The Forgotten Early History of Women’s Soccer

By | January 22, 2016

Gail Newsham’s book In a League of Their Own! offers a unique account of the early history of women’s soccer in England. There is surprisingly little work on the history of women’s soccer in general, and particularly on its early period. Newsham’s research was pioneering in that she was able to gather together documentation on a particular women’s team that had a remarkable arc in the early 1920s. She first presented this material on a website, and then in a first and now a second, expanded, edition of the book. As a result of her work, their story — and the larger story of how women’s football flourished for a time, before a 1921 ban by the Football Association, has helped reshape the way we think about the contemporary women’s game.

Jean Williams, a leading scholar of women’s football, offered this brief history of women’s soccer last year as part of a blog series about the 2015 Women’s World Cup at Sports Illustrated.

Newsham’s book mixes many biographical details of players and their families, and also offers a portrait of life in British society during and after World War I.

We’re reading this book this week in the Duke University class “Soccer Politics,” and asking students to connect the history presented in the work with some broader questions about women’s soccer:

  1. What were the reasons and justifications for the FA ban on women’s soccer in 1921?
  2. How does knowing the story about the early history of women’s soccer, and the FA ban, change the we might look at contemporary debates about women’s soccer?
  3. What are the similarities and differences in the situation of women’s soccer today and in the early 1920s?

In addition, we’re encouraging our students, in addition to their responses to some of these questions, to see if they can find other material on the web, in various languages, relating to the history of women’s soccer in other parts of the globe. Here are a few great resources to use to begin:

The History of Women’s Football Blog

The Upfront/Onside Series at Sports Illustrated

Additionally, this lecture given by Jean Williams at Duke University in the Spring of 2015 (at a symposium on “The Futures of Women’s Soccer”) provides a good overview of the history of women’s soccer.

We look forward to your thoughts and comments!

Category: Women's Soccer

About Laurent Dubois

I am Professor of Romance Studies and History and the Director of the Forum for Scholars & Publics at Duke University. I founded the Soccer Politics blog in 2009 as part of a course on "World Cup and World Politics" taught at Duke University. I'm currently teaching the course under the title "Soccer Politics" here at Duke. My books include Soccer Empire: The World Cup and the Future of France (University of California Press, 2010) and The Language of the Game: How to Understand Soccer (Basic Books, 2018)

47 thoughts on “The Forgotten Early History of Women’s Soccer

  1. jassica

    This enlightening article highlights the forgotten early history of women’s soccer and the remarkable women who defied societal barriers. It celebrates their resilience, passion, and contributions to the sport. The author effectively sheds light on these often-overlooked stories, inspiring us to embrace diversity and continue striving for inclusivity in sports. Thank you for sharing this empowering piece of history!

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  2. Arina Mehk

    Women’s soccer is very important because we also want to play, cheer, motivate and build a team. Thanks for sharing it.

  3. Brenda Robers

    There were a few reasons the FA prohibited ladies’ soccer. The first was that they accepted soccer was not a reasonable game for ladies to play. Another explanation was ladies’ soccer was supposedly not altruistic enough, saying that to a significant part of the returns went to costs passing on to little for a noble cause. In any case, the reality stays that ladies’ soccer had the option to bring 600 pounds up in their first game, which is the identical to 38,000 pounds now.

    The prohibition on ladies’ soccer has made it harder to be a more famous game. This is on the grounds that ladies’ soccer was restricted for such a long time that its not as instilled in the public arena rather than men’s soccer which is seen by numerous individuals to be a piece of history.
    One similitude between the now during the 1920s with respect to ladies’ soccer is that the men’s group is as yet getting particular treatment by the Federation. The men’s groups have better offices and facilities by a wide margin. Something significant that has changed is the ladies’ group is getting substantially more of a spotlight. This should be visible to how much watchers on TV or the stand, as of late they have even added the lady’s groups to the FIFA computer game.

    Similarly as during the 1920s there is an enormous gap in pay between the people’s groups. Marta Vieira da Silva’s, who is one of the soccer players of her time, allegedly makes $400,000 where as Cristiano Ronaldo makes an amazing 79 million.

  4. Nicholas Donadio

    The historical development of women’s soccer and the Dick, Kerr ladies is an amazing story that is unfortunately all but forgotten in our modern day society. A major reason for this ban was the threat that women’s soccer was posing to the simultaneously developing commercialization of the men’s game in the 1920’s in England. The Dick, Kerr ladies were arguably the most popular team in England at the time gaining more spectators than the budding men’s teams including one game in front of 53,000 spectators. The FA association felt that the women were not suited for the sport and therefore should be banned from playing it. They also claimed that the charities to which they were giving the money from were corrupted and too much money was being spent on expenses and not charitable aspects. It seems suspicious and is very likely that the FA association exaggerated the claims in this aspect to provide an excuse for the ban of women’s soccer which was outcompeting the men’s sport.
    This story of the stifling of a women’s sport that was so popular and poised to growth helps to shape our view of the current situation regarding the comparison of the men’s and women’s games. People often champion the argument that the women’s game is simply inferior in quality and will never be as entertaining to audiences and that’s why it is less popular than the men’s game. The story of the Dick, Kerr ladies, shows us that not only is this not true, but the opposite can even be the case. At its height the ladies team was more popular than the men’s soccer leagues that existed at the time. Looking to these historical examples serves to strengthen the case of women for equal opportunity and support in women’s soccer to allow the sport to reach the full potential for audiences.
    The major difference between women’s soccer in the 1920’s and now is that the sport faces increased competition in the global and regional sphere because of intense saturation in the sports market. There are more sports in general and also many other women’s sports that compete for players and the attention of the public. Another key difference is that back then most of the teams were associated with factory teams where the profits were all for charity. Now women’s sports are their own bona fide industry where they are purely for profit and operating for entertainment instead of as a sort of distraction from the harsh factory life. A similarity between then and now is that the sport serves as a space where struggles for women’s equality can occur. The importance of the Dick, Kerr’s Ladies F.C. to the history and growth of women’s soccer cannot be understated and no study of the sport is complete without looking back at the precedent and great history that this team set forth.

  5. William Hague

    To preface this blog post, I was not able to secure a copy of the book because the book store was out of copies and Amazon are out of their stock as well.

    When I look at women’s soccer and the time it was acknowledged as a professional sport, soccer is not an exception for its recent acknowledgement in professional sports. There are many women’s sports that went professional even later than soccer and there are those that came before. That also makes the ban on professional women’s soccer in 1920 not a harsh or surprising event given the limits on women’s athletics across all sports at the time. Given my limited exposure to the topic and lack of text to talk about, that is really the only significant point I can make about the professionalization of women’s soccer. I

  6. Brian Koh

    Despite the glorious days of women soccer led by Dick, Kerr’s Ladies team until the year of 1920, London’s FA banned women from playing soccer. First of all, FA claimed that football is not a suitable sports for women. They stated that the danger of being injured during the games, could affect women’s fertility. Another major reason stated by FA was that women’s soccer was not able to raise enough funds as men’s soccer. However, not to mention the first reason, even the second reason does not hold considering how successful some women’s teams including Dick, Kerr’s Ladies were in terms of raising funds. The real reason behind the English FA’s radical decision to literally ban women from playing a certain sports for 50 years, somewhat reflected a fear that a rise in women’s soccer could hurt the popularity of men’s soccer.
    Honestly, before knowing the specifics about the early history of women’s soccer, my view on the issue of women’s soccer was extremely stereotypical. I even felt ashamed at myself. I had thought that the reason women’s soccer’s development was relatively tardy was simply because people were less interested in female sports than male sports. The story Dick, Kerr’s Ladies surprised me in that women’s soccer actually could have been established on its own, without any organizational support. It was the ignorant decision made by the organization that controlled soccer which hindered the growth of women’s soccer not the natural tendency of the fans. This makes me wonder had there not been FA’s ban on women’s soccer for such a long period, how much women’s soccer would have developed until today.
    Now, women’s soccer is more widespread. Women’s FIFA World Cup, though not as much as Men’s, is now a very popular event watched by fans from all around the world. Also, many professional leagues are established for women as well – this shows how the FA in 1921 was wrong about how uncharitable women’s soccer was. To point out a similarity, I would like to mention that women’s soccer is still suffering from sexist views and some unfair institutional supports.

  7. Andrew Jordan

    The reading about Dick, Kerr women’s football club and the FA ban on women’s soccer reminded me of material that we covered in my Ethics and Value Conflict class. In the public policy course, we discussed prostitution laws and the societal values and morals that motivate them as well of the stigma associated with sex work. Now this may seem like the furthest thing from women’s soccer; however, I found a parallel between the motivations between the prohibition of prostitution and the FA ban on women’s soccer: male dominance. In the case of sex work, stigmatization of sex work stems from men’s desire to control feminine sexuality. In our many discussions, we spoke about the fact that sexual promiscuity is lauded in a man but seen as inappropriate for women. Therefore, legalizing prostitution and empowering sex workers would promote feminine sexuality and lessen male control over the sexual space. The FA ban follows a similar, albeit less controversial, line of thinking. Men wanted dominance over the athletic space just like how they wanted dominance over the sexual space. The Dick, Kerr team threatened their masculinity and harmed their egos by being more successful and popular than men’s teams. Therefore, the male-controlled FA had to dig pretty deep into the barrel of justifications to ban a women’s team that was not only loved by thousands of fans, but was also donating its proceeds to a noble cause. They claimed that soccer was unsuitable for women and that they weren’t donating the charity money to legitimate sources. This is just like how most governments outlaw sex workers from making a living in the method that they, at times, willingly choose. Hopefully the desire for a male dominated society will truly subside.

    Knowing this information on the Dick, Kerr team does, in fact, change the way I look at contemporary issues facing women’s soccer. One of the biggest disputes currently is whether Muslim women players should be allowed to hijabs while playing. Even though this was banned by the International Football Association Board for a while, it has been lifted internationally. However, France has maintained the ban. Personally, I believe that all women should be allowed to do what they want. While the intentions are usually in good faith, they do nothing but restrict the freedom and expression of the athletes. This NPR article talks more about the need to step back and let the young women players do as they wish.

    A similarity between women’s soccer now and the 1920’s is the sheer popularity it has. The Women’s World Cup gets more viewers every time, especially in America where our dominant women’s soccer program is an inspiration to the entire nation. A difference obviously is that no one would dare place a ban on it now. Women soccer players are without a doubt, the most famous of all female athletes, especially in the US. They have reached a level of fame that hasn’t been attained by female athletes since the USA Women’s gymnastics team. Even at Duke, the entire school united behind the women’s soccer team who almost won a NCAA National Championship. Women’s soccer is big, it is entertaining, and it is here to stay!

  8. Hud Mellencamp

    There were several reasons the FA banned women’s soccer. The first of which was that they believed soccer was not a suitable sport for women to play. Another reason was women’s soccer was allegedly not charitable enough, saying that to much of the proceeds went to expenses leaving to little for charity. However, the fact remains that women’s soccer was able to raise 600 pounds in their first game, which is the equivalent to 38,000 pounds now.
    The ban on women’s soccer has made it harder to be a more popular sport. This is because women’s soccer was banned for so long that its not as ingrained in society as opposed to men’s soccer which is seen by many to be a piece of history.
    One similarity between the now in the 1920s in regards to women’s soccer is that the men’s team is still receiving preferential treatment by the Federation. The men’s teams have better facilities and accommodations by far. One major thing that has changed is the women’s team is getting much more of a spotlight. This can be seen by the amount of viewers on television or the stand, recently they have even added the woman’s teams to the FIFA video game.
    Just as in the 1920s there is a large divide in pay between the men and women’s teams. Marta Vieira da Silva’s, who is one of the soccer players of her time, reportedly makes $400,000 where as Cristiano Ronaldo makes a staggering 79 million.

  9. Chris Arora

    Women’s football was born as a byproduct of one of the bloodiest wars of all time. As the war raged on an increasing amount of men were needed on the front line, leading to an influx of women into factories across Europe. Popularized by the term ‘munitionettes’, football became the official sport of the munitions girls. In particular, the Dick, Kerr ladies, later known as the Preston ladies, were the focal point of the rise of women’s football. These ladies not only broke records held by women but also by men. During an overseas tour in France, the Dick, Kerr ladies became the first women’s team to play in an international match, producing the largest crowd ever for a women’s club football game. Registering a full house of roughly 53,000 in attendance, the game was so popular that an additional 10 to 14 thousand individuals surrounded the stadium in an attempt to watch the ladies play. These high profile games became the norm for the ladies as everyone wanted to watch the juggernaut they had created. In a game known as the Harry Weldon Cup, the Dick, Kerr Ladies won 9-1 against the “best the rest” of the United Kingdom had to offer in 1921, cementing their place as the premier women’s football team at the time.

