In part one of our article [which can be read HERE] we explored the developments of women’s football in Scotland from the establishment of the munitionette teams during World War One, the ramifications in Scotland of the 1921 English FA ban on women’s teams, through to the emergence of Rutherglen Ladies in the early 1920s. We also highlighted the idea of two general classifications of women’s football into ‘folk’ games (such as the Alness game below) and ‘serious’, ‘modern-style’ games. In this second part we continue to trace the rise to prominence of the Rutherglen Ladies and their ‘star’ players and how women’s football continued to develop in Scotland up to the outbreak of World War Two.
Running A Successful Women’s Football Team
The obstacles to successfully running a women’s football team in the era post the English FA ban were profound and challenging. In Part 1 of this article these challenges were explored and highlighted. In this second article it is intended to show just how James H Kelly was able to develop a successful model for his Rutherglen team to succeed to prominence. However, there were several high profile Scottish Women’s teams in 1921 and a brief look at one of these teams will help to illustrate a less successful model.
1921- 1923 Dumfries Ladies FC
“Two Teams of Lady Soccerites To Tour Canada”
Dumfries Ladies FC appear to have formed in 1921. Given their location it would be reasonable to surmise that there may have been links to the teams associated with the vast munitions complex at Eastriggs. This is an ongoing area of research. As can be seen from the table above they had a close (if a little one-sided …) relationship with the Dick Kerr Ladies. The advantage would be the high profile nature of the games, the disadvantage would be conceding 41 goals in 4 games and scoring none.
In January 1923 the Victorian Daily Times reported:
A letter has been received by the secretary of the St Andrew’s Society, Montreal, from the secretary of the Dumfries Ladies Football Club, informing the Canadian organisation that the Scottish Club has been invited to tour Canada and the United States in April, 1923, on behalf of the Scottish National War Memorial Fund
There were a large number of articles reflecting the challenges of achieving this ambitious aim. By Wednesday 28 March the Calgary Herald were recording that the Dominion Football Association ‘will have no objection to Dumfries Club playing in Canada’ but of course the other problem was that there were no established women’s football teams in Canada. By Monday 14 May the Vancouver Daily World reported that the Dumfries Ladies and the Dick Kerr Ladies would be touring under the headline: “Two Teams of Lady Soccerites To Tour Canada”.
Research into the history of teams in the Dumfries and Galloway Area is ongoing. The authors would like to recommend the work of the Devil’s Porridge Museum and the Annan Museum.
The highly ambitious plans of the Dumfries Ladies did not succeed. They do serve to illustrate just how unique was the success of the Rutherglen Ladies FC.
1924 – 1926, The Rutherglen Double Act Solidifies: Carry your opposition with you…
The year of 1924 was very barren for high profile English and Scottish women’s serious football. We could hypothesise that the effects of the ban were really starting to be felt. Alfred Frankland of the Dick Kerr Ladies had tried various unsuccessful strategies and the amazing 1925 tour was yet to happen. North of the border we can see the beginnings of J H Kelly’s strategy. The September 1924 game at Tannadice in front of a crowd of 4,000 against the mysterious ‘Wembley Ladies’ gives us some clues when we look at the team list. With names like Craigan, Barr, O’Hara, McLaren, McArthur, McFarlane and Kemp it would be fair to surmise that this was really a Scottish Team. For the next two years high profile games were played between Rutherglen and Edinburgh, of the eleven games Rutherglen won 10. They played some of the games in front of crowds of two and three thousand at pitches such as Station Park in Forfar and Advocates Park in Aberdeen. Going back to an earlier point about the difficulties of finding suitable opposition it would be reasonable to think of a travelling squad of 30+ players from Glasgow, Edinburgh and the surrounding areas who would be branded into two teams: ‘Rutherglen’ and ‘Edinburgh’. There may have been some Northern Irish influence due to the close contacts. This was a time honoured strategy which was carried out by the Dick Kerr Ladies. A number of their games look suspiciously like ‘A’ versus ‘B’ but Alfred Frankland was very careful to ensure that the branding was Dick Kerr Ladies beating some ‘other team’. He would never, for instance, even up the teams at half-time. J. H Kelly appears to have been doing something similar. It would also be reasonable to surmise that Rutherglen ‘burnt their boats’ after beating the Dick Kerr Ladies and so would not be offered another game!
