Yesterday morning, I had the opportunity to attend the first portion of “The Future of Women’s Soccer” Symposium, hosted by Jean Williams. In her session, Women and Soccer: Research Agendas and Policy Debates, Williams provided a chronological narrative of women’s football, outlining both the triumphs and obstacles that define it. As we all may have realized after reading A Beautiful Game, Williams represents one of the premier intellectuals regarding women’s football and its surrounding history. Her discussion provided great a great factual background on the history of women’s football and elicited key underlying issues that have unfortunately remained persistent throughout the same course of time.
Similar to A Beautiful Game, much of Williams’ narrative revolved around England’s Dick, Kerr’s Ladies F.C, one of the earliest known women’s football teams. In its 828 game history (spanning from 1917 to 1965), Dick, Kerr’s Ladies won 758 games, drew 46, and lost only 24. Led by prolific goal-scorer Lily Parr, Dick’s Kerr Ladies enjoyed an unfathomable amount of success throughout its history. In the roughly 3,000 goals that Dick, Kerr’s Ladies scored throughout its history, it is believed that Parr was on the end of nearly 1,000 of them. Despite drawing typical crowds of 5,000 paying individuals (many of whom were working-class men), the FA placed a ban on women’s football in 1921, halting the ever-growing popularity and success that women’s football had began to garner.
Williams’ research indicates that there has undoubtedly been an unprecedented level of connectivity amongst women active in the football industry since the 1950s. Although the battle has been largely uphill, women footballers have maintained solidarity, and have overcome the constant adversity thrown their way. Whether it be the lack of a singular collection of women football memorabilia –there exists no women’s exhibit in the National Football Museum in Manchester, England– to the binary that separates Men’s and Women’s football, women’s football cannot be defined without paying tribute to the adversities that it had to overcome to get where it is today.
As we can see from this upcoming 2015 World Cup, women can now finally earn full time professions as players. However, just as recently as 1969, there existed an FA ban on women’s football. Although João Havelange pushed for the implementation of a Women’s FIFA World Cup in the late 1980s, Williams postulates that he did so simply as a way to trademark a competition in order to garner a revenue stream.
Although Williams is very confident that the women’s game will continue to grow in popularity and presence, she finds that the binary logic between men’s and women’s football mars some of the progress that has occurred throughout the years. Though there have certainly been enormous expansions for women’s football –such as the new women’s football headquarters facility in Switzerland- Williams hopes that the game we all love will one day only be referred to as “football” rather than “men’s and women’s football.” Williams did not end her discussion by offering answers as to how this might be achieved, but rather, offered issues that we as a society need to discuss before we can find any viable solution. Who benefits from these binaries? Who does not benefit? How might ancillary roles (refs, asst. coaches, administrative positions) become unbiased as well? What can we do to further cement women’s football as a legitimate industry in the sporting world? Although there is no easy answer to any of these questions, I am confident that active discourse will ultimately yield answers, hopefully resulting in a more unbiased football landscape.
(To learn more about the history of women’s football, I suggest that you visit Patrick Brennan’s website: http://www.donmouth.co.uk/womens_football/womens_football.html)