Scottish Women's Football

My personal blog on Scottish Women's Football

Growth of Women’s Football in 1896

I have started a research project to discover more about the history of Women’s Football in Scotland. This is my third blog, looking at the British Ladies Football Club expanded in 1896, and how this was reported.

The Dover Express reported on the 3rd January 1896 an interview from Woman’s Life with Miss Hudson – the captain of the British Ladies’ Football Club’s North Team. She is described as a five foot seven “tall, shapely brunette”, and by wearing her football “dress”, the writer states:

…she looks the very personification of the “New Woman”.

The title of the piece “A Famous Football Player” clearly shows the success of the British Ladies’ Football Club (BLFC). From the piece, it seems (although the original question is not quoted) that there was at least a rumour stating Miss Hudson had come up with the idea of the football club. She refutes this, saying the it was the idea of the club’s secretary Miss Nettie Honeyball. But she does reveal she was involved with the club “from its inception”, and her pride is clear. Miss Hudson also confirms earlier reports that Lady Florence Dixie, the club’s president, only joined once she was sure of the women’s seriousness towards playing football.

Miss Hudson also gives some insight into the club’s recruitment policy, saying:

We get plenty of applications for admission to the club, but it is not every girl who can play football, although I have yet to come across one who didn’t think she could if she tried. Our usual rule with a new applicant is to ask her to come up and practice some afternoon. I can very soon see whether or not she has got any football in her.

She is very proud that they train every day, regardless of the weather. Interestingly, she talks about the added health benefits from playing football, saying her health had never been better since picking up the sport – even saying it had cured her indigestion. Her sister May is revealed not only to play for the North side, but she also had her own health issues cured:

…she [May] had a weak chest, and the doctors said she was in danger of developing consumption; but now, after 12 months’ footballing, she is as sound as a bell. There is scarcely a girl in either of the teams who could not run her mile in five and a quarter minutes.

Source: The Lincolnshire Chronicle 2nd March 1896

Source: The Lincolnshire Chronicle 2nd March 1896

On the 2nd March 1896, The Lincolnshire Chronicle who had been relatively supportive of the club, included an advert for an upcoming game. In the accompanying article, they praise the football club as another example of progress. They state that in Lincoln, the appearance of the British Ladies Football Club had caused “immense interest”, and they even believe there could be a record crowd at the Sincil Bank Ground for the game, which was due to be played on the 28th March 1896. The article finishes with a plea to the readers to avoid the “inevitable crush at the gates”, and a reminder tickets could be bought before the game.

On the day before the game (27th March 1896) the newspaper states that the club’s President Lady Florence Dixie:

This eminent lady [Florence], however, saw, as all reasonable persons would, the danger of the game being burlesqued rather than the object of the club, which was to demonstrate the feminine nature was not merely ornamental, but that it could participate with advantage in the healthful and invigorating pastime of football.

When it came to the reporting of the game, the newspaper’s sporting reporter, going under a typical pseudonym of “Linesman”, wastes the first two-thirds of his report with what I assume is meant to be comedic writing like this:

I wonder who doesn’t admire the women. Just look for a minute what we owe to them. They sew on our buttons (sometimes), mend our clothes (occasionally), confide in us, deceive us, and tell us every possible thing they can find out about the little private affairs of our neighbours.

When he actually gets onto reporting on the match, he informs us that there were sixteen women: Eight from the South/Reds and Eight from the North/Blues. The only goal was scored by the South team (this is not initially clear because Linesman tries to tell a joke), and when a female player nicknamed “Jimmy Burke” converted a free-kick move. Linesman could not confirm the identity of the scorer this because:

I must confess ignorance as to the proper name of the damsel, my native bashfulness not permitting of a visit to the dressing-room to enquire. For the same reason I am unable to identify that sprightly tartlet whom the spectators donned “Bloomer,” or that pretty girl “Smallman,” or the sprinter “Tommy,” or any of the others for that matter.

He then mentions that both teams had a man in goal, but Linesman had no compliments for the game:

…those who went for fun got it, and no mistake, but those who went to see football had far better have stayed away. The croakers do not deserve sympathy. Some expected a scientific game, forgetting that ladies are not built that way.

The game finished 1-0 to the South Team.

