The two decades between World War I and World War II were the first “international” period of women’s football. Right from the start in 1881 women’s teams were crossing the borders to play exhibition matches or against foreign teams. Although the “England vs. Scotland” matches in 1881 and 1882, as well as the tours by the several teams that were connected to the British Ladies’ Football Club between 1895 and 1897 were all played on the British Isles, it was always the aim to go abroad and play in Europe, America or even Australia. On one occasion the BLFC came very close to crossing the channel.
World War I saw the definite birth of modern women’s football, with teams being founded all across the United Kingdom, in New Zealand, Australia, Canada and also in France (Paris). The first known competitions were played in New Zealand, England and Scotland and selections were playing international matches.
To the astonishment of the (male) public, women’s football was here to stay. In 1920, the first official national team (France) took a trip to England and played Dick, Kerr’s Ladies. These matches were a tremendous success and can be considered the starting point for Dick, Kerr’s legendary role in early women’s football. Up until 1925 international matches were frequent, with Belgium joining as the third strong force in the 1923-24 season. At one point, for a short time, it looked like there was a possibility that there could be internationals between several countries. Alas, the obstacles provided by the male federations made it impossible for women’s football to develop. By 1926 only France and Belgium were going strong, while in other countries women’s football was reduced to occasional carnivalesque matches.
But France and Belgium were ahead of their time. They not only organized the first national championships, they also did everything they could to propagate the game with tours and trips to various European countries. In 1924 both countries played the first full-international under modern standards world-wide, and in 1925 Belgium and France even had a league featuring teams of both countries. They continued their activities in the second half of the 1920s while Dick, Kerr’s switched to hockey. The only matches close to an international match were the tours by the Scottish team Rutherglen including some Northern Irish players.
The 1930s saw the reawakening of British women’s football while the game declined slowly in France and Belgium. Dick, Kerr’s (now Preston Ladies) was again prominent in organizing the first matches, and also Northern Ireland had a brief “boom”. The contacts to Fémina Sport were revived, resulting in several tours between 1932 and 1938. Two more tours to the UK were organized with teams from Belgium in 1934 and 1939 and finally, in 1935, Preston left the British Isles for the first time in 15 years to play the French national team.
In the second half of the decade Central Europe came into focus with Austria and Czechoslovakia becoming the driving forces. With Yugoslavia joining in 1938, these three countries created the centre of the development of women’s football just before the outbreak of the war. Austria became the third country to play a national championship, and international club matches were frequent. This time, politics ended the promising bloom.
Although women had played football at least since the 18th century (BNA), the first known matches under FA rules were played in 1881, when two teams styled “England” and “Scotland” played several matches in Scotland and England under sometimes tumultuous circumstances. Notwithstanding the names these were, of course, not national selections of any kind. The players were rather actresses and singers, and the tour was organized very poorly. Stuart Gibbs has extensively researched these first women in football.
Six years later there was another “international” match between two teams called Grimsby and Edinburgh. The reports suggest that at least some players were also actresses and that the matches were something like a mix of football and rugby.
The most prominent women’s football players of the 19th century were the players of the British Ladies’ F.C. Founded in 1894, the teams (called “North” and “South”) started touring England after their initial match at Crouch End in 1895 and soon headed north to play in Scotland and later Ireland. The players came from various parts of England (mainly the Liverpool area) and, as far as we can learn from the reports, some of the players were music hall singers who sometimes combined a match with an appearance on the local stage. With the start of the new season in September difficulties caused the club to break up into two, one under the old name and another, lead by Mrs. Graham under the name “Original Lady Footballers” (with the two teams “Mrs. Graham’s XI” and “London & District”). Both outfits were touring England, and in November 1895 the BLFC played several matches in Wales. One big difference between the two branches was that the BLFC now played every match with male goalkeepers. Both teams had increasing trouble to field two full elevens. The BLFC had lots of plans for further tours with destinations like mainland Europe, Australia and North America. In May 1896 the Original Lady Footballers went to Scotland and played there until the final break up in July. About half of the matches were played against male opposition. The final weeks were disastrous with pitch invasions, abuses by the spectators and even a fight between the players during a match. When Mrs. Graham fell ill, it was all over for the Original Lady Footballers. Meanwhile the BLFC played in Ireland before going to Wales.