    As the popularity of women’s football and in particular the Dick, Kerr Ladies skyrocketed, the Football Association in England released a ban on organized women’s football in 1921. Largely a move to protect the popularity interests of men’s football, the ban occurred as the team’s following reached 900,000 strong. However, the reasons for the ban were not stated in these terms. Rather, individuals believed women could get hurt and potentially become infertile playing football. Despite the FA’s ban, the women continued playing football as they made additional tours to Canada and the United States. In 1937, the Dick, Kerr Ladies won the Championship of the World, further solidifying their place in history. Originally born out of a need to raise funds for the war, the Dick, Kerr ladies managed to raise approximately 10 million Euros in modern day rates. Their ability to raise funds is a testament to their quality and skill on the pitch. Perhaps another strong indicator to the quality of the Dick, Kerr Ladies was one of their star players, Lily Parr. From 1920-1951 Lily Parr managed to score around 1000 goals across all competitions. Considered by many to be the most iconic women to ever play the game, Lily Parr was the first women to ever be inducted into the women’s football hall of fame.

    Extending outside of England, the Dick, Kerr ladies created an increasing popularity for the sport in the United States. From 1950-1951, the first organized women’s soccer league in the United States, the Craig Club Girls Soccer league, was formed. However, it wasn’t until the year after the FA lifted the ban in 1971, that the sport started to be played on a larger scale. Stemming from Title IX legislation in 1972, football started to take rise collegiately. The 1980s saw a rapidly expanding adoption of women’s soccer by US universities and the creation of the United States national team in 1985. In 1991, the first ever women’ world cup was played in which the United States won.

    In many ways I think the Dick, Kerr ladies produced an effect similar to that of the current United States Women’s National Team. Ranked #1 in the world, the USWNT has in a way garnered their own “cult-like following”. Thousands crowd into the stadiums, and even more gather outside the stadium and in public places across the United States to watch them play. Furthermore, the World Cup final draws parallels to the Harry Weldon Cup. From whatever perspective you take, one of the teams in the finals is always playing the best the rest of the world has to offer. Additionally, as symbolic as Lily Parr was to representing the Dick, Kerr Ladies, Abby Wambach is the same to the USWNT. Regarded as one of the greatest of all time, Abby Wambach represents the pinnace of American football. She is an icon who has been a catalyst for the growth of the game in the United States. The popularity has continued to take rise in the United States, as not only more youth women’s soccer leagues are being created but there is also an increased viewership of the professional women’s ranks. However, women’s soccer still remains vastly less popular than its’ men’s’ counterpart as leagues such as the EPL and La Liga maintain a much higher viewership.

  10. Trung Can

    Watching a few games at the Woman World Cup tournament and reading the story about the legendary Kerr Ladies soccer team in Gail Newsham’s book, I found many similarities in woman soccer games between the past and the present. It was really interesting how, the players still respected the rules and the sporting spirit of the game, “They readily took up the attitude and impartially cheered and encourage each side”- (Newsham 2014:29). Unlike their male colleagues, they did not try to use tricks or cheat to get advantages. Instead, they really played for their passion and tried to win the match by their talents, “… the skill and dedication shown by these girls was enough to ensure the respect of the public… ”- (Newsham 2014:30). Thus, through time, women soccer still has that kind of fair-play spirit and pure passion, which is possibly why their games usually have more goals, less cards and less disputes during the match. For me, that is the true beauty of soccer.

    Therefore, I was not surprised at the incredible journey of the Kerr Ladies soccer team, as they became the best women soccer team worldwide. Unfortunately, at the peak of their success and popularity, the team and women soccer in general had to face their biggest challenge, the FA ban in 1921. The reasons were probably not gender health-related issues or charitable corruption as FA claimed. We could see some evidences from the book. Some players of the team even got married and continued to play, like Florrie Lance, and they could work and play well at the same time- “The dedication and love these girls had for their sport was remarkable. They were working full time and playing football almost every Saturday.”- (Newsham 2014:81). The real reason for the ban was probably because of the quick grown popularity of women soccer that had made them a threat to the men soccer’s market.

    Even though the ban was lifted in 1971, it would take a long time for women soccer to regain the level of recognition and fame in the past again since they were behind half a century. However, I am really optimistic about the future of women soccer since, like I mentioned before, their games are more opening and pure than those of men soccer, which have become too strategic and less fairplay. Thus, women soccer is usually more appealing and entertaining to watch.

  11. Lopa Rahman

    For years, the story of the Dick, Kerr Ladies was left untold. In her extraordinary account of the most successful team in the history of women’s football, Gail Newsham let us in on the best kept secret of women’s soccer. Reading Newsham’s book made it crystal clear that the story of the Dick, Kerr Ladies—who I had never heard of before—is an indispensable piece of any comprehensive, honest history of women’s football. The Dick, Kerr Ladies, who drew tens of thousands of fans to their games and raised “an excess of £150,000 for charity”, were a testament to the fact that it is possible for women’s soccer to garner as much fame and attention as men’s (216). The immense popularity of the Dick, Kerr Ladies, however, was potentially the driving force behind the team’s greatest challenge—the FA ban in 1921. On December 5, 1921, the FA issued the following statement: “Complaints having 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. Complaints have also been made as to the conditions under which some of these matches have been arranged and played, and the appropriation of receipts to other than charitable objects. The Council are further of the opinion that an excessive proportion of the receipts are absorbed in expenses and an inadequate percentage devoted to charitable objects. For these reasons the Council request clubs belonging to the association to refuse the use of their grounds for such matches” (91). The FA’s official release masked what Newsham and the Dick, Kerr Ladies suspected was the real reason behind the ban: the threat they posed to the men’s game on account of their fame and success. Newsham writes, “[The FA’s] threatened male bastion was now safe and the opportunity for equal growth and prosperity was gone forever” (91). Was it gone forever? I would say no, given that the ban was lifted in 1971, enormous strides have been made in women’s soccer since then, and I am hopeful for the future. It is evident to me, though, that the impact of the 1921 ban reverberates today. Women are still viewed as secondary to men in the game of football. Jean Williams writes in her Sports Illustrated article, “[Women’s soccer] lags far behind the men’s game”. Now that I’m equipped with increased knowledge of the early history of women’s soccer and the adversity faced by the Dick, Kerr Ladies, I feel that I have a better understanding of why this lag exists. It saddens me to see that women’s players don’t get the same level of reward and recognition for their work on the field—as Williams points out, equal financial support isn’t provided to men’s and women’s players. Early in her book, Newsham states, “[The Dick, Kerr Ladies] have shown just how much can be achieved even when all the odds are stacked against you. No matter how much opposition and prejudice they encountered, their spirit could never be broken” (16-17). It is my sincerest hope that the spirits of women’s soccer players stay alive as they continue the fight to be treated as equals that the Dick, Kerr Ladies assertively and courageously started.

  12. Kevin Rhine

    The FA’s 1921 ban on women’s soccer is an embarrassing and disgraceful period in soccer’s history, especially because of the sexist and petty motives behind it. Despite what their bribed medical professionals claimed, soccer was not particularly dangerous for women (page 93), nor were the match revenues being swindled rather than donated to charity (page 89). In reality, these were just desperate attempts to disparage women’s soccer as its popularity was rapidly increasing. The powerful male leaders of the FA simply could not cope with the possibility that women could be better and more successful than men at something such as football. However, it was the Dick,Kerr Ladies who routinely garnered crowds of 15,000+, and had even recently broken the attendance record for a football match.

    We are still seeing the effects of this 90-year-old decision today. Nowadays, the popularity of women’s soccer is only just beginning to grow once again, and even so in much more incremental amounts. The Women’s World Cup is still the only women’s soccer even that draws significant attention, albeit any progress is substantial. While the US and Brazil have shown interest in the WWC for over a decade due to their national teams’ successes, the European nations are still struggling to draw support for their squads. With future international success, hopefully more countries will be willing to put more effort into the development of women’s youth soccer programs.

    There are many similarities and differences between modern women’s soccer and that of the 1920s. One depressing similarity is the continued questioning of the ability of female players. Even now, many popular and mainstream sports hosts and analysts hint that, despite the clear talent and excitement in the women’s games, there is still a gap between them and their male counterparts. After such a long battle against discrimination and for equal rights, it is shameful that these idolized personalities can hold such antiquated and derogatory views.

  13. Patrick He

    One thing I found very interesting about the history of women’s soccer is how quickly attitudes changed during and then after World War 1. Since most of the able-bodied men were sent to the front lines, women suddenly gained more freedom to take on traditional male roles. Not only did they take on new jobs, they also began organizing informal games as they bonded, particularly in factories. It is important to note that at the time, soccer was considered good for health and that women were not taking on a health risk to play the game.

    With the end of the war, however, traditional attitudes took over again, and women were essentially told to go back to their place in society, as men wanted to go back to their pre-war roles. All of a sudden, health issues became a convenient way to justify the FA ban on soccer, with Dr. Elizabeth Sloan Chesser saying, “There are physical reasons why the game is harmful to women. It is a rough game at any time, but it is much more harmful to women than men. They may receive injuries from which they may never recover” (Newsham 92) and Dr. Mary Scharlieb adding that the “kicking is too jerky a movement for women and the strain is likely to be rather severe” (93). Of course, this masked one of the darker (and genuine) reasons for the ban, which was that women’s soccer had become too popular. The Dick, Kerr Ladies had attracted a crowd of over 50,000, “drawing bigger crowds than men” (93).

    Even today, the aftermath of the ban can be seen. In fact, the biggest attendance at the recent Women’s World Cup was just over 54,000, barely more than the Dick, Kerr Ladies game, and the average attendance was about 26,000. In contrast, the average attendance during the 2014 World Cup was double that. Moreover, the phrase “soccer” almost always applies to just the men’s game; when people talk about statistics, they tend to ignore the women’s side. For example, Abby Wambach is not often thought as being the highest goal scorer ever in international soccer. A quick Google search of “top US goal scorer” shows Landon Donovan. Knowing the story about the early history of women’s soccer helps to better understand the disparities that exist today, especially with differences in exposure, popularity, and facilities (such as the use of turf versus real grass).

  14. Rafae Alam

    In the early 20th century, women’s soccer was undoubtedly an extremely popular event. Teams like the Dick, Kerr Ladies attracted thousands of paying spectators to their games. Of course, women’s soccer wasn’t free from criticism. In “A League of Their Own!”, Gail Newsham references numerous critiques of the sport. When women’s soccer first began to grow in popularity, a reporter commented that ”when the novelty has worn off, I do not think that women’s football will attract the crowds” (Newsham, 41). Additionally, some believed that playing football was dangerous for women and could “seriously affect their fertility” (Newsham, 32). Another interesting problem that some people had with the sport was that the women playing were wearing shorts and showing off their legs. Such a situation can be compared to the contemporary debate regarding whether women should be allowed to play while covering their hair, as in many cultures they may be shamed or reprimanded for playing without doing so.

    Although many people had problems with the sport, women’s soccer still enjoyed considerable popularity, perhaps even more than it does today, relatively speaking. In fact, women’s matches tended to attract larger crowds than men’s matches. It is for this reason, Newsham argues, that the FA decided to ban women’s soccer in 1921. Although they claimed they banned the sport because it was not “suitable for women” and that not enough of the profits of the matches were going to charity, Newsham makes the case that they actually banned it because they were afraid that the growing popularity of women’s soccer would lead to reduced crowds for the men’s leagues (Newsham, 91).

    Knowing these details about the history of women’s soccer adds a great deal of perspective to our contemporary debates surrounding the sport. Although many people claim women’s soccer can never be as lucrative or as popular as men’s, one cannot ignore the fact that it actually was for quite some time. Had the FA not banned women’s soccer for such a long period of time, we can’t help but wonder what could have been of women’s soccer and the legacy of its pioneers.

  15. David Stringer

    How does knowing the story about the early history of women’s soccer, and the FA ban, change the we might look at contemporary debates about women’s soccer?

    Gail Newsham’s book “In a League of Their Own! The Dick, Kerr Ladies” provides a unique and rare look at the early stages of women’s soccer in the United Kingdom (and to an extent Europe) and the struggles that it faced, culminating in the FA ban. By understanding the early history of how women’s soccer initially gained the support that the sport did and its perceived threat to the men’s game lead to the FA banning it helps understand the true struggles that women’s soccer has endure and still does today. Over the last few years women’s soccer has continued to gain in popularity, at least on the national level, within America but for me at least the full history of women’s soccer was unknown. To me, the history provided by Newsham allows for an insight on how popular women’s soccer has been and the potential that it still has. After all soccer is the most popular sport in the world (at the men’s level) and as such there is no reason for the women’s game to be treated any differently. By understanding a history of the treatment of the women’s game, coupled with the knowledge that soccer is a conservative sport in the sense that the rules have seldom changed with the advances of technology (until recently) and the nature of the various federations, allows us to see the way in which the women’s game has suffered and allow us to correct the mistakes of the past.

    Unfortunately there is still problems with how the women’s game has been treated by the powers of world soccer. This is clear from the fact that the 2015 Women’s World Cup was played on turf, not grass, a sign of disrespect and something that FIFA would never consider for the men’s game. Furthermore Sepp Blatter’s comments on women’s soccer that in order to increase support they should wear shorter skirts because women are pretty, a highly sexist comment that ignores the skill of the women playing. Therefore by understanding the struggles of the past and present we can further the debate for true equality between the sexes in soccer. It is clear from the past that women’s soccer can be successful and popular and even today we have seen it with the rise of popularity of the women’s world cup. Thus the insight into the past provided by Newsham can lend arguments for the increased support for the contemporary debate regarding the women’s game.

