Sylvia Gore was born in Prescot, Merseyside, on the 25th November 1944 and is most famous for being the first player to score for the England’s women’s team in an official match. As well as playing for England, Sylvia also played for Manchester Corinthians and the Foden’s Ladies team.
After retiring from playing, Sylvia continued to be actively involved in the women’s game and has been credited as a pioneer in its development, with FA Football Participation and Development Director, Kelly Simmons stating that ‘without her the game wouldn’t be in the position it is today.’ Former Southampton Manager, Lawrie McMenemy, claims that she was one of the ‘suffragettes of football’. Sylvia had significance to women’s football beyond being one of the most prolific goal-scorers of her time and helped develop girls through her coaching and mentoring roles.
At twelve years old Sylvia began playing competitive football with the Manchester Corinthians. At this time, women were not allowed to play on the pitches of teams affiliated with The Football Association (FA) and this meant that the Corinthian ladies often used sub-standard facilities, being left without changing rooms or running water.
When the opportunity for Sylvia to play all over the world with the Manchester Corinthians arose, she did not hesitate to leave her mundane office job. In addition to venues in South America, Sylvia was able to play in front of 80,000 spectators and at the famous San Siro stadium in Milan. Alongside scoring the first ever Women’s international goal for England, she described this as one of her greatest moments in football.
Sylvia later played for the Foden’s Ladies team, which was the work’s team of a leading bus and truck manufacturer based in Sandbach, Edwin Foden, Sons & Company. The Foden’s Ladies team produced six England internationals and Sylvia was part of the team that won the Butlin’s Cup in 1969 and 1970. The Butlin’s Cup was a prestigious tournament in which clubs would travel to various Butlin’s camps once a fortnight and provided much needed publicity for the women’s game.
Foden’s Ladies also triumphed in the 1974 Women’s FA Cup final, overcoming the successful Southampton ladies team, which had successfully won the first three women’s FA Cup finals. The win continued the tradition of factories producing successful women’s teams, which went back to the early days of women’s football. Most famous of these was the Dick Kerr’s Ladies team from Preston. Linked to the Dick Kerr locomotive and munitions factory, this team drew crowds of up to 10,000 during World War One before the FA prohibited use of affiliated grounds for Women’s football in 1921.
England ladies played their first official international in 1972 against Scotland, winning 3-2; some 100 years after the men’s team had played their first game. In this game, Sylvia scored England’s first goal, later recalling: ‘I picked up the ball in my own area and ran forty yards. I thought I would slip over but stayed on my feet and side-footed the ball past the keeper.’
In these early years, the national women’s team struggled for funding and Sylvia had to spend £2,000 of her own money in order to attend team trials. Players were responsible for their own arrangements while on international duty, including ensuring they had their own spending money, shin pads, passports and boots. The lack of funding continued to hinder the development of the women’s game.
Lack of financial support meant that The Women’s Football Association (WFA) relied on volunteers to survive and these included Sylvia. When the FA took over governance of the women’s game in England in 1993, Sylvia continued to be involved, sitting on The FA’s Women’s Committee. In her later years, Sylvia Gore continued to be involved with the FA, serving as a delegate for the FA Girls’s Tremendous League, which launched in 2014. This made Sylvia one of the few to be involved with both the WFA and the FA. It was not only in England that Women’s football was denied much-needed money. After injury forced her to retire from playing, Sylvia managed the Welsh Women’s national side between 1982 and 1989. As the team was not officially recognized by the Welsh FA, and was not funded by them, matches against other teams were difficult to arrange.
Sylvia was also influential at the grassroots level of women’s football. She worked for Knowsley Borough Council as the women’s football development officer and her work saw her named as the North West Amateur Sports Personality of the Year in 1990. Sylvia was also prominent in the formative years of Liverpool Ladies Football Club. With Liverpool Ladies, Sylvia held a range of positions, including assistant coach, secretary and Chair of the club, allowing her to inspire the next generation of female players. England international Kelly McDougall highlighted Sylvia’s effect on her from the age of five, noting that Gore provided her with the direction and belief required to make it in women’s football. Sylvia’s final role was as a club ambassador for Manchester City Women’s team, and the appointment was made on 8th March 2016, International Women’s Day.
Sylvia Gore was highly decorated for her services to football. She was given an award from UEFA for her services to women’s football and given the Special Achievement Award at the inaugural FA Women’s Awards in 1999. In 2000, Sylvia was awarded an MBE for her dedication to women’s football and was inducted into the National Football Museum Hall of Fame in 2014.
Sylvia Gore was an important part of women’s football throughout her long career. A pioneer of British women’s football she was one of a select number of people involved in women’s football both before and after the FA takeover in 1993. Sylvia influenced women’s football as a player, coach, mentor and ambassador and continued to inspire young girls long after her playing retirement. Sylvia Gore died at the age of 71 on 9th September 2016.
Article © Sean Kelly