It was the Great War to end all wars 1914-18. Lord Derby, a member of the House of Lords, had the idea of increasing recruitment my forming 'Old Pals' regiments, and encouraging young men to take the King's Shilling for signing up and guaranteeing that they could go to the slaughter in Flanders Fields and the Somme with their mates from their home towns, their works and their clubs.
In this way one third of professional footballers signed up. . Of 11 Heart of Midlothian players from Edinburgh, 6 of the 11 first teamers, reigning Scottish champions, died at the front. Of 720 Accrington Pals, 5834 were killed or wounded. Of the Bradford Pals, there was an 87% loss.
Women and girls were drafted into the factories-at 50% of men's pay scale and it was dangerous. Those making TNT shells had their skin turn yellow and many of their teeth dropped out. One important factory was Dick, Kerr's in Preston, Lancashire which had been moved from Kilmarnock, Scotland. At lunch breaks the ladies started to kick a football around and Alfred Frankland, a dapperly dressed manager got a team together. It was his idea to raise funds for the returning wounded and he paid them 50 pence a game, which was a days pay, even though after the 5 1/2 day work week the matches were usually local on Saturday afternoons.
Christmas Day 1914 is memorable for the day that the British troops kicked a ball into the German lines and fighting stopped while they played a pick up match.
The English F.A. had stopped boys playing girls earlier and Nellie Honeyhill in 1895 had organized a North vs South women's match in England, and the game became popular with the ladies.
At Christmas in 1917 at Deepdale, home of Preston North End, 10,000 spectators showed up and the works brass band played Christmas carols as Dick, Kerr's Ladies played St. Helens. The girls wore blue and white striped jerseys over their long dark shorts, and hand knitted hooped woolly hats. There was a £200 profit ( about £40,000 in today's money)
They played and tied Lancaster 1-1 and then beat Bolton.
Dick, Kerr's became English Electric and the factory turned out bogeys for trains, trams, cartridge cases and eventually jet planes 50 years later.
September 1919 Dick, Kerr's Ladies went north-east to play Newcastle United at St, James Park in front of 35,000 fans and a profit of £1,200, a quarter of a million ponds today, was raised for charity. Florrie Redford, Alice Kell, Lily Jones were some of the stars.
The manager finally persuaded the talented 14 year old Lily Parr to leave St. Helens to sign for the team, on the condition that she was given a job and a single bedroom. She had come from a tiny house amid the smoke and mud of St. Helens and the family kept pigs in the back yard. She loved to eat Black Pudding, made of pigs blood, white fat and oats. I had the same as a young lad, along with Tripe, and vinegar, made from cows stomachs-until I found out where they came from.
The factory built a field, Ashton Park, next door for the workers to play games and train.
Finally, international football. Alice Millay had founded the first club across the channel for women, Silvan de Fechan Athletique. They came by ferry and train to London and then to Preston station where the band played La Marseilles.
Outings to Blackpool and its beach and to the East Lancashire hills were arranged, plus many banquets. The French lost 2-0 in Preston, lost 5-2 in Stockport , and tied 1-1 in Manchester. Finally to London to play at Chelsea where they won 2-1.
Pathe News filmed the tour and it received good newspaper coverage. BBC Radio did not start until 2 years later in 1922.
The Dick, Kerr's Ladies went on tour to France. The first match at the Pershing Stadium in Paris drew a crowd of 10,000, but at 1-1 the English got a disputed corner and the fans invaded the pitch. The two teams ran for their lives. They won 2-0 in Roubaix, 6-0 in Le Havre and 2-0 in Rouen. The girls were excited and after coming from tiny homes with no running water or electricity they enjoyed hotels with hot baths and electric lights. Due to the mucky streets and overflowing outside privies in Lancashire, most people wore clogs.
Back to Lancashire for the first floodlit match. The company brought searchlights and generators to Deepdale and a ball was painted with whitewash.