In August 1896 history was almost made when Sparta Rotterdam organized a match against the British Ladies’ F.C. The women had since written several letters to Dutch and German clubs and sports magazines. After the Nederlands Voetbal Bond (NVB, the Dutch Football Federation) had originally allowed the match, they finally banned it a few days before it should have been staged. The NVB threatened Sparta with the disqualification from all competitions if they played against the women, so the club finally cancelled the match.
It was later claimed that Sparta wanted to field a women’s team, but the contemporary reports were very clear about it that the BLFC was to play the male team.
After that, the BLFC broke up once again into an Essex branch and a Cardiff branch, the latter playing their matches up until November 1896, exclusively in Wales.
In connection with a match in Whetstone it appears that the BLFC wanted to play in the colonies in 1897. As no report has been found about the proposed trip or any kind of matches up until now, it is highly doubtful, whether the team really left the British Isles. The BLFC continued to play matches up until at least 1905, when a match in Norwich was planned.
In 1896 there was another outfit of women footballers playing several matches under the name “England” and “France”. These matches with no connection to the BLFC were certainly no international matches. They were part of an agency (“Mon. Carl’s”) which also offered matches by their team of clowns.
The BLFC were without any doubt pioneers of women’s football, but they were no club in today’s sense. It was more like a theatre company touring the country and playing their piece “Women Footballers”, including “stage names”, although, according to interviews and match reports, most of the players really enjoyed playing football. With their extensive tours all over the British Isles and their plans to go abroad they had a truly international touch. There were also several other serious attempts by women to play football, e.g. around 1890 in Liverpool by a forerunner of the BLFC or in 1892 in Woolwich, but none of these got anywhere near the extensive media coverage of the BLFC matches, which numbered 300 by 1903. In 1909 there was a match between the Irish and Scottish women of the respective national villages during the International Imperial Exhibition, which was won 1-0 by the Irish women.
There was also women’s football in other parts of the world during the late 19th and early 20th century, like in the United States, in Russia, in Germany, in the Netherlands, in Austria, in France and in Belgium with the most noteworthy project in Spain, initiated by the F.C. Barcelona striker Paco Bru, called “The Spanish Girls”. Two teams under the names Giralda and Montserrat toured Catalunya in the spring and summer of 1914 and were preparing a tour of southern France when World War I ended all further ambitions of the Spanish women.
World War I – the beginning of modern international women’s football (2)
The First World War became a turning point for women’s football, as the final step from novelty to serious football in a modern sense was taken. With domestic and international male football seriously affected and reduced, the football-hungry public searched for alternatives. Female (munition) workers started to form teams in England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland, and from 1916 onwards matches became quite frequent, so frequent in fact, that in 1917 there were more women’s matches in one year in England than in any other year up until the 1950s in any other country. The first matches must, of course, be seen under the “novelty”-aspect, which also explains the (sometimes) tremendous crowds of up to 20,000 for a match in Portsmouth in 1916. But from 1917 onwards it was clear that these were not occasional “comic-matches” but serious football. Competitions were organized and by the end of that year the first international matches were played. On Boxing Day 1917 two selections of female munition workers of Northern Ireland and the Northeast of England played at match at Grosvenor Park in Belfast in front of 12,000 spectators. The English side won 4-1 in a match which was the first known international encounter between to representative women’s teams. The term international must be seen in a football specific sense, as, of course, both teams belonged to the United Kingdom. But England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales were independent entities in footballing terms with separate federations, nowadays joined by teams like Gibraltar, the Faroe Islands, Hongkong, Puerto Rico etc., who were of course not independent in a political sense of the word. On the same day the Messrs. Powell’s Factory lost in Wrexham to the Aintree Ladies 1-5
In England there were some cultural differences when it comes to female football in that period. In the North there was a more serious and more ambitious approach, in the South one can find the “novelty” aspect more, which was especially true for one of the most prominent teams of that time: Portsmouth. This team played 14 out of its 18 matches in 1917 against male teams, who were always handicapped by getting their arms tied behind their backs. The results (9-7, 8-5, 5-5 etc.) speak for themselves, when it comes to the seriousness of these matches. The “unbeaten record” was of dubious value as all the reports of the matches show, that the male teams let the women win. The first time Portsmouth faced a serious female opposition (Government Rolling Mills from Southampton) on Christmas Day in 1917 their winning streak came to an abrupt end, losing 0-4. But Portsmouth played the first international matches against non-British sides, when on one occasion a team of French Navy-men lost 1-2 and on two occasions Canadian Soldiers were on the losing end (2-6, 5-8). All three matches were played in 1917.
