You Can’t Keep a Good Thing Down: The resurgence of women’s football

On Boxing Day 1920 a football match took place at Goodison Park in Liverpool in front of 53,000 people, with another 10,000 locked out of the ground. This match, between Dick, Kerr Ladies and St Helens Ladies was until last year, the record attendance for a women’s football match in England.

With such an huge attendance it’s worth asking what happened to the popularity of women’s football in England?


We have to go back to before the Goodison game to find the routes women’s football. Women had participated in the ‘mob style’ village games that preceded what we now know as football, but when the game became more organised during the 19th century there was an effort to exclude women. It wasn’t long, though, before women only games were played, the first official match taking place in 1895.

Women’s football increased in popularity during the first decade of the 1900’s, in part due to the Suffragette movement. During World War One, with most of the male players off at the front, women’s charity matches took place. The success of the game continued to grow and in 1919 the most successful team, Dick, Kerr Ladies played the first international against a French side, loosing 2-0. The peak of the women’s game came a year later with that local derby at Goodison. The attendance that day was much higher than for most men’s games at the time. And that is where it began to go wrong. The all male FA (Football Association) was not prepared to have the popularity of the women’s game threaten the profits from the men’s professional league.


So on the 5th December 1921, in a shameless act of sexism, the FA banned women’s football from all FA clubs, effect. One of the official reason was “football is quite unsuitable for females and ought not to be encouraged”. The ban lasted for 50 years, eventually being lifted in 1973.

Since the lifting of the ban the sport has seen a resurgence although the game in England has had a lot of catching up to do. The successful launch of the Woman’s Super League (WSL) in 2011 was matched with a marked improvement on the international stage.

So all seems to be looking up once again. Unfortunately not. Just as the FA appeared to have it’s house in order where the women’s game is concerned the old (male) cronies had to interfere. Once again money seems to be the issue. In a bid to expand the league the FA announced this month that Doncaster Belles are going to be kicked out of the WSL in favour of Manchester City. Doncaster finished second from bottom last season, and City finished fourth in the second tier Premier League, so there are no grounds for this decision. What is worse is that the announcement came after only one game of the season. So Doncaster are relegated after on 90 mins of the season!

This article referenced Anarchist Football (Soccer) Manual by AAP Collective (2006)



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