    A last note that I have is that I was unaware that the women’s game in England was banned by the FA prior to reading “In a League of Their Own! The Dick, Kerr Ladies”. That being said I am not surprised in the least that the FA would do this. Despite being American I attended middle and high school in England, my high school was one of those public high schools that was pivital in the creation of soccer (although I have no idea of the history of soccer at my high school or its role in soccer’s history), and while soccer was the most popular sport there, there was no women’s team at my high school and few girls I knew played it. It wasn’t until my return to America that I realized how big women’s soccer is here and how good our national team is.

  16. Jed Stone

    To situate Women’s Soccer on a global scope requires that we understand its history and its triumph through the many layers that generations of patriarchy have pre-ordained a woman’s place in this world. Whether that be in occupation or recreation, still several layers remain that make Women’s Soccer an even stronger testament to the drive and will so many women’s soccer players have shown.

    I would like to point my comment in the direction of absurdity that underlies the beginnings of withholding women’s soccer. Even in the late 1800s as soccer was on the rise, and into the early 1900s as the Great War required many women to take factory jobs toward the war effort and play soccer in their spare time, games were well attended however “The majority no doubt went with the object of being amused, but all agreed at the end that the quality of football shown was much better than they had expected” (30).

    This quality in play was matched by audience in time predating the FA ban. Perhaps a most notable accomplishment occurred when rivals Dick, Kerr and St. Helens matched up in what was “Not only was it the biggest crowd ever to attend a women’s match, it was in fact the largest crowd recorded at any game in the football league since records began in 1888” (74).

    When situated as such, it would appear that women’s soccer was all the hype that a sport should have to make it a success. Perhaps, one could remark, that a game such as this would be the tipping point such that soccer would become a women’s game. After all, few sports at the time had shown such promise for women when compared to men. However, it is not surprising that this battle took a very different turn. As men grow petty, the absurdity comes to light. As Newsham puts it, “Women’s football… was taking away too much of the spotlight from the male game” (81).

    While this may be true, it is physician testimony that shows the true disgrace that so many males stooped down to. An abuse of expertise in light of male success shed light on the male psyche as medical prophylaxes were made such as, “The kicking is too jerky a movement for women” (93).

    Thus with all of this, how do we look forward at the current landscape occupied by women’s soccer? I would answer: with amazement. Women were forced to truck on through insult and rule, to play a game they loved. Not surprisingly, “The FA only seemed to be interested in the years since they have administered the game, they seldom acknowledge its past” (234). The dedication to the sport, many thanks to the fearless women on Dick, Kerr squad have created a sport that means more than just recreation.

    From someone who does not know a whole lot about soccer, the manifestation of US excitement as the USWNT won the world cup last summer was a show of nationalism, feminism, and a respect for women’s soccer. Much in the same should women soccer players feel as Great Britain’s Olympic soccer team included a women’s team: “The Dick, Kerr Ladies did not play on in vain after the FA Ban and London 2012 is a testament to that (279).


  17. George Smith

    According to Gail Newsham in her book, “In a League of Their Own! the Dick, Kerr Ladies 1917-1965,” the real reasons behind the 1921 FA ban on women’s football were very different from the justifications that the FA offered. The FA claimed that football was unsuitable for women and that there were serious health risks involved for women participating in football. There were also accusations of misuse of funds meant for charity by women’s football teams. However, Newsham argues that these were not the real reasoning behind the ban.
    As discussed in this BBC article which recounts the history of women’s football (, many women’s teams, including the Dick, Kerr Ladies, emerged from English factories during WWI. Many of these factories had historically been staffed by men, but with large numbers of young men being called to fight in the war, women took their places in the factories. Factory owners encouraged the women to play football as a way to stay healthy. When the women began to become more organized, as was the case with the Dick, Kerr Ladies, the factory owners often sponsored the teams. After the war, however, many of the factories either closed down or hired back the men. Many of the women “found themselves being quietly shunted back into domestic life, returned to their ‘right and proper place’ in society.” Women teams continued to draw large crowds for several years after the end of the war. One famous instance of this is when the Dick, Kerr Ladies drew in a crowd of over 50,000 spectators for one of their matches. Newsham argues that the women’s teams continuing success threatened the men’s league and the FA and lead to the FA’s 1921 ban of women’s teams using the men’s clubs fields.
    Knowing the current state of both men’s and women’s football around the world, I had assumed the situation had arisen organically. Knowing, however, the history of the FA’s relationship with women’s football has changed my viewpoint significantly. Women’s football was stifled until the FA lifted the ban in the 1970’s. When comparing this to men’s football, it is very easy to understand why men’s football is so much more popular and so much better funded. The men’s game has had over 100 years to grow and develop unhindered while the women’s game has had less than 45 years to develop since the ban was lifted.
    Contemporary professional women’s football is becoming increasingly popular today just as it was in the early 1920’s. Matches are attended by tens of thousands of spectators, and some women are becoming able to make careers out of professional football. Some of the same institutionalized obstacles are still in place, however. FIFA spends far more money on men’s football than it does for women in terms of players’ salaries, facilities, and promotion. At the 2014 Women’s World Cup, there was a lot of controversy surrounding the use of artificial turf. Although turf is cheaper to maintain than real grass, it offers several disadvantages to real grass when it comes to gameplay. Turf is far rougher than grass and dirt and can cause serious scratches when players slide. There are also claims that it leads to more injuries than grass. Furthermore, turf has been known to heat up to the point that it will melt the plastic on players’ cleats. Many women who were competing in the world cup were justifiably outraged at being made to play on artificial turf fields because they knew that no men’s world cup had ever or would ever be played on artificial turf. This relegation to lesser fields can be easily compared to the FA’s 1921 ban. In both cases women’s teams were forced to use inferior fields that the men did not have to play on. Despite this, I believe that the future of women’s soccer is a bright one. Attendance and viewership of women’s matches is steadily increasing in the United States and throughout the world.

  18. Austin Tran

    Newsham’s In a League of their Own! details the controversial history of women’s soccer and how it’s popularity growth was capped. In the book, Newsham describes how women’s soccer began in the munitions factories during World War I and was meant to boost morale in the usually dreary workplace. The Dick, Kerr ladies rose to fame from these beginnings by playing football games for charity, donating all proceeds to the British war effort. Their first public charity game attracted over 10,000 viewers on Christmas day in 1917. From here, they became so popular that they drew crowds upwards of 20,000-30,000 for each game and 60 games per year. However, on December 5, 1921, the English Football Association banned women’s soccer from their fields, citing numerous reasons ranging from complaints about the women players to the problems with fertility that football may cause. In reality, the FA, was simply intimidated by the popularity of the women’s games and wanted to return attention back to the men, especially after most of them came back from the war. With this ruling, the FA singlehandedly capped one of the fastest growing sporting events in both popularity and size and kept the lid on its growth for over five decades.

    While the ban on women’s soccer was officially lifted over 40 years ago, the sexist mentality that hampered women’s play in the past still exists to this day. One need not look further than the 2015 Women’s World Cup to see that despite the massive popularity of women’s soccer they are still treated as inferior. For their games in this tournament, women had to play on artificial turf instead of real grass, a difference that most soccer players would agree affects their style of play and abilities. In response to complaints of prominent women soccer players around the world, FIFA claimed that because Canada was the only country to bid on the Women’s World Cup, the women would have to deal with their less than ideal conditions. This type of treatment reflects the way that the Dick, Kerr ladies were treated, especially when considering how, in the United States, the women’s national team draws more viewers for their games in the women’s world cup than their male counterparts.

    Having now understood the origins of women’s soccer, it baffles me as to how they can be treated so poorly by governing football institutions. Their popularity both historically and contemporarily should merit them at least equal status in treatment, such as being given an equal surface to play on for an event as popular as the World Cup. However, despite the fact that they still lag far behind their male equivalents, women’s soccer is growing in prominence on a global scale.

  19. Kevin He

    Women’s soccer has lived in the shadow of men’s soccer for as long as I can remember. Much to my surprise, however, Gail Newsham’s telling of her time with the Dick, Kerr ladies reveals that this was not always the case. The start of the first World War sent all the fit men that had dominated the soccer pitch to the front lines. On the homefront, “women not only took their jobs, they also took their places on the football field” (BBC). This gave rise to the Dick, Kerr ladies, comprised of 11 factory workers, who dominated the game. During the war, more and more teams of women emerged from the factories and women’s soccer actually became rather popular – crowds of around 53,000 people came to watch the Dick, Kerr Ladies in 1920. What was initially seen as “good for health, well-being and moral” became “too much for a woman’s physical frame” as the war drew to a conclusion and men trickled home. It seemed the appreciation of women for their skill on the soccer pitch and even their contributions in the factory were short-lived. With men available to resume their duties, many called for the return of women to their “rightful place” in the home. This was essentially the motivation behind the ban issued in 1921. Citing soccer’s “unsuitability” for women physically, the Football Association demanded that football clubs refuse to host women’s games. But underlying this supposed concern for women’s health was an inherent belief in women’s inferiority to men, and a growing worry that women’s soccer might overshadow men’s. The male-dominated society of the early 20’s could not handle such an encroachment on their perceived superiority, and decided to uproot the popularity of the sport manually.
    Today, we see the continued effects of this early ban. Cut down at the peak of its rise in the public eye, women’s soccer has struggled to regain the same level of popularity it once garnered 90 years ago. We saw outpouring support for the women’s national soccer team at the World Cup last year, which was a step in the right direction. But still, the gap between women’s and men’s soccer remains prominent. In the 1920s, Newsham quotes the founder of the British Ladies Football Club as saying “I look forward to the time when ladies may sit in Parliament and have a voice in the direction of affairs.” Since then, women’s rights have taken a great leap forward, earning the right to vote and fielding several women in politics. Prejudices, however, still remain. Unequal wages, underrepresentation in STEM fields, and many other issues plague the women of today’s world. On the soccer pitch, issues like that of artificial turf being used for women’s games while men’s games use natural grass show lack of priority placed on women’s preferences – injuries occur more frequently on turf and both sides have expressed desire for playing on natural grass, although only one side has had that request fulfilled. We have overcome many gender divides since those early times, although many still remain. Hopefully as we strive daily to achieve gender equality throughout our society, support for women’s sports follow suit.

    WW1: Why was women’s football banned in 1921?
    FIFA’s turf debate

  20. Megan Gutter

    In the book “In a League of Their Own,” Gail Newsham details the rise and fall of women’s football in late 1910s and early 1920s England. Women’s football arose in the munition factories during World War I as women were stepping into men’s positions while the men were away fighting. During this time, women were an essential part of the cause. Throughout their time in the munitions factories, ladies started to play football as a hobby in their breaks. Soon, women formed legitimate teams and were playing women’s teams from other munitions factories in competition for charity. While they were barely taken seriously at first, women’s matches actually took off. Crucial to the development and popularity of women’s football was the emergence of the especially talented Dirk, Kerr Ladies team. The Dirk, Kerr Ladies proved to the world that women could not only play football, but women could be really fantastic at it too. Whether it was playing charity games with record-breaking attendance, forming bonds with the French women’s team, or beating a few men’s teams on an American tour, the Dirk, Kerr Ladies paved their way to success. They fostered stars out of Florrie Redford, Lily Parr, Alice Kerr, and others. Alfred Frankland, the Dirk, Kerr Ladies team manager, even recruited girls from other towns that had either managed to beat his team (which was extremely rare) or had shown excellent skill. Remarkably, they did this all while working full time at the munitions factory. Newsham mentions that they must have felt like the first suffragettes.
    It all began to go downhill for women’s football after World War I ended in 1918. Although the loss of men was staggering and women were still needed in factories, many women were expected to go back to their domestic lives. Furthermore, the men came back to find that their sports sphere was being dominated by ladies. Women’s charity games often drew much larger crowds than any of the men’s games, which in turn meant more money. 900,000 people had attended the Dirk, Kerr Ladies games in one year, 1921, and at least 50,000 pounds since they started. The FA decided this could not continue and banned women’s football in 1921 on account of the sport being a danger to ladies and because of “the appropriation of the receipts to other than charitable objects”. Of course women were allowed to do hazardous work during the war, like making munitions where they were exposed to toxic chemicals and potentially explosive TNT, but playing soccer was far too dangerous. Despite many accounts from doctors that this wasn’t the case, the FA still forbade women’s teams to participate using FA resources. This seriously hurt their ability to practice and hold matches. Although the fame of the Dirk, Kerr Ladies allowed them to continue playing matches for charity for a while longer, most other teams had worse luck and they gradually fizzled out. In 1965, the Dirk, Kerr Ladies played their final match due to difficulty in finding new members.
    It was only in 1992 that the FA finally lifted the ban on women’s football. Knowing the history of women’s soccer, the FA ban, and how recently women’s soccer was given approval by the FA, leads unsurprisingly to the current state of women’s football. The stigma surrounding women’s football is still apparent in England; in fact, so apparent that they instituted a five year plan to make women’s football more prevalent and more on par with men’s football (Shackle). Surprisingly it’s in the United States that women’s football is most equitable, or arguably more popular, to men’s football. The US team can be compared to the Dirk, Kerr Ladies with their famous star players that draw huge crowds of fans.