In 1918 there were more international matches, dominated by the munition workers of Northern England, who even had their own Cup Competition. They beat the West of Scotland 3-2 and Ireland in the return-match 5-2. Vickers of Barrow and Beardmore’s of the Glasgow area played two matches in March (4-0 and 2-2), while the munition workers of Swansea beat their counterparts from Bristol 4-0. Wales was planning a match versus the Northern English team in the spring of 1918 and even had their team selected, but so far, no report of this proposed match surfaced and it is highly doubtful that it was played.
The end of the war did not end women’s football, but it became more difficult to get the teams together, as most of the munition workers were no longer working in their firms. By the end of the 1918-19 season, women’s football was reduced to a minimum.
The players of the World War I period
There were several players who were remarkable during these years.
In England there was Nellie Kirk, who played two internationals for North of England (scoring on both) and was a prolific scorer for her team Christopher Brown’s Sawmills of Hartlepool and various selections like Durham, Tyneside, Teeside and Northumberland. Her team-mate at Brown’s, Mary Dorrian, played all three matches for North of England and, like Kirk, continued to play until at least 1921. Sarah Cornforth (Birtley Cartridge Cases) also played on all three occasions scoring at least once and also played after the war. Then there is Winnie McKenna, who was of Irish descent and played for Bolckow’s Vaughan and Christopher Brown’s. She played in the two 1918 matches, scoring three times and after the war left for Ireland where she continued playing. Finally, two of the most prominent players of that time: Isabella Reay (Blyth Spartans and Palmer’s Jarrow), probably the most successful scorer during the war with over 100 goals and Mary Lyons (Palmer’s, Jarrow and guest player for Blyth). Bella, as she was known, only played one international (in 1918 vs. West of Scotland) and failed to score. Her temporary team-mate, with whom she won the Munitionettes Cup twice in 1918 and 1919, was born in 1902 and became soon one of the best (if not THE best) player during the war. Praised for her technical abilities, she played both 1918 matches, scoring three times and continued playing (like Reay) after the war.
Ireland had some good players, the most outstanding being Ruby Hall from Lurgan, who scored all three goals for Ireland in both matches against North of England. Other noteworthy names were L. McClutchey (Portadown), Isobel Montgomery (Belfast Whites) and L. Knox of Ewart’s.
Scotland had some of their best players in Agnes Wilson (Cardonald), who played in both matches for Beardmore’s, Maggie Devlin (Mossend), who scored two goals in her three international matches, Cardonald’s goalie Jean Brown and Nella Renwick (Mossend) both playing in the three international matches of Scottish teams, Renwick scoring once.
Finally, there is, Nellie Harries, the great Swansea scorer, who was responsible for three of the four goals of her team against Bristol.
The international matches during this period all took place on the British Isles owing to the war and the fact that, apart from France, there was no women’s football in Europe. Their counterparts in North America and Oceania didn’t even come close, as far as we know, to play any kind of international match. These international matches must have had a considerable good standard of play, as the players were all playing a substantial number of matches with their teams. Of course, none of the selections from England, Scotland and Ireland were the equivalent of a national squad, though Ireland came close. But the organizing bodies and structures were not federations and especially in Scotland and England these selections were only regional representative teams. The nationality of the players didn’t play a role during this period as, for instance, Winnie McKenna played her matches during the war for “England” and after the war for “Ireland”. These matches were nonetheless the beginning of modern international women’s football.
