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A Brief History of Women's Football
Women have been playing organised football for at least as long as men. Indeed, there are reports of an annual match in Mid-Lothian in the 1790s. The first match within SFA guidelines was at Shawfields Ground, Glasgow in 1892. It did not meet with universal approval. Scottish Sport thundered, 'It was the most degrading spectacle we have ever witnessed in connection with football'.
Many in the footballing establishment regarded the women's football with distaste. In 1902, the Council of the Football Association warned its member clubs not to allow charitable matches against 'ladies teams'. Women's football continued with neither encouragement or help from the British FAs. It seems that for some, women in football were regarded as a threat to the cultural, historical and masculine values of the game.
However, the First World War saw women entering many areas of life from which they had previously been excluded. In similar fashion to the men 50 years previously, employment in heavy industry encouraged the formation of yet more teams. For the first time, working class women became involved in organised football. The most successful team of this era was Dick Kerrs Ladies, formed in Preston in 1917.
Dick Kerrs provided the opposition for the first women's international- against Scotland in 1920. The English side won 22-0. In the return in 1921, played at Celtic Park, the Scots fared only slightly better- 9-0 in front of 6000 spectators. Following this second international, Dick Kerrs made a tour of Scotland. They played five matches- in Edinburgh, Kilmarnock, Aberdeen, Dundee and Dumfries- and were watched by a total of 70,000 spectators. Women's football in Scotland was flourishing.
However, once again the footballing authorities acted against the interests of women's football. In December 1921, the Football Association issued a ruling:
'Complaints have 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...the Council request the clubs belonging to the Association to refuse the use of their grounds for such matches.'
The withdrawal of official backing denied women access to grounds. This cut exposure of the women's game and retarded its growth. Nonetheless in direct response, the English Ladies FA was formed, and women's matches began to use rugby instead of football pitches. At least the ban enabled women to develop a game that was formed and fashioned by themselves. It had its own ideals, and was also independent of the sometimes hostile men's FAs.
The health of the women's game was demonstrated in 1937. The top two teams in Britain, Dick Kerrs and Edinburgh Ladies, met in a match billed as 'The Championship of Great Britain and The World'. The manager of the Edinburgh side detailed her pre-match analysis:
"I am confident we will win. It is a matter of the kick and rush tactics of the English against the traditional craft of the Scots"
However, Dick Kerrs defeated the Edinburgh side 5-1. The following year, Edinburgh Ladies gained their revenge in the return match with a hat-trick scored by Nancy 'Cannonball' Thompson.
Women continued to play international games throughout the 1940s and 1950s, and in 1962 the Women's FA was formed in England. Almost 200 clubs were members of this organisation by the time the men's FAs agreed to formally recognise them in 1973.
In Scotland, the SFA granted official recognition to the Scottish Women's FA in September 1974. With this support, the women's game continued to grow. Today, there are over 900 registered players, 28 senior clubs and 16 under-sixteen sides playing in the National Leagues in Scotland.
The Scottish National Museum of Football would like to thank Margo McCuaig for her help with this article.