    Samira Shackle,

  21. Nick Salzman

    In reading Gail Newsham’s book In a League of Their Own! and learning about the history of women’s football, I find it absolutely horrific that the FA banned women’s football on December 5th, 1921. It seems that there was clear prejudice and injustice, as men feared that women’s football could become more popular than the men’s game in England. Newsham states that the Dick, Kerr Ladies were so beloved that they attracted crowds far in excess of some of the men’s football games. The FA and other men in the 1920s cited various “excuses” for why women should not be allowed to play the game. However, as we can see today, women’s football has no substantially harmful effects. The notion that it was dangerous for women to play because it might affect their fertility is an absurd claim. Looking back at the early 19th century, it is evident that society was patriarchal and sexist. Therefore, men could not fathom the idea of women being the focus of society, let alone better than men at anything.

    Although society has developed from the early 19th century to modern day, we can still see instances of injustice towards women in women’s sports. For example, the 2015 Women’s World Cup had some very controversial issues. There is an interesting article, written by our teacher Laurent Dubois, which talks about how artificial turf was used instead of grass for the women’s games. Many players, such as Abby Wambach, complained that playing on turf was completely unfair, but FIFA did nothing to change the situation. The article discusses how men would have never played on a turf field, and that even at the U-20 level, teenage boys never play on anything but grass. Women were discriminated against, and professor Dubois suggests that the current situation of women’s football is a lasting result of the 1921 FA ban. I find it aggravating that overt sexism, like this example, still exists in today’s society. How can society fully develop and eliminate sexism and discrimination if blatant examples of injustice go unpunished?

    I have included a link to the article below.

  22. Sam S.

    Gail Newsham’s book “In a League of Their Own!” highlights the acclaimed Dick, Kerr Ladies team during the first World War. Their unprecedented success and notoriety helped blaze the trail for women’s sports in the decades that followed. Newsham effectively paints the picture of a blue-collar group of ladies who embarked on a unique sporting journey despite the numerous and seemingly insurmountable obstacles that stood in their way.

    One such barrier was the FA’s decision to ban women’s soccer in 1921, at the height of the Dick, Kerr Ladies popularity. Just a year before, the Dick, Kerr Ladies squared off against their rivals, St Helens, in front of 53,000 spectators at Everton’s famed pitch on Merseyside, Goodison Park. Furthermore, “if the ground had been able to accomodate everyone who wanted to get in to watch the match, there was a potential audience of approximately 67,000 people willing to pay to watch women’s football” (73). In 1921, however, the FA ultimately decided to ban women’s football in England. What were the reasons behind this controversial decision? According to Newsham, women’s soccer was “taking away too much of the spotlight from the male game” (81). While this seemed to be the real rationale, the FA searched for other reasons, including one incredulous statement that women are physically unsuitable for the beautiful game. All this, despite the fact that women continued to play other sports in England throughout the 1920s. Due to men’s football’s growing resentment towards the extravagant crowds the Dick, Kerr Ladies were drawing, “It seemed that women’s football had to be stopped at all costs…” (88). It didn’t matter that the women’s games were played oftentimes for charity; the FA could not make money off of the women’s game and they levied the ban.

    After learning about the Dick, Kerr Ladies, one’s view and portrayal of women’s soccer today can be drastically altered. I believe that many football fans around the world, especially males, look down upon women’s soccer as inferior, lacking in quality, and do not reach the standard provided by men’s soccer. The Dick, Kerr Ladies squad and women’s football as a whole in England pre-1921 provide an example of a time where football fans actually preferred the women’s game to the men’s game. This story shows that women’s soccer thrived decades ago before being dealt a lethal blow to the sport, to no fault of the players, coaches, and teams. Just like the record-breaking viewership (both in person and on television) of the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup, The Dick, Kerr Ladies prove to all that women’s soccer can be as popular as the men’s game, provided the sport is offered similar levels of support that the men’s game has at their disposal.

    There are many similarities and differences between the state of women’s soccer in the early 1920s and women’s soccer today. One similarity is the popularity of women’s soccer today and back then. Today, international women’s soccer tournaments are quite popular, with the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup garnering a total attendance of nearly 1.5 million spectators, setting a Women’s World Cup record. Similarly, the Dick, Kerr Ladies were able to sell out famed venues like Old Trafford during the height of their achievements. One notable difference I see, however, is the profitability of the women’s game. Back then, the FA’s ban on women’s soccer reflected the belief that there did not appear to be much potential capital to be made off of the sport. Conversely, the final of the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup was the most-watched soccer match ever in the United States; with this viewing audience size, one can assume that large, blue chip sponsors will be lining up to advertise in the tournament in 2019.

  23. Alikhan Mukhamedi

    Unfortunately, it was not only soccer which was banned for women, as gender inequality was common in the first half of the twentieth century. With FA, however, this decision was somewhat justifiable. From the book, it is obvious that Dick, Kerr Ladies earned a large pool of spectators with an amazing football style they demonstrated. Unlike in men’s football though, Dick, Kerr Ladies was one of the very few teams that got large stadiums fully filled with fans. England had five different men’s divisions with approximately twenty teams in each one, and there even were teams from small towns with population of less than fifty thousand people. Newsham was right when she wrote “clearly they were victims of their own success” (p. 92). Main principle of any sport is competition, and watching Dick, Kerr Ladies play was more of a show with dozens of goals, as their striker, Florrie Redford, scored 170 goals in only 67 games (p. 97), and pleasing aesthetics of their team combinations.

    Yet watching Women’s World Cup in 2015 and reading the book, there is a lot of sportsmanship and “fair play” among the teams. When Dick, Kerr Ladies tied France in a Paris game, Alice Kell said after it that “the French ladies were much better on their home ground and had improved since their last visit to England (p. 65). Generally speaking, there is much less provocation, grabbing body parts, and rolling around on the pitch in women’s football than in men’s. Even though women’s football might be slower than men’s, it is definitely more intense, as there are no pauses for provocations, etc. Today’s women football is greatly similar to Dick, Ker Ladies football in that it is still as clean and spiritual as it was.

    Due to the FA ban, women’s football lost half a century, and if the Women’s World Cup is starting to become popular among people, national championships and Champions League are viewed by dedicated fans only. If women’s football developed and globalized along with men’s football, a lot more teams would be created, and there would definitely not be crazy scoresheets, like in a Euro Cup qualifying game, when my country’s team (Kazakhstan) conceded 17 goals from Germany. It might not necessarily be true in the United States, but in countries with poorly developed women’s football, women are still playing for free and have separate jobs. It reminds me of Dick, Kerr Ladies players who enjoyed the game and didn’t want anything back.

    Here’s how Kazakhstan played in qualifying tournaments to World and Euro Cups, look at 2011, scoresheets are hilarious:

  24. Motin Yeung

    The ban on women’s soccer in 1921 was a poor and sexist decision made by the FA. The FA decided to ban women’s soccer mainly because women’s games were getting more attention than men’s games. Instead of trying to improve men’s soccer to grab more public attention, the FA decided to kick women off the soccer field. Women’s soccer in England contributed money into charity and into England’s government to fight in WWI. Despite all the positive things women’s soccer have brought to the society, the male dominated society simply cannot accept the popularity of women’s soccer surpassing that of men’s soccer. From an economic point of view, taking away competition is a terrible decision for the growth of the game. From an ethical point of view, taking away certain group’s right to play soccer was unfair and unjust.
    Although women are not banned from any sports, there is still a huge gap between men’s sports and women’s sports both in earning and popularity. Women’s soccer grabs little attention from the public compare to men’s soccer, and this is also the case for many other sports. A female athlete that perform at the same level as a male athlete often make way less prize money. On top of that, there is an even bigger difference in sponsorships and endorsements. Although, modern women can get on the field and play, we shouldn’t stop pushing for women’s equity in our society. There is still room for improvements to give women a fairer society.

  25. Samantha Shapiro

    Gail Newsham’s In A League of Their Own! highlights how the growing sphere of women’s soccer is much larger than just the game itself. Not surprisingly, Newsham’s story of the Dick, Kerr Ladies has as much—if not more—to do with the feminist movement of the 20th century as it does with soccer and athletic prowess. Newsham explains how “around the turn of the last century, women’s attitudes to their place in the world were beginning to change. They were ‘coming out of the kitchen’ and wanted to contribute more to the society in which they lived and were demanding the right for their voice to be heard” (18). Soccer, as a global obsession of a sport, seems like a perfect stage for the feminist movement to act on; by presenting women’s rights by way of a sport that is such a subject of attention and fandom, perhaps players like the Dick, Kerr Ladies were able to rally more people for their cause. Newsham shows how individuals like William Crook supported the women due to his love of the game, stating: “when asked why he went to watch them play he said that like many other people, he went along because he enjoyed watching a good game of football. ‘The Dick, Kerr Ladies had some brilliant players,’ he said” (139). Evidently, pure love of the game of soccer, especially in England, helped the female players gain attention.

    Importantly, the players themselves were not blind to this reality and the responsibilities they bore as female soccer players. Newsham quotes Nettie Honeyball, the founder of the British Ladies Football Club, as explaining that she “founded the association…with the fixed resolve of providing to the world that women are not the ‘ornamental and useless’ creatures men have pictured…I look forward to the time when ladies may sit in parliament and have a voice in the direction of affairs, especially those which concern them the most” (20). At the same time, however, these women almost lived two lives: one on the field, and one still in the constraints of the early 20th century housewife. Newsham emphasizes this when she provides the team list, and writes the woman’s “real” occupation next to each name (53).

    An ongoing theme in Newsham’s book that is still very much relevant today is that female players are always female first, player second (rather than just players, like their male counterparts). The author describes a 1927 Leicester Mercury newspaper headline that read “WOMEN CAN PLAY FOOTBALL,” insinuating that such an announcement was so profound that it had to be broadcasted (140). Similarly, the talented player Lily Parr’s athletic talent was constantly compared to men: “if she had been a man [she] would have gained international honors…The girls were not afraid to use their heads either and the length of their kicks was as good as many men who are in the game” (140). Today, the extent of female players’ talent is still being questioned and not held to the same standard as male players. This was perfectly exemplified this past summer during the women’s World Cup, where members of the United States champion team were infamously awarded just a fraction of the money that the men’s World Cup winning team received. Despite the extraordinary talent of the US women’s team, its players are still seen as deserving secondary treatment and praise.

  26. Cali Nelson

    The English FA banned women’s soccer in 1921 in large part due to the burgeoning success and popularity of the women’s game. The Dick, Kerr Ladies regularly drew more than 15,000 spectators to their matches and in 1920 had the largest crowd at a soccer match, including men’s matches, since 1888 (Newsham, 74). The FA and the supporters of the men’s game within it felt threatened by the popularity of women’s soccer, and felt that it was pulling money and supporters away from the men’s game, so they moved to stifle it. In order to justify the ban, the opponents of women’s soccer spread rumors that the funds earned from matches were being misappropriated, rather than given to charity (Newsham, 89), and enlisted medical professionals to support their cause, by calling women’s soccer dangerous and unhealthy (Newsham, 93). Painting soccer as dangerous to a women’s health, was a particularly blatant attempt to disparage women’s soccer. Women were encouraged to play field hockey (Newsham, 91) and many female players held jobs in manufacturing factories, which were surely far more dangerous than playing soccer.