Restart and Ban (3)
After half a year of scarce women’s football activity it was mainly Dick, Kerr’s and Aintree who brought women’s football back on the agenda. And that year (1920) had something special to offer – the first tour by a continental team in England. The F.S.F.S.F. had organized the first Championship in 1919 (where only two teams took part – Fémina Sport de Paris and a combination of En Avant! and A.S. de la Seine. Fémina won.) and were eager to play a selection or a club-team in England. So they lanced their offer via letters and newspaper articles. Alfred Frankland, manager of the Dick, Kerr’s Ladies, grabbed the opportunity and organized a four-match tour for April and May 1920. Dick, Kerr’s were a good team in early 1920, but at that point far from being invincible or even “world champions”. They had lost four matches in 1918 and two in early 1920. On the other hand, they signed the best players from the clubs against whom they lost (which was sometimes easy, as teams like Lancaster National Projectile Factory disbanded soon after the end of the war). So, the club was gaining strength, and they were one of the first clubs that began to play frequently in 1920. France played their second championship that year (with three teams in the first category, and three in the second). So far, all participating clubs came from Paris. En Avant! won the championship and the cup and was the leading club in France for two years, while the pioneers suffered their first little crisis. One Club, Academia, was undergoing a lot of trouble as several members left and founded the new club Les Sportives de Paris. The remaining played the last match of the championship and left the F.S.F.S.F. to join the U.S.F.S.A., a rival federation. The French federation took these matches in England serious and invited 19 players for a try out just prior to the tour. Three players of Les Sportives didn’t make it into the final squad, which consisted of 9 players from Fémina and 7 of En Avant!. It is noteworthy that the champion held a 6-5 player advantage in the matches in Preston, Stockport and London, while Fémina probably had a 6-5 advantage in Manchester.
The tour was well organized, and for the French players there was a lot of sightseeing. There was a language border, but sometimes there was a police officer present, who spoke a little French, or the mother of the Trotman-sisters, who was born in England helped translating. Plenty of reports on the French women showed up in the newspapers with lots of photographs, and even the newsreels had a good coverage. Favourite of the English (male) public was Georgette Rigal, the captain of En Avant!.
Most of the French players were among the best sporting women of France, like Germaine Delapierre, the Laloz-sisters or Thérèse Brulé. So, it was not surprising that France had an advantage in agility. On the other hand, the French “Footballeuses” were rather short, and Preston was described as the physically heavier team in practically all encounters. They also had a technical advantage and better shooting skills. Some players became celebrities of early women’s football like Carmen Pomiès, without any doubt was one of the key players in the 20s and 30s. Her career had just started that year when she played her first championship-match against Academia for Fémina Sport. Madeleine Bracquemond, though in her late teens, was captain of the team and was one of the best players of France. Thérèse Laloz and her sister Geneviève were two of the (most interesting and?) best players in the first half of the 1920s. Coming from the working class they were both not easy to deal with and changed their clubs quite frequently, always giving their new club an extra boost. They were mainly responsible for En Avant’s! two campionships, for the rise of Olympqiue de Pantin, the cup-win of La Clodo and the fact that Nova Fémina reached both finals in 1925. Since 1922 they were joined by their two other sisters Marguerite and Paulette. Thérèse died from a heart attack in September 1925 during a run. Thérèse Brulé finally was the driving force in the early days of women’s football together with her sister Jeanne. Her sister never made it to the national squad but was secretary of Fémina (for two decades – she was not president of Fémina during that period) and for the F.S.F.S.F. (up to 1924, when she resigned). The English side had one of the best forwards in early women’s football history in their ranks: Florence Redford. She was responsible for most of the goals of Dick, Kerr’s during the early 20s and continued scoring when she joined Fémina in December 1922. Jennie Harris was another great player of Dick, Kerr’s (signed from Lancaster N.P.F.) as well as Alice Woods, Liverpool’s most prominent player, who joined Dick, Kerr’s just after she had led her old club to two victories over the Preston team.
