Historic Blunders

7th May 2004 at 01:00
Place your bets for England to win the 2007 Football World Cup. Err, surely some mistake, I hear you cry.

Isn't the next clash of soccer's Titans and their logo-speckled shirts due to take place in 2006?

Well, yes, if you mean men's footie. But I'm talking about women. I'm talking about the brave girls who are prepared to take to the pitch despite years of ridicule. And not just ridicule. In 1921, the council of the Football Association announced that: "Complaints having been made as to football being played by women, the council feels impelled to express its strong opinion that the game is quite unsuitable for females and ought not to be encouraged ... the council requests that clubs belonging to the association refuse the use of their grounds for such matches." "Such matches" was a reference to the meeting of two women's clubs on Boxing Day 1920. Dick Kerr Ladies team took to the pitch against St Helen's, an event that attracted 53,000 spectators. The popularity of the girls who scored goals was too much for the FA. After all, football was for fellas, wasn't it?

Well, not quite. During the First World War, women had taken to soccer like those proverbial ducks to water. While the menfolk were suffering in the trenches, their wives and daughters were not just digging for victory. Many of those working in the factories were also tackling football. They organised teams and matches, often raising money for the war effort.

But the 1921 clamp down was a classic own goal. The FA drove the female game underground. Women banned from decent pitches and denied an official league basically gave up. Only the most dedicated put up with the dirt, the cold, and the disapproval. One star player of the time remembers having to dive into a duck pond to clean up after a game. A sweaty changing room with running water would have seemed a vision of paradise. It was not until 1970 that the FA lifted its ban on women's soccer. Now girls at school are encouraged to take to the pitch, and to cheer on their sisters in 2007.

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