Can Women's Football Be Seen As A New & Upcoming Sport?
by Isabella H
Maybe the FA didn't want the game to be watched more than the males'? The FA didn't want to pay the women more than the men? Maybe the FA didn't want women to have fame, in a world where fame is power?
After the fabulous victory of the Lionesses this summer, many could say that women's football is a new and exciting emerging sport, however is this the case?
When you think about football, big teams like Real Madrid, Manchester City and Barcelona may come to mind, however did you know women's football preceded all of these teams, and was popular well before they even existed.
In 1895, the first official women's football match was played, North England v South England, it resulted in a 7-1 victory for the North. This year signifies the start of women's football. Women’s football teams began to spring up all over the country and regular matches were played.
19 years later in 1914, the first world war began. Men went to fight for the country, and women replaced men in factories and farming fields, and even took their positions on the pitch. Many factories employed a welfare officer, to monitor the health and wellbeing of the women working there, sport -especially football- was encouraged. Over time, factories developed their own football teams, shaping stars like Lilian Parr. According to newspaper reports of matches, crowds were initially drawn by the novelty of women playing, however by the end of the match everyone was eating their words - their skill was undeniable.
In 1920, the first international women's game was played at a factory in Preston, the team was named Dick Kerr (named after the company that owned the factory), and played against France. The result of this game was a 5-1 victory to Dick Kerr, Lilian Parr scoring all 5 goals. 25,000 people attended, an astronomical figure considering there was no social media or television to spread word of that game at the time. On boxing day of 1920, a charity match raising money for wounded soldiers was played at Goodison Park, Dick Kerr V Preston ladies. Lilian Parr played in this match for Dick Kerr. Lillian was born in 1905 in St Helens. When she was younger she didn't want to do traditionally ‘feminine’ things, such as cooking or sewing, and wanted to play sports like rugby and football with her brothers, so her brothers taught her and she began to demonstrate natural talent for both. She was just 14 when she began her career as a professional footballer, and unlike now, she played both male and female teams. In her first year playing she scored an outstanding 108 goals, second in the league. This match attracted 53,000 people, plus an extra 14,000 who couldn't get in as the stadium was full. This stood as a record until 2012, when it was broken at the London Olympics. The men's record attendance for this year stood at 50,084, which shows that the women's game was clearly more popular than the men's. To add to this, players were paid 10 shillings a match (about £100 in today's money), which is more than the men were paid; so if women were having more match attendance, a greater salary, and possibly more successful, where did it all go wrong?
Shortly after the 1920 charity match was played, the FA announced a ban on women's football, they were banned on the grounds that ‘the game of football is quite unsuitable for females and ought not to be encouraged’ and ‘The game could affect a woman's frame’. However is this truly the reason for the ban? We can say that 100 years ago women's football was watched more frequently than the men's, so maybe the FA didn't want the game to be watched more than the males? The FA didn't want to pay the women more than the men? Maybe the FA didn't want women to have fame, in a world where fame is power?
After the ban, Lilian left to tour America, but was banned from Canada so could only tour the US. She Played 9 games while on tour. She won 3- drew 3- and lost 3 against the top male teams in the US. After retiring, she trained to be a nurse and lived with her partner-Mary- for the rest of her life until she died of breast cancer in 1978. As she was openly gay (despite the many persecutions it carried at the time), she is seen as both a feminist and LGBT+ icon, and is buried in St Helens.
50 years after the introduction of the ban, it was lifted in 1971; but this gap meant the game was now as unpopular as it had ever been, and women's football was at an all time low.
In 1984, England reached the final of the Euros for the first time ever, but lost to Sweden on penalties. Women's football began to slowly make a comeback. At this point, women were professional footballers on the side, meaning it was their second job. Women’s football became full time in just 2011.
1991, finally there is a women's league! It consisted of 24 clubs nationwide.
In 2002, the FA announced that football had become the top participation sport for girls and women in England!
7 years later, England beat Canada in Cyprus to win their first international trophy- the Cyprus cap. The England senior team reached the UEFA championship final for the first time in 25 years, and the under 19’s won the championship in Belarus.
2010: the introduction of the women's super league.
In 2012, The interest in football skyrocketed after the success of GB who reached the quarter finals of the London Olympics, with a team consisting of Alex Scott, now a BBC sports presenter. It was announced that England would host the 2013-14 European championship finals.
3 years later, England won bronze in the world cup, and inspired many more to take up the game. A record number of people watched the FA cup final which was played in Wembley for the first time ever.
In 2019, new heights were reached. England won the ‘SheBelieves ‘cup (This cup is meant to encourage young females to achieve their dreams, regardless of whether or not they are tied to athletics. As part of regular society, SheBelieves is dedicated to female empowerment). Finished 4th in the world cup, attracting a record of 11.7 million viewers on BBC one. Team GB qualified to play in Tokyo 2020 Olympics, smashed another FA cup final record of 43,264 spectators. To add to this, Barclays partnered with the WSL (Women's Super League), and this was the biggest investment ever made in UK women's sport by a brand.
Finally, in 2022 our Lionesses won the Euros, beating Germany 2-1, with an attendance of a staggering 87,192 spectators, and over 365 million watching at home or online.