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England Women's captain Sheila Parker and teammates at Wembley in 1972 © Alamy

2021: An historic year for the women’s game

On Boxing Day 1920 53,000 fans, with more supporters waiting outside, packed into Goodison Park to watch Preston’s Dick, Kerr Ladies FC take on St Helens Ladies. Rather than build on that popularity the FA chose, within a year, to ban women’s football from its clubs’ stadiums.

The ban was overturned in 1971 which means 2021 is the centenary of the initial ban and marks 50 years since that ban was overturned. The Football Supporters’ Association has organised a series of events (see below) throughout the year to mark both the ban and its lifting.

But what was the FA’s reasoning for the ban? It’s an obvious point to make but none of the FA’s staff – nor even its oldest blazer! – were involved in the original decision, so rather than ask them, we have to look to the history books. 

The FA’s Consultative Committee Resolution (1921):

“Complaints having been made as to football being played by women, Council felt impelled to express the strong opinion that the game of football is quite unsuitable for females and should not be encouraged.

“Complaints have also been made as to the conditions under which some of the matches have been arranged and played, and the appropriation of receipts to other than charitable objects. The Council are further of the opinion that an excessive proportion of the receipts are absorbed in expenses and an inadequate percentage devoted to charitable objects.

“For these reasons the Council requests the Clubs belonging to the Association refuse the use of their grounds for such matches.”

Scepticism that the FA’s motives might not have been entirely pure seem well-founded, with FJ Wall, secretary of the FA, telling the London Evening News in 1921 that “certain men who had already done very well out of women’s football were behind these objects and it was quite clear that their object was personal gain.” Translation – they thought it might be a threat to the men’s game.

The prospect of the ban was trailed a fortnight before the FA Committee meeting and received opposition from many quarters, including Plymouth Ladies captain Jessie Boultwood who said: “The controlling body of the FA are a hundred years behind the times and their action is pure sex prejudice. Not one of our girls has felt any ill effects from participating in the game.” 

One hundred years later and Boultwood’s worldview has won out – but there’s still a long way to go and that’s why the FSA will be running a series of events to promote women’s football and mark the anniversary of the original ban as well as its subsequent lifting.

FSA Women’s Game National Council reps:

Jude Morris-King (Manchester City Women FC Official Supporters Club): “Whilst we cannot change the past, it is important that we know our history and use this to build for the future. We have come a long way since 1971, however, there is still a considerable journey ahead of us! I’m looking forward to the events planned this year to share awareness and encourage participation in the women’s game whether as a player, coach or supporter.”

Sian Wallis (Proud Lilywhites): “I’m sure many people will be surprised to learn of the rich history of women’s football and of the scale of the support for the game before the ban. We’re delighted to be throwing some light onto this history whilst we continue to work to keep growing the modern game.”

Events:

August 

  • Women’s Game x Community Owned Club Women fixtures across the country with FC United v Clapton (1.30pm) taking place up in the north and Enfield v Grays (12.15pm) down south on Saturday 7th August 2021. The FSA are hosting stands on the day – come and say hello!

September / October

  • We’ll take a look back through history at some of the work of local supporters’ groups from the women’s game

November

  • We will be working with our Women’s Game network groups to mark the FA’s Women’s Football Weekend – more to follow.

December

  • A special panel discussion
  • FSA Awards – who will be the Women’s Player of the Year?

In addition we will conduct a survey for fans of the women’s game to gather views and better understand their experiences.

If you’d like to hear more about the FSA’s work in the women’s game please email: [email protected] 

The FSA would like to thank National Council member Roger Titford (Supporters’ Trust at Reading) for his help with this feature. Roger is a keen historian who runs The Great Save football memorabilia project. Check it out.

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