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History of Munitionettes in Football

History of Munitionettes in Football

On 4th August, 1914, England declared war on Germany. The role of women changed dramatically during the First World War. As men left jobs to fight overseas, they were replaced by women.

Women filled many jobs brought into existence by wartime needs. As a result the number of women employed increased from 3,224,600 in July, 1914 to 4,814,600 in January 1918. Nearly 200,000 women were employed in government departments. Half a million became clerical workers in private offices. Women worked as conductors on trams and buses. A quarter of a million worked on the land. The greatest increase of women workers was in engineering. Over 700,000 of these women worked in the highly dangerous munitions industry.

The women working in factories began to play football during lunch-breaks. Teams were formed and on Christmas Day in 1916, a game took place between Ulverston Munitions Girls and another group of local women. The munitionettes won 11-5. Soon afterwards, a game between munitions factories in Swansea and Newport. The Hackney Marshes National Projectile Factory formed a football team and played against other factories in London.

David Lloyd George, the British Prime Minister, encouraged these games as it helped reinforce the image of women doing the jobs normally done by men now needed to fight on the Western Front. This was especially important after the introduction of conscription in 1916. These matches also helped to raise money for wartime charities.

Alfred Frankland worked in the offices of the Dick, Kerr factory in Preston. During the First World War the company produced locomotives, cable drums, pontoon bridges, cartridge boxes and munitions. By 1917 it was producing 30,000 shells per week. Frankland used to watch the young women workers from his office window, kicking the ball around in their dinner-breaks. Alice Norris, one of the young women who worked at the factory later recalled these games: "We used to play at shooting at the cloakroom windows. they were little square windows and if the boys beat us at putting a window through we had to buy them a packet of Woodbines, but if we beat them they had to buy us a bar of Five Boys chocolate."

Grace Sibbert eventually emerged as the leader of the women who enjoyed playing football during the dinner-breaks. Born on 13th October, 1891, Grace's husband took part in the Battle of the Somme and in 1916 had been captured by the German Army and was at the time in a POW camp. Alfred Frankland suggested to Grace Sibbert that the women should form a team and play charity matches. Sibbert liked the idea and Frankland agreed to became the manager of the team.

Frankland arranged for the women to play a game on Christmas Day 1917, in aid of the local hospital for wounded soldiers at Moor Park. Frankland persuaded Preston North End to allow the women to play the game at their ground at Deepdale. It was the first football game to be played on the ground since the Football League programme was cancelled after the outbreak of the First World War. Over 10,000 people turned up to watch the game. After paying out the considerable costs of putting on the game, Frankland was able to donate £200 to the hospital (£41,000 in today's money).

Dick Kerr's beat the Arundel Courthard Foundry, 4-0. They went onto play and defeat other factories based in Barrow-in-Furness and Bolton. The stars of the team included the captain, Alice Kell, the centre-forward, Florrie Redford, and the hard-tackling defender, Lily Jones.

At the end of the First World War most women lost their jobs in the munitions factories and munitionette teams came to an end. David J. Williamson argued in Belles of the Ball (1991): "Nor surprisingly, it was extremely difficult for many men to accept the idea of ladies playing what had always been regarded as a male preserve, their sport. Those who had been away at the front during the Great War would have had no real idea as to how the country was changing in their absence; how the role of their womenfolk within society was beginning to change quite dramatically, responding to the opportunity they had been given."

We have had for two years many struggles and much strife in our ranks. This was inevitable after the great upheaval of the World War and the Russian Revolution that shook all of our organizations to their foundations and put every one of our old theories and dogmas to the acid test. Every one of us was compelled to revise some of his theories and some of his plans. It was no more than natural, I might say it was inevitable, that in the beginning we should have some confusion and some disintegration.


Tag: Munitionettes

Munitions workers began to complain of headaches and nausea and skin conditions, like hives. Constant exposure to toxic chemicals turned the hair and skin of these women a brilliant shade of yellow, or orange. Expectant “Canary Girls’ gave birth to bright yellow “Canary Babies”.

Since the age of antiquity, heavy weapons have tilted the scales of battlefield strategy. The first catapult was developed in Syracuse, in 339 BC. The Roman catapult of the 1st century BC hurled 14-pound stone balls against fixed fortifications. The age of gunpowder brought new and ghastly capabilities to artillery. In 1453, the terrifying siege guns Mehmed II faced the walls of Constantinople, hurling 150-pound missiles from barrels, wide enough to swallow a grown man.

Monument to Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II, Edirne, East Thrace, Turkey

Such weapons were slow to reload and sometimes, unreliable. Mehmed’s monsters took a full three hours to fire. Seven years later, King James II of Scotland was killed when his own gun, exploded.

This experimental three-shot cannon belonging to Henry VIII burst, with predictable results for anyone standing nearby.

By the Napoleonic wars, artillery caused more battlefield casualties than any other weapon system.

At that time such weapons were virtually always, loaded at the muzzle. The first breech loaders came about in the 14 th century but it would take another 500 years, before precision manufacturing made such weapons reliable, and plentiful.