The British Ladies’ Football Club’s tour continued, as the Kent & Sussex Courier reported on the 10th April 1896 – with a game due to be played on the 11th April – and the prospect had caused “much excitement in the Mother Town”.

On the 11th April 1896, the Hampshire Telegraph reported on a British Ladies’ Football Club match played in Portsmouth on Easter Monday (6th April) – which incidentally was the same day as the Opening Ceremony of the First Modern Olympics. It was watched by 4,000 spectators whom the article states, had come for fun. The journalist criticises the women for:

…their spirited play was softened with gentleness and consideration. There was no charging, and if one lady saw that an opponent really wanted to kick the leather she placed no impediment in her way.

The spectators were also said to be “generous and personal with their criticism.” The game ended North 7-3 South.

There was a match with the British Ladies’ Football Club played at Victoria Ground in Stockton on the 25th April 1896, as reported by the Northern Echo two days later. The report is only five lines long, and states there was a “moderate attendance”, and that North won 5-1.

Soon, the British Ladies’ Football Club were travelling to Dublin, Ireland. It was reported in the Belfast News-Letter on the 18th May 1896 (in their Dublin News section) that the game that was due to be played at Jones’ Road grounds had to be postponed because the “ladies missed the boat at Holyhead”. The game was rearranged for the next Monday, and their journalist believe spectators who had planned to go “more out curiosity than enthusiasm” would be disappointed. It should be noted that I think the Jones’ Road Grounds eventually became Croke Park. The Freeman’s Journal showed a letter from Maurice Butterly, the manager and director of City and Suburban Grounds. In the letter, she showed another issue of Victorian sport:

On my arrival in town this morning I was shown a telegram by Mr V O’Brien to the effect that the team had missed the boat at Holyhead and could not appear as advertised. I regret time did not allow of the publication of their nonappearance (which does not rest with the management of the C and S grounds)

There is an interesting report in the Dundee Courier on the 29th May 1986, because it describes a women’s football match in St Andrews that does not necessarily equate to the British Ladies’ Football Club. It refers to the women’s team as “The Ladies’ Football Eleven” who played the Ancient City Athletic – they were put up in the Cross Keys Hotel. It is said that:

Then the hearts of the spectators went out to the ladies, and when leaving the field they received a hearty cheer, on which they blushed very prettily. Throughout the crowd was very good-humoured, and went home quite satisfied.

The game finished Ladies Eleven 9-7 Ancient City Athletic.

The British Ladies’ Football Club tour continued to Guernsey (The Channel Islands), as reported in The Star – Guernsey on the 7th July 1896. It states that a match will be played between the British Ladies’ Football Club and the Guernsey Rangers on the 30th July. On the 23rd July 1896, the newspaper mentions they might also visit Jersey, and they hoped the match would be played at Delancey Park. Two days later, it was revealed the match would be played at “Mr Bartlett’s field at Les Vardes”. I have yet to find out what the score is at this match. Once I do, I will update this blog.

The Cornishman reports on the 17th September 1896, that there was a match played at the Recreation Ground in Falmouth between the British Ladies’ Football Club and a local male team. It reports only seven women turned up and so they had four men in their side. The game was won 5-4 by the BLFC.

In the Belfast News-Letter’s Metropolitan Gossip column (12 October 1896), there is an interesting mention. As with all gossip, it is hard to tell if it is true. But it seems to show that the club were struggling financially – however, it is not clear whether this is the BLFC or another women’s football team. This is what it says:

The ladies’ football club, known to Belfast, has fallen upon evil days. A meeting at Exeter was spoiled by the rain, at least so the ladies tell the story, and the expense of the club, while remaining in the city hoping against hope for a match with liberal gate money outran the joint resources of the valiant party. When their funds were utterly exhausted, and it was equally impossible to remain or to go away, the club appealed to the Mayor for assistance. His Worship said that if there had been but two distressed damsels he might have done something, but that really when it came to six of them he did not see his way to being generous. Eventually some friends came to the rescue, and the players were restored to the bosoms of their respective families.

Many football clubs during this period were struggling financially, but it is possible that the “novelty” of women’s football had worn off, alongside the growth of the men’s game reducing the need for additional revenues.

I aim to discover the fate of the British Ladies’ Football Club, and to discover more about the individuals involved in my next blogs.

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