The Lionesses of Their Day?
My granny, Lizzy Ashcroft was fortunate to have two amazing footballing careers. She had a lengthy career of 15 years playing for two of the greatest women’s football teams: St Helens Ladies FC and the legendary Dick Kerr Ladies. I have been very fortunate as a historian to be able to add to the groundbreaking work of Gail Newsham which brought my Granny’s unknown story to us. The purpose of this short article is to share two amazing recent finds by myself, one of which I think will alter the history of women’s football.
The photograph above is an original Daily Mirror photograph which I was able to acquire at an online sports auction with several others. My 5 foot 8 inch (1.73 metres) Granny is the tall one standing two to the left of Music Hall Superstar Comedian George Robey (himself a very good footballer.) Women’s football legends Lily Parr (holding onto George) and goal scoring machine (368 goals in 5 years) Florrie Redford (3rd to the right of George Robey) are also in this photograph of the Dick Kerr Ladies in their white ‘England’ kit.
One headline for this game ran: “The Lily’s of England Defeat the Lilies of France” as the English goals were scored by Lily Lee, Lily Buxton and Lily Parr @ 2. The legendary Dick Kerr Lady, Femina Sport and France captain Carmen Pomies scored the two goals for ‘France’.
St Helens Ladies FC (1919 – 1923)
A Truly Great Football Team
St Helens Ladies were formed sometime during 1919 from the World War 1 ‘Munitionettes’ teams from St Helens such as Sutton Bond, Sutton Oak and Rainhill Munitions. They rose to prominence by frequently opposing the famous Dick Kerr Ladies. The only team to ever defeat them was the Dick Kerr Ladies. They were not beaten by: Chorley, Cheshire, Horrockses, Stoke, Huddersfield Atalanta, Birkenhead, Listers and Barnes of Bolton. I have previously stated that they played in front of ¼ of a million spectators but because a lot of these games were against their great rivals and friends the Dick Kerr Ladies I think that figure should now be revised down to approximately 200,000 due to Alfred Frankland’s habitual inflation of attendance figures. I don’t think my granny is in this picture as she made her debut on April 20th and I can’t see her in the picture.
1921 April 20th Lizzy Makes Her Debut for St Helens
St Helens 2 v 2 Stoke Ladies FC
In the above picture we can see St Helens Captain and goalkeeper Edith Waine with the rest of the St Helens team in their sky-blue kits. Edith was widely regarded as the greatest goalkeeper of her day and often captained ‘Rest of’ teams to play against the Dick Kerr Ladies. She was the captain when my granny made her debut in front of 30,000 at St Andrews, Birmingham against the famous Stoke Ladies at the tender age of 16 in April 1921. I was fortunate to find her beautiful enamel medal from this game in three suitcases which had lain forgotten in a family attic for over 35 years. The medal is now on loan to the Lily Parr Gallery in the English Football Museum which is in the beautiful Urbis Building in Manchester.
The St Helens Ladies played against the famous Stoke Ladies four times with three draws and a win. The only time that my granny lost to Stoke was when playing for the Dick Kerr Ladies in September 1923 in Colne Cricket Club when the great centre forward Daisy Bates sprinted the length of the pitch and scored.
1923 “Dick Kerr Ladies Record Ended” by St Helens
St Helens 5 v 1 Dick Kerr Ladies
The game was played to raise money for the Mayor of St Helens Hospital Fund. The difficulties of finding a ground in St Helens meant that the Council actually closed one of the Public Parks for the day and charged entry. An earlier report in the Lancashire Evening Post gave the Dick Kerr Ladies team for the game as thus: Annie Crozier, Daisy Clayton, Lily Lee, Carter, Walker, Wilson, Frankland, Alice Norris, Jenny Harris, Alice Mills and Lily Parr. Another report in the Liverpool Echo which was filed at half-time gives us the half-time score of 3 – 1 with future Dick Kerr Ladies Hilda Parkinson and Susie Chorley 2 scoring for St Helens. Lily Parr scored a penalty for the Dick Kerr Ladies.
My Granny made her debut for the Dick Kerr Ladies as did the great little centre forward Susie Chorley 9 days later against Dumfries ladies at Carlisle. I can say this with some authority as there is a good picture in the Dumfries and Galloway Standard and I can clearly identify the players (my thanks to Stuart Gibbs.) I cannot therefore prove that my granny played in this game, but I would surmise that it was highly likely. Further evidence may arise.
It is interesting to note that to my knowledge Lily Parr did not play another high-profile women’s football match in her native St Helens until November 1939.