Breech loading vastly increased rate-of-fire capabilities. By the end of the 19th century, technological advances brought new and hideous capabilities to what Josef Stalin would come to call, the “God of War’.

Heretofore, the massive recoil of such weapons required a period of time to re-set, re-aim and reload. In the 1890s, French soldier Joseph Albert DePort solved that problem with a damping system enabling the barrel to recoil, leaving the gun in place. Recoilless weapons could now be equipped with shields keeping gun crews as close as possible while smokeless powder meant that gunners could clearly see what they were shooting at.

By World War 1, trained crews serving a French 75 could fire once every two seconds. Massed artillery fired with such horrifying rapidity as to resemble the sound, of drums.

This clip is five minutes long. Imagine finding yourself under “drumfire”, for days on end.

While guns of this type were aimed by lines of sight, howitzers fired missiles in high parabolic trajectories to fall on the heads, of the unlucky.

The great Field Marshall Helmuth von Moltke (the elder) once said, “No battle plan ever survives contact with the enemy”. So it was in the tiny Belgian city of Ypres where the German war of movement met with weapons of the industrial revolution.

A million men were brought to this place, to kill each other. The first Battle for Ypres, there would be others, brought together more firepower than entire wars of an earlier age. The losses are hard to get your head around. The British Expeditionary Force (BEF) alone suffered 56,000 casualties including 8,000 killed, 30,000 maimed and another 18,000 missing, of whom roughly one-third, were dead.

British 18-pounder

The breakdown is harder to get at for the other combatants but, all in, Germany suffered 135,000 casualties, France 85,000 and Belgium, 22,000. The three week struggle for Ypres cost the lives of 75,000 men, enough to fill the Athens Olympic Stadium, in Greece. Soldiers on all sides dug frantically into the ground, to shelter from what Private Ernst Jünger called, the “Storm of Steel”.

First drum fire in the war, in the Champagne, Lasted 75 hours, from Sept. 22 to 25. Was directed against 20 Miles of the German Front. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

The French alone expended 2,155,862 shells during the Anglo-French offensive called the second battle of Artois, fought May 9 through June 18, 1915, a fruitless effort to capitalize on German defenses, weakened by the diversion of troops to the eastern front. The objective, to flatten the German “Bulge” in the Artois-Arras sector.

Immediately to the French left, the British 6th army under Sir John French was to advance on May 9 in support of the French offensive, taking the villages of Aubers, Fromelles and Le Maisnil and the elevation known as Aubers Ridge.

The battle of Aubers was an unmitigated disaster. The man-killing shrapnel rounds so valued by pre-war strategists were as nothing, against fortified German earthworks. No ground was taken, no tactical advantage gained despite British losses, ten times that on the German side.

War correspondent Colonel Charles à Court Repington sent a telegram to The Times, complaining of the lack of high-explosive shells. On May 14 The Times headline read: “Need for shells: British attacks checked: Limited supply the cause: A Lesson From France”. The article placed blame squarely on the government of Herbert Asquith who had stated as recently as April 20, that the army had sufficient ammunition.

“We had not sufficient high explosives to lower the enemy’s parapets to the ground … The want of an unlimited supply of high explosives was a fatal bar to our success”.

The Times, May 14, 1915

For British politics at home, the information fell as a bombshell, precipitating a scandal known as the Shell Crisis of 1915.

Governments were slow at first to understand the prodigious appetites, of this war. Fixed trench lines led to new rail construction capable of providing cataracts of munitions, to front lines. The problem came from a munitions industry, unable to supply such demands.

Men shipped off to the war by the millions leaving jobs vacant and families at home, without income. Women represented a vast pool of untapped labor. Despite social taboos against women working outside the home, wives, sisters and mothers came flooding into the workplace.

By the end of the war some three million women joined the workforce a third of whom, worked in munitions factories.

Ever conscious of husbands, sons and sweethearts at the front, women worked grueling hours under dangerous conditions. “Munitionettes” manufactured cordite propellants and trinitrotoluene (TNT) explosives, hand filling projectiles from individual bullets to giant shells.

At the front, the war was an all-devouring monster consuming men and munitions at rates unimagined, in earlier conflicts. During the first two weeks of the 3rd Battle for Ypres, better known as Passchendaele, British, Australian and Canadian artillery fired 4,283,550 shells at their German adversary.

Munitions workers began to complain of headaches and nausea and skin conditions, like hives. Constant exposure to toxic chemicals turned the hair and skin of these women a brilliant shade of yellow, or orange. Expectant “Canary Girls” gave birth to bright yellow “Canary Babies”.

Nothing could be done and the yellow tended to fade over time but not a very different yellow, caused by toxic jaundice.

The work was well paid but exhausting, often seven days a week. Grueling 14-hour shifts led to girls as young as 14 coming into the workforce, but it wasn’t enough. “History of Yesterday” writes that two women on average died every week from toxic chemicals, and workplace accidents. One 1918 explosion at the National Shell Filling Factory №6 near Chilwell caused the death of 130 women.

The modern reader can scarcely imagine the crushing burdens of these women caring for families at home and ever conscious of sons, brothers and sweethearts, struggling to survive in this all consuming war.