    This decision has negatively affected English women’s soccer for over 90 years. It can be argued that women’s soccer in England has just recently started to recover from its effects. Newsham mentions the 2012 London Olympics as an example of the growing popularity of the English Women’s National team, but the recent 2015 Women’s World Cup in Canada also provides an example of women’s soccer’s regrowth in England. In Canada, the English team had arguably their best performance ever in the tournament, coming in third place, losing to Japan in the semifinals on a heartbreaking own goal in the 92 minute. It was an inspiring performance from a team that didn’t even manage to qualify for 3 out of the first 4 Women’s World Cups. More importantly, however, the run sparked a huge interest in the women’s team among the English populace. Supporters of English women’s soccer are hopeful that this interest will carry over into the domestic league, and continue to increase the number of English girls and women who play the sport. It is still an uphill battle however as by products of the 1921 ban still exist in the form of negative, outdated perceptions of women’s soccer. (

    Similarly to the English FA in 1921, FIFA and the Football Associations of some countries, continue to treat the women’s game unfairly and stifle its growth. Despite being a showcase of the growing international popularity of the women’s game, the 2015 Women’s World Cup was also a showcase for some of the continuing disparities between the men’s and women’s games. Most soccer players will tell you that they would rather play on a well kept grass field, rather than an artificial turf field. In my personal opinion turf is awful: it gets incredibly hot during the summer due to the black rubber pellets between the blades to the point where the heat can burn your feet through your cleats, turf burn is horribly painful, and when the turf is wet, the ball moves incredibly fast. Yet for the 2015 Women’s World Cup, all 6 stadiums had artificial turf fields. The problem is that this is something men’s national teams would never have to endure, even the lower level teams such as the U-20s. This inequality produced an outcry from many prominent female international players, including Sydney Leroux, who tweeted a picture of her legs after playing on turf (, as well as Abby Wambach and Alex Morgan who were plaintiffs in a lawsuit against FIFA over this issue ( Despite the protest, women’s teams continue to be forced to play on turf fields. During the USWNT’s Victory Tour, the team had to cancel a match in Hawaii after midfielder Megan Rapinoe tore her acl during training on turf so awful that you could pull sections of it apart by hand (

    FIFA and many national FA’s also continue to stifle the growth of women’s soccer through financial inequality. Although this is a less overt tactic than the FA Ban of 1921, it still has a pronounced negative effect on the women’s game. For example, take the prize money handed out by FIFA for both the 2015 Women’s World Cup and the 2014 World Cup. The USWNT received $2 million from FIFA for winning the 2015 Women’s World Cup, yet the German men’s national team received $35 million for winning the 2014 World Cup. In fact the USMNT, which finished 11th in Brazil, received $9 million, 4.5 times what the USWNT team received. FIFA which has an annual revenue of $5.7 billion, could surely afford to increase the women’s purses to a level more equal with the men’s, but they refuse to do so, which is another clear indicator of women’s soccer’s second class status (

    Another example is the plight of Trinidad & Tobago’s Women’s National Team. During qualifying for the 2015 Women’s World Cup, the team arrived in the US without any equipment, an equipment manager, a trainer and only $500 to be spread among 13 players and a coach. The team was in such dire financial straits, that their coach took to twitter, to ask for help in feeding and equipping his players. Such a situation would be unthinkable for a men’s team, yet Trinidad & Tobago’s FA apparently did not care enough to properly fund their team (who had a good chance to qualify for the tournament, and were Caribbean champions at the time). ( Over a year later, the Trinidad & Tobago women’s team is still being treated unfairly, to the point that its players debated skipping a match against the USWNT in San Antonio, due to the fact that they had not been given stipends for the trip. ( Although Trinidad & Tobago’s FA has not banned women’s soccer as the English FA did in 1921, its total lack of financial support has a similar stifling and debilitating effect. In order for women’s soccer to continue to grow and reach its potential, simply being allowed to play by FIFA and National FAs is not enough. There is still work to be done in encouraging FIFA and National FAs to do a better job of supporting women’s soccer, whether it be financially, or in matters as simple as better playing surfaces.

  27. Jeremy Roth

    The most striking aspect of Newsham’s book is the unsuspecting power and fanfare that women’s soccer had in the early 1900s. Women’s sports, including women’s soccer, in modern times have not necessarily been a breeding ground for gaining public attention. However, Newsham notes in her book, In A League of Their Own, that women’s soccer in England and in France was enormously popular. In fact, the majority of the games that were played by women until 1921 received massive crowds, with the majority of the games having over 10,000 fans (Newsham 34). Some of the matches that were played took place in some of the most iconic stadiums in England, such as Stamford Bridge (Chelsea), Old Trafford (Manchester United), and Goodison Park (Everton) (Newsham, 57). The fact that many of these games were played at such revered stadiums show the impact that women’s soccer had on society. Yet, what I found most surprising in her work was the level of fear that men had over the public success of women’s soccer (Newsham, 89). This, then ultimately led to the FA Council’s decision to ban women’s soccer in 1921.

    The FA Council had become increasingly nervous about the amount of interest the public had in women’s soccer and believed it actually took away from the popularity and support of men’s soccer. Newsham writes that at the time, the women’s game was “taking too much spotlight from the male game,” which showed the immense level of insecurity that men felt during that time (Newsham, 81). In fact, the FA Council had a report done by many physicians who claimed that soccer was too dangerous for women and recommended that women should stop playing soccer for ‘safety’ precautions.

    With regard to contemporary debates about women’s soccer, the argument about spotlight would almost be reversed from that of women’s soccer in 1921. Today, women’s sports definitely advertised a lot less than that of men’s sports. As a result, viewership, both in the stadium and on television, on average is higher for men’s sports than women’s sports. Thus, it would seem outlandish if today an argument were to be made for banning women’s sports due to its threat on men’s sports. However, this is not to say that women’s sports aren’t gaining more popularity today. Due to Title IX, which was enacted in 1972, women’s sports have gained more popularity through youth play. As a result, more and more American girls have been playing more sports due to more sport opportunities available to them. I believe that the best example of the re-rise of women’s sports, especially soccer’s, can be seen in the latest Women’s World Cup. Especially in America, viewership had never been higher, showing the great amount of interest and intrigue that the public had for women’s sports. However, this is not to say that women’s soccer has reached its climax. It definitely has a high ceiling and has the potential to seriously contend with men’s soccer like back in 1921 with the Dick, Kirk Ladies FC rivaling its male counterparts.

  28. David Talpalar

    The 1920’s are often linked to the beginning of the women’s suffrage movement and the larger movement of women’s equality in society. It is no wonder that this was the case, as the England FA’s decision to ban women’s soccer in 1921 is one of the most baffling decisions in soccer history—much more so than any call any referee has ever made. In the early 1900’s as Newsham explains, women’s soccer grew in popularity exponentially. They contributed money that went directly into England’s efforts in World War I, and the popularity of their game grew to rival that of the men’s. In many ways, it is this last fact that led to the FA’s decision to ban women from professional soccer, claiming that soccer “is quite unsuitable for females” (Newsham 91). Despite the crowds of tens of thousands of people that raised revenue through the games, the male-dominated society could not deal with the competition from the women’s game.

    It is fascinating to observe the differences between early women’s soccer and contemporary women’s soccer. Whereas 20th century women’s football was rivaling in popularity to the male game, that is not the case today. However, in the past few years, there are many statistics that suggest the rise of women’s soccer once again. The Women’s World Cup, for example, has steadily grown in popularity ever since its inception in the early 1990s. It is a testament to the talent of the women players that they are once again closing the gap on the men’s game, even as the men’s game remains as popular as ever. In the early 1900s, before the ban, women’s games in England attracted as much as 35,000 people to their matches. Just last year, the Women’s World Cup Quarterfinal between Canada and England saw an attendance of over 54,000 people, according to FIFA.

    Furthermore, consider only a few years ago that Andy Gray, one of the most popular English announcers in the game of soccer, was fired immediately after making a comment off air about how a woman line judge had no business refereeing a men’s game. This comment, while sexist, was particularly poignant in England given the history of women in soccer. Even more recently, women referees are quite common in the English Premier League, which is widely regarded as one of, if not the best, domestic league in the world. Indeed, all signs indicate that women are becoming ever more prominent in soccer.

  29. Derek Wei

    Totally ignorant about the early history of women’s soccer, I have to admit that I was totally shocked while reading through Gail Newsham’s In a League of Their Own. Started off as a recreational activity during tea breaks among lady workers at Dick, Kerr Factory, this “simple kicking game” soon gained massive popularity, and had become sometime more than a mere sport. During this unique wartime period, women’s role in domestic and social life has also evolved dramatically, as they are hoping for more active presence and involvement. Just as Nettie Honeyball, the founder of British Ladies Football Club Nettie said: “I look forward to the time when ladies may sit in Parliament and have a voice in the direction of affairs, especially those which concern them the most” (Newsham, p.20). Soon, the Dick, Kerr’s Ladies Soccer Team began to show its social influence as they began to regularly play charity games to raise money for the wounded soldiers. Their first public debut charity game, played on the Christmas Day of 1917 at Deepdale against Coulthards, attracted over 10,000 spectators to watch this historical event.

    Afterwards, the Dick, Kerr Ladies Team continued their stories as they travelled around the world to raise impressive amount of money for charity. Their publicity skyrocketed as they were celebrated by tens of thousands of fans. This level of publicity, while coined the team as the most legendary one in the history of women soccer, also brought a big trouble to the team, and also, to Women’s Soccer in general: FA decided that it would ban the sport among women in 1921, arguing that “the game of football is quite unsuitable for females and ought not to be encouraged”. Although officials from FA used reasoning such as soccer is too dangerous for females, it’s very clear that the then male-dominated FA was banning women soccer for their own interest: more and more public attention was drawn away from men’s game because of the increasing popularity of women teams like the Dick, Kerr Ladies. Also, FA felt that women soccer not only didn’t contribute any revenue to the FA, but also attracted parts of the money that would otherwise went into men’s soccer game. Last but not the least, the gender inequality situation, although had shown improvement, was still a big issue in the society. The Dick, Kerr Ladies Team, and women’s soccer, unfortunately became the victim of those combining factors.

    Although the ban was lifted over 40 years ago, it seems that the aftermath of the ban and the mentality of the underweighting women’s soccer still exists in nowadays society. The controversial decision that 2015 Women’s World Cup was played on artificial turf was striking, as even amateur soccer fans like me know that play on turf is fundamentally different was playing on real grass. And yet FIFA officials ignored this and decided to host the highest level of women’s soccer game on turf fields. The real underlying reasons and rational is unclear, but we can see that even nowadays women’s soccer and men’s soccer are still weighted differently in FIFA officials’ mind.

  30. Shaker Samman

    As is typical with men through history, the English FA jumped to action in 1921 when they felt threatened by strong women. Dick, Kerr’s Ladies FC was the premiere women’s soccer team in the English isles at the time. At the peak of their success, the club regularly drew 20-30,000 fans per game, and played over 60 games per year. Had their home ground — Goodison Park (home of Everton FC) — been able to accommodate a larger audience, there could have been upwards of 67,000 spectators at each of their games.

    The team played for charities throughout the country, and on their opening day in 1917, raised 600 pounds for charity (worth nearly 40,000 pounds today). By the 1920s, the team raised thousands of pounds for local charities, and acted not only as a dominant sports team, but as a force for good. Still, threatened by a group of women who challenged their patriarchal dominance of the sporting world, the FA banned women’s soccer in 1921.

    Their reasoning?

    “Complaints having 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. Complaints have also been made as to the conditions under which some of these matches have been arranged and played, and the appropriation of receipts to other than charitable objects. The Council are further of the opinion that an excessive proportion of the receipts are absorbed in expenses and an inadequate percentage devoted to charitable objects. For these reasons the Council request clubs belonging to the association to refuse the use of their grounds for such matches. ”


    A group of women were talented enough, and popular enough to challenge the establishment (in this case, the FA) and the council decided to cut the cord on the sport.

    Knowing about the ban, and the history of the struggles of women’s soccer allows us to have a better understanding of the current landscape that clouds the game. The fallout from the ban just further entrenched the institutional sexism inherent in the hierarchy of the sport. It also gives us a different view of the current struggles that women’s soccer teams face, most notably, the recent debate over turf fields vs. natural grass. While there presently isn’t a ban on women’s soccer, there are vastly different standards of competition when compared to the men’s game. For example, when the USWNT went on their victory lap tour, the majority of pitches they played on were artificial turf. In comparison, the men’s team rarely, if ever, plays on turf. Both genders have commonly stated their preference for natural grass. Still though, the women’s team is subjected to artificial turf, despite the fact that it has caused injury to the team itself.

  31. Leonard Giarrano

    In England during the 1910s and World War I, women’s soccer gained a popularity boost because many of the men young and strong enough to play the sport were likely away fighting in the war. While it still would have been a stretch to describe the sport as wildly popular at the time, some games managed to draw crowds of over 50,000 (Newsham 73), which today would fill and overflow most MLS stadium capacities. As time has passed and especially with the continued success of the US Women’s National Team in international competitions, women’s soccer has picked up interest in the United States, which makes its history of coverage and having actually been banned early in the 1920s all the most fascinating.

    While women’s soccer experienced a golden era of less than a decade during the late 1920s, it was abruptly cut short by the decision of the Football Association to ban female teams from using soccer fields, referees from officiating their games, and penalizing any organizers who facilitated women’s teams playing. It took until 1971 for the ban on teams using member club’s fields to be lifted. The main reason the FA used to justify their ban was that soccer was “quite unsuitable for females and ought not to be encouraged.” Hardly any arguments advanced for the ban are fair to women and female player. In fact it is shocking that such fundamental discrimination and poor recognition of the sport’s ubiquity in communities around the world persisted through the ban for 50 years into the 1970s after historical events like the women’s suffrage and Civil Rights movements.

    With this history in mind, we have to regard as unsurprising the current state of affairs of the women’s sport. I would argue that while the US Women’s National Team has been wildly successful with three world cups won since the women’s cup started in 1991, it draws level or passes only marginally the men’s national team in popularity. While I love both teams as an American, the disproportionate attention given different successes is dismaying.

    Part of this is reflected in how women’s soccer was poorly documented in its early period before it was banned for 50 years starting in 1921 compared to major events and the mainstream sports of the time, but in the years since its return to widespread popularity around the world, we find the powerhouse of coverage that media companies like ESPN finds time to put women’s soccer on its appropriate pedestal. For example, star women’s soccer players have always been celebrities in their own right. Newsham recounts how a game between a French women’s team and the Dick, Kerr ladies saw “a big crowd [close] in around them and a hoard of press photographers [jostle] to get the best pictures” (53). But in today’s world of technology and social media, we see this more obviously with the Facebook following of such notable players as Hope Solo and Mia Hamm as well as Brazil’s Marta and close attention from year to year about who is on the Women’s National Team. As I wrap up this post, I note the fact that it seems to be the case that the vast majority of the attention direct towards women’s soccer in the United States is directed at our national squad. While the success of that team over the years and in international competition is to be celebrated, it seems wrong from fans of the sport and its players to be satisfied with that level of attention to an entire sphere of the game. Given the changes between 1921 and now, almost 100 years later, we can only imagine how attitudes towards the women’s game will change in the coming decades.

