1923 Women’s Game: “You Could Read a Newspaper in the Centre Circle”

An interesting and highly successful experiment has been carried out by Messrs. Siemens & English Electric Lamp Co., Ltd., of a Football Field by Electric Lamps.

The installation which was designed by the Illuminating Engineering Departments of Siemens & English Electric  Lamp Co., Ltd., and the Benjamin Electric Company in collaboration was erected on the Burnley Cricket Club ground at Burnley, Lancs., for a night match between Dick Kerr Ladies (Lancs Champion) and Hey’s Ladies (Yorkshire Champion). It consisted of Benjamin Reflectors used in conjunction with Siemens 1500-watt and 500-watt Gasfilled Lamps, the arrangement being as follows –

11 x 30-foot wooden poles were erected (26 feet above the ground) along either side, spaced 33 feet apart and 4 similar poles along either end. The side poles carried Benjamin Angle parabolic reflectors mounted at the top and fitted with 1500-watt SIEMENS Gasfilled Lamps, 5 feet lower down BENJAMIN Elliptical Angle Reflector with 500-watt SIEMENS Gasfilled Lamps.

The end posts had BENJAMIN Concentrating type reflectors with 1,500-watt Lamps, mounted at the extreme top.

Hey’s Brewery Bradford Ladies FC (White) v Dick Kerr Ladies (Black/white stripes)
Burnley Cricket Ground – 21 + 31 December 1923
(Source: Lizzy Ashcroft Collection)

The result was extraordinarily good illumination to the value of 7 foot-candles all along the touch line, 2 ½ foot candles 30 feet in from the posts, 2-foot candles 60 feet in, and 05 foot candles in the centre of the field of play.

There was an entire absence of glare since the top reflectors were above the line of vision and the lamps and reflecting surfaces of the Elliptical Angle Reflectors were quite invisible due to the very efficient design of these fittings.

The concentrating reflectors at either end of the field lit up the goals and corners without the slightest trace of glare.

The illumination was very even with no trace of shadows.

The players, though slightly handicapped by a fall of snow which started just before the match and continued right through the game, unanimously expressed approval of the effect of the lighting on their play.

Dick Kerr Ladies pulled off the match with a win of 5 goals to 1.

The very apparent success of the whole arrangement shows the possibilities opened up the scheme and we may therefore hope to witness league football matches under similar conditions.

This is the first time that a recreation field of the size of a football field has been successfully illuminated in any part of the world.

Several attempts have been made, particularly in America, but the difficulty has always been to eliminate shadows.

This defect was successfully overcome in the installation described above and there is no doubt it marks an epoch of electric illumination.  (Source: Cleveland Standard and South Bank Express)


1923: State of the Art Technology

This game has been known for a while. In fact the above picture of these two English teams appeared in a Scottish Documentary recently when my friend Professor Fiona Skillen was talking knowledgeably about Scottish Women’s Football in World War 1? (A picture was also shown of the Sterling Ladies of WW1, who were known as the Dagenham Invincibles because they came from Dagenham, which is in England.)

A short while ago I came across the similar Turner picture of a male game, which was played 7 years later and I was determined to write this article. It was only very recently when I came across the astonishing article above, which delineates the exact technology used in incredible detail. To summarise, there were 30 poles spaced evenly around the ground fitted with state of the art electrical lamps and anti-glare parabolic reflectors. This technology was expensive and was designed for use in working environments such as docks, to increase productivity. The Illustrated London News had this to say about the game:

“It seems possible that football, like lawn-tennis, may become an evening game. “Twice recently,” writes Mr. C. E. Turner in a note on his drawing “two teams of ladies, representing respectively the Dick Kerr Electric Company, of Preston and Hey’s, of Bradford, played football matches on the ground of Burnley Cricket Club, and the two events were unique in the fact that play commenced at 7 p.m., the ground being illuminated by special arrangement of artificial lighting. Thirty masts round the playing area, each 35 ft. high, carried 60 powerful electric lamps, giving a lighting intensity of 90,000 candle power. Two electric mains were connected to obtain the necessary power. The lamps and reflectors were installed by the Siemens Lamp Works of the English Electric Company, and the cables and fittings by the Dick Kerr Works.

