Evening 19th February 2020 - Message from our Secretary:

Elaine recounted how 'women's football' rose and fell over the decades from before the First World War and was in fact a bit of a battle for the ladies not far different from trying to gain the vote.  In fact we can see from records that the attitudes towards women playing football mirrored that of women being thought worthless and not capable of having the vote - lack of strength; presence of mind etc.

Initially women’s football teams were not taken seriously. Before the War football was seen as a predominately male sport; women’s bodies were seen as incapable of such a physically demanding game.  Throughout the period ‘medical experts’ advised that football was unsuitable for women's health. The Lincolnshire Chronicle, on 9th April 1921, even reported on a 14 year old girl breaking her leg in a practice match which "lends strength to the contention in some quarters that football is a pastime unsuitable for the tender sex". Newspapers from the period seem rather patronising to modern readers often describing the matches with a great deal of hilarity. On 31st March 1917 The Lincolnshire Chronicle reported on a match between the Lincoln and Derby Munition Girls: “well, readers, to be candid, this game was very funny in many ways…most of us went to scoff (though not unkindly, I’m sure).” Despite concerns for women’s health and the matches being seen in a humorous light there was much excitement surrounding women's football.

However not all comments were unflattering. On 16th April 1917 The Lincolnshire Echo was more positive and commented that women's
football seems to "be more than a passing fancy…enthusiasm around the question is very keen." It was not long before it was realised that some of the players had a natural aptitude for the game. The Lincolnshire Echo also reported on the match between the Lincoln and Derby Munition Girls, claiming that, “there were some who distinctly showed an understanding of the finer points of the game.” Like their war work, women also proved to be very capable of a sport once seen as only suitable for males 

Elaine brought her usual well documented information to the talk and drew a picture of how determined these ladies, all over the country not just in Lincolnshire, were.  Slides accompanied the talk showing teams and action of play and in particular, a photograph of the first match played under electric light; a new system of lighting invented by Siemens and the English Electric Lamp Company. This match was actually played by the Dick Kerr Ladies team.  These ladies were termed as the most successful team in the world. They were formed at a munitions factory in Preston during the First World War to raise funds for wounded soldiers from the Western Front who were being treated at the towns military hospital. The firm of Dick, Kerr & Co Ltd was named after its two Scottish founders, William Bruce Dick and John Kerr who set up the company around 1900 to manufacture trams and electrical equipment but in 1915 the factory was converted to the production of ammunition as part of the War effort.

Women’s football ironically reached its peak in popularity after the War, proving to be as popular as men’s football and one game played between the Dick Kerr Ladies and St. Helens in 1920 attracted 53,000 spectators which is the biggest crowd to date for a women’s game in the UK. In France a game played by the Dick Kerr Ladies attracted a crowd larger than 63,000. However, the popularity around women’s football was not to last.  Women’s football teams were soon to face scrutiny from the Football Association (FA); on 5th December 1921 the FA banned women’s football, encouraging associated clubs “to refuse the use of their grounds for such matches."
They deemed “the game of football is quite unsuitable for females and ought not to be encouraged.” it is thought that the ban may have had a financial as well as a sexist element as many of the ladies' games were played for charitable causes and the FA needed the revenue from the men's more commercial game.

After the War, the 1919 Restoration of Pre-War Practices Act meant that many women were forced to leave their jobs in the factories and return to their pre-war roles. Many of the football teams formed out of the munitions factories quickly disappeared. However, some women
continued to play and formed local teams. In Lincolnshire a team formed called The Lincolnshire Ladies or Lincoln Ladies who played matches right up until 1921. Some teams (like the Lincolnshire Ladies) defied the FA's ban and continued to play football by using grounds unassociated with the FA like rugby grounds. A team in Lincolnshire, The Boston Ladies Club even formed after the ban and played against the Lincolnshire Ladies in 1921. Although some teams carried on playing the FA had put unavoidable barriers in front of women’s football. 

This had completely passed me by - 'Women did not play professionally again until after 1971 when the ban was finally lifted.'

Elaine concluded her talk mentioning the play 'The World at her Feet' which was written  by local playwright Stephen Gillard to mark the centenary of the final year of the First World War and was performed at the Lincoln Drill Hall in November 2018.  The play also commemorated the place and status of women, and their achievement of the right to vote.  Set in Lincoln 100 years ago it tells of the story of women's football in the city at that time and the challenges faced by both men and women in the aftermath of the First World War.

Elaine was very excited as she also mentioned that this play may be taken up by a television production company and just may appear on our screens in a few years time so let us keep our fingers crossed and look out for forthcoming information.

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