Scottish Women's Football

My personal blog on Scottish Women's Football

British Women’s Football in 1897

I have started a research project to discover more about the history of Women’s Football in Scotland. This is my fourth blog, looking at how Women’s Football was reported in 1897.

There was an interesting report in the Yorkshire Evening Post on the 6th January 1897, not to do with women playing football but with women attending men’s football. In the reporting of a committee meeting of the Yorkshire No.1 Competition:

[The Chairman] wished some scheme could be devised to preserve better order, and make it possible for a gentleman to take a lady to football matches – (hear, hear.) – but he did not know what could be done. Perphaps if club committees would take notice of persons who used bad language and showed disorderly behaviour on the grounds, and remonstrated with them, and called in the services of a policeman when remonstrance was in vain, good might be done…Mr. Denby remarked that there was no doubt betting was largely responsbible for scenes of disorder among football crowds.

A report in the Derby Mercury on the 27th January 1897 shows an interesting account of other female sport – this time, cycling.

Like the lady footballers, the lady cyclists do not appear to be destined to have a very lengthy career, for with the end of the present week they will no longer be seen at the Aquarium. As a matter of fact, they have hardly been a success, and one can scarcely understand how otherwise could be the case, after the novelty of seeing women awheel in skin0tight dresses, which some of them adopted, had worn off.

It seems from this in the paper’s ‘Cycling Notes’ that women cyclists had the same response as the British Ladies’ Football Club – that the idea of women competing in sport was nothing more than a novelty.

An example of newspaper adverts. From Burnley Express

An example of a newspaper advert. From Burnley Express

The Derbyshire Times and Chesterfield Herald reported on the 13th March 1897 a simple mention saying: “I hear the Lady Footballers visit Matlock shortly”. That suggests that the novelty factor had worn off for the newspapers.

However, on the 20th March 1897, The Era seems to suggest that women’s football had become nothing more than a novelty event, and it was the potential sporting merit that had worn off. The Birmingham Theatrical and Variety theatre’s annual Charity Sports event (alongside Aston Villa Football Club). A Ladies Football match was played alongside a host of activities that included “a clowns’ blindfold wheelbarrow race” and “a sack race”.

More evidence that the idea of women playing football had descended towards a novelty or variety act came in the Lincolnshire Echo on the 22nd March 1897. There was a football match in Alford, Lincolnshire which:

On Saturday a football match of a novel character was witnessed on the Tethby-road ground between a “ladies” eleven and the Star team. The “ladies,” who were Star players dressed in female attire…The referee was Mr. W. Burridge, who was also arrayed in a female costume with a bugle.

The “ladies” team won the match 3-1. The Hull Daily Mail on the 26th March 1897 announced a new comedy show called “A Theatrical Duchess” where one of the characters Fanny Cleveland (played by “Hull favourite” Miss Olive Marston) was a New York lady footballer. The paper reviews that whilst she is vivacious, she “occasionally overdoes her part”.

Females were still playing football matches run by the English Ladies’ Football Team. The journalist makes his feelings very clear:

The “lady footballers,” whose exhibition I do not at all admire, have been to Romford.

The match, between the English Ladies’ Football Club and a male team, attracted 400 spectators (down on the thousands they had been getting), and the game was played in miserable conditions: windy and raining. The journalist states that the women’s long hair caused problems and:

…the storckings of others would persist in coming down just when they should have been kicking the ball.

It was also revealed the men did not have a goalkeeper because

The male team were without the services of a goalkeeper, their custodian protecting the ladies’ citadel.

The English Ladies’ Football club won 3-2.

The Derbyshire Times and Chesterfield Herald advertised on the 17th April 1897 that a game between the “lady footballers” and a male team would be played on the Easter Monday. The writer suggests that whilst the game may be enjoyable, there would be “little science shown.” Seven days later, the newspaper reported on the match and mentioned that the game attracted more female fans than men. The 2,000 that attended made it the biggest gate of the season.

The game, though not of a scientific character, had its flashes of fun, while at other times it was little short of being farcical, and it is my opinion that the crowd would rather have seen an exciting League encounter than the exhibition given last Monday.

Hartlepool Mail 21/06/1897. List of things not in Britain when Queen Victoria began her reign

Hartlepool Mail 21/06/1897. List of things not in Britain when Queen Victoria began her reign

There is a very interesting article in the Hartlepool Mail on the 21st June 1897 – under their ‘Political, Social and Scientific’ section. It looks back over Queen Victoria’s 60 years on the throne (she ascended to the throne on the 20th June 1837), talking about the progress made in the country over that time. Interestingly, given the media’s general derision of female sport, it seems to take pride over the fact there were lady footballers.

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