This is the first Association football ground on which electricity has been installed as the means of illuminating play.

The girls played astonishingly well, especially as the weather was anything but kind. Snow covered the ground on the first occasion, and rain, true Burnley weather, fell heavily during the second match. Last season Hey’s were undefeated, and amongst their victims were the French International team in Paris and the Scottish International side. The Dick Kerr Club, after very close games, won both matches at Burnley. The scores were: in the first game, 5 – 1; in the second, 2 – 1. The Dick Kerr team has been instrumental in raising more than £70,000 for charities. The Hey’s ladies played in white jerseys and the Dick Kerr team in black-and-white stripes. The ball used was specially made of white chrome leather, and was presented by Messrs. E. J. Riley, Ltd., of Accrington.”


The Equivalent Male Game in 1930: 7 Years Later

An Early Male Experiment with Floodlit Football in 1930
Officials Washing Muddy White Balls in a Pail of Water During the Game
Charles Edward Turner Sketch for Illustrated London News
(Source: BNA Illustrated London News Saturday 8 March 1930 p22)

1923 Women’s Game: “You Could Read a Newspaper in the Centre Circle”

There could be many claims to having the world’s first floodlit football match and even more for the world’s first football match played in artificial light. However, I am not presenting an argument in this article for the first game in artificial light. I am presenting detailed evidence for the first floodlit game played in artificial light of such quality that one could ‘read a newspaper in the centre circle’ with no glare from the lights.

The English FA Liked Bans:

1902    English FA – Bans Women’s Football (never repealed!)

1921    English FA – Bans Women’s Football (Again)

1922    Rugby League (NU) – Bans Women’s Football

1930    English FA – Bans Matches Under Artificial Light

1955    “Floodlit Football A Fiasco in Britain” (Respected football journalist Brian Glanville)


Hey’s Brewery Bradford Ladies FC

Hey’s Brewery Bradford Ladies FC 1921-1926
(Source: Courtesy Kathryn Hey Collection)

1920-1921: The ‘Ban’ Season Superstars

Hey’s were formed at the end of the 1919-1920 Season when women’s football was at its zenith and a successful and exciting future beckoned for women footballers. The next season was the infamous English FA ‘ban’ season, so it is an astonishing achievement that in their first full season they were able to play over 20 known high profile games. This included an international football match in Bradford against Olympique de Paris and the infamous Violette Gourard-Morris (eventually assassinated by the Maquis at the end of WW2). The next season the Yorkshire Champions won two famous international matches playing away from home. In October 1922 they defeated Scottish champions Rutherglen Ladies FC on their home ground of Shawfield Park, Rutherglen and in April 1923 they defeated the powerful French National Side at Stade Pershing in Paris. As opposition died off after the 1921 ban they became the de facto opposition for the Dick Kerr Ladies until 1925/1926 when they hung up their boots and played cricket instead. No evidence has surfaced yet of a win over their friends and arch rivals the Dick Kerr Ladies but they are known (uniquely) to have held them to at least 4 famous draws. Superstar footballer Jenny Harris of Lancaster Ladies FC and the Dick Kerr Ladies joined them in 1923.

Hey’s Brewery Bradford were one the greatest women’s football teams in history.