Sadie Smith Superstar of the 1920s
Our researches strongly indicate that a star was developing in the Rutherglen team prior to their ground-breaking and unique 1927 tour. Sadie Smith was repeatedly singled out for praise by the newspapers of the day. As early as 1922 we see the Berwickshire News and General Advertiser stating: “Only one player had any idea about football and that was Smith on the outside position on the left wing”. In 1924 the Dundee Courier complimented a number of the Rutherglen players including Smith: “The left wing, comprising Misses Crozier and Smith did some fine work. The clever style in which the latter dodged, feinted, and swerved drew rounds of applause”. This was in front of a crowd of 4,000 at Dundee United’s famous ground Tannadice Park.
In 1925 a nickname for Sadie that seemed to stick around for at least one season was as the female ‘Alan Morton’. This was praise indeed as Alan Morton was a quick, elusive, diminutive Glasgow born left-winger who won fame with Rangers and Scotland. The Wishaw Press newspaper quoted:
“notably the Rutherglen outside left who was speedily named ‘Alan Morton’ “ and “Alan Morton on the left dazzled the spectators.”
In an early game in 1926 the Falkirk Herald reported that: “Sadie Smith, the Rutherglen outside left, played a good game and scored four goals” in a 10-1 thrashing of Edinburgh. By the end of August the Dundee Courier described: “Miss Smith was outstanding” as she scored a hat-trick in their 7-2 defeat of Edinburgh at Tannadice.”
Sadie’s skills, dribbling, speed and her ability to score regularly seem to have made her the standout player of Rutherglen Ladies, in the eyes of the media and indeed in the eyes of the crowds who came to cheer on the team. James H Kelly had his superstar for the ground-breaking 1927 tour. Who would be his ‘Irish’ superstar
1927 A Historic Tour – ‘Scotland’ vs ‘Ireland’
Belfast, Larne, Ballymena, Dublin, Derry & Portadown
It is important to understand just how significant and unique this particular tour was. The next high profile tour not involving Rutherglen on these islands was when Femina Sport toured England with the Dick Kerr Ladies (Preston Ladies) in 1932. The importance of ‘seeding’ the 1930s renaissance of women’s football in Northern Ireland cannot be underestimated. The fabulous J. H Kelly gave us his two star footballers: the legendary Molly Seaton, Belfast’s finest footballer and Sadie Smith, the superstar of Rutherglen. The first three games in 1927 were played in Scotland and billed as Rutherglen vs Edinburgh. In the final game in Berwick in April, before the May tour, Sadie Smith was singled out for praise in front of a crowd of 3,000 by the 3 May edition of the Berwickshire News and General Advertiser.
“Smith showed the best ball control and she was ever getting away down the wing. … Miss Smith of Rutherglen, was the star performer of the 22”
The May tour of Ireland included 8 games which have so far been uncovered. The first 4 games in Belfast, Ballymena and Larne (twice) are billed as Rutherglen vs Edinburgh. There is then on Saturday 21 May a truly unique game in Milltown, Dublin where a crowd of 12,000 watched a game billed as ‘Scotland’ vs ‘Ireland’. ‘Scotland’ won by 8 or 9 goals to 1 against a local Dublin side with various reports that Molly Seaton played for the Scotland/ Rutherglen side and scored most of the goals. Interestingly the final three games are billed as ‘Scotland’ vs ‘Ireland’. The game at Bonds Field Park in Derry was a 2 vs 2 draw in front of a crowd of 5,000. Some newspaper reports questioned just how Irish the Irish team was! After the May tour of Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland the teams toured Scotland and even England. The evidence regarding this tour is patchier but two games stand out in particular. On Wednesday 17th August ‘Scotland’ (Rutherglen) defeated Ireland at Fallowfield Athletic Stadium, Manchester. A well-received match was played on Wednesday 7th September at Brandon Park, Bellshill where the ‘Irish Colleen’ (Molly) scored all 5 Irish goals in a 9-5 defeat. The outside left (Sadie) scored a fifth goal with a “beauty”, and added a sixth in artistic style.
1927 Belfast Linfield FC Men’s Team Sign Sadie Smith
Sadie Smith the superstar outside left of the Rutherglen Ladies is ‘signed’ for the all-male Linfield FC, one of Belfast’s top professional sides. A rare and possibly unique honour. This was yet another superb marketing ploy by J. H Kelly. Obviously just a publicity stunt as she never actually subsequently played for Linfield. This signing is referred to in a 1950 edition of the Belfast Telegraph, which rather amusingly wrongly names her as ‘Sarah Smyth’ and playing for the Dick Kerr Ladies! The image which accompanied this famous ‘signing’ article has probably also led to fairly persistent rumours that Molly Seaton also signed for Linfield.
1928 Another Historic Tour – ‘Scotland’ vs ‘Ireland’
A Significant Tour of Scotland
There appear to have been fewer high profile games played than in 1927. The Scotland tour took place in April, June and July with Sadie Smith and Molly Seaton being singled out in virtually every match report. Unlike the previous year where there was an intensive tour to Ireland in May in 1928 a much smaller tour took place in early September. This was nowhere near as high profile and only two games have been confirmed so far in Larne and Ballymena. A game was advertised for the Brandywell in Derry but no details have yet emerged.
It is important to remember that seismic social events were taking place around the globe at the end of the 1920s. By February 1929 the newspapers were reporting vast numbers of deaths due to the influenza epidemic and by October 1929 the Wall Street Crash led to the great depression. It is therefore not surprising to find that in the years 1929, 1930 and 1931 only one high profile game for Rutherglen has come to light.
1932 Rutherglen ‘Ladies’ – A team of 12 years old.
Rutherglen – A Team of Schoolgirls
Rutherglen Ladies FC played several high profile games against men’s teams in 1932 and indeed in 1933. Unfortunately, the article above from the Falkirk Herald is fairly typical. In a number of the games the men played particularly gently and if the teams were not mixed from the start they were at half-time. It appears that superstars such as Sadie Smith had retired and the team had regenerated as a team of youngsters. This must have been disappointing because, as can be seen by the article, they had a formidable reputation from the glory days of the 1920s.
There is one extremely bright ray of hope from these two final years of J. H Kelly’s Rutherglen. The Kirkintilloch Herald reports on a game in August played at Bishopbriggs between Rutherglen and Cadder United Men.
“The crowd were fully appreciative of wee Lydia, the crack 12 year old girl player, and she put in some good work.”
This would be Rutherglen girl Lydia/Linda Clements who went on to fame with the Darlington Quaker Girls in 1937 and afterwards with the Edinburgh City Ladies.
In 1934 only one high profile game has been found so far. On Thursday 14th June Duns Ladies defeated Eyemouth Ladies by 5 goals to 3 at Hawthorn Park in Duns. Women’s football in Scotland appears to be in terminal decline and yet!
1935 – A Golden Year of Scottish Women’s Football
25 High Profile Games All Over Scotland
The explanation why Scotland went from a single high profile game in 1934 to over 25 in 1935 are still being investigated. There could be a clue in the fundraising for the Jubilee. Monday 6th May 1935 was the Silver Jubilee of King George V. The first few games of 1935 were part of the party atmosphere around the celebrations. For example on Friday 3rd May Haigs Ladies drew 3 goals apiece with Coaltown Ladies at Markinch in front of a crowd of 2,000. A large sum of money was raised and a good time was had by all.
Two common themes appear to be ‘works’ teams such as Haigs Ladies and Tullis-Russell Paper Mills appearing in 1935. The other common theme appears to be Pageant and Gala days. Whatever the reasons, Scotland seems to have been in a party mood in 1935 and from media reports it seems that women’s football was often part of that. In 1936 this trend appears to continue to a lesser extent with about a dozen high profile games discovered so far.
1937 – 1939 Edinburgh Takes the Baton from Rutherglen
Linda Clements – The Rutherglen Girl who starred for Edinburgh
The pre-WW2 years in Scotland saw the rise to prominence of the Edinburgh City Ladies. In an echo of the famous J. H Kelly’s Rutherglen of the 1920s they played a number of high profile games against men’s teams in 1937. And again in 1938 14 high profile games were covered in the media. In Scotland they were now playing mostly against Foley ladies and Fife ladies. Teams were starting to pop up in the Glasgow area and although a team named Rutherglen started up in 1938 the famous Mr J. H Kelly’s name is not associated with this new team. Edinburgh were beaten by the Darlington Quaker Girls by 4 goals to 2 in a game in Newcastle in June. This connection could almost certainly be attributed to Linda Clements. In August they played a four match tour against the Dick Kerr Ladies in Lancashire where they lost all four games: 5 v 2, 8 v 3, 4 v 0 and 4 v 2. They were improving all the time.
In 1939 Edinburgh City Ladies swept all Scottish opposition aside in a reputed 30 plus games. Certainly, at least 16 of those games were worthy of media coverage. Famously they beat the Dick Kerr Ladies (Preston Ladies) in Edinburgh by 5 goals to 2 and then lost the return fixture by 3 goals to 0 in Middlesbrough just over three weeks later. That they were a formidable and important side is certain. What is particularly unfortunate is their timing in coming to prominence just before the outbreak of the Second World War.
Rutherglen Ladies Legacy
Granny Was a Footballer
Sadie Smith the superstar footballer married in the early thirties and went on to have a family of her own. She had a granddaughter who was very fond of her granny. In fact she was named after her: Sadenia Eddi Reader. She is probably better known as the Glaswegian Folk Legend Eddi Reader. Eddi is very proud of her granny. Only in recent years has she come to learn that her granny was a footballer and in fact that her granny was the star player on one of the most iconic women’s football tours.
‘She passed by when I was young. I’ll never forget her smiling face and brilliant soup and oranges.’
Eddi Reader, January 2021
Rutherglen Ladies FC – Trailblazers Par Excellence
In late 2018 a mural was unveiled at the entrance to Rutherglen Railway station. The mural, the idea of local community group Grow73, celebrates the rich heritage of the area. It features hand painted images of significant figures and events from in and around the Rutherglen area selected by various locals from pensioners to school children. Amongst those depicted are the Rutherglen Ladies. This is the only known public artwork depicting the team.
Interwar Women’s Football in Scotland
We have presented here some of our initial research findings. Women’s football in Scotland in the early Twentieth Century has been under-researched. Little is known about the development of the game in the interwar period and we hope that our work will help to shine a light on the Scottish experience. Our work thus far has thrown up a number of surprises as we have highlighted here, from the development of Rutherglen Ladies to the role of stars such as Sadie Smith. These stories have been missing from the historiography of both the British and the Scottish women’s game.
It is not possible to do justice to this rich and important topic in a short article like this. The authors have gone to every effort to make this article as accurate as possible, but our research is ongoing. We have used this article as an opportunity to make informed conclusions and hypotheses based on the research we have done to date. Writing about women’s football from 100 years ago is full of pitfalls. It is likely that further evidence will arise and these theories will have to be adapted or even corrected. This is the spirit in which this article is presented.
Article © of Dr Fiona Skillen and Steve Bolton