There are women who dare to play football, from it earliest beginnings to the present day. They are not afraid to be combative in a man’s world.
First Female Match
In 1881, the first international match of women playing football took place at Hibernian Park in Edinburgh. It was part of a tour by English and Scottish teams.
Then the Scottish Football Association recorded a women’s match in 1892. Activist Nettie Honeyball founded the British Ladies’ Football Club in England in 1894. Nettie Honeyball was a pseudonym, her real name remaining unknown. No doubt, her choice of name was tongue in cheek. Nettie placed an advert in the local paper and encouraged 30 young women to join her.
Nettie’s efforts were in the face of deeply traditional, chauvinistic Victorian Britain, even though they had one of the longest reigning female monarchs on the throne. The football club was determined to prove that women were more than just useless and ornamental creatures, designed to be the backdrop to their narcissistic husbands.
Nettie looked forward to a time when women would be allowed to sit in Parliament and have a say in the matters that concerned them the most. It was a world where the Jane Austen’s were merely a romantic object, fit only for marriage.
Women were expected to wear prohibitive and dangerous clothing, from crinoline underskirts with steel hoops, to corsets that squeezed their busts and stomachs. Despite all this, the voice of the Suffragettes was finding a sounding board among females. Bind something tight enough and you will eventually have rebellion.
Nellie wrote a letter to the newspaper, “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 straight-jacket attire in which fashion delights to clothe them.” She dared to wear men’s trousers in a world where men were seen as intellectually, physically and emotionally superior. Nellie was met with hatred and open hostility, including a letter bomb in the mail. Nellie was allegedly attacked by two men dressed as women, while walking her dog.
While Nettie made a brave attempt for women who dare to play football, it ended in violent incidents and females playing football ended and the game was banned in England.
World War I
With the advent of men being sent to the war, women had to replace them in the factories. Women began to play football in their breaks, and football teams were formed. The female football games raised money for charity and the war effort, and it was seen as a wholesome novelty, even playing against male teams. At one match there were 53,000 spectators with another 14,000 locked outside the stadium.
The players were celebrities until in 1921 the Football Association stepped in. “The game of football is quite unsuitable for females and ought not to be encouraged.” Female teams could no longer play on professional FA grounds. The men were afraid their game was in danger of being overshadowed by the female players.
Behind the scenes the truth was less palatable. “Women’s football was seen as a politically dangerous sport, to those who felt the trade unions to be their enemies.” Also, FA had no control over the money made from women’s games and FA could not have female games becoming more popular than the games the men played. For the women who dare to play football, the game lost its allure through the lack of media visibility.
Out of the Wilderness for Women who dare to play Football
It would be half a century before female football came out of the wilderness. The Women’s FA was finally formed in 1969. In 1972, a law was passed that prohibited public schools from not allowing girls and boys to participate in or have an opportunity to participate in any activity or sport.
In 2022, the revenue from women’s soccer grew globally from sponsorships, broadcast deals and merchandising. FIFA reported that only 7% of women’s clubs globally reported more than $1millin in revenue from matches, broadcast, commercials and prize money. In their opinion, there was scope for improvement and growth. There will be a women’s World Cup held in Australia and New Zealand.
The structural grown of women’s soccer has been accompanied by unprecedented interest in the game. More and more women dare to play football. A friendly game between USA and England was sold out within 24 hours, attracting nearly 78,000 fans. Bareman of FIFA said, “It is estimated that woman’s football is on a growth trajectory unlike any other sport in the world”.
This comes at a time when a recent investigation in the United States, found systematic abuse and misconduct in the National Women’s Soccer League. Five of ten male coaches stepped down or were fired because of misconduct. FIFA has had to set up a safeguarding program to protect players and fans from abuse, exploitation and harassment.
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