The canary colored hair and skin would fade in time, but not the long term health effects of daily exposure to toxic substances. It didn’t matter. Twenty years later another generation would do it, all over again.


How women’s football emerged from the munitions factories of WWI

Read the untold story of the women who stepped into the mens’ shoes in the factories and on the football pitch, too.

On 18 May 1918, some 22,000 people crowded into the stands at Ayresome Park in North East England, the home of Middlesbrough F.C since its construction in 1903.

But the cheering fans hadn’t turned up to see men play. In fact, there were no local men’s football clubs at the time, since so many of the men in the area had joined the army to fight in World War I. The teams had all been disbanded. In their place was a network of female-only clubs, populated by women who had also stepped into male roles in the munitions factories, otherwise known as munitionettes.

So on 18 May it was two all-female teams who square off against each other in the final of the 1918 Munitionettes Cup. It was two all-female teams that for whom thousands and thousands of people cheered and bought tickets with their hard-earned cash to see. (Proceeds went to funding the war effort).

On one side were the Bolkclow, Vaughn & Co team from Middlesbrough, so named after the factory in which the players worked. On the other was Blyth Spartans Ladies, formed the year before in July 1917 and led by 18-year-old Bella Reay and Jennie Morgan, who arrived to play at the stadium directly from her wedding ceremony.

We wouldn’t have women’s football in the UK today without the munitionettes who worked in factories during WWI

Reay was a formidable player. Born in Cowpen, Northumberland, she was the daughter of a coal miner and eagerly accepted a job in a munitions factory during WWI. But she was also a natural with a football. She, along with her teammates, often took a football into the factory to kick around on their lunchbreak. In her first season with Blyth Spartans Ladies, Reay’s team were unbeaten in 33 games and she herself scored 133 times.

In that Munitionettes Cup final in Ayresome Park, Reay scored a hat trick. Morgan, fresh from her wedding earlier that day, scored two goals, clinching the cup for Blyth Spartans Ladies 5-0.

Reay’s story is just one of many, but one that is rarely told. Over the course of WWI between the years 1914-1918, more than 900,000 women joined the two million Brits already working in munitions factories making bombs, shells, bullets and cartridges imperative to the British war effort. Before the war, these jobs were considered ill-suited for women, but with the sheer number of men at the front, factories had no choice but to open their doors to female workers.

For many of these women it was the first job they had ever had and they relished the camaraderie, teamwork and occasionally a change in wardrobe. (Some factories allowed their female employees to wear trousers instead of long dresses.)

Munitionettes worked in factories, making shells, casings and ammunition for the war

“Working in munitions factories was dark, cold and dangerous, especially as the Munitionettes were handling explosives on a daily basis,” Ancestry’s genealogist Simon Pearce tells Stylist.co.uk. (To find out whether your ancestors worked as Munitionettes, or what their role was in the war, visit Ancestry for free access between 8 November and 12 November). “Munitionettes were often well paid, but worked long hours, seven days a week.”

Factory owners were concerned about the impact of such intense manual labour on their female employees. “Most factories employed a welfare officer to monitor the health, wellbeing and behaviour of their new female work force,” Amanda Mason, a historian at the Imperial War Museum told The Independent. “Sport, especially football, was encouraged.” The idea was that sport would help the women expend all that excitement and excess energy from their newfound employment.

The women, including Reay, Morgan and also Lily Parr – a fellow munitionette footballer who played for Dick, Kerr’s Ladies and scored more than 900 goals over the course of her career, playing to crowds well into the 53,000 range – took to the sport with brio. (Some women’s football games had been played before WWI, but without much success or popularity.)

Traditionally, women had been discouraged from over-exertion in sport and were told to avoid the more physically active disciplines. Games like netball and softball, for example, were devised as alternatives to the more intense ‘masculine’ games of basketball and baseball. Women’s tennis was played as a shorter match.

The work in the munitions factories was back-breakingly hard, but the women took to it with enthusiasm

But the football that the munitionettes played was as full of gusto and rough and tumble as the men’s games, a sign of how prescriptive gender roles were slowly changing in the early 1900s. “They could be quite violent,” historian Patrick Brennan, author of The Munitionettes: A History of Women’s Football in North East England During the Great War, told the BBC in 2014. “Kicking and hacking ones opponent was quite common amongst the girls. And Bella herself commented on the fact that she sometimes came up against some big, hard ladies and she had to give as good as she got.”

There were some critics who believed that a woman’s place wasn’t on the football field, and certainly wasn’t on the football field in a pair of shorts, as the uniform dictated.

But, more frequently, communities rallied behind their all-female football teams. “I have heard… some very uncharitable and uncalled for criticism of the respectability of the young women playing these matches,” a letter from an anonymous munitioneer to the Blyth News in 1917 read. “They are doing their bit by work all honour to them… Some of them are a bit boisterous, but they all have hearts as big as a lion.”