Dick Kerr Ladies 1923: ‘An Annus Horribilis’

Dick Kerr Ladies in 1925 with Cecil Kent + George Robey
(Source: Lizzy Ashcroft Collection)

1923: Dick Kerr Ladies Beaten 5 – 1, 2 – 0 and 1 – 0

The Dick Kerr Ladies had managed to insulate themselves somewhat from the effects of the English FA Ban due to the 1922 March tour of Olympique de Paris and their own 1922 tour to the USA (15 September – 17 November). However, by March 1923 the buzz and glamour of the tours had definitely worn off and my Granny, Lizzy Ashcroft had a big part to play. These results in particular highlight my point:

Saturday 31 March                   St Helens 5 v 1 Dick Kerr Ladies                     (Granny playing for St Helens)

Friday 14 September               Rutherglen 2 v 0 Dick Kerr Ladies                  (Granny playing for DKL)

Saturday 22 September          Stoke Ladies FC 1 v 0 Dick Kerr Ladies         (Granny playing for DKL)

In March 1923 my granny’s St Helens inflicted the Dick Kerr Ladies most shocking defeat and brought their tremendous run of wins to a crashing end. Even with the legendary Lily Parr the DKL managed (through Lily) only one consolation goal in their 5 v 1 thrashing. This stimulated a change of personnel at the DKL as Carmen Pomies and Florrie Redford had moved to Paris and my granny, Susie Chorley and Lydia Ackers joined from St Helens. The DKL went on to lose 2 v 0  to the Rutherglen Ladies FC later in the year, apparently down to the fancy Scottish passing game (‘triangles’). Even frantically moving Lily Parr to centre forward didn’t help. The DKL then lost to the legendary Stoke Ladies FC in Stoke’s last ever game, when the great Daisy Bates sprinted the length of the pitch (presumably past my granny) and banged in a screamer. An already bad year was set to get worse as DKL manager and pioneering genius Alfred Frankland planned two unique December Floodlit games in Burnley between Hey’s and the DKL using state of the art and expensive lighting technology. What he hadn’t planned for was the weather in December on the West Pennine Moors and an ‘annus horribilis’ finished with a financial disaster.

1923 – After these two ‘World Record’ winter games, women’s football largely became a summer game. There are no known high profile games for the Dick Kerr Ladies in 1924. In 1925, Femina Sport toured with the impossibly glamorous Madeleine ‘Mado’ Bracquemond, Carmen Pomies, Therese Brule, Ida Rebardy, etc. The teams were met by 5 Admirals at Victoria Station and the next day were guests of the Lord Mayor of London and had tea on the terrace of the Houses of Parliament, as the guests of British Legion Badge No 5, Sir Jack Benn Brunel Cohen MP.


1874: Kennington Oval – 4 Primitive Arc Lamps

1874 Wanderers v Clapham Rovers
(Source: BNA Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News Saturday 17 March 1934 p124)


Primitive Searchlight Football

I would just like to emphasise that this article is about technology which could be used day in day out for paying games. There were many, many experiments like the one above using a searchlight technology which would have been fun to attend and play in, but due to dark areas and glare would render the impossibility of a serious game. The male football game had a long and tortuous relationship with the possibilities of floodlit football largely down to the attitude of the English FA. As late as 1955 the famous football writer Brian Glanville was penning articles with the title: “Floodlight a Fiasco in Britain”.

1889: Bramall Lane, Sheffield

Primitive Electric Arc Light Technology at Bramall Lane
(Source: BNA Liverpool Echo Saturday 10 December 1955 p9)

Early Experiment: Sheffield United 1 v 2 Bolton Wanderers

This famous game was played on Monday 18 November 1889 in front of a crowd of 3,000. The picture shown above was found in the 1930s by a Moreton resident when cleaning out a lumber room and is thought to be a depiction of the game.

1920: Deepdale’s Famous Charity Fun Searchlight Game

Alice Kell (DKL) with Edith Waine (St Helens + Rest of England)
Standing in a Focussed Pool of Searchlight in Centre Circle
(Source: BNA Daily Mirror Saturday 18 December 1920 p6)

Fun Burlesque but not Football: Rest of England v Dick Kerr Ladies at Deepdale

This famous charity fun game was ‘played’ in 1920 in front of 10,000 ‘spectators’ at Deepdale. Powerful searchlights were used and good fun was had by all. However, nobody could really see anything. The players were either in the dark or blinded by the glare of the military technology. There is a clip of the game on British Pathe which shows just how dark most of the pitch was.