The matches were a huge success. After 25,000 in the first match in Preston, Stockport (15,000), Manchester (12,000-15,000) and Stamford (ca. 10,000) had impressive figures. After the French team had trouble to deal with Dick, Kerr’s play in the first two matches (when they lost 0-2 and 2-5), they managed to turn the tables and finally won their last match at Stamford (2-1) after a drawn game in Manchester.
This tour was the starting point for two decades of international matches in Europe. For the first time a proper female national team, according to modern standards, played matches. That a club team was dominating the national team in the first two matches was not so surprising as the French team consisted of players of only two clubs, with a bit less experience than the English women. Dick, Kerr’s was also the better trained team and they were on a roll to become the best team in the world (at least for about two years). For the French it was a good experience. They were used to smaller pitches and lighter balls, with a total playing time of only 60 minutes in domestic matches (which were the special rules of the F.S.F.S.F., later adopted by the F.I.F.I., the international women’s sport federation). The experience of playing on large pitches for 70 minutes must have been something.
After the match Louise Ourry, the French goalkeeper, stayed in England to get used to the language and acquire experience in her job. She occasionally played in goal for Dick, Kerr’s (at least three matches of her are currently known), but was based in London.
The return visit to France was scheduled for autumn, and before that Dick, Kerr’s played a match in Belfast, winning convincingly 7-0 against a Northern Irish selection. The Irish women were a bit out of practice after playing only occasionally since 1919.
The tour through northern France consisted of four matches. Starting in Paris at Stade Pershing before approximately 13,000-15,000 spectators, which was a record for female inter-war matches in France. Dick, Kerr’s were dominant, and France was only able to hold the English team to a goalless draw in the first match. This first match was abandoned five minutes before time as people invaded the field, in protest of a corner-ball (!) for Dick, Kerr’s. Again, the French players came only from the two leading clubs – with the exception of the match in Le Havre, where Jeanniot from Les Sportives played. Again the 6-5 player-balance was in favour of En Avant!. The championship hadn’t started yet and only a few friendly matches had been played. Solange Guille (later Manca) of En Avant! made her debut during these matches and Germaine Delapierre her final appearance. She hurt herself while warming up for the last match in Rouen and quit playing football. Apart from the first match, the results were sobering. France didn’t score in the matches in Lille, Le Havre and Rouen, receiving ten goals, culminating in the disastrous 0-6 loss in Le Havre, the worst result of the French national team in the inter-war period. Still, the pool of players in France was not very large. There were about 150 players in 6 clubs. French women’s football was split into two federations with En Avant!, Fémina, Les Sportives and (since December 1920) Ruche at the F.S.F.S.F. and Academia and La Clodo under the newly formed F.F.F.G.A., both playing their own championships. The latter federation was even softening the somewhat tame rules of their opponent federation. Any kind of charging was disallowed, the size of the pitch was reduced even more, and they called it “ballon” instead of “football”.
The Dick, Kerr’s Ladies were impressed while going to Lille by train, seeing the huge damage at the western WWI front-line. In the stadium, there were again more than 10,000 people attending the match, and there were also about 500 English soldiers cheering for the Preston women. Dick, Kerr’s had their upcoming star Lily Parr in defence, and Florrie Redford was in topform, who scored both goals in Lille and at least two in Le Havre. Unfortunately, although the matches received a wide coverage in French newspapers (and the newsreels), the reporters didn’t report the names of six of the eleven Preston scorers. The reports also show that the French journalists were not very satisfied with the humiliating results of the last three matches. The final match in Rouen had to be abandoned too, this time owing to the darkness. The match ended ten minutes before time.
After these series Dick, Kerr’s claim of their 1925 postcard of being “world champions” had some foundation. Up until 1922 they were almost invincible in domestic and international matches. The French federation had something to think about for their next international tour.
