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women's football


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The game of association football (soccer) as played by girls and women. There is uneven evidence of women's involvement in early forms of football, beyond a spectating role on the periphery of the action or the enthusiasm of the occasional middle-class or privileged individual, such as English feminist Nettie Honeyball, who formed a British Ladies Football Club and organized a match between the North and South of England Ladies at Crouch End, London, in 1895; and Lady Florence Dixie, who became the club/association's president and managed a women's football team on a tour of Scotland. But when working-class women organized football more extensively and regularly, in England during World War I, for instance, while working as munitions workers, the effect was explosive. In 1916–17 male footballers were drafted, and organized leagues were all but suspended, in the heartlands of the professional men's game in the north of England in particular. Saturday afternoons offered little substitute until welfare workers and others encouraged the women workers in the north of England to organize into competitive teams, also motivated by charity and fund-raising to support rehabilitation and emergency centres for returning soldiers.

The most prominent of these women's factory teams, named after the Preston-based factory, was Dick, Kerr's Ladies, which became a football legend. John Kerr, younger partner to Scot W. B. Dick, had opened the factory for the Dick, Kerr's company in Preston in 1899, manufacturing trams. During the war, the company switched to war transport and munitions. Alfred Frankland, a tailor turned administrator at the factory, organized a charity game for Christmas Day 1917 and staged it at the iconic Deepdale Ground, home of the all-conquering Preston North End men's team of the early days of the professional game in England. Ten thousand people attended the game. Dick, Kerr's Ladies went on to play further fixtures against town teams, and played a series of four international games—widely recognized as the first women's internationals—against France in 1920: at Deepdale, the English won 2–0, at Stockport 5–2; the third game, at Manchester, was a 1–1 draw; and in the last game the French won 2–1, at Stamford Bridge in London. This was followed by a tour of four games undefeated in France; and back in England at Goodison Park, Liverpool, on Boxing Day 1920, a match against St Helen's Ladies drew a crowd of 50,000.

The team and the women's game were becoming a national institution, with extensive—if initially patronizing—press coverage, and coverage in the cinema in Pathé newsreels. The men's game's authorities, as the professional game resumed after the end of the war, became nervous, and the (English) Football Association (FA) banned women's football at its members' grounds at a meeting on 5 December 1921, stating in its minute that ‘the game of football is quite unsuitable for females and should not be encouraged’. The team continued, on smaller grounds beyond the bureaucratic control of the FA, and also toured the USA, playing men's teams and winning three, drawing three, and losing three matches. But the pre-war order was reimposing itself, and the team received no official welcome home from either Preston dignitary or club official, just a speech by the ex-mayor of Burnley. It was not until 1971 that the English FA officially recognized the women's game.

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Subjects: Sport and Leisure.


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