  32. Arjun Jain

    The state of women’s soccer today may seem underdeveloped, relatively unpopular aside from a few key events, and just generally young, but this could not be further from the truth. While many have known about and have been watching the Women’s World Cup since its inception in the 90s, Women’s Soccer in reality is as old as just soccer. Gail Newsham does an excellent job of uncovering an unknown past behind the sport exploring why it has developed the way it did.
    The ban on women’s soccer in England seems characteristic of the time and attitude of the women. Newsham explains that while Women’s Soccer was quite popular during the First World War, it was tied heavily to fundraising efforts for the war. What is amazing is that the popularity of the sport took off and remained popular even when the men came back from war. According to Newsham’s numbers of 20-30,000 people willing to see the Dick, Kerr Ladies in any of their 60 games a year, this women’s team is much more impressive than many current teams who play less games to smaller audiences and certainly don’t also work in a factory! For the FA who felt threatened by the growth and popularity of the women’s game as they were setting up multiple lower leagues the only conclusion was to ban the game from being played, thus stunting its growth.
    Without proper infrastructure of being able to play on the grounds of any association team, it is clear why the game dwindled in popularity as the men’s game continued to grow and expand. Just like Markovits’ theory of the crowding out of less popular sports in each region, the women’s game may have been crowded out by the better supported men’s game as more leagues and teams were added. It seems logical that with so many teams to support and watch there simply wasn’t enough time to care for a dying women’s game that due to the ban was semi-pro at best.
    In modern times there is often a similar problem in women’s sports, two prime examples being Women’s Basketball and Women’s Soccer. In basketball with so many college and NBA teams and international competitions, the WNBA often gets overlooked and crowded out. It takes something incredible like the sustained success of the UConn Women’s team for example to maintain a steady interest in the game. While just like the Dick, Kerr Ladies, the UConn team has incredible success and has shattered records in all parts of the game, it will still not draw the same popularity as many less successful men’s teams.
    This is very apparent in soccer, where the United States Women’s National Team has been incredibly successful, winning the World Cup 3 times since its start in 1991, but still isn’t considerably more popular than less successful Men’s team. The National Women’s Soccer League where most of these players play gets even less recognition. Knowing the history of the popularity of Women’s Soccer followed by the unjust ban, we can come to the conclusion that the stunted growth of the women’s game allowed it to be crowded out by the men’s game rather than some inherent unpopularity as the women were quite popular in the early 1900s when attitudes towards women were much less equal.
    In modern times Women’s Soccer is still reasonably popular. While league play may not be, millions of people tune in for the World Cup. While its appeal is more limited to a fewer, more successful countries, it still draws in many viewers just like the Dick, Kerr Ladies. League play is still less popular, but many of the women are gaining attention. Even from the start of the World Cup athletes like Mia Hamm became household names and now players like Hope Solo and Alex Morgan and more are becoming more and more popular. Just like Lily Parr of the Dick, Kerr Ladies women are becoming quite popular. Time will tell if the women’s game is able to make up for the FA ban that slowed its growth for much of the 20th century, but for now it’s well on its way.

  33. Ben Jackson

    Through the Newsham reading and class discussion I learned a lot more about women’s soccer. I was shocked to learn of the sports initially popularity as it currently it is only just becoming popular and only truly becomes relevant in America in World Cup years. Another thing that shocked me was the FA ban in 1921 and the reasons behind it.

    The FA ban on women’s soccer in 1921 was officially due to the fact that the women’s game was called distasteful, but many suspect that the real reason was due to the popularity of the women’s game in comparison to the men. One of the more packed women’s matches at Goodison Park even saw 53,000 people attend. (Newsham, 73) Simply put the women outshined the men and that angered the males to the point where they banned women from the sport. Such a sexist ban though sheds new light on some of the current conflicts between women’s soccer and football associations. Knowing the strong history of global women’s soccer makes viewing the contemporary debates about women’s soccer that much more interesting.

    For example, for the 2015 Women’s World Cup FIFA built artificial turf fields for the women instead of the grass fields that the men play on. The artificial turf presents a higher risk of injury to the players and absorbs heat making it to get extremely uncomfortable to play on. Women’s world cup players such as Abby Wambach expressed anger at the unfair treatment by FIFA and eventually more than 50 players filed a lawsuit against FIFA citing gender discrimination and violation of Canadian Human Rights Act (The 2015 Women’s World Cup was held in Canada) (CBC News). But their outrage amounted to nothing as the Women’s World Cup was played on this artificial turf. This field controversy is yet another example is how football associations have treated women unfairly. With the new knowledge about the history of women’s soccer though, it changes how I view the game. Now I realize these issues aren’t isolated and such sexism has been prevalent in women’s soccer for decades. Such gender discrimination as those seen in 1921 and 2015 both are systemic issues that limit the appeal of the sport. Though the ban in 1921 was much more severe and a worst form of sexism the fact that even on a smaller scale such issues still propagate the sport speaks to the unfairness that still exist in the game.

    In conclusion through this study of the history of women’s soccer I have felt a range of emotions. I have been surprised by the initial success of the sport, dismayed by the FA ban and impressed with the resilience of the sport getting it to where it is today. Currently, women’s soccer through the success of the World Cup and the increased popularity of its stars is becoming popular again and such success is good to see. Such resilience by a sport is admiral and will allow women’s soccer to remain around despite sexism in sports.

  34. Kuber Madhok

    The Football Association’s ban on women’s soccer in 1921 is another example of the prejudices against women in sports. The FA gave a couple of reasons for thus ban, none of which are justifiable in any sort of way. Firstly, the huge masses that were drawn to the games, especially those of the Dick, Kerr Ladies, threatened the popularity of the men’s game. Newsham writes “it was taking too much of the spotlight from the male game” (81). In 1921, women attracted a total of nearly a million spectators with “35,000 attending one match” (99). On the other hand, the largest audience for the First Division was a mere 37,545. Additionally, they argued tat such strenuous exercise as soccer is unsafe for women, despite many working in harsh conditions in factories. Medical officials deemed soccer the wrong activity for the delicate frame of a woman, as “the game of football is quite unsuitable for females” (91). It’s even more puzzling that this was a justification for the ban since women were allowed to play tennis, run track, and practice several other sports. The Dick, Kerr Ladies raised over a hundred thousand pounds for charity through their games; however, they were accused of keeping some of the money for themselves despite no evidence of a misappropriation of money.

    These attitudes towards women are still very much apparent today. Despite of the top priority for the 177 member associations surveyed being to increase the overall number of women and girls playing soccer, FIFA refused to pay women a just amount. The total prize money of the most recent Women’s World Cup was forty times less than that of the most recent men’s World Cup. Sepp Blatter, the former leader of FIFA, suggested women “wearing tighter shorts” to boost the popularity of the game. It is certainly evident that FIFA are very much behind in the race to end gender discrimination in sports, especially when considering the most recent example involving playing the 2015 World Cup in Canada on turf.

  35. Dominic Elzner

    The FA ban on women’s football came into effect for a variety of reasons. On Gail Newsham’s website about the Dick, Kerr Ladies Football Club, Newsham says that the FA was threatened by the large number of spectators that they were attracting. They claimed that the FA had received several complaints about the women, and some even believed that the sport of football could affect women’s fertility. Due to those reasons, among others, the FA banned girls from using league grounds on December 5, 1921.

    As I was reading this, I was surprised not only about the ban, but about the length of time that the women continued to play the sport. Even though the ladies were banned from playing in 1921, they continued to play until the 1960s. I’ve always assumed that women’s soccer did not have much of a history, due to myself not being the biggest soccer fan and never hearing about it in the media. However, this is not the case. Women’s soccer has a rich history that was helped by the Dick, Kerr Ladies Football Club.

    Even though I am just beginning to follow soccer, there some evident points that I see that is similar to the discrimination that the Dick, Kerr Ladies FC felt. I As a new soccer fan, the only women’s soccer I have really heard of is the Women’s World Cup. However, there is more than just the World Cup. The United States alone has its own women’s soccer league, the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL), including teams in Seattle, Chicago, and even my hometown Houston. Although they are not being banned, like the Dick, Kerr Ladies were, the women’s teams do not get the same media attention that men’s teams do. From my experience, I’ve seen more media exposure to Brian Ching and Brad Davis, two players that made the Men’s National Team from the Houston Dynamo than to the entire Houston Dash organization. That in itself is crazy, because the Dash have three players who made the Women’s national team: Carli Lloyd, Morgan Brian, and Meghan Klingenberg.

    There are also some differences to soccer in the 1920s also. Although women do not get nearly as much media exposure as men, women are beginning to get more endorsement deals as athletes. United States Women’s National team players, including Alex Morgan, Carli Lloyd, and more, are beginning to represent Nike, and be role models for young girls who aspire to be like them. In the 1920s, this wouldn’t happen. Although there is still a level of discrimination in soccer today, I believe that strides are being made to separate that gap.

  36. Andrew Cho

    It is interesting to note that WWI had a partial influence in the advent of women’s employment and participation in soccer. The war created a necessity for women to start working in every position to help war efforts and played a crucial role in making supplies back home. Many women were thus empowered by the war. They gained self-confidence and saw themselves as equal terms as men. It is here in the make-shift military factories that women’s soccer sprouted in order to provide recreation for the working women.

    The Dick,Kerr Ladies were also a product of the war. They worked for Dick, Kerr factory, which was converted into a munitions and shells factory for the war. While the games started as a recreational play, huge crowds came to watch and soon after the women began to play matches for charity. One of the early successes was the match against Arundel Coulthard &Co, in which 10,000 spectators sat in the stands and raised 38,000 pounds in today’s money for wounded soldiers (Newsham, 30). Since then, the Dick, Kerr Ladies team toured all around England and internationally (most impressively to America) and sprung the interest of hundreds of thousands of spectators, raising millions of pounds in today’s money for soldiers. One of the more prominent was the one played on Goodison Park, where they attracted 53,000 fans (Newsham, 73). However, perhaps it was this particular game that convinced the members of FA to take action, to hold on to what was supposed to be a “men’s game.” So began FA’s plot to topple the rising popularity of women’s soccer. Amidst rumours that monies were being misappropriated, FA banned all member stadiums from hosting women’s matches. Furthermore, they had campaigns led by doctors to convince people soccer was physically dangerous to women. It is interesting to note from all the opposition toward women that they still persevered and found ways to play (ie on rugby fields or abroad), but the official ban from FA did put a serious damper in their ability to draw crowds.

    Understanding the early history and FA’s ban is crucial to understanding women’s soccer today. In Iran, women are discouraged from attending soccer matches in public. Despite this oppressive culture, a sort of revolution is happening: instead of watching the game, they are playing it. Even as recent as 2005, there were no women in Iran that played soccer [1]. Now, there are upwards of 4,000 [2]. It has become one of the most popular games among females, and some believe soccer can direct Iran to social progress and gender equality [1]. Much like the English females during WWI, Iranian women are driving a revolutionary change in their society. They are changing the conservative ideal put on women and demonstrating the strength and autonomy we saw from the Dick, Kerr Ladies. As this movement gains momentum, it is most critical to be cautious of the opposition to this movement. We cannot have a repeat of the same, wrongful ban of 1921.


    One strong indicator of the bright future in women’s soccer is Nike’s recent campaign for atheleisure women’s clothing and sponsorship of Carli Lloyd. For young girls growing up in the US, there are now more selections of soccer apparel and shoes than ever before, and they now have a role figure. Boys have long had their role models (ie Jordan, James, Ronaldo) appear on television and sports endorsements. Having a figure like Lloyd will be tremendous in encouraging girls to play soccer. In Newsham’s book, he has a dedicated chapter on Joan Whalley, a wing for DK who signed at 15 and played for 20 years. She recounts reporters approaching her every day after work (Newsham, 235). This is a figure other young girls could look up to in the neighborhood. She had successfully made the famous DK team at age 15, and so could they.

