The fan - Hunter Davies laments the FA's attitude to women
In 1920, Goodison Park had 53,000 fans for a women's football match
Most men haven't quite got used to women in football. They are still surprised by females sounding knowledgeable about footer on the radio and TV or writing in the papers.
They look along the rows of seats in the stands and think, hmm, that's funny, I can see women - who let them in? Or, in the pub, they are shocked upon hearing them argue the toss about last night's game, or why that wanker Beckham is now a peripheral figure and should be dropped by Sven.
Nor have they got used to seeing them actually playing the game, in schools and clubs all over the country. Or live on TV, which we'll see a lot of this summer, as England will be hosting the finals of the European Women's Championship. Fifa reckons that by 2010 there will be more women in the world playing football than men. And yet women in football is not a new thing. I often amuse myself, when looking through my football memorabilia, by examining old crowd shots. If you peer hard enough, you will always find some female fans.
In a report of the Queen's Park v Wanderers game at Hampden Park in 1875, it was noted, "4,000 spectators turned up, including many ladies". For the FA Cup final of 1905, a group of female fans calling themselves the Newcastle Ladies Final Outing Club arranged a trip to London to cheer on United, hiring their own carriage on the train.
In 1895, the British Ladies Football Club was formed in London, holding its first game at Crouch End athletics ground. The secretary and captain was Miss Nettie J Honeyball. What a name - surely she should have been in a James Bond film - and what a gel. I have her photo pinned up before me in her full football gear - baggy knickerbockers, real football boots as used by men, and a massive pair of shin guards, worn outside the socks, as all players did in those days. The pioneers of women's football were poshos, the club's first president being Lady Florence Dixie, daughter of the Marquess of Queensberry. Then, as in the men's game, the working classes took over.
In 1914, when the First World War broke out, more than one million women went to work in the munitions factories. They were soon replacing the men on the football pitch as well, organising their own teams to play against other factories. In 1920, it was estimated there were 150 women's teams. All the proceeds from their games went to charity.
The most famous, most successful women's team - of all time, really, as no modern version has had better support - was Dick Kerr's Ladies. I used to think their manager must have been a bloke called Dick Kerr, but their name came from W B Dick and John Kerr, founders of a large factory in Preston which made tramways, moving into munitions when the war started. They played local games at first, then travelled further afield. In 1919, about 35,000 turned up to watch them against Newcastle Ladies at St James's Park. They did a French tour, attracting crowds of 20,000 on average at each game.
Dick Kerr's biggest gate came on 23 December 1920, when they played St Helen's Ladies at Goodison, Everton's ground, watched by 53,000. Every time I tell this fact to any football fan, male or female, they can't believe it.
In 1921, however, those bastards at the FA banned the women's game. They maintained football was a man's game, unsuitable for the female body. Funny, that. Young women had been considered fit and strong enough to man munitions factories, but now they couldn't kick a ball about. The FA also alleged some fiddling of expenses with their contributions to charities. It wasn't true, and even if it were, men had been fiddling around with the money pouring into football from the very beginning. And still are.
So that was it, really, for the next 50 years. Women's football was finally recognised by the FA in 1971, and in 1993 the FA took over responsibility for the women's game in England.
In this summer's competition, England are expected to do quite well. They could reach the semi-finals. And I'll be watching. Let's hope the lasses done good.
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