During the year 1921 women’s football had its most successful time after the war in England, and their colleagues in Scotland and Wales had a very busy year, too. New teams were founded everywhere and, especially in the first half of that year, most of the matches were visited by large crowds. After the first sensation, public interest began to dwindle, resulting in significantly lower numbers of spectators (from sometimes 15,000 to 35,000 in the big matches in the first half of the year to about 500 to 5,000 in autumn and winter 1921).
Women’s football in France, meanwhile, was growing during the 1920-21 season. There were four teams participating in the Parisian Championship, with three more playing for the championship of the reserve teams. And, for the first time, there was a final for the national championship, as Sportives de Reims, the only provincial team which played some matches against the clubs from Paris, was invited to play against the champion of Paris. En Avant! had no difficulties winning the match after – again – proving to be the strongest team of Paris.
International football reached a peak in the United Kingdom that year, with France joining in. Most of these matches were played by Dick, Kerr’s who won all matches this year, domestic and international. Dunedin, a team from Edinburgh lost all three matches with a disastrous 1-29 goal average. Dick, Kerr’s also overwhelmed a Welsh selection with 15-0 goals in two matches and had no trouble with the two Welsh club teams Swansea (6-1, 8-0) and Cardiff (4-0). In the first half of the year there were some other teams in the UK playing international matches. Fleetwood, founded in autumn 1920 and playing their first match on 27th December 1920 against Horrockses played in Ireland twice. First, they drew against Belfast 1-1, then they lost to an Irish selection (which didn’t differ much from the Belfast team) 1-3. For these matches impressive attendances of 20,000, respectively 17,000 were reported in the British press, but the first number is highly questionable, and for the second we have a more realistic 4,000 spectators in the Irish press. The second match is of particular interest as the match was advertised “Ireland vs. Scotland”, with one source even publishing the proposed line-up of the Scottish team (which, according to the names, was one of the Edinburgh teams). The Scottish team seems to have cancelled the fixture and Fleetwood stepped in. At least one player of the Scottish team (Rollins) strengthened Fleetwood in this match.
Early in the spring, Belfast saw the revival of the war-time internationals when Ireland played North-East England losing 2-3. Both teams played with all the players of the Munitionettes era, including Ruby Hall (who again scored both Irish goals) and Portadown’s McClatchey on the Irish side and Sarah Cornforth, Mary Dorrian and the great Mary Lyons (who scored twice for England) on the English side. Winnie McKenna, who had played for the English team during the war was now among the Irish players. McKenna and Ruby Hall were also the scorers against Fleetwood, which made Ruby Hall from Lurgan Ireland’s best scorer in this period’s international matches.
The Dunedin team from Edinburgh was Scotland’s most active team in the international matches that year. Apart from their severe losses against Dick, Kerr’s they also played the Manchester Ladies, beating them in Rochdale 3-0 after they had made two transfers from Bowhill (Auchterderran) just prior to this match (Watson and Davidson).
The most important matches in the first half of 1921 were the four matches by the French national team, which toured England for the second time. It was claimed just recently (Bolton, Steve, Carmen Pomiés, Part I) that the French team was “a largely Femina based side”. In fact, out of the eleven players in their match against Dick, Kerr’s, six played for En Avant!, three for Les Sportives de Paris and only two (!) for Fémina. (The same is true for the matches against Stoke and Plymouth – only in the match against Huddersfield three players were from Fémina and two from Les Sportives, while En Avant! always was represented by six players). Apart from the 1-5 loss against Dick, Kerr’s it was a successful tour for the French national team, winning all three matches against Huddersfield Atalanta, Stoke Ladies and Plymouth notwithstanding the fact that two important players were missing. Thérèse Brulé (Fémina) stayed in France for private reasons and Thérèse Laloz (En Avant!) was injured. In the goal was Lévêque the former Academia goalkeeper, who now played for Les Sportives. Louise Ourry never made it to the national team again. Captain was Madeleine Bracquemond (En Avant!) again, while the best scorer was Geneviève Laloz (En Avant!), who scored three times. France was definitely on a good way.
