Football is “quite unsuitable for females”

Posted by S Jack 11th April 2016

The title of this blog comes from the statement issued by the Football Association in 1921 which announced the banning of the women’s game from FA-affiliated grounds.

Our play Girls with Balls includes scenes from this period with several players and their manager from one of the top teams in women’s football in the 1920s, the Dick, Kerr Ladies of Preston.

Thanks to the efforts of the wonderfully named Nettie Honeyball, women’s football first made an appearance in England in 1894 and although the women’s game attracted crowds, they were treated as something of a novelty.

However, WWI changed a lot of things for a lot of people. Whilst the men were away fighting, women went to work in munitions and factories and as relief from their labour, played football during their lunch breaks. Alfred Frankland worked up in the office at the Dick, Kerr factory and saw the women have a kick-about every day. He suggested the young women form a team and play matches to raise funds for wounded soldiers. Frankland agreed to manage them and captain Alice Kell, centre-forward Florrie Redford, star striker Lily Parr and the rest of the Dick, Kerr Ladies went on to raise significant sums of money for charity, often to help former soldiers and their families.

Lily Parr was only 14 when she first played for Dick, Kerr Ladies and went on to be one of the most prolific goal scorers in the history of women’s football. Read her story here 

This article from The Guardian also provides some great background information on Florrie Redford and Alice Kell and the mighty Dick, Kerr Ladies.

In 1921 the team played 67 games to crowds of over 900,000. However, in the years following the end of  the First World War, society was keen to get back to some sort of order and this meant factories closing and women returning to their more traditional pre-War roles. Doctors warned of the damage the game could do to women’s bodies and at a meeting of the FA on 5 December 1921 this point, among others was minuted:

“Complaints having been made as to football being played by women, the Council feel impelled to express their strong opinion that the game of football is quite unsuitable for females and ought not to be encouraged.”

And from here, it was all over. The Football Association banned women from playing at affiliated grounds and although Dick, Kerr Ladies and other teams carried on, it was never quite the same again. The ban was lifted in 1971.

Girls with Balls is touring England between 12 April and 26 May – full tour details here

Ellen-Gayle Harewood as Florrie Redford and Daisy Morris as Lily Parr
Ellen-Gayle Harewood as Florrie Redford and Daisy Morris as Lily Parr
Roslyn Paterson as Alice Kell
Roslyn Paterson as Alice Kell

Images by Sean Goldthorpe

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