Author’s Note:  I love the image above because it show’s my Granny’s first two captains: Edith Waine of St Helens and Alice Kell of the Dick Kerr Ladies. Edith Waine was reputed to be the best goalkeeper in the country and as well as being the St Helens captain she often captained ‘Rest Of’ or representative sides which took on the mighty Dick Kerr Ladies. Reports state that she was the cleverest member of her team and pulled off numerous smart saves. Daisy Bates of Stoke, Polly Scott of Chorley and Minnie Seed of Blyth Spartans were amongst the talent arrayed against the DKL. The teams only played 35 mins each way and it is worth noting that the English FA would have taken a very dim view of this kind of ‘burlesque’ football.


1923: Artist C. E. Turner Captures the Famous Turf Moor Games

Hey’s Brewery (White) v Dick Kerr Ladies (Stripes)
Artist Charles Edward Turner Sketch – New Year’s Eve 1923
(Source: Lizzy Ashcroft Collection)

1923 New Year’s Eve: Hey’s 1 v 2 Dick Kerr Ladies

The first game on 21st December had suffered from snow and an understrength Hey’s had succumbed 5 v 1. Both games were highly significant for another reason. The legendary Captain of the Dick Kerr Ladies from their first game in 1917, Alice Kell was playing her final 125th and 126th games. The truly great footballing defensive maestro, occasional centre forward and inspirational captain played in goal for both games.

I really think that my Granny’s first captain, the legendary Alice Kell should be in the Hall of Fame. How can the woman who Captained the Dick Kerr Ladies for their first 126 Games not be in the Hall of Fame?

The game 10 days later on New Year’s Eve suffered from rain but a much closer game ensued. Lining up against the DKL were a full strength Hey’s with Lucy Bromage, Mary Whelan, Jenny Harris (ex-DKL), Mary Tetlow and ‘Tiny’ Emmerson. Lily Parr and Lily Martin scored for the DKL whilst Tiny Emmerson scored for Hey’s and Mary Borthwick agonisingly missed a penalty. Only a paltry 800 spectators turned up in inclement weather to witness this historic game. The two games were a tremendous innovation in football.  Artist Charles Edward Turner was not to depict a similar male game in the Illustrated London News until 1930. The men’s game in England was 7 years behind this record breaking pair of women’s games, and not for the first time the Dick Kerr Ladies were in serious existential trouble. There are no known high profile games for the Dick Kerr Ladies in 1924.

France 1926: Floodlit Football in Paris at Stade Buffalo

Thursday 8 April 1926 – Floodlit Match at Stade Buffalo, Paris
(Source: Lizzy Ashcroft Collection)

Red Star-Club Francais (Paris) 4 v 10 Hakoah Vienna

This match lit by a ‘cordeaux d’arcs voltaiques’ featured in a full page of sports magazine Le Miroir des Sports. Hakoah Vienna was a globally famous touring Jewish team and I thoroughly recommend further reading about this fascinating football team. (The Hakoah wrestling team accompanied them as personal bodyguards). 6,000 spectators turned up to watch the 9pm kick-off and the pictures seem to indicate that the game was well lit, although Red Star’s goalkeeper Gillis does not appear to be enjoying the game.

Floodlight Soccer in USA 1926 + 1927

In October 1926 at the General Electric Factory “River Works” in Lynn, Massachusetts Boston drew 3 v 3 with Providence in front of a crowd of 2,000. “Players on both teams were loud in their praise of the playing conditions under floodlights and freely declared they were not handicapped.”

In the USA again in 1927 a floodlit game was played. The game was played at the Upper Manhattan Polo Grounds (a famous baseball Park)  where a crowd of 10,000 saw Hakoah of Vienna draw 0 v 0 with Bethlehem. 12 Arc Lights, each with a candle power of 1,000 were used with ‘no shadow’ reported. The ball was replaced with a whitened ball every 10 minutes.

