I don’t usually write about (or even watch!) sports, so it was quite a departure for me to write a long feature about the history and current status of women’s football in the UK. It’s a fascinating story; during the First World War, women’s football was actually more popular than men’s, with tens of thousands of spectators turning out to watch big games. A Football Association ban on women using professional stadiums in the 1920s set the game back, and it is only now starting to professionalise. I spoke to players past and present, as well as other experts, to build up a picture of the women’s game.
While it is certainly true that women’s football lags far behind men’s in terms of prestige, funding, and commercialism, however, it is inaccurate to think – as many do – that it is a new sport. Women’s football first made a splash in England in 1895, when the Ladies’ Football Association was founded by women with links to the burgeoning suffragist movement. “There is no reason why football should not be played by women, and played well too, provided they dress rationally and relegate to limbo the straitjacket attire in which fashion delights to attire them,” Lady Florence Dixie, the head of the association, wrote in a letter to the Pall Mall Gazette in 1895. It was controversial to see women playing football, which meant that matches (there were two teams, “north” and “south”) were attended by several thousand people. But it wasn’t to last; the Ladies’ Football Association soon fell apart because of organisational issues.
You can read the full piece over at the New Statesman.