WW1 was being fought and any man fit enough to play football had been sent to fight on the front line. Back home women not only took on their jobs, they also took their places on the football field.
Women’s football was already established but up until WW1 it hadn’t been well received. This all changed when the Football League suspended all of its matches at the end of the 1914-15 season.
As a generation of young men signed up to serve king and country, so too did the women who were left behind. They answered the call, with hundreds of thousands taking on traditional male roles previously considered too dangerous for women – the most familiar image of these was the munitions factory girl.
The female workers converged upon the various factories that sprang up across the country, forming strong friendships on the factory floor that spilled over on to the playing fields on their breaks.
Informal kickabouts became a popular pastime for the women and this was not missed by factory management. An activity that was previously considered unsuitable for the delicate female frame was heartily encouraged as good for health, well-being and moral.
As the war progressed, the women’s game became more formalised, with football teams emerging from the munitions factories. Initially, the novelty of women playing football was used to raise money for war charities, with crowds flocking to see the so-called munitionettes take on teams of injured soldiers and women from other factories.
As more teams cropped up, people started to enjoy the matches for the skill and ability of the women, rather than the initial humorous spectacle. Games were still used to raise money for charities. These games could attract huge crowds, reaching an all time high on Boxing Day 1920 when approx. 53.000 watched Dick Kerr’s side play St Helens ladies at Goodison Park.
The miners lock out in 1921 however lead to the start of what became known as Pea Soup Football. It was particularly dominant around the mining communities around the Wigan and Leigh area where the matches were played on farmers fields in front of crowds exceeding 5,000 people to raise money for the soup kitchens which fed the miners children. Eight “pea soup” ladies football teams have been identified in the Wigan and Leigh district in the summer of 1921.
With the war now over, a nation devastated by the loss of so many attempted to put itself back together. One by one, the factories closed and women who had been galvanised and liberated during wartime, found themselves being quietly shunted back into domestic life, returned to their “right and proper place” in society.
Football was no longer a health benefit – it was now seen by top physicians, such as Dr Mary Scharlieb of Harley Street, as the “most unsuitable game, too much for a woman’s physical frame”.
On 5 December 1921 the FA cited strong opinions about football’s unsuitability for females. It called on clubs belonging to the associations “to refuse the use of their grounds for such matches”. The ban changed the course of the women’s game forever.
In 1971 the FA finally lifted the ban on women’s football. In the same year UEFA recommended the women’s game should be taken under the control of the national associations in each country. This move signalled the start of a female football revival, not only in Britain but across Europe and the rest of the world.
With Thanks to BBC news