South America 1929: Chelsea in Rio De Janeiro

Chelsea FC made a famous tour to South America in 1929. After playing in games in Argentina and Uruguay their 13th game was in Brazil. It is interesting to note that they were known as ‘Los Numerados’ (the numbered ones), due to the numbers on their shirts, ten years before numbered shirts were introduced by the football league. The game was played against a Rio XI at Estrado Das Laranjeiras, the home of Fluminense. Athletic News (English newspaper) described the stadium as one of the finest and best equipped grounds in the world. A crowd of 45,000 watched an exciting 1 v 1 draw.


NB: In April 1928 the Sporting Times newspaper reported that a new speedway cinder track was being installed at Stamford Bridge with floodlights. This was the beginning of an existential challenge for English male professional football.

Author’s Note. Important Point. The evidence that I have found for the 1923 Turf Moor Games is so strong and detailed that it would be relatively straightforward to reproduce the exact or equivalent technology today. I have claimed a ‘world record’ for this game. Whilst I am confident about this claim for the game of association football in this country it may be that a serious game took place elsewhere in the world eg USA or South America and I am simply not aware of it. Finding detail of the actual technology used to disprove my assertion may be difficult. In a sense this article is a challenge for more research to be performed on this topic. In this era artificial light was beginning to be successfully used all over the world in a number of sports.


1930: 7 Years Later Similar Technology for a Male Game

Artist C. E. Turner Captures the Mansfield Town FC Men’s Games

February 1930 “Huge Box of Light” at Mansfield Town FC
Artist C. E. Turner Sketch for Illustrated London News of a Male Football Expt
(Source: BNA Illustrated London News Saturday 8 March 1930 p22)

1930: A Game Played by Artificial Lighting with a Ball Enamelled White

Two games were played in February 1930 in what was reported as the equivalent of 14 million candle power. Wellbeck Athletic took on Ollerton Forest in the Notts Senior League on Saturday 22 February and four days later Mansfield Town FC took on Shirebrook. This sketch was drawn by Charles Edward Turner who was the ‘roving’ sketch artist for the Illustrated London News. The sketch is similar in many ways to the beautiful sketch that he had drawn 7 years earlier for the women’s match. There is some incredible detail. I love the detail of the chap with the pipe and his helper washing the white balls to replenish the match ball as it got dirty. I think that we can infer by the phrase ‘enamelled white’ that a bunch of normal brown leather balls had to be painted white specifically for these games. The sketch also illustrates two of the four corner lights which were mounted on specially constructed scaffolding. This is the technological detail provided by the article:

  • 76 Philips flood-lighting reflectors, fitted with Philips 1000W projector lamps
  • 4 sets of 19 lamps mounted on each on four sets of corner scaffolding
  • Lamps mounted at 48ft (14.6m) so that the ball could be viewed up to 50ft-70ft (15.2m-21.3m)
  • Equivalent to 14 million candle power (ie 176 million lumens)

A standard 100W domestic light bulb emits about 1600 lumens so this is the approximate equivalent of 100,000 domestic light bulbs. In a nod to the 1923 game (which is mentioned in this 1930 article) the games had poor weather consisting of rain and mist. In a little foretaste of what was to come the article also mentions that there are rumours of night matches likely to take place at Wembley Stadium. Representatives from Arsenal, Sheffield Wednesday, Notts County, Lincoln City, Grimsby and Rotherham were present at the match.


NB: It is interesting to note that QPR claimed the “First Public Experimental Floodlight Match” in 1933. This game was played at the White City Stadium and was between the ‘Whites’ (Arsenal, Chelsea, West Ham, Tottenham) and the ‘Reds’ (Watford + Rest of London).