After World War One the Dick Kerr Ladies lost 2-1 to France in May 1920, 2-0 to Rutherglen Ladies and 1 – 0 to Stoke Ladies in September 1923, 2 – 1 to Femina Sport in May 1925, 2 – 1 to Belgium in 1934. Their next ‘thrashing’ was in 1935 in Paris with my Granny as Captain. This is therefore a history changing game.
Madeleine ‘Mado’ Bracquemond
France’s Greatest Woman Footballer
In early May 1920 pioneering feminist and sports advocate Alice Miliat organised for the first French Woman’s football tour on English soil. The triumphal 4 game tour contributed enormously to the astonishing growth of women’s football on these islands during the following season. The tour of the ‘impossibly’ glamorous French women footballers around dour post-war Britain was celebrated in newspapers across the country. The French managed two losses, a draw and then finally a triumphal 2 – 1 win at Stamford Bridge, Chelsea in front of a crowd of 10,000. My Granny’s great friend the young Carmen Pomies was a key player, but the captain for this tour was the legendary French Footballer Madeleine Bracquemond. When the team arrived back at Gare du Nord a huge crowd awaited, festooned with flowers and Mado was carried through the station.
The Lizzy Ashcroft Collection has two original copies of Très Sport magazine with this amazing image of Mado.
1935 – Lizzy Ashcroft + Mado – Stade de Paris in Daily Telegraph
1935 Retirement in Style
In 1935 after 3 years as vice-captain under her great friend Lily Parr, Lizzy took over as the Dick Kerr Ladies captain, whilst Lily took a two-year career break from football. Granny finished her career leading an English tour of six games against a French team captained by her great friend Carmen Pomies. However, earlier in the year a two-game tour was organised to France. There have only ever been six football games played in France by the Dick Kerr Ladies and Lizzy was captain for two of them. The game in Paris was a heavy defeat by 6 – 2, but two days later the score was a much more respectable loss of 2 – 1. The local newspaper in Rouen reported that whilst the French team went sightseeing before the game the English team bathed their feet in salt water!
I was aware of the above image from local French newspapers, but it was only by chance on a long first visit to the British Library that I searched their online catalogue and this fantastic image of my Granny and Mado popped up on the screen.
Writing About the History of Women’s Football
My Granny came from the borough of Parr, St Helens. I remember a ‘grizzled old lady in poor health’. I would not, for instance, have recognised the stunning young woman in the first photograph. More than this I remember a generation above me who were embarrassed about their humble origins, which my Granny represented. Not only did she bundle away all her favourite memories in suitcases when she retired from football, she had to suffer the indignity of not being fully recognised or appreciated, even by her own family. She brought up two boys as a widow in 1950s Preston. This lack of appreciation was passed on to me.
Lizzy had the most amazing career and life through football. The amazing photographs of which I am so fortunate to be the guardian of show a joie de vivre, emancipation and friendship across national and class divides in the 1920s and 1930s which few working class girls from Parr were fortunate to experience, and even fewer people appreciate existed. To summarise
- Debut 1921 in front of 30,000 aged 16
- Never beaten except by the Dick Kerr Ladies
- Captained by the great Edith Waine
- 1923 – Brought the famous Dick Kerr Ladies record to an end with a 5-1 thrashing
Dick Kerr Ladies
- 13 year career with the greatest women’s team in history
- Regarded as ‘Best defender since Alice Kell’ (ref: Gail Newsham)
- Played under legendary captains – Alice Kell, Florrie Redford, Lily Parr
- 1932-1934 vice-captain of Dick Kerr Ladies under Lily Parr
- 1935 – Captain of the Dick Kerr Ladies
- 1935 – Led only the 2nd ever Dick Kerr Ladies tour of France
I have challenged the work and records of several historians in my own work. I expect the same to happen to me. This is healthy and shows respect for the women we are writing about. I have provided strong evidence in this short piece of what happened in the extremely complex events of 1923. As further evidence arises this may need revising and/or adjusting. Writing about events from 100 years ago with sometimes unclear sources is a challenge. I can only say that I am doing my best and with the greatest respect.
I have had the great honour of being referenced in several recent books. I would highlight the following three books:
- “Unsuitable for Females: The Rise of the Lionesses and Women’s Football in England” by Carrie Dunn
- “A Woman’s Game” by Suzi Wrack
- “Carmen Pomies – English Football Legend and Heroine of French Resistance” by Chris Rowe
I am prone to hyperbole in my writing on this subject. This is down to a genuine passion, a lack of formal training and a ‘publish and be damned attitude’. I have, however, resisted terms like ‘legend’ for my Granny. I have left this to other people. I am fully aware that this may not enhance my reputation as a serious historian in certain quarters. I agree. One thing that I think we can all agree on is that despite my inadequacies as a historian I am one very lucky Grandson?
Article © of Steve Bolton