Pre 1991 Women’s Soccer

Women’s football has seen vast transitions and improvements over the last century and a half. This summer FIFA shall embark on their seventh Women’s World Cup, and we shall witness the 24 best teams from across the globe. As more and more nations adopt and accept female football, it is becoming more and more prominent in today’s society. However, it has been a tough journey to establish the game beside the male dominated industry.



The earliest accounts of women’s football date back hundreds and thousands or years ago. However, it wasn’t until the late 19th century that the women’s game actually began to emerge. The first recorded game took place in Glasgow in 1892 but a lack of plaudits and much unfavorable light detracted from the historical game. Critics spoke out about it being a “feeble imitation” and how “unfitted the female anatomy” was1. Nevertheless, 2 years later, Nettie Honeyball, a women’s rights activist, partitioned to create a female club. The British Ladies Football club was formed and depicted the first real breakthrough into the exclusive male game.

In 1895, Nettie Honeyball participated in the first England women’s football game. The game saw the North take on the South, and Nettie captained the North to a convincing 7-1 victory. Helen Mathews (or her goalkeeping name Mrs Graham) was the other well-known player at the time as she captained the British Ladies Football club2. The debacle attracted large crowds, but  it was more the revealing outfits than the skills that the captivated the audience. The teams wore bloomers and blouses that shocked many at the time but ultimately lead to grater empowerment for women3.


The Munitionettes

On 4th August, 1914, England and Germany went to war. This played a pivotal role in realigning the female image and establishing themselves alongside the men. During the war, females were required to fill the void left by the fighting men. Employment for women skyrocketed and 1.6million women joined the workforce during the period 1914-19184. The Munitions Act of 1915 saw the government seize control of all factories and employment of women within reached 950,000. It was at these very factories that football became the main distraction during lunch breaks and the game began to flourish. The trend was set amongst Munitions Factories across the UK and teams slowly began to form. The factories began to arrange matches and a virtual league began to form. The league attracted fans from across the country as it was deemed a suitable replacement to the male game. The ideology behind the preservation of the sport was also to raise money to treat the injured soldiers during the war.

The Prime Minister at the time, David Lloyd George, encouraged the female football movement as it positively reinforced the female image in contemporary society. Therefore, in 1917 the Munitionettes’ Cup was formed and attracted 30 teams from across the UK. The cup drew a crowd of 10,000 for the first game and much larger crowds as the years passed on. The final of this eagerly anticipated competition saw Blyth Spartans’ Munition Girls and Bolckow meet in the final at St. James’ Park. The game ended in a 0-0 draw but managed to raise an impressive £691. The replay took place a month and a half later on 18th May, which Blyth comfortable won 5-05.

On Boxing Day of 1920, perhaps the largest crowd was witnessed at a monumental 53,000. The match saw Dick Kerr’s Ladies (Preston) face St. Helens at Goodison Park, the home ground to Everton Football Club6. The match in fact was so popular that 10-15,000 fans were left outside after the turnstiles had been shut.

Dick Kerr’s Ladies were the most celebrated team, at the time, hosting an impressive record. The team originated from the factory Dick, Kerr & Co with its founders William Bruce Dick and John Kerr. The team was the first modern day women’s team as they followed suit with the male sport. The ladies were the first team to wear matching shorts for a game, and even transferred players. The team also set the precedent for international matches on 31st October when they travelled to Pershing Stadium, Paris to play a French XI. In total the Preston team raised £22,525 over the course of a year, which is equivalent to £300,000 in today’s inflated society7.

1921 FA Ban

On 5th December, 1921, after the surge in popularity of the women’s game, during World War one, the FA banned women from competing on grounds. They released the flowing statement:

“Complaints have been made as to football being played by women, the council feel impelled to express their strong opinion that the game of football is quite unsuitable for females and ought not to be encouraged. 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 requests clubs belonging to the association to refuse use of their grounds for such matches8.” 

The FA deemed that despite the women’s game had intact become too popular and was stealing the limelight away from the male game. The ban not only inhibited the female game but it also detracted from the vast and needed funds that were being raised for the wounded. The ban lead to the end of the golden age, or at least it was meant to. Instead, rugby grounds across the UK allowed teams such as Preston to continue their crusade.