1930: English FA Ban Floodlit Football

“Parliament of Football”
Mr J Clegg (Chairman), Lord Kinnaird, Sir Frederick Wall
(BNA: Source: Illustrated Sporting & Dramatic News, Saturday 15 April 1922 p21)

1930 August 25: “NO NIGHT FOOTBALL”

Attention having been drawn to the fact that the playing of artificial matches under artificial light is being organised the Council express their opinion that the playing of matches under such conditions is undesirable, and that club members of the Association are prohibited from taking part in such games.

This was reported in the Daily Herald the following day with the headline: “F.A. BAN NIGHT SOCCER AND ALIEN PLAYERS”.

The Daily Herald had earlier in the same year (Monday 21 July), ran a major article entitled: “NIGHT SPORTS FOR BRITAIN – FOOTBALL UNDER FLOODLIGHTS IN WINTER – WEMBLEY TEST.” Wembley proposed to start installing floodlighting at the ground in the next few days. Greyhound racing and Speedway were becoming extremely popular pursuits at multi-use stadia with floodlights. Wembley Stadium were proposing a game in mid-December between Arsenal (FA Cup Winners) and Glasgow Rangers (Scottish Cup Winners). The Herald reported Sir Samuel Hill-Wood, chairman of the Arsenal saying “we willingly agreed to play. It is an experiment, but a very important one, which may lead to regular mid-week matches between the leading clubs, with the prospect of good gates. We are not pre-supposing the success of the scheme, and everything depends upon the match. I have an open mind on the subject.” The paper also reported: “Glasgow Rangers have played several matches by artificial light during their recent American-Canadian tour, and the players say that the game was as practicable as daylight football.”


Conclusion to Part 1

The English FA Ban on Floodlit football did not last long. However, floodlit football in England did not prosper. Respected football writer Brian Glanville ran a lengthy article in 1955 describing floodlight football in Britain ‘a fiasco’.

This has been a very enjoyable topic to research. In 1889 Grimsby played Boston in front of a crowd of 2,000 using petroleum lights – yes, there were little tanks of petroleum buried around the perimeter of the ground…

In the second part of this article I will explore how pressure was brought to bear on the FA to lift the ban by the big London clubs and the realities of co-existing with Greyhound and Speedway racing as they soared in popularity.

On the morning of the recent Women’s World Cup Final the BBC claimed that after the 1921 Ban women’s football was played ‘on parks’ and ‘in private’. This is utter nonsense. During the 1930s 68 (Yes 68) ‘internationals’ were played involving Dick Kerr Ladies, Femina Sport, Atalante, France, Belgium, Ireland, Terry’s, etc in front of crowds of 10,000, 12,000, 15,000 etc. Extensive use was made of non-affiliated stadia and the great many cricket, speedway, greyhound, rugby league, athletics and multi-use stadia that abounded in this country. This is a false narrative and does not help in the fight to overcome existing barriers for women in football.

A great quiz question is: “When was the first floodlit cricket match in this country?” The answer is quite interesting and surprising. Highbury hosted a Middlesex CC XI vs an Arsenal FC XI, but it wasn’t until 1952. Even more surprisingly the first full cricket match between two first class cricket teams was not played until 1980, and this game was at Stamford Bridge. Essex CC defeated the touring West Indies side in front of a crowd of 13,000. Essex won on run rate due to rain affected play but also had 112 not out and three wickets from one Graham Gooch!

I am in awe of Alfred Frankland, the legendary manager of the Dick Kerr Ladies. Today, over 100 years later we take this technology for granted. He led the way, and was many, many years ahead of his time. I recently gave a talk in Bradford with historians Kathryn Hey and Dave Pendleton. Here is the link:

(Thanks to Joe Ogden)

I was delighted to meet Malcolm May, the son of Mary Borthwick who played for Hey’s Ladies. Malcolm appears in the talk and he stole the show. Mary Borthwick played in both those famous, world record matches in 1923 against my granny Lizzy Ashcroft. Malcolm said that he had only ever heard his mother swear twice in her life, once about a horrible neighbour and once about the FA. She only ever referred to them as “Miserable B&*^&)&^s”. I couldn’t possibly comment…


Article copyright of Steve Bolton