Women’s football is growing in stature day-by-day, with many England players slowly becoming household names. But it hasn’t always been that way. The National Football Museum are planning an exhibition into the history of the women’s game, and we asked Kate Turner, who’s working on the project, to give us a behind-the-scenes peak to see how it’s going…
At the National Football Museum work is underway to catalogue and research a huge collection of objects related to women’s football in order to exhibit more of its fascinating history.
The collection comprises photographs, historic kit, newspapers, medals, trophies and more, and helps us to understand the tumultuous journey of the sport.
Not many people realise quite how far back the women’s game goes.
We have newspapers from the mid-late 19th century in which women are pictured playing football – often accompanied by negative comments from journalists, such as London newspaper The Sketch showing women tearing at each other’s hair and declaring “oh bother the rules” in 1894, and a match report reading “their costumes were modest and becoming, but that is the only praise we can afford them” in an 1895 edition of the London Evening Standard.
However, when British men were called to fight in the First World War and women were required to fill their jobs in factories, the game grew in strength and popularity, with many factories forming their own teams.
The Dick Kerr Ladies of the firm Dick, Kerr & co in Preston could draw crowds in excess of 50,000 people!
— Kate Turner (@KateJessT) October 17, 2017
Unfortunately, the growth of the game was stunted by an FA ban which prevented women from playing on certified pitches from 1921.
The official line was that football had a negative effect on women’s health, although it has been hypothesised that administrators may have felt threatened by the popularity of the women’s game.
One key area of research for this project has been on the period following the ban, when a group of strong-willed women and men formed the Women’s Football Association to allow the game to continue despite the ban.
Liz Deighan, an England player during the FA ban, has donated some wonderful objects from her personal collection including photographs, programmes, various pieces of kit and a fabulous England cap from a match against France in 1974.
These were incredibly determined women who had to train for national and international matches between full-time jobs and often had to do their planning in pubs, without funding for their own offices or training grounds.
Their passion for football led to the ban being rescinded in 1971 – 50 years after it was put in place.
Skimpy dresses & sporting sexism
The collection also highlights a history of sexism within the sport.
As mentioned previously, early newspapers were largely scathing of women playing football, but things hadn’t substantially improved by the 60s and 70s. The Unofficial Women’s World Cups of 1970 and 1971 – held in Italy and Mexico respectively – used scantily clad women to promote the tournaments.
Fortunately, there is an increasing amount of respect for players. FIFA certified World Cups from the 1990s onwards have provided the women’s game with a platform from which to reach new audiences and showcase their talents.
A huge amount of contemporary memorabilia highlights the growth of the game, particularly in America, where women’s football has garnered far greater popularity than in the UK, and where many more players have earned professional status.
Players like Michelle Akers and Mia Hamm have made their way onto calendars, cereal boxes and have even had replica Barbie-style dolls made of them!
“Players like Houghton and Duggan are fantastic role models”
Women’s football has struggled internationally to get to where it is today, but it is finally starting to gain the recognition it deserves, aided by the media profile enjoyed by professional British players such as Steph Houghton and Toni Duggan.
They are fantastic role models for the increasing amount of girls now encouraged to play from a young age.
It is so important to celebrate women’s football and to raise awareness of the history and struggles of players to show how far the game has come.
Along with the collection of objects, we have been talking to individuals involved in the game, from contemporary players of all ages to Liz Deighan and other women who played during the years of the ban.
If you have any stories or would like to find out more about the project check us out and get in touch here.
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