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Halftime and the 50 Year Ban

Words: Kelly Mackay

Images: Bertil Nilsson

During the First World War factories in England were changed in order to mass produce ammunition for the war. Women were drafted from all over the country into towns to work in these factories and were referred to as the “Munitionettes”. They were encouraged to take up physical activity to ensure that they were maintaining physical well-being whilst working.

The most popular option was, of course, football.

In 1917, at the Dick, Kerr & Co Ltd munition works factory in Preston, Lancashire, a group of women started a football team in the same year that women were granted the right to vote due to the immovable force of the Suffragettes. Their games drew crowds of 4,000 to over 50,000 spectators per game and they remained in existence, despite many attempts to shut them down, for over 48 years. In 1920, Dick, Kerr’s Ladies defeated a French side
2–0 in front of 25,000 people which went down in history as the first international women’s football game.

However, in 1921, when their popularity was at its absolute peak and they were averaging two games a week in towns all over the country, the FA claimed to have received complaints about the women, describing them as a threat because of how many people they attracted to their games, which was described as “a threat to the national sport”. There were also claims that it
was dangerous as it could affect their fertility if they were to continue playing.

On the 5th December 1921, the FA banned women from using league grounds and stadiums controlled by FA-affiliated clubs. But despite this, Dick, Kerr’s Ladies went on to play over 800 games of football around the world and raised over £180,000 for ex-servicemen, hospitals and the poor. This figure would convert to around £10 million today.

The Women’s Football Association was formed in 1969 and the FA finally recognised women’s football in 1971, 50 years after they had banned it when the WFA was granted County status. The WFA administered all its own affairs until 1993 when it was disbanded and the FA took over responsibility for women’s football. We owe our gratitude to people like the Dick, Kerr Ladies, who turned around and faced adversity in a time that was built entirely around physical judgement and stereotypical role placement. We owe it to them and ourselves to keep pushing for equality and realise that we have not yet reached our end goal, but we are most certainly on our way.

Now is the time to open our eyes and read about those who came before us and the causes they fought for to make a difference in the world.

We don’t want to hear any more excuses because we’re here for answers.

The Women’s World Cup kicks off today and has received record-breaking coverage and global support. The amount of female teams and initiatives in London alone has more than doubled in the past year, with more and more recognition finally being received after relentless perseverance and campaigning from its unstoppable players and fans.

But this isn’t over yet. There are still teams who need funding, coaches who need bursaries and people who lack enough confidence to reach out and get involved. Let us see the Women’s World Cup as a milestone but not a conclusion; a platform upon which we can launch our cause forward and resolve all of the underlying issues within women’s football that still exist.

We don’t want your hand-me-down men’s kits with their initials on. We don’t want to train in car parks because our wealthy football club won’t pay for a training ground. We don’t want to hear any more excuses because we’re here for answers.

A new day is on the horizon, we just have to fight for it with everything we have.