A Beautiful Game: International Perspectives on Women's Football

By Jean Williams | Go to book overview

3
A Grass Ceiling
Women’s Football in England

A Woman’s Football Team is to startle the ‘World of Pas-time’—with evolutions anything
but ladylike, I venture to think, albeit Lady Florence Dixie is President of the British
Ladies Football Club. I have every admiration for Lady Florence Dixie. I have read
with admiration her lively narrative of her stirring adventures in the southernmost part
of South America (including a plucky ‘header’ into the straits of Magellan), and have
been greatly interested in many of her movements in England. But surely Lady Flor-
ence cannot be aware of the rough and tumble horseplay of the football field when she
writes: ‘I cannot conceive of a game more calculated to improve the physique of women
than football.’ The exercise football affords might surely be acquired more becomingly
by girls in the gymnasia which are multiplying all over the kingdom. We don’t want
even the newest of the ‘New Women’ utterly unsexed by indulgence in such unwomanly
games as football.

Now for some fashions which are really ladylike and becoming. The pretty little
toque [hat] sketched is of bronze green velvet.1

A Times article covering the North-versus-South fixture of the British Ladies Football Club at Crouch End in March 1895, to which this excerpt refers, called the events ‘Irksome’.2 Traditional views of the ‘unsexing’ and potentially corrupting nature of some games, specifically football, have shaped the image of the woman player as an irritating and unwelcome aspect of modernity. Construction of this convention of Association football as a manly sport which honour requires to be kept amongst men has been a long-term project of the sports’ authorities against which to judge more recent attempts since the 1990s to deconstruct it. The establishment of the Football Association (1863), the Football League (1888) and the club (both professional and amateur) have tended, by and large, to exclude female players by either formal or informal means. However, there are moments when women players, teams and associations have been both the focus of male support and bureaucratic concern. Fortunately, there is an increasing amount of evidence in the public domain which suggests a need to revisit the historiography of women’s involvement in Association football in England. These include sources in the archives of sports federations and those available to wider audiences, like the Pathé newsreel collection and the North West Film Archive. In accepting the most frequently expressed critique of A Game

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