    Fantastic effort by Son in the 2-0 victory over Leicester City in the FA cup

  37. Tim

    The FA ban on women’s soccer in 1921 was a result of several contributing factors. On her website about the Dick, Kerr Ladies Football Club, Gail Newsham states that the FA “felt increasingly more threatened by the large number of spectators they were attracting”. To me, the notion that the men’s and women’s game could not coexist is baffling. During the period, the success of women’s football exceeded expectations and its popularity rivaled the men’s game. The Dick, Kerr Ladies, especially, drew massive crowds and were considered the “premier team in the land” for some time (Newsham). Newsham’s website includes the official statement of the FA Council following its meeting in 1921 that resulted in the ban on women’s soccer. The FA cited complaints made against women’s football and deemed football unsuitable for females. The FA Council was also skeptical of how much of the funds raised through the matches actually went to charities. Strangely enough, some physicians in support of the FA’s ruling argued that the sport could affect a woman’s fertility. On her website, Newsham recounts the discriminatory sentiment that “some even thought that a woman’s only role in sport was to stand on the sidelines, watch and applaud”. All in all, the FA ban on women’s soccer in 1921 was fueled by fears that the popularity of the women’s game would diminish the men’s game and the notions regarding the roles of women in the society at the time.
    Concerning the second question, learning about the early history of women’s soccer has altered how I think about the current climate and popularity of women’s soccer. Prior to reading the materials for this week, I often attributed the modest, quadrennial (pertaining to the Women’s World Cup) popularity of women’s soccer to a relatively short history of the sport. However, I am now aware that women’s soccer has a rich history spanning 150 years and that its development was deliberately hindered by the FA (and other associations). The FA ban essentially lasted 50 years and it immensely impacted the growth of the sport. By preventing women from playing soccer matches on their grounds, the FA was affecting the accessibility of the sport and the implications of the ban are still relevant today. In her article, Jean Willaims neatly emphasizes this point by saying that “the current inequalities stem from the fact that the football institutions around the world stifled, rather than encouraged, the women’s game”.
    Based on the readings, it seems like the prominence of women’s soccer in the early 1920s, particularly of the Dick, Kerr Ladies, was much more sustained than that of women’s soccer today. In the 21st century, the prominence of women’s soccer, which can be somewhat measured based on press/media coverage, has fluctuated greatly depending on the Women’s World Cup. In the years between each World Cup, very little media attention is paid to club women’s soccer and some press coverage is given for marquee international friendlies. In contrast, the Dick, Kerr Ladies attracted massive crowds in the thousands and they were the darlings of the media. When a French ladies team arrived in England in April 1920 to play football against the Dick, Kerr Ladies, “a big crowd closed in around them and a hoard of press photographers jostled to get the best pictures” (Newsham 53). Even local games attracted thousands and statistics about the crowd sizes in their early games can be found on page 34 of Newsham’s book In a League of Their Own!
    One similarity is that many women’s soccer players today still have to play year-round or work other jobs in the offseason to support themselves and make a comfortable life for themselves and their families. Newsham’s website mentions the fact that the Dick, Kerr Ladies played over 60 football games in one year “while still working full time at the factory”. Though the jobs may have changed, my understanding is that it is common for women’s soccer players to make up for their modest salaries by the means that I listed above. Few players have so many endorsements and promotions that they choose to play a single season and/or international tournament to support themselves for an entire year.

  38. Mousa Alshanteer

    In “In a League of Their Own,” Gail Newsham contributes to the canon of literature on the history of women’s football with her treatment of the Dick, Kerr Ladies, one of the first women’s association football teams in England.

    During the proceedings of the First World War, many women began to disavow the Victorian morality which mandated that they settle, marry, give birth and exclusively provide care for their husbands and children. They soon assumed positions of manual labor, developing and supplying ammunition, food and medical supplies and, thereby, facilitating the war effort. That they successfully assumed such positions in which danger, fatigue and physicality were characteristic inspired some women to assert themselves within fields—literally—within which their perceived delicacy and weakness had previously posed barriers. Indeed, the firm of Dick, Kerr and Co. Ltd., once responsible for the electrification of the railway between Liverpool and Southport, began to develop and supply ammunition after the onset of the First World War. Between their shifts, the younger women would regularly compete with the elder women in games of football, at one point organizing and playing a match on a field in the Penwortham area of Preston. Subsequently, the matron of the Moor Park Military Hospital, which was responsible for treating service personnel wounded during the war, requested that the women at Dick, Kerr assist in their fundraising efforts.

    The women insisted on organizing a Christmas Day football match between themselves and the Arundel Coulthard Foundry—in the process drawing the interest of an approximate 10,000 spectators, the largest attendance for any event at the arena within which the match was played. Thus emerged the Dick, Kerr Ladies. At a match played at the Parc Jean-Dubrulle, in the French town of Roubaix, the Dick, Kerr Ladies attracted 16,000 spectators, the largest attendance for any event at the arena. In 1920, on Boxing Day, the Dick, Kerr Ladies played a match at Goodison Park, in Everton, attracting 53,000 spectators, with between 10,000 and 14,000 spectators unable to gain entry into the arena due to its full capacity. The spectators at the Boxing Day match comprised the largest attendance for any football match, men’s or women’s, since records began in 1888. The Dick, Kerr Ladies eventually attained 759 victories and 46 draws in 833 matches played between 1917 and 1965, having raised in excess of £150,000 for charity—an approximate $4,862,460.00 American dollars, adjusted for inflation—by 1957. “In Preston,” wrote a reporter for the Lancashire Daily Post, “the movement has been fostered instead of decried, and in the Dick, Kerr’s eleven we have had perhaps the best ladies team in the country.” The Dick, Kerr Ladies attracted record-breaking numbers of spectators at every match, raising unprecedented amounts of money for charity and winning unlike any women’s sports team had won before. “All this attention for a bunch of factory girls?,” questioned Newsham. “It couldn’t last. Could it?”

    Indeed, it could not. The popularity of the Dick, Kerr Ladies offended the football association’s ruling council, perhaps, explains Newsham, because it detracted attention provided to men’s football. The football association would make public its concerns regarding the alleged misuse of misappropriation of funds raised at the matches played by Dick, Kerr Ladies, despite the fact that it had assumed responsibility for the receipts and payments at these matches. Eventually, the football association prohibited women’s football teams from playing matches upon its pitches without having attained its prior consent. Furthermore, medical professions began to offer their opinions about the game, lamenting, for instance, that football remained “too much for a woman’s physical frame.” With such medical professionals opinionating that football posed unique risks of serious physical harm to women, the football association dealt the final blow, permanently prohibiting women’s football teams from playing matches upon its pitches and, thereby, forever altering the course of the game. Alice Norris expressed very adequately the sentiments of her fellow teammates. “Everybody was upset because we were drawing the crowds. We just ignored them when they said it wasn’t a suitable game for ladies to play. It was petty. I think it was jealousy.”

    Knowledge about the early history of women’s football—and about the Dick, Kerr Ladies, specifically—is imperative to an understanding of contemporary debates about the game. As a result of the prohibition by the football association, explains Newsham, “the success of women’s football was sentenced to be buried in history.” Indeed, the prohibition would remain in effect until 1971, thereby relegating women’s football to smaller capacity venues within which it would it would suffer from less resources and exposure. Such inequities remain consequential to the game played today.

    The situation of contemporary women’s football, albeit different in that the game has better maneuvered between institutional inequities to attain somewhat of an international following, is similar to the situation of women’s football during the early 1900s. Although arguably more popular than it was during the times of the Dick, Kerr Ladies, contemporary women’s football yet suffers from unequal financial support and little institutional support, as demonstrated by the football association’s inability to address controversy regarding the use of artificial turf within pitches played upon during the most recent women’s World Cup. No federation in the world, explains Jean Williams in Sports Illustrated, provides equal financial support to its women’s and men’s programs, even in the United States, within which the women’s program has attained much more success than the men’s program, having won three World Cups in its short history. Furthermore, 25.4 million spectators tuned in for the most recent women’s World Cup, setting a new television audience high for football in the United States. Such popularity does not appear to transcend geographical borders, however. In 2009, in an effort to increase attention for women’s football in France, the French national team posed nude. Although the names of Abby Wambach, Alex Morgan and Hope Solo are well known within the United States, most of the French public is unable to name a single French woman athlete. Women’s teams in the Caribbean, Haiti and Trinidad receive such little financial support from their federations that they often resort to raise their own money in order to compete in international qualifying games.

    The most recent World Cup, moreover, was the first ever to be played entirely on artificial turf, which was decried by several athletes, most notably Wambach, for its impact upon their performance and propensity to cause injury. In most elite international soccer tournaments, such as the men’s World Cup, grass pitches remain the norm. “The artificial turf is a metaphor, a very visible and inescapable reminder many ways in which institutional forces continue to hold back the development of the women’s game,” writes Professor Dubois in Sports Illustrated. When Wambach, and 80 other women’s football players, sued the Canadian Soccer Association, alleging gender discrimination, the football association went so far as to threaten retaliation against those who filed the suit. The football association, therefore, not only refused to consider the concerns of its women’s football players—reminiscent of its refusal to consider the pleas of the Dick, Kerr Ladies after the announcement of its prohibition—but, also, threatened to impose punishment upon them.

    Women’s football is no less of a game than men’s football. Its treatment to this day, as an inferior alternative to the men’s game, is a historical development that stems from the football association’s 1921 decision to prohibit women’s football teams from playing matches upon its pitches. One hopes that the football association, and federations worldwide, will soon come to their senses.

  39. Carolyn Fishman

    As a female born in the 90s, I cannot imagine my life without sports. Not because I have a dad or a brother who loves them (I do), but also because of the women in my life who love them. My mom was a D-1 athlete, and two of my aunts played D-3 sports. They are a natural part of my life, although I am by far the least athletic in my immediate family. That being said, I had a difficult time throughout Gail Newsham’s book understanding what exactly a ban on women’s soccer accomplished.

    Newsham claims that the FA ban in 1921 was put in place because the women’s games drew crowds larger than the men’s, and it seems that many of the women of the Dick, Kerr team agreed, including Alice Woods (see her quote on page 93). I will admit that I was awed reading about the game where 53,000 fans were in attendance and an additional 14,000 couldn’t even make it to the seats. That viewership seems unprecedented, and as Newsham points out, especially so because of the lack of social media advertising that we are so reliant on today.

    The FA’s reasoning behind the ban claimed that “the game of football is quite unsuitable for females and ought not to be encouraged” (p. 91). Their explanation that bothered me the most was that soccer was too dangerous for women, that they had doctors who said it could mess up the women’s internal organs or strain their muscles. This is particularly baffling considering that women were allowed to play field hockey, tennis, and run competitively – none of which can be considered to not be strenuous. That being said, if the real reason for putting the ban in place was to improve attendance at men’s games, it is extremely petty. Why deprive fans of games they want to see, especially when the games were being played to raise money for charity?

    Then and now: there are parallels between the times of how women’s soccer, and in fact women’s sports in general, are treated, especially when compared to men’s. A previous comment already mentioned the whole turf debacle – one where women were forced to play on turf but men weren’t – so I won’t get into that. There is also the difference in salary. Many argue that people just would rather pay to watch a men’s game than a women’s game. Until I read this book I understood, and then I realized that this Dick, Kerr team drew larger crowds than most men’s teams. And in the US the football game with the most views (on TV)? The women’s 2015 World Cup Final between the US and Portugal drawing 24.7 million viewers ( And so just as people in the 1920s wanted to watch women’s soccer, people in 2015 and beyond do as well.

    Also, on a somewhat related note, we were asked to look at women’s soccer from a global perspective. Instead of focusing on soccer, I want to look at women’s basketball. A sport that is most popular in the US, and yet professional women’s players make much more money abroad than they do playing in the US. I am sure that to some extent there is something similar with women’s soccer, although maybe it is the reverse. What is it that causes this difference?

  40. Seth Johnson

    Gail Newsham’s In a League of Their Own! chronicles the Dick, Kerr Ladies’ dominance of women’s soccer in a way that one cannot help but admire the amazing success of a singular team for such a period of time. This book and the history of women’s soccer itself is very telling, though, based on the fact that I had never heard of the history or known about the records that the British ladies compiled. If someone mentions soccer dominance, I am immediately drawn to visions of the U.S. Women’s National Team and its three World Cup victories, or to the University of North Carolina’s 22 NCAA national championships out of the 36 that have been played. Yet, it speaks volumes for the sport that a team that recorded 759 victories from a total 833 matches played (Newsham: 1988, 233) has been lost to near obscurity in the modern eye.

    Unfortunately for the women’s game, much of the blame can be given to the 1921 FA ban. With growing popularity and increasing exposure for teams like the Dick, Kerr Ladies, the Football Association sought reasons to silence the challenge from across the gender aisle. As Newsham puts it, the FA thought that the women’s game “was taking away too much of the spotlight from the male game” (1988, 81), which created a resentment, due to the size of the crowds, that “the boys didn’t like” (1988, 89). Officially, the FA cited misappropriations of money and that the game was “a dangerous pursuit for ladies” (1988, 90), but much of the resentment can be broken down to a money issue. Teams like the Dick, Kerr Ladies were drawing massive crowds—including one of 53,000 fans in 1920-21, which was much more than the second most at Newcastle United with 41,265 and even a Chelsea game in 1921-22 with 37,545—but the focus of the matches was to raise money for charity and help organizations from the war effort—in no way was women’s soccer a revenue sport for the Football Association.

    Due to the lack of money that the FA could exploit from the game, the ban was set and the women’s game was never the same again because of the loss of pitch availability and exposure. Ironically, this sort of history predicates the lesser coverage and exposure today, especially in relation to viewership and the so-called “Turf War” of the 2015 Women’s World Cup.