The other English sides that made their international debut during the French tour were all very interesting. Stoke, trained by former England international Len Bridgett (whose daughters played for the club), went on to become England’s best team by 1923 before calling it quits. Huddersfield Atalanta managed to field three teams in the following season and Plymouth had two incarnations – their regular side, known later as Plymouth & District Amateur Ladies, played mainly domestic matches in England while an augmented Plymouth International Ladies side did the big international games. During this tour apart from the Plymouth regular players, four strikers from Swansea, Bath and Southampton (Bramtoco) completed the XI. All three were later important clubs of the E.L.F.A.
The second half of 1921 saw Dick, Kerr’s on tour in Scotland (early September) where they played Aberdeen (6-0) and a Dundee / Arbroath combination (6-1). In October they paid another visit to Scotland defeating Dumfries with 8-0 before going to Ireland to play a combination of Irish and English players (two from Fleetwood and Mary Lyons) 6-1. Ruby Hall, as usual, scored for the Irish / English combination.
The Plymouth International Ladies meanwhile took a short trip to France. Both games in Paris and Le Havre ended 0-0. Plymouth International had three non-Plymothians with them – this time from Swansea, Fleetwood and St. Helens. The Plymouth outfit was described as a more physical than technical team. The rough play by the English women was something the French “Footballeuses” had trouble to deal with. Another problem was the absence of the Laloz-sisters, who joined Olympique du Pantin (who were part of the F.F.F.G.S.) in June 1921, and Pomiès, who was busy playing for Dick, Kerr’s.
In many aspects the years 1920 and 1921 were a first culmination point in early women’s international football. The media coverage was exceptional, especially for the 1920 tour of the French team with lots of photographs and stories in the British press. The same is true for the first match of Dick, Kerr’s tour in France and the French press. While the French press focused more on the footballing aspects of the matches, the English newspapers were also interested in some “behind the scenes” information, like the professions of the French players or what the French “girls” looked like. There is also information about how the French team paid tribute to the victims of the war and when they were invited by the major and visiting places like Blackpool. The somewhat enthusiastic tone of the English reports was not equalled in the French newspapers, for which women playing football in an organized way became a normality. Most of the Paris newspapers had at least short reports on the matches of the championship. Critical voices were an exception at that time.
Dick, Kerr’s reached their peak in 1920 / 1921 without any doubt, although the impressive results in their domestic and international matches need to be explained. Their UK-counterparts in the 1921 international matches were often new to the sport, with only a few months or even only weeks of footballing experience (like the Scottish or the Welsh teams). The Irish / English combination lacked practice, as there was virtually no women’s football in Ireland apart from the international matches in 1920 and 1921. Only the matches against France were ones against a well trained and experienced team, which is why these matches justify the unofficial title “World Champions”. The forward line including Redford and Parr was unrivalled during these years, with Florence Redford scoring in almost every match at will. After the French tour, Carmen Pomiès joined Dick, Kerr’s as the third former French international striker after the war (after Louise Ourry and Alice Trotman) and played up to 1922 for the Preston team. She also took part in Dick, Kerr’s international matches in September and October 1921 but didn’t play for France in the two matches against Plymouth. In several matches over 10,000 people were present in the United Kingdom, but sometimes the number of spectators reached only disappointing figures like the 3,000 who saw Dunedin vs. Dick, Kerr’s at Celtic Park or the 2,000 who watched Dumfries vs. Dick, Kerr’s. In France the average was about 5,000 to 6,000 in both matches. Normal playing time was 2 x 35 minutes in international matches.
The same day France and Plymouth International played their second match on 31st October 1921, history was made in Paris. The Federation Sportive Féminine Internationale (F.S.F.I.) was founded. From this date on (up unitl 1936) international women’s sports had its own federation which organized the official international competitions in all kinds of sport and watched over the rules. Football was part of the sports the F.S.F.I. took care of. The first president was Alice Milliat, the original members were France, Great Britain, Czechoslovakia, the United States and Spain. It has been claimed recently that the F.S.F.S.F. was the “most important federation in the history of women’s sport”. This is, of course, an exaggeration. They were pioneers, but more important was the foundation of the F.S.F.I., which created the Women’s Olympic games. This was the reason, why women’s athletes could compete in the Olympic Games of 1928. The F.S.F.I was the highest authority in women’s sports between the wars. Xavier Breuil has written a masterly study about the international federation and its importance for women’s sport.
