The wartime women footballers: Remembering the days when 50,000 fans would turn out to watch

The-Munitionettes-v4It may be hard to believe now, but the beautiful game was dominated by women almost a century ago, after a generation of male footballers was sent to fight, and die, in the First World War.

For women had not only taken on the work done by the hundreds of thousands of men sent to the trenches, but their sporting activities too.

Ladies teams, named after the munitions factories in which they worked, sprang up across the country. They filled a vacuum which had been left by the sheer numbers of men who had left the country. Many never made it back and with men’s football teams decimated by the casualties of war, the Football League suspended all of its matches at the end of the 1914/15 season.

And while women played in skirts, not shorts, and were originally treated as a novelty – their skills and ability soon saw them taken seriously, with huge crowds coming to watch them play.

Around 53,000 fans watched a Boxing Day match in 1920 between St Helens Ladies and Dick, Kerr Ladies at Goodison Park – a crowd bigger than most teams in the premiership can attract today.

The best women’s football team at that time was Dick, Kerr Ladies in Preston, which was founded in 1917. Its star player Lily Parr was the greatest goal scorer in England history – male or female. She scored more than a thousand goals during a 31-year stint at the club between 1920 and 1951. Her achievements were finally recognised in 2002, when she was inducted into the National Football Museum’s Hall of Fame in 2002.

The legacy of the forgotten women’s footballers from the home front will be recognised in a number of special programmes being broadcast tomorrow. Accounts of how women replaced men not only in the workplace, but also on the football pitch, are among a vast collection of 1,400 stories to commemorate the Great War, part of the biggest season of programming ever commissioned by the BBC.

Read the full piece…

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