With so many men off fighting in World War I, the women of Britain had a chance to fill in – not only in the workplace, but on the football pitch. The women’s version of the beautiful game, which had slowly been growing in the 19th century, kicked off big time.
Formalised into leagues, women’s football drew huge crowds, and the powerhouse team were undoubtedly Dick, Kerr Ladies. Their Boxing Day match in 1920 against St Helen’s was watched at Goodison Park by 53,000 fans, with another 14,000 outside trying to cram in.
But the war had ended by then, and there was a desire among many men to put society back to the way it had always been – with women out of work and, in terms of sports, relegated. In December 1921, the Football Association banned women’s games on their grounds and forbade its members from acting as referees and linesmen. Women’s football was effectively hobbled.
It was claimed that sport was unsuitable for women, with a (female) doctor stating it was “too much for a women’s physical frame” and could harm fertility. As one team captain put it, the ban was simply “sex prejudice”. It would only be lifted in 1971, meaning women’s football had been off the team for decades, while the men’s game only flourished.
This article was taken from the July 2019 issue of BBC History Revealed