Inn July 1971, the ban was uplifted.

Prohibition era

Over the next 50 years the female game, in the UK wavered, as it was very difficult for teams to find playing fields on a weekly basis. However, while the UK slumped other European nations began to form Women’s FA’s in the 1930s. Italy and France both formed Women’s Leagues in the early 1930s, which was most likely the byproduct of the 1934 Men’s World Cup hosted in Italy. Moreover, in 1950 Italy established their Women’s National Association. Likewise, the USA formed their first women’s league in 1951 called the Craig Club Girls Soccer League. 6 years later, Germany hosted the first International competition of its kind, an unofficial European Championships9.

The 1960s began to see women’s football internationally take off as many National Associations were set up. The USA also inaugurated the first College Varsity team at Castleton State College, VT, in the mid 1960s. Title IX of the 1965 Education Act further enhanced the game in colleges across the USA to parallel the male orientated game10.

However, it wasn’t until after the 1966 Men’s World Cup, that the female game began to professionalize.

AFC Women’s Asian Cup

The 1970s saw the FA uplift its ban and in Italy they witnessed the first professional football players. In 1975, Asia hosted the first women’s Asian cup took place in Hong Kong. The competition lasted from 25th August to 3rd September and hosted 6 teams (New Zealand, Thailand, Australia, Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia), with the eventual winner being New Zealand (NZ 3-1 Thailand).

The tournament was the first of a biennial occurrence and we have since seen 17 tournaments across Asia and Australasia. Today, the tournament serves as the World Cup Qualifier and enlists the top 8 teams11.

Leading off of the tournaments success Oceania followed suit and in 1983 created the Oceania Football Cup. The tournament is triennial and hosts any of the 11 Oceanic national teams that enter the tournament.

The 80s

The final decade before the 91 World Cup witnessed the greatest transition and alignment into the male mold. UEFA introduced their Official European Championship in 1984. The Tournament staged 4 qualifying groups and then a final with 4 teams (Denmark, Italy, England & Sweden), staging games over multiple legs. This was perhaps the largest scale tournament at the time and was preceded by the 1987 and 1989 European Championships. At this point, with the exception of Africa the Female game was on a worldwide basis, with every continent having their own leagues and tournaments.

This was the last milestone and the keystone for the arrival of the 1991 World Cup.

By James Peek


1) Macbeth, Jessica. “Women’s Football in Scotland: An Historical Overview.” Women, Football and Europe: Histories, Equity and Experience. Vol. 1. Oxford: Meyer & Meyer Sport (UK), 2007. 8. Print.

2) “Helen Matthews”. 2014. Web.

3) Wilkes, David. “Kicking up a Fuss, the First Female Footballers Wearing Blouses and Bloomers Who Sparked Riots When They Took to the Field.” Mail Online. Associated Newspapers, 9 Dec. 2011. Web. 22 Apr. 2015. <>.

4) Martin, Sara. “Women and WWI – Women in the Workforce: Temporary Men.” First World 22 Aug. 2009. Web. 25 Apr. 2015. <>.

5) DonMouth. “Football on Tyneside 1914-1919.” Football on Tyneside 1914-1919. Web. 27 Apr. 2015. <>.

6) Wikipedia. “Dick, Kerr’s Ladies F.C.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 6 Jan. 2015. Web. 26 Apr. 2015. <,_Kerr’s_Ladies_F.C.>.

7) Newsham, Gail J. “Kicked Into Touch.” In a League of Their Own!: The Dick, Kerr Ladies : Football’s Best Kept Secret. S.I: Paragon, 2014. 102. Print.

8) Newsham, Gail J. “Kicked Into Touch.” In a League of Their Own!: The Dick, Kerr Ladies : Football’s Best Kept Secret. S.I: Paragon, 2014. 91. Print.

9) History of Soccer. “History of Soccer – Women in Soccer.” Women in Soccer. Web. 26 Apr. 2015. <>.

10) Litterer, David. “Women’s Soccer History in the USA: An Overview.” Women’s Soccer History in the USA: An Overview. 17 Aug. 2011. Web. 27 Apr. 2015. <>.

11) Wikipedia. “AFC Women’s Asian Cup.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 12 Apr. 2015. Web. 28 Apr. 2015. <’s_Asian_Cup>.



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