There has been much publicity surrounding the centenary of the football match that interrupted fighting in the trenches during WW1. Indeed, Sainsbury’s have used the story in its Christmas advertising. I was intrigued by a news story last week that presents another, less well known part of football’s history from the war years.
As a generation of young men signed up to fight, the women who were left behind took up employment in the factories – in many cases coming out of the home into the workplace for the first time. The factories in which they worked previously had football teams, constituting much of the professional game before the war.
Beginning with informal kickabouts, it wasn’t long before the women became more serious about the game and challenge matches were put on between factory teams. Up until this time, football was considered a wholly unsuitable pastime for women; it was neither necessary for them to have such physical exertion and was also thought to be “unladylike and somewhat immoral”.
However, as the war progressed, the women’s game became formalised, with teams from the munitions factories playing competitively and in 1917 the Munitionette’s Cup was inaugurated. Large crowds watched the games and as the war progressed, more teams were started and people began to recognise the women’s game for the skill and ability of the women, rather than for any other spectacle.
Dick, Kerr Ladies FC from Preston, founded in 1917, regularly drew crowds in excess of 10,000 people. In fact, on Boxing Day 1920 their match against St Helen’s Ladies was watched by a crowd of 53,000.
Once the war over, the factory workforce once again became male and women who had become the main providers for four years, found themselves fulfilling the same role they had been in before the war. For many, going back into the home was considered the “right and proper place” for women and on 5 December 1921 the Football Association bowed under growing pressure, insisting that their members should no longer permit women to use of their grounds, which effectively close that chapter of women’s football.
Today however, women’s football is once again in he news and on 23 November 2014 at Wembley stadium a crowd of 45,000 watched England’s women play against Germany.
Football is not the only team sport where women are in the headlines. On Sunday the England Women’s Rugby Union team was awarded the BBC accolade of “Team of the Year” for 2014 and the England women’s cricket team won the Ashes in 2014, when the men so spectacularly failed. Now all they have to do is persuade the schedulers and the sponsors, that their games are worthy of mainstream television deals and equal prize money.
It is clear that women are finding room for themselves and, more frequently, in traditionally male the spaces like the sports-field. But how does this compare with the workplace or the boardroom? Have women achieved in the same way, or do they still have to fight for the right to be there, as managers and senior executives. Who are the proverbial schedulers and sponsors of women in the workplace, because it is certainly time for increased presence and equal reward – after all the FA removed their ban in 1971.