Floodlights are a familiar and expected accessory of most modern sports, and especially football. But it hasn’t always been so. And many may be surprised to learn that a women’s football team led the way in introducing them to the wider game.
Football After Dark: A Match on the First Association Ground Lit by Electric Light
Drawn by C. E. Turner
The Illustrated London News, Feb 16, 1924
This week while looking through a box of newspapers, we found a 1924 issue of The Illustrated London News with this drawing of a women’s football match between Dick Kerr Ladies and Heys of Bradford, significant for being one of the earliest to have electric lamps installed. Dick Kerr Ladies played in their renowned black and white striped kit, while Heys wore plain white jerseys, and the ball was made of white chrome leather. The article reads:
‘It seems possible that football, like lawn tennis, may become an evening game. ‘Twice recently’ writes Mr C. E. Turner in a note on his drawing, ‘two teams of ladies, representing respectively the Dick Kerr Electric Company, of Preston, and Heys’, of Bradford, played football matches on the ground of the Burnley Cricket Club, and the two events were unique in the fact that play commenced at 7pm, the ground being illuminated by a special arrangement of artificial lighting.’
This was not the first time lighting had been used to illuminate a football match. In 1878, when electricity was set to emerge as the valuable source of light we now know it to be, an experimental game was played at Sheffield United’s Bramall Lane, with portable engines placed behind each goal. These engines fuelled four 30ft lamps providing 8000 candle-power. Electricity continued to be trialled, though with regular problems such as lights going off part way through a match, stopping play until they were fixed. Women’s teams also experimented with electricity, with the Dick Kerr Ladies again leading the way when they borrowed anti-aircraft search lights in 1920 – after first securing the permission of Winston Churchill! A match in 1924, pictured here, had lighting installed in the grounds, utilising resources from the Dick Kerr factory.
‘Thirty masts round the playing area, each 35ft high, carried sixty powerful electric lamps, giving a lighting intensity of 90,000 candle-power. Two electric mains were connected to obtain the necessary power. The lamps and reflectors were installed by the Siemens Lamp Works of the English Electric Company, and the cables and fittings by the Dick Kerr Works.’
The weather was bleak with the rain pouring, but the evening darkness was not a problem for the players or their spectators.
‘The girls played astonishingly well, especially as the weather was anything but kind. Snow covered the ground on the first occasion, and rain, true Burnley weather, fell heavily during the second match. Last season Heys’ were undefeated. The Dick Kerr Club, after very close games, won both the matches at