.

This really backs up the idea that Parr self-identified as a boxer and regularly practised. I am not suggesting that Parr was a boxer in the sense that she had bouts in the ring but the evidence that the young Lily Parr self-identified as a boxer is compelling.

Lily Parr – St Helens Legend

1931 Lizzy Ashcroft + Lily Parr
Source: Lizzy Ashcroft Collection

St Helens Ladies FC

The ‘pioneers’ of women’s football were the Portsmouth Ladies and then the Sterling Ladies in WW1. This is a matter of record. Long after WW1, in May 1920 the Dick Kerr Ladies gained international fame, due to a national tour against an impossibly glamorous French side. Lifelong friendships were born. Shortly afterwards, in a game at Blackburn an incredibly talented left back was spotted playing for St Helens and a legend was born, my granny’s great friend Lily Parr.

St Helens Ladies AFC were one of the most important women’s teams in football history. Their 5 v 1 defeat of the Dick Kerr Ladies in 1923 in their last ever game is not in any book. Similarly, the fact that Lily Parr did in fact play for them, if only for one game is also not in any book.

Please beware of the ‘Global Lily Parr Nonsense Industry’ and the ‘Dick Kerr Ladies Nonsense Industry’. It is mostly done in good faith but it is extremely disrespectful to all of the magnificent women footballers who continued to play in challenging times. They deserve our respect.


Article Copyright of Steve Bolton [written October 2023]