In November 1918 as the armistice was signed and WWI came to an end, women were forced to leave the factories and the football games that they so loved. By 5 December, 1921, the Football Association decreed that football grounds should not be used for women’s matches, a ban that was not lifted until 1971. At the time, the captain of Plymouth Ladies said that the ban was “purely sex prejudice” and labelled the FA “a hundred years behind the times.”

Lily Parr, that stellar forward from Dick, Kerr’s Ladies FC, was inaugurated into the National Football Museum Hall of Fame in 2002. In 2017 more than four million people watched the semifinals of the Women’s European Championships, in which England faced off against the Netherlands, the largest televised audience for a women’s football game in the UK.

None of this would have been possible without the munitionettes. Speaking in a video as part of the Royal British Legion’s campaign giving thanks to those who served in WWI as a celebration of the centenary since the war’s end, Nikita Parris, the current all-time top scorer in the Women’s Super League, highlighted the legacy of the munitionettes in paving the way for footballers like herself.

“You showed us women can strike the ball as well as men,” she says in the video. “You paved the way for women like me, giving us the chance to play the game we love. Thank you.”

Stylist’s Visible Women campaign is dedicated to raising the profiles of brilliant women past and present. See more Visible Women stories here.

Images: Getty, Unsplash, Ancestry


More than a game: A history of male and female football stars of South Tyneside

More than a Game showcases memorabilia, cups, kits and photos from the 19th Century to present day.

Highlights include a cartoon of tough player "Bumper" Towell and a snap of a women's cup winning team with England player Mary Lyons from 1919.

The free exhibition is at South Shields Museum and Art Gallery.

Curator Adam Bell said: "This has been a fascinating exhibition to research and put together.

"A real passion for football bonds communities and generations - much like the industries that created these communities.

"It has been fantastic to meet people willing to share their memorabilia and contribute their own reminiscences."

More than a Game celebrates the centenary of South Shields FC's entry to the Football League and charts the history of the local team, which was first founded in 1888 and has gone through various incarnations.

During World War One, many munitions factories set up football teams for female employees, including Palmers Shipbuilding Company in Hebburn.

Mary Lyons, from Jarrow, played for the Palmers Munitionettes and made her England debut at St James' Park aged just 15 in 1918 and scored in 3-2 win against Scotland.

She was and still remains the youngest player to play and score for England in a senior international match.

The National Football Museum has also loaned vintage football board games, as well as material associated with South Shields-born Stan Mortensen, the only player to score a hat-trick in a Wembley FA Cup Final - when Blackpool beat Bolton 4-3 in 1953.

On display is a cartoon of "Bumper Bill Towell" who played for Jarrow FC in the 1920s.

The show also has memorabilia associated with James Windham, who played for Jarrow and South Shields teams before captaining Boldon Colliery AFC on the eve of World War One.


After the match

However after 1896, the women’s game did not continue its upward trajectory. There were many reasons for this, hostility from a majority of men was the main reason why so many female players used false names, the ‘novelty factor’ wearing off but also splits between the organisers and above all, financial instability. For twenty years, women’s football virtually disappeared, until it revived during the First World War. From 1915, the war solved the crucial problems of acceptance and stable finances. ‘Munitionettes’ in war factories provided lots of young working-class women who really wanted to play. The factory owners provided the necessary organisation and financial support. There was an explosion of women’s teams in places like Preston and Coventry.

The new surge of interest in the women’s game carried on after the war. Just like in 1896 there was hope that the corner was well and truly turned but late in 1921 came the deliberate decision of the Football Association to outlaw the women’s game. Meaning that the women’s game could capitalize on her new found popularity and could not develop into something professional and coherent. The ban lasted fifty years, since the 1970s, the women’s game has slowly revived, gaining a new mass audience through television. Just like in 1896 and 1921 it still has to fight hard for acceptance .


The Munitionettes: Dick, Kerr's Ladies and Beyond

The Great War (1914-18) saw a new influx of women entering the workforce for the first time. The number of women in work jumped from around 3 million to over 4 million. Many of these new workers were in the munitions factories which had sprung up, or been adapted from existing factories, in response to the needs of the war effort. The working conditions were hard and the materials with which they were working were dangerous. This presented those working in the factories with health risks, in an effort to combat this the workers were encouraged to take part in sporting activities. Football was the sport which proved to be the most popular and in almost every munitions factory there was soon a football team. Football continued to demonstrate itself as a national love affair for the British people, something which remains true to this day. Arguably the most famous of all the teams was the Dick, Kerr’s Ladies Football club who were based in Preston. Over the course of their long history they had a myriad of successes. But other teams also had notable moments there was an international match held in Ireland and the Munitionettes Cup held between 1917 and 1918. These games constantly drew in crowds of at least 10,000 and often much more. Sadly, this period of the women’s game came to an abrupt end in 1921 which the FA banning women from playing at their grounds. Although, of course, this didn’t actually stop women from playing.