    Despite the beauty of the game and the amazing feats on the pitch, it was the pitch itself that received the most attention in 2015. Unlike the men’s game, the women ended up being forced to play on turf—a much more abrasive, game altering surface for play. Rather than focus on the game, players like U.S. forward Abby Wambach were interviewed about the playing surface, which Wambach cited as causing different bounces that made her “second-guess” the ball. If the turf were replaced, she even said, “the U.S. [would have] more goals if we’re playing on grass” (

    FIFA did not want to negotiate on the issue despite the objections, claiming that because Canada was the only nation to bid on the tournament, the rest of the world and players would have to cope. Due to such reasoning, one cannot help but be reminded of the 1921 FA ban and its logic. In Wambach’s words, “The men would strike playing on artificial turf,” but as it stood, FIFA held fast on the playing conditions, despite concerns of increased injury rates, the likelihood of overheating and the chance for ball speed and quality of play to change (

    Another strikingly similar parallel, at least in the U.S., harkens to the crowds that witnessed the Dick, Kerr Ladies. The 2015 Women’s World Cup final between the U.S. Women’s National Team and Japan set television rating as the most-viewed soccer match in U.S. history with just fewer than 23 million viewers ( Like the timing of the FA ban, the level of the men’s sport is not quite has impressive. The U.S.-Belgium match raked in fewer viewers in 2014 and the women’s team continues to be much more successful. Consider that though the women have won three World Cups since 1991, the U.S. men have only made it past the round of 16 twice—a third-place finish in 1930 and a quarterfinal appearance in 2002.

    As much as I have hopes for the women’s game in the future, the neglect by FIFA to equal the playing field once again does not bode well for the direction of the game. Maybe this time around, though, it will not take a ban and the squandering of one of the greatest soccer team’s in history—men’s or women’s—to make those in charge realize the need for equality in the beautiful game. Using the history of the Dick, Kerr Ladies and the transgressions of the past, maybe now the women’s game can receive the proper place it deserves—on a level pitch with the men.

  41. Anne Straneva

    Why was women’s football banned in 1921?

    Sexism in sports is inescapable. The disparity in viewership ratings, pay scales, facilitates, spectatorship, coaching and funding is glaring. Despite the differing scales in female and male soccer, there is a growing sense of equality in the USA given the 2015 successful World Cup win by the women’s team and rise in MLS spectatorship.

    Today’s geopolitical and psychological differences in female soccer can be traced to the Eden of both women and men’s soccer in the industrialized UK. Particularly for women’s soccer, the sport was crystallized in the factory yards at lunch and tea breaks among “munitionettes,” or female artillery workers (Newsham, 19). World War I drew young man out of the industrial field onto the battle fields, and women out of the cult of domesticity into the work force. The case study of Dick, Kerr Ladies FC rom Preston shows the success of a group of women who experienced international fame and paved the way for the popularization of the game for women players. What was shocking was the pace of popularity the sport gained, as the women traveled farter for fresh and strong opposition. (Newsham, 41).

    The tipping point that led to the ban by the FA occurred after a match between St. Helen Ladies and Dick, Kerr, whereby a crowd of 53,000 spectators gathered on Boxing Day in 1920. Alarmed by the crowd size the FA placed a ban on Women’s football for “blubs belonging to the Association to refuse the use of their grounds for such matches” stating the reasons in short:
    1. unsuitable for females and ought not to be encouraged
    2. appropriation of receipts other than Charitable objects
    (Newsham, 71).

    The barring of sufficiently large venues hampered the bottom line for the clubs. The growth in popularity and participation was daunting, but the true reasons lie in a more fundamental human psyche’s resistance to change. Such reasons include a loss of control, excess uncertainty, surprise, ripple effects and past sentiments. ( The loss of control in the work place and sports arena as women increased competition, uncertainty as to the geographic and economic scope of the sport, surprise at it’s fast popularity, ripple effects to other sports and sectors of the society and leisure. I was encouraged by a comment made by one of the former Dick, Kerr players, which stated: “They are not attempted to stop it – they have not the power to do it – but they have put obstacles in the way of its growth.” (Newsham, 94). Indeed, the 50 year ban which was lifted in 1971 did stunt the growth of the global support of the sport. It lent itself to the creation of stigmas for women in the sport, as football took root around the globe.

    My propisition for the the FA implemented at the ban was at its core fear. Fear for the unknown and fear for a loss in power. Fear and power govern our world and take many forms. The key for the continued assimilation and popularity of women’s soccer is for the continued success of programs to attract talent, coaching and supporters. Accrued wins may merit a platform of legitimacy, but it is global particpation in something bigger than the individual that will earn the trust and loyalty of the world. “Winning was a bonus, being part of it is what really mattered.” (Newsham, 9).

    Reference sources:

  42. R. Lewandowski

    The Dick, Kerr Ladies emerged from a tide of change that swept the Western world at the turn of the 20th century. The First World War I forced public sentiment to grow fonder of the idea of women working outside of the domestic sphere. Women took to factories such as Dick, Kerr and Co. Ltd. where they shelled out ammunitions for the war effort, proving that they could indeed endure intense physical work. While at the factory, they picked up another skill: soccer. Since the war effort left most charities strapped for cash, the Dick, Kerr ladies instigated their rise to fame by playing games for charity. Doing so, they proved that the soccer pitch wasn’t any different than the factory armament floor—they could play the men’s game too.

    The book In a League of Their Own by Gail Newsham documents early reactions to the ladies’ game, and in doing so, sheds light on the politics of contemporary women’s soccer. On Christmas Day 1917, the Dick, Kerr ladies attracted a crowd of 10,000 spectators. And yet, the spectators were not there out of appreciation for the ladies’ finesse and soccer know-how. Newsham recounts the text of a 1917 newspaper that describes how at first “the audience were inclined to treat the game with a little too much levity.” Only when they saw that the ladies “meant business” did they begin impartially cheering for each side (pg. 28).

    In a League of Their Own continues to describe how the Dick, Kerr Ladies gained respect from large audiences in the following years. For instance, on Boxing Day 1920, a crowd of around 67,000 people were willing to pay to watch the ladies play their game, a remarkable group that otherwise could be called “an ordinary bunch of factory girls from Lancashire,” as Newsham puts it (pg. 73). This success, however, worked against them, leading to the FA ban on women’s soccer in 1921. Newsham suggests that the fact that the women were drawing larger crowds than the men precipitated the FA’s action to require clubs belonging to the association to label their fields “men only.” This was done under the guise that soccer was detrimental to women’s natural, delicate physique. The result: ladies’ soccer turned to “dust heaps” while the men played on elite soccer pitches (pg. 121).

    If we fast-forward a few decades, today the average American high school girls’ soccer team has a nicely groomed soccer match complete with pinstriped officials at its disposal. Ostensibly, we’ve come a long way. And yet, the FA’s 1921 action bears an uncanny resemblance to FIFA’s role in the politics of contemporary women’s soccer. In his June 2015 article in Sports Illustrated ( ), Laurent Dubois explores some of the controversy surrounding the artificial turf that covered all the fields used in the Women’s World Cup last summer. Dubois ultimately suggests that the artificial turf is symbolic: it is indicative of a palpable disrespect for women’s soccer. After all, why do the men get to play on grass, while the most important competition in ladies’ soccer was played on artificial turf that has been suggested to be associated with increased injury rates and poorer play? Just like the FA left women on the outskirts of the soccer pitch, FIFA too has not taken a strong stance in mandating equal treatment for ladies’ and men’s soccer in all facets of the game, from the quality of the pitch to player salaries.

    Some other places to look for the history of women’s soccer in other parts of the globe:
    South Africa:

  43. Stephen Kirchner

    Reading through Gail Newsham’s In a League of Their Own, it’s difficult to not be struck by the early history of women’s football. I fully admit I knew nothing of the Dick, Kerr Ladies team before the book, and I came away frankly astonished by some of the feats that the women accomplished. Stories of players like Lily Parr and her 900 goals were astonishing, and hearing of the record of the team through the earlier 1900s in particular was just absurd. Playing 833 games and winning 759, for any team, would be incredible. The fact that the team was almost entirely forgotten until recently, though, stinks of the FA ban that still has lasting repercussions to today. It’s difficult to fathom the 1921 FA ban against women playing football, except as Newsham describes it: ‘clearly they {Dick, Kerrs} were victims of their own success’ (p92). Dick, Kerrs played ’65 games of football and almost 900,000 people had come to watch them’ (p92) in the year preceding the ban. Simply put, it seems like the FA ban was just an issue of envy. Men’s football attendance was down, and women were benefitting. Players on Dick, Kerrs were the biggest stars in the country, and not male players. Chauvinism changed the entire trajectory of the sport. As Newsham points out, while the ban didn’t immediately stop women’s football, it did make things far more difficult for women’s teams to compete. By forbidding women to play on FA grounds, crowds became smaller and it became harder to keep players coming to the sport. That’s why Dick, Kerr Ladies had to shut up shop in 1965. Even being the most successful women’s sports team of arguably all-time could not stop male centered rulings from shutting down the sport.
    The story parallels between the last Women’s World Cup and the Dick, Kerr Ladies team are striking, to say the least. When you realize that the Women’s 2015 World Cup was played on turf fields, different fields than men are asked to play on, you have to ask whether things have changed at all between 1921 and now. The biggest player issue of the last World cup was the field. The turf caused all sorts of problems, and continues to do so; only a month ago, the US Women refused to play a game against Trinidad and Tobago after a string of injuries related to turf fields. Alex Morgan, arguably the biggest star of the young generation of women’s football, told Fox Sports that the women finally asked ‘whether we should be playing on it if men wouldn’t play on it’. The echoes of football past are incredible here. Being forced onto different, poorer quality fields is one thing, but the amount of money is another. The US Women, winners of the World Cup, and the best women’s team in the world, won $2 million for participating in the cup. The US men, on the other hand, received $9 million, and reached only the first knock out stage. Women’s football in the US is arguably more popular, too; 25.4 million people watched the 2015 Women’s final, the most watched football match in US history. And yet, Women’s professional football in the states has gone through at least 3 different leagues since the early 2000s. None have been able to hold down their existence for long, and the money question is always the problem. While it might be oversimplifying to say that all of these inequities arose from that single 1921 FA ban, it certainly set a precedent. At the time, it was suggested that women weren’t physically able to play football, but in reality, it was always a matter of money. By making women’s football as a whole a second class sport, the FA set the tone of marginalizing and antagonizing the sport. That trend is still existent within FIFA today, and while the women’s game has come a long way, it still has some distance to go. Only by unravelling history like Newsham do we stand a chance of leveling the playing field. If there is any lesson we can learn from the Dick, Kerr Ladies Football team, it is that playing on different fields and against organizational opposition should not get in the way of the women’s game. Instead, we should continue to celebrate and admire our women footballers, for all of their ability, irrespective of their gender.

  44. Rachael Humke

    Women’s soccer began in the munitions factories during World War I (Newsham, p. 19). The sport would eventually find its foothold and develop teams throughout the world. What is remarkable is the fact that these women played for charity, with the Dick, Kerr ladies having won “in excess of £150,000 for charity” by 1957 (Newsham, p. 216). Yet the FA decided to ban the play of this sport on their fields on December 5, 1921 (Newsham, p. 91). The reasons for this ban, both those cited and those hidden, add a new layer to contemporary debates in women’s soccer.

    Why would the FA put a ban on events that were raising so much money, ~£ 1.3 million with today’s inflation, for charity ( The council cited the unsuitableness of the game for women and misappropriation of the funds received as their reasons to create this ban (Newsham, p. 91). But what Gail Newsham, author of In a League of Their Own!, proposes is quite different. The problem with women’s soccer was that it put a strain on the men’s division. In fact, the women were drawing bigger crowds than the men when they played (Newsham, p. 89). During the 1921 season (January- December) the women drew a total of 900,000 spectators (Newsham, p. 92) with 35,000 attending a one of their matches alone (Newsham, p. 99). This is in direct contrast to the men’s teams where the largest crowd for the First Division was 37, 545 and the Second Division was 20,100 (Newsham, p. 93). By continuing to let the women play the FA was losing crowds and therefore losing funds. In ordered to stop this drain from occurring the FA must interfere in women’s soccer which brings us to the implementation of the ban. What the ban did was prevent the play of women’s soccer on any FA fields and thus limit the spread of women’s soccer.

    Discrimination such as this is still present in contemporary women’s soccer. Take for example the 2015 Women’s World Cup, which FIFA (Fédération Internationale de Football Association) and CSA (Canadian Soccer Association) determined would be played on artificial turf. While this does not seem like a huge issue it is important to understand that a tournament of this standard had never been played on this type of turf before nor would the men’s cups in 2018 or 2022. Aside from this, it is important to note that the men had never been asked to play on artificial turf because “CSA’s General Secretary reportedly stated that for men ‘it has to be grass…our [men’s] coaching staff and players prefer grass. There’s a preference for that’ ” ( In other words, the men asked and they shall receive while the women are set to play on a field which they state “fundamentally alters the way the game is played [and subjects] them to unique and serious risks of injury” ( Like the original ban by the FA in 1921 we again see women in soccer become second-class citizens. While in this case the stadium is at least being provided, there is no equality between the stadium for the men and the women.

    There has always been discrepancy between the perceived levels of men’s and women’s soccer. From the FA ban in 1921 to the lawsuit over artificial turf in 2014 women have been treated as secondary by the associations that govern both national and international soccer. It is important to note this history when viewing contemporary issues in women’s soccer to understand the outrage of women’s teams over what may, to the outsider, appear to be small discrepancies. What these “small discrepancies” are, are additions to a larger issue, another straw added to the camel’s back.

    Newsham, Gail J. In a League of Their Own! The Dick, Kerr Ladies. S.I: Paragon, 2014. Print.


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