Boxing Day 1920(the day after Christmas when presents are boxed up). 53,000 capacity Goodison Park in Liverpool was full up, with 15,000 locked outside as Dick, Kerr's played Liverpool and won 4-0. £3,000 was the profit, half a million in today's money.
The Football Association was worried about the growth of women's football, outside their jurisdiction, and in 1921 banned the use of any of their members from allowing women's teams to play in their stadiums. " Kicking is too jerking a movement for women." The ban was to stay for 50 years, until 5 years after England's men won the 1966 World Cup at Wembley Stadium. In 4 years the team had raised £60,000 for charity and other women's team a similar sum . That's about £24 million in today's money.
So the team travelled to North America on the SS Montclaire from Liverpool to Quebec in September 1922.
The Royal Dominion of Canada F.A. met in Winnipeg and decided to go along with the F.A. in London and ban the team in Canada so they set off by train for Clifton N.J., an 18 hours train journey. They lost 6-3 to a men's team in Paterson and were unhappy with the flea bitten boarding house they slept in. Much better for the 2nd match in Pantuckett N.Y against J & P. Coats factory team. Hospitality was great and 9,000 paid to watch. They found that there were no women's team in USA and so played against men in every match.
They played Centro-Hispano, and found a friendly soul in Thomas Bagnall, President of the USA Association who suggested cutting out many matches and giving support to the ones left on the schedule. They played in Washington 1-1, New Bedford 4-0, Fall River, Baltimore and finally Philadelphia, winning 3 , losing 3 and drawing 3.
Eventually English Electric, tired of funding the team which didn't carry their name and Alfred Frankland was fired. The club played in a lower key and finally went out of existence in 1965. Lily Parr scored 900 goals of the teams 3,500. They had played 828, won 758 , tied 46 and lost 24.
Not until 1993 did the F.A. take over the running of women's football after a directive from FIFA. I remember visiting the old Women's F.A. office in the late 1980's, a tiny office with a one woman staff. The national team had to find its own way to stadiums and get housed and fed by family and friends.
Lily Parr was inducted into the Football Hall of Fame at the National Football Museum at Deepdale Stadium Preston.
Another player, Alice Mills had returned to America and married and settled down in Seekonik, MA and returned in 1992 for a reunion in Preston.
Today lots of girls are taking up football in England, and 2 years ago 35,000 fans showed up to watch England play the opening match of the UEFA championships at Manchester City. The team was well supported in all 3 first round matches, and on T.V. but didn't make it to the quarter-finals.
A few weeks ago England, coached by Hope Powell, beat Holland 4-0 at Charlton, and only need 1 point from their last qualifying match in Rennes, against France in 2 weeks time to make it to the World Cup in China in 2007.
Mo Marley coaches the U 21's and Julie Chipchase the U 15's national teams. www.thefa.com
the national association web site has lots of information about women's soccer.
The F.A. had hoped to launch a professional league by now, but with the failure of the WUSL in America they have put those plans on hold. In fact Fulham, who were full times professional, have dropped funding for their team, while Manchester United have vanished from the women's scene altogether.
The Premier League has some well known names though.
Arsenal, Charlton Athletic, Doncaster Rovers Belles. Blackburn Rovers. Cardiff City, Leeds United, Fulham, Sunderland, Bristol Academy, Everton, and a Northern and Southern second tier.
The Doncaster Rovers Belles, started when women and girls were selling raffle tickets at Belle Vue, home of Doncaster Rovers. they formed their own team in 1969 and after calling it Belle Vue changed to Doncaster Belles, winning the first ever Premier League and F.A. Cup in the same season and not losing a match. Now they have sponsorship from Ben Bailey homes and on their web site www.donny.co.uk/belles
They offer match sponsorships from £250 and run 6 youth teams. Most matches are played at their training site at Cantley Park, but by December of this year the Doncaster City Council will have finished the 16,000 seat Community Stadium which the women can share with the Doncaster Rovers men's team and the local Doncaster Rugby Legue team.
The match in Rennes for the national team and a place in the Women's World Cup in China would help propel the sport to the next level.