The Dick, Kerr’s Ladies Football Club began life like the other teams of the time, simply as a recreation outlet for factory workers, but an onlooking factory admin by the name of Alfred Frankland saw in them a great potential. As he watched them out his office window he noticed very early on their brilliance and wanted to capitalised on it. He formed them into a focused team and set about organising matches for them to play. Most of the games between these munitionettes teams were used as a mean to raise money for the war effort, over the years they raised many thousands of pounds. As Will Buckley, semi ironically, notes in the Guardian “they worked hard making munitions and then they played hard raising money for soldiers injured by munitions.” Beyond their wartime efforts, those who played for Dick, Kerr’s demonstrated tremendous footballing ability and a mental strength which enabled them to perform under pressure. Early on they showed that they would not wilt under pressure or in front of large crowds in ways that other teams might. Such was their success against teams from the British Isles that a team from Paris was invited over in 1920 after the war had ended. In the four matches against the French side, Dick, Kerr’s won two, drew one and lost one. In the opener of this series, held at Deepdale, the home of Preston North End, a crowd of 25,000 turned out to watch. The women were showing that it was not simply an absence of men playing that made them popular but rather that they were quite excellent. In the same year, they played St Helen’s at Goodison Park running out 5-0 victors courtesy of a captain’s hat trick from Alice Kell. 53,000 watched this one with 14,000 turned away.

Their success was not popular with the FA and in 1921 they finally made the decision to ban women from playing on FA grounds. This was a follow on from the ban of playing men’s teams dating back to the time of the British Ladies Football Club in the 1890s. Nevertheless, Dick, Kerr would not stop playing. For one they had fortunately acquired their own ground in 1918, Ashton Park, but Frankland also made the decisions to take them on a tour of America. And there they would play men’s teams. During the tour they played nine fixtures, losing just three. One player they faced, a star goalkeeper, Pete Renzulli said of the team “We were national champions and we had a hell of a job beating them.” Frankland’s management career record in charge of Dick, Kerr’s is only rivalled in the 20th Century by the Harlem Globetrotters. In 752 matches, he won 703, drew 33 and lost only 16. They boasted players such as Lily Parr who scored between 900 and 1000 career goals which leaves her only second behind Pele in all time records. She also became the first ever women to be inducted in the National Football Museum Hall of Fame in 2002. They were truly a team of the ages, but as I noted above there were many others at the time who also lead the way in this sport.

From north to south and across the whole of the British Isles, teams sprung up in large numbers. Football fast became “the sport of the munitions girls” (Gail Newsham, author of A League of their Own- 1994). On Boxing Day 1917, one of the first women’s internationals since the late 1800s was held in Ireland. The North of Ireland Ladies was made up mostly from members of the Lurgan Blues and the Belfast Whites. The English side, Tyneside Ladies, was made up from a large group of teams from across the North East. The final exhibition match was “the finale of a three day programme of events” and once again the aim was the raise money for the war effort. The North East was also the home of the Munitionettes Cup, founded in 1917 with the final held a year later on 18 May 1918. In front of a crowd of 22,000 at the home of Middlesbrough, Ayresome Park, Blyth Spartans Ladies beat Bolkclov, Vaughan and Co 5-0. Bella Raey scored three. Raey was another stunning player from this era. In her opening season for the Spartans she scored 133 goals in 33 games, that’s an average of over four goals per game. The Cup was showing that women didn’t need to play “less aggressive” sports like netball but could compete was “gusto” and physicality in a sport such as football. Not only that, but as I keep reiterating, they were playing attractive football. This, sadly, would be their downfall.

As with Nettie Honeyball’s British Ladies Football Club, the response to all these teams was incredibly mixed. There were some who still believed football was not a sport which should be played by women but equally many communities rallied around the women. When the Paris side visited in the spring of 1920 they were treated warmly by crowds lining the streets. Unlike in the 1800s, where the BLFC had faced violence from fans, this was rare of the munitionettes. The large crowds were turning out because they loved to watch the teams play. It was exciting football. One letter to the Blyth News in 1917 said “..they all have hearts of a lion.” There were some men, as David J Williamson notes in his book Belles of the Ball, who found it hard to accept “how the role of their womenfolk within society was beginning to change quite dramatically, responding to the opportunity they had been given.” I would note the it was more than women taking the most of an opportunity “given to them”, these women were pioneers and would continue to fight for their right to play following the ban of 1921. The FA noted that the reason behind the ban was that football was “unsuitable for females” in their official documentations. Behind closed doors it was clear it was something darker than this, they knew that the women were playing more attractive football than men and were threatened by it. Who knows what might have happened if they had not taken such aggressive and blatantly sexist action. The game might be in a very different state than it is today. Regardless, as Nikita Parris, Lyon striker, said these players showed that “women could strike the ball as well as men” and in doing so paved the way for the future generations.


The wartime women footballers: Remembering the days when 50,000 fans would turn out to watch

It may be hard to believe now, but the beautiful game was dominated by women almost a century ago, after a generation of male footballers was sent to fight, and die, in the First World War.

For women had not only taken on the work done by the hundreds of thousands of men sent to the trenches, but their sporting activities too.

Ladies teams, named after the munitions factories in which they worked, sprang up across the country. They filled a vacuum which had been left by the sheer numbers of men who had left the country. Many never made it back and with men’s football teams decimated by the casualties of war, the Football League suspended all of its matches at the end of the 1914/15 season.

