Women's Football Roars Into The Twenties - Part Six
As the women’s World Cup comes to its conclusion Peter Bloor relates how, just over 100 years ago, the F.A. attempted to end women’s football for good.
Part Six: The F.A. blows for time on women's football
Displaying the same imagination, initiative and innovation that had created the team in 1917 and had recently taken it on tour to France, in December 1920 the Dick, Kerr Ladies played an illuminated, but not floodlit, match at Deepdale. The illumination was provided by two Army searchlights, acetylene lamps and carbide flares, all loaned by the War Office, which made play and the whitewashed ball easy to follow even when the searchlights twice went out. The arrangements were not a complete success though, with one of the searchlight operators turning his light too directly onto a Dick, Kerr’s attack and dazzling the players, and the photographers and kinema operators recording the game distracting players in the act of shooting with flashlights, on one occasion causing Jennie Harris to shoot so far over that the ball went out of the ground.
The former Blackburn Rovers player Bob Crompton having kicked off the Dick, Kerr Ladies went on to beat a Rest of England team 4-0, raising over £600 (worth £25,640 today) for the relief of unemployed ex-servicemen from a crowd of 10,000. Miss Dickinson of Barrow and Miss Seed of Blyth Spartans played well for the Rest, but their best player was captain and goalkeeper Miss Waine of St. Helens Ladies, regular opponents of the Dick, Kerr Ladies who gamely continued to turn up only to be beaten, sometimes heavily – in November and December 1920 they twice lost 4-0, at Filbert Street and at Goodison Park, and in January 1921 would lose 8-1 at Macclesfield.
In August 1921 they also lost three times on the Isle of Man, 5-3 at Ramsey, 3-0 at Port Erin and 4-0 at Douglas, as the Dick, Kerr Ladies continued to play in all of the home nations. They had begun in Scotland in early March, beating a team of Scottish Ladies 9-0 at Parkhead and then 13-0 at Tynecastle, before returning in September to beat the recently-formed Aberdeen Ladies 6-0 and Dundee Ladies 6-1. Heading south, at the end of March they then beat Swansea Ladies by the same 6-1 score at the Vetch Field and Cardiff Ladies 4-0 at Ninian Park, and in September a South of England XI 5-0 at Bristol, with an October trip to Belfast and a 6-1 win against the Irish Ladies at Windsor Park completing something of a round Britain tour.
Despite their being so clearly superior to everybody else there was no lack of interest in playing the Dick, Kerr Ladies, with invitations to tour Canada, France and Switzerland being received, and their football was still taken seriously with, for example, Bob Crompton describing Alice Kell as “a splendid full back with rare judgement” and Scottish international Bobby Walker considering ‘Miss Parr a marvel.’ Lily Parr would prove him a good judge when she played against Aberdeen Ladies, causing ‘open-eyed amazement when she increased the visitors’ lead with a tremendous shot from near the touchline’, the highlight of a display of trickiness and control that, with those of Florrie Haslam, Jennie Harris and Alice Kell on the right, gave ‘Many who were sceptical of the adaptability of women to Association Football an eye-opener’ as “cynical curiosity…turned into genuine admiration.”
Such admiration was not shared at the F.A., where eyes were already open and where, on December 5th 1921, the decision was made to request its members not to host women’s matches on their grounds, supposedly prompted by concerns for women’s physical capacity for the game and over irregularities around the payment of expenses and the amounts finally handed over to charities, concerns Arthur Hey, employer of the Hey’s Brewery Ladies team, believed masked jealousy “of the girls encroaching on their sacred preserves.” Alfred Frankland, the Dick, Kerr Ladies Secretary, did not ascribe any motive to the F.A.’s action but did express his disgust and doubted their qualification to judge whether or not the game was injurious, emphasising also that Dick, Kerr’s paid only expenses for travel, accommodation and for loss of working time, payments to which Alice Kell felt they were perfectly entitled because ‘It was impossible for working girls to leave work to play matches in Scotland, Ireland and up and down the country and be the losers.’
Local medical professionals were invited to attend the match against Fleetwood at the Dick, Kerr works ground Ashton Park, after which Dr. Mary Lowry’s opinion was that ‘the playing of the game by women would be no more injurious than a heavy day’s washing.’ In adding that “an open-air life is better for girls than a heavy life indoors” she recalled, perhaps inadvertently, the life the founders of the Dick, Kerr Ladies had sought relief from in 1917 while working in a munitions factory. Displaying similar spirit, the team of 1921 would continue to play, but the days of many thousands watching them on League grounds were gone, unanimously consigned to history in a Committee Room of the F.A.
Part Seven: Alice Kell and the Dick, Kerr Ladies Remember will appear in Remembrance Week.
The quotes and other information in this article are taken from the Lancashire Daily Post, the Aberdeen Daily Journal, the Dundee Courier, the Western Mail, the Yorkshire Post and Yorkshire Evening Post, and other local newspapers 1920-1921
Photographs Imperial War Museum: Munitions workers in Nottinghamshire © IWM Q 30015 and in Dublin © IWM Q 33228
Bob Crompton Cigarette Card, Singleton & Cole, 2001 reproduction of 1905 original
Dick, Kerr Ladies v. St. Helens Ladies match ticket courtesy Preston Digital Archive