“The band marched in front of the charabanc, which made a tour through the streets before arriving at the factory. The team was enthusiastically cheered and welcomed by crowds all along the route and the players waved Union Jacks and Tricolours in acknowledgment” (Newsham 77).
I know what you might be thinking — surely this described setting was part of the celebrations when the World Cup came home for the first time in 1966 — or, maybe a parade rejoicing the end of a long and grueling war.
“Perhaps they heeded the warning, or maybe not enough as 53,000 spectators were packed inside Goodison Park, with between 10,000-14,000 unable to gain admission. There were so many people about that day, the players had to have a police escort to get them safely to the changing room” (83).
It would be ridiculous to think this scenario describes anything other than a massive Merseyside Derby, Liverpool’s bitter rivalry between Everton FC and Liverpool FC, especially since it took place in Everton’s own, Goodison Park – right?
If for the first scenario you envisioned the cup coming home, you are wrong. If for some insane reason this description reminded you of an early 20th century women’s football club, you might be a genius or just plain crazy. Sorry to disappoint again, but if you guessed the Merseyside Derby for the second scenario, that too would be incorrect.
These descriptions are actually excerpts from Gail Newsham’s novel In a League of Their Own!, which tells the story of one of the most impressive clubs in English football history, and one could argue global history. The Dick, Kerr Ladies Football Club was founded by female munition workers who were employed at the Dick, Kerr factory, in Preston, during the bloody years of the First World War. The war killed millions worldwide, and nearly 900,000 brave Britains (Schuman). With so many deaths, it wasn’t surprising that many of the Dick, Kerr ladies had lost brothers to the conflict. Personally affected, these women decided to break social norms and dedicate themselves to raising money for war charities by playing in charity football matches.
So, how on earth did a factory team transform into one of England’s most beloved group of superstars? Well, the more matches were played, the more money was raised, the popularity of the Dick, Kerr Ladies Football Club also rose. It didn’t hurt to have a few surprisingly fantastic footballers in and added to the side over the years as well. Oh, and I should probably mentioned these ladies DOMINATED other English teams for the whole of the early 20th century. Double digit scores happened more than they should have, and losses were extremely rare. Above all, the nation loved how dedicated, passionate, and talented the ladies were, and furthermore, how they were playing to benefit those hurt by the war. For this reason, the Dick, Kerr Ladies Football Club found the spotlight.
It is incredible that nearly 100 years ago, a women’s football club was born out of the strong will of women determined to help those in need. But the thing is, Dick, Kerr FC was something more than
a club with its focus on just charity. Perhaps it was the fierce competition and demonstrated love for the fame that filled Goodison Park. There was something different about the ladies. In my opinion, these women might have been the most celebrated and popular sports stars of their respective country at the time. Everywhere the team went, the streets would be filled with admirers, the stadiums full of thousands of supporters (at the side’s height, numbers higher than 20,000 became common). The presence and influence Dick, Kerr Ladies Football Club had in England is truly remarkable. Unfortunately, since women’s football was banned for many decades, the buzz around women’s football has faded. It is hard to envision any nation reaching the fervor the English experienced when the munition women from Preston came into town.
Newsham, Gail. In A League of Their Own. 2018.
Schuman, Robert. “World War I Casualties .” Reperes, 2011.