And while women played in skirts, not shorts, and were originally treated as a novelty - their skills and ability soon saw them taken seriously, with huge crowds coming to watch them play.

Around 53,000 fans watched a Boxing Day match in 1920 between St Helens Ladies and Dick, Kerr Ladies at Goodison Park – a crowd bigger than most teams in the premiership can attract today.

The best women’s football team at that time was Dick, Kerr Ladies in Preston, which was founded in 1917. Its star player Lily Parr was the greatest goal scorer in England history – male or female. She scored more than a thousand goals during a 31-year stint at the club between 1920 and 1951. Her achievements were finally recognised in 2002, when she was inducted into the National Football Museum’s Hall of Fame in 2002.

The legacy of the forgotten women’s footballers from the home front will be recognised in a number of special programmes being broadcast tomorrow. Accounts of how women replaced men not only in the workplace, but also on the football pitch, are among a vast collection of 1,400 stories to commemorate the Great War, part of the biggest season of programming ever commissioned by the BBC.

Amanda Mason, a historian at the Imperial War Museum, said: “During the First World War, more than 900,000 women worked in munitions factories. Most factories employed a welfare officer to monitor the health, wellbeing and behaviour of their new female work force. Sport, especially football, was encouraged.”

Patrick Brennan, author of "The Munitionettes: A history of Women’s Football in the North-East during the First World War" said: “For a few short minutes on a Saturday afternoon the girls, and the spectators, could escape from the horrors of war.”

Yet in 1921, the Football Association killed off the rise of women’s football by effectively banning clubs from allowing women’s games to be played at their grounds.

Mr Brennan added: “Because of the FA’s attitude the women’s game gradually disappeared and it wasn’t until the 1960s that the women’s game revived. In 1971 it was recognised by the FA that they could no longer ban women from their grounds and the game has grown from there. If there hadn’t been the ban in 1921 who knows, women’s football may even have come to rival the men’s game.”

The modern women’s game is making up for lost ground, with 30,000 people watching FA Women’s Super League matches last season. More women play football than any other team sport and women’s football is the third largest participation team sport in England, after men’s football and men’s cricket. A million viewers watched the FA Women’s Cup final on TV last year.

And an increasing recognition of the achievements of the wartime women’s football teams is inspiring a new generation of professional women footballers.

England international striker Ellen White, who has more than 40 caps and played in the Great Britain team at London 2012, said: “They are inspirational women, the amount of people who went to the games was just phenomenal and we aspire to have that many people watch us. I’m definitely inspired by them.”

The 25-year-old is confident that the women’s game will continue to grow: “The amount of people we had at the Olympics was amazing, there were about 70,000 people at Wembley. The interest is definitely there.”


More than a game: A history of male and female football stars of South Tyneside

More than a Game showcases memorabilia, cups, kits and photos from the 19th Century to present day.

Highlights include a cartoon of tough player "Bumper" Towell and a snap of a women's cup winning team with England player Mary Lyons from 1919.

The free exhibition is at South Shields Museum and Art Gallery.

Curator Adam Bell said: "This has been a fascinating exhibition to research and put together.

"A real passion for football bonds communities and generations - much like the industries that created these communities.

"It has been fantastic to meet people willing to share their memorabilia and contribute their own reminiscences."

More than a Game celebrates the centenary of South Shields FC's entry to the Football League and charts the history of the local team, which was first founded in 1888 and has gone through various incarnations.

During World War One, many munitions factories set up football teams for female employees, including Palmers Shipbuilding Company in Hebburn.

Mary Lyons, from Jarrow, played for the Palmers Munitionettes and made her England debut at St James' Park aged just 15 in 1918 and scored in 3-2 win against Scotland.

She was and still remains the youngest player to play and score for England in a senior international match.

The National Football Museum has also loaned vintage football board games, as well as material associated with South Shields-born Stan Mortensen, the only player to score a hat-trick in a Wembley FA Cup Final - when Blackpool beat Bolton 4-3 in 1953.

On display is a cartoon of "Bumper Bill Towell" who played for Jarrow FC in the 1920s.

The show also has memorabilia associated with James Windham, who played for Jarrow and South Shields teams before captaining Boldon Colliery AFC on the eve of World War One.


When women’s football was bigger than men’s

Thanks to greater media attention and airplay in recent years, you might think women’s football has never been more popular. But you’d be wrong. For those who still like to criticise the women’s game as being somehow less important or commercially viable, here’s the inconvenient truth: women’s football in the UK was once even more popular than the men’s, and would have become bigger and bigger if it hadn’t been forcibly curtailed by the FA.

It’s a story that defies the stereotypes of sport and the sexes, and has its roots in the dark years of World War One, when the nation’s young men departed en masse for the trenches. In their abrupt absence, women found themselves thrust from domestic drudgery into factories across the country. It was tough work – many women, known as “munitionettes”, were tasked with creating armaments, and had to work amid dangerous machinery and noxious chemicals. Health and welfare advisors were dispatched by the government to keep tabs on the well-being of this new generation of workers, and encouraged sports as a respite from the harsh environment.

Factories began to set up their own women’s football teams, and before long one team stood out as the most popular. This was Dick, Kerr’s Ladies FC, so-named for the Preston-based Dick, Kerr & Co munitions factory the players worked at. Founded in 1917, the team rapidly became the talk of the town, drawing thousands of onlookers to their very first match. As with other women’s teams, their games raised money for charity and the war effort, and the concept of females playing football was generally regarded as a wholesome novelty. But the sheer popularity of Dick, Kerr’s Ladies FC helped change that perception, and establish women’s football as a real, legitimate sport in its own right.

'Lily had 'a kick like a mule' (and) was the only person I knew who could lift a dead ball, the old heavy leather ball, from the left wing over to me on the right.'

The team even had a celebrity player in the looming, formidable form of Lily Parr. She was an awesome presence on the pitch – almost six feet tall and capable of hammering the ball into the back of the net with frightening force. One account has her literally breaking a male goalie’s wrist with the force of a ball, and a teammate recalled how Lily had “a kick like a mule” and “was the only person I knew who could lift a dead ball, the old heavy leather ball, from the left wing over to me on the right and nearly knock me out with the force of the shot”.

Praised even by male footballers for her power and skill, Lily Parr was a hothead who was sometimes sent off for fighting with rival players on the pitch. She also had a spiky sense of humour, once walking into the changing room, surveying her teammates wrapping their ankles and knees in bandages and support stockings, and quipping, “Well, I don't know about Dick, Kerr’s Ladies football team, it looks like a trip to Lourdes to me."

On boxing day that same year, their match against a rival women’s team was watched by a whopping 53,000 people at Goodison Park, with more than 14,000 more potential spectators locked outside the stadium. The ladies were bona fide celebrities, flooded with offers to play across the country. But the bubble soon burst – pricked by the FA itself.

Towards the end of 1921, the FA made the shock move of effectively banning mainstream women’s football. In a meeting, their members cited “complaints having been made as to football being played by women”, and claimed that “the game of football is quite unsuitable for females and ought not to be encouraged”. The women’s teams were no longer permitted to play on official FA grounds, bringing this golden era of women’s football to a crushing end.

This was largely down to straightforward prejudice, and the worry that the men’s game was in danger of being completely overshadowed. Frank Walt, secretary of Newcastle United, echoed widespread sentiment in the upper ranks of the FA when he declared that “the game of football is not a woman’s game” and “the time has come when the novelty has worn off and the charitable motives are being lost sight of, so that the use of the professionals’ ground is rightly withdrawn.”

Yet there were possible political reasons as well. Teams like Dick, Kerr’s Ladies FC, as well as raising money for charity, had also been getting involved in left-wing causes, such as fund-raising for miners protesting wage cuts in 1921. As Barbara Jacobs, author of The Dick’s Kerr’s Ladies, points out, women’s football had “become a politically dangerous sport, to those who felt the trade unions to be their enemies”.

That said, many men were appalled at the resolution. Major Cecil Kent, secretary of Liverpool FC, said that “the only thing I now hear from the man in the street is ‘Why have the FA got their knife into girls’ football? What have the girls done except raise large sums for charity and play the game? Are their feet heavier on the turf than the men's feet?’”

Women’s teams continued to play on non-FA pitches, but the lack of media visibility inevitably dimmed the game’s allure. It’s only now, all these decades later, that women players – picking up the baton from Lily Parr and other trailblazers – are being given their rightful place in the limelight.


The Football History Boys

Like Football? Love Its History! 2014 FBA winners and 2019 Finalists!

Just Why Do We Love Football? A Historical Perspective

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In September I started my PGCE course with the view of qualifying to become a primary school teacher. In fact, it was one of our 'P.E.' training days which inspired this piece. During a workshop on the subject a great deal of the learning was done with footballs and volleyballs in order to generate an idea of what could be done which each apparatus - throwing, catching and of course kicking. Within a few minutes a fair number of the students, myself included, were doing keep-ups, passing and shooting into an imaginary goal, leaving one coursemate a little baffled - she asked me, "why do people love football so much!?" - which got me thinking. why indeed?

Over the last three years since we set up The Football History Boys - Gareth and I seemed to have each focused on specific eras of the game's illustrious past, with the Victorian era being one of certain intrigue. So this is where we begin, with the games origins - did people love it from the start? The simple answer would be yes - but why? Sport owes much of its beginnings to Victorian Britain with the codification of numerous 'modern' day games like tennis, rugby and of course football. The Victorian thirst for active competition and social recognition helped to fuel this hysteria around physical exercise.

Pre-War football spectators

So what did football bring to the table? The common perception of football is that is was a predominately working-class sport from the start - not necessarily true. Football cannot really lend itself to any particular class of people, indeed it was established as a codified sport by public-school alumni and brought to the masses via middle-class business men. Football can be argued, was something that working-class men did, thus leading to it being part of their wider social 'image'. In 1891, the Coventry Herald wrote a piece on the phenomenon of football and its unwavering popularity,


It would seem that the sport's simplicity was another reason for its rise in popularity - a game of football can be created in the back-garden the park or anywhere two jumpers can be placed to represent goalposts. Football was active, engaging and represented more than just personal pride. The element of teamwork and identity helped bring the game to new levels of commitment and livelihood. People now had something tangible and representative of their cities, towns and villages - an opportunity to promote their pride to the wider nation.

Eric Hobsbawm's words highlight the power football truly has over an entire nation. Is this why we truly love football? Indeed, when finding yourself at an international football match it is common to see a plethora of symbols which highlight national pride - flags, anthems, songs and even war metaphors are all used to bring together a collection of people. For myself, I have never felt as proud to be 'Welsh' as when Chris Coleman's side qualified for the European Championships in June. It is not a feeling uncommon with the rest of the nation - indeed social media would provide a wealth of tweets containing words like 'proud to be Welsh' or 'Cymru am Byth'.

Wales qualify for Euro 2016

It is easy to get side-tracked when writing about why we love the game - indeed I could probably write for days about my own personal passion for football, but that would not be representative of everyone! In 1893, Welsh newspaper the Montgomery Express reported on football's new found role as the 'national sport' of Great Britain,

At The Football History Boys we have written fairly extensively about the role football played in the First and Second World Wars. In a time of disillusionment and a collective uncertainty - the game provided a basis for togetherness and reality. The Football League was not even suspended until 1915, a year after conflict had begun, why? The reason was simple, football was seen as something people could rely on, when all else was failing. Eventually, footballers would succumb to the call of war - playing key roles in the theatre of conflict. Nevertheless, even in the most unlikely of places, one thing brought the two sides together on Christmas Day, 1914 - a football match.

Even after 1915 football carried on, this time with the introduction of the women's game. Munitionettes raised money for the war-effort as well as morale. This introduction of the women's game should not be understated - the sheer fact that women were playing football once more offers ideas of freedom and expression. Women could be liberated on the pitch. Of course there was some discourse from the wider misogynistic society - but around the same time, suffrage was granted to females for the first time in the United Kingdom. Sport had played a vital role in achieving this. Despite a later ban on the women's game - it has become stronger than ever in the last 10 years, with the heroics of the Lionesses in Canada proving that football is more than just a 'man's game'.

War time heroes? The Dick, Kerr Ladies

Perhaps football's heyday was in 1923 - the White Horse Cup Final. The fixture between Bolton and West Ham attracted up to 300,000 spectators before kick-off. It is rare that these kind of numbers are ever replicated in any other walk of life. The FA Cup Final by 1923 created a holiday atmosphere - often seeing northern spectators make the pilgrimage to London, to see their team represent them under the watch of the rest of the nation.

It was not just in Britain that a collective enthusiasm for football was found. Following the Second World War, the West German victory in the 1954 World Cup once more showed the power that football has. Indeed, during the War, football was played through 'wartime friendlies' with league players representing various clubs as well as their RAF, Army and Navy teams. In 1954 however, in what has now become known as the 'Miracle of Bern', the sports draw reached new levels. Already achieving somewhat of a revolution due to the reinvention of the game by Ferenc Puskas' Magical Magyars, the Hungarian defeat to West Germany paved the way for a change in Germany's international relations as well as a wave of genuine euphoria throughout the nation - not seen for decades.

Football isn't without its tragedy however, the Munich Air Disaster in 1958 and the Hillsborough Disaster in 1989 has shown that the sport is not immune to devastation. However, it has truly brought out the best (and worst) in people. The general sense of community and collective remembrance has shown that football is something which we can pride ourselves in. The police incompetence in 1989, so disgustingly covered-up for 25 years highlights another side to public perception towards the game. The lies printed in The Sun following the deaths of 96 fans brought the city of Liverpool together as the fight for justice began. To this day the united community and the wider support from all areas of the nation once more showed the power football can have, even in the face of persecution.

Bringing out the best in football fans across the country

In the modern day football is never short of tales concerning economics, sociability and even politics. Just last week Greek players staged a sit-down protest, due to the poor treatment of migrants in the nation. Football's global charm provides the perfect platform to demonstrate an idea to the world. Indeed the World Cup has seen the togetherness of almost every nation on Earth - even in the 2010 World Cup, North Korea qualified and almost drew with Brazil. Football had brought a nation regarded as the most secretive on Earth out of the shadows and on the televisions of more than a billion people worldwide.

So why do we love football? For me, it is from within its power to bring people from all walks of life together as a collective, even if it is just for 90 minutes. Football has affected all of our lives in some way, directly or indirectly. The game's simplicity and adaptability to any location or climate means it can become a source of freedom and expression in societies which often demonstrate anything but. Throughout the last 150 years, we have seen change on an unprecedented scale through technology, society and politics - but football, as a game, has remained relatively unscathed despite economic introduction - it is still 11-a-side, still 90 minutes and still the game of the people.

By Ben Jones - TFHB (Follow me on Twitter @Benny_J and @TFHBs)



Watch the video: 1 έτος από την μεγαλύτερη σφαγή στην ιστορία του ευρωπαϊκού ποδόσφαιρο (January 2022).