The special rules adopted by the F.S.F.I. for women’s football were: Reduced pitch of 100 yards x 50 yards or 90m x 45 m, 2 x 30 minutes with a ten minute pause for domestic matches, international matches 2 x 35 minutes. Heavy charging was disallowed. Finally, players were allowed to use the hands for self-protection (face or upper body).
The year ended with one of the best-known historic events regarding women’s football of that time: the ban by the F.A. Quite a lot has been written about it and still the general opinion seems to be that the ban ended women’s football for about half a century.
The following are a few points to show why the thesis of the end of women’s football or even of its drastic demise cannot be sustained.
- The F.A. was only responsible for England. Even when some national federations of other countries refer to the F.A. ban, it had no consequences for the development of women’s football outside of England. France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain, Italy, Austria, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia reached their peak years after the ban. Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland likewise.
- There was already a FA rule, which forbade women the use of FA-affiliated club-grounds. There was also a rule which prohibited mixed games (between men and women). Both rules were only suspended during the war by the Emergency Committee of the FA (The Sportsmen 1917-9-22). When Sheffield United planned to stage a match by the British Ladies Football Club at Bramall Lane on 6th May 1895, the club was informed by the FA that it was against the rules to let the women play on their ground, so the match was played at Sheaf House Ground.
- English women’s football wasn’t immediately affected by the ban. In December 1921 the English Ladies Football Association was founded, and it organized the first (and only pre-World War II) national women’s football competition. The number of matches declined anyway since the summer of 1921 as did the number of spectators. The lowest number of matches between 1916 and 1945 was registered in the years 1927 and 1928.
It became more difficult to organize matches on non-FA affiliated grounds, but it was possible, and local FAs even granted exceptions from the ban when the match was for a good cause. With the ban women’s football in England was not at the end. The ban also didn’t play a role in the rest of Europe where women’s football was developing thanks to the activities of France and Belgium.
Article © Helge Faller 2021
Read Part 2 HERE
The author would like to thank Patrick Brennan, who has done pioneering work in the research of women’s football before 1945, Stuart Gibbs for his great help in researching several international matches of the 20s by Dick, Kerr’s / Preston Ladies and invaluable information on Scottish women’s football during the interwar period, Xavier Breuil for some very helpful remarks on the F.S.F.I., Stipica Grigić for providing some very helpful remarks on Yugoslavian women’s football 1937-1939, Matthias Marschik for his tremendous support and Achim Trapp for reviewing the text.
Annotations (for a more detailed list contact the author):
- See “The Female Pioneers – A Statistical record of Women’s Football in Great Britain & Ireland from 1881-1953” (3 Vols.) by Helge Faller (2021, Les Sports et la Femme), “Lady Players – The Strange Birth of Women’s Football” by Stuart Gibbs (2nd Edition 2019, Les Sport et la Femme) and http://donmouth.co.uk/womens_football/1881.html, http://donmouth.co.uk/womens_football/blfc.html by Patrick Brennan.
- See “The Female Pioneers”, “Part of the Game – The first Fifty Years of Women’s Football in Ireland and the International context” by Helge Faller (2021, pp 58-84 in Studies in Arts and Humanities 7 (20021) 1 and http://donmouth.co.uk/womens_football/womens_internationals.html by Patrick Brennan.
- See “The Female Pioneers”, “Part of the Game”, “Les Footballeuses – Partie I: Années de Formation 1917-1919” by Helge Faller (2017, Les Sports et la Femme), “Les Footballeuses II – La Saison 1919-20” by Helge Faller (2018, les Sports et la Femme), “Les Footballeuses III – La Saison 1920-21” by Helge Faller (2018, les Sports et la Femme), “Les Footballeuses IV – La Saison 1921-22” by Helge Faller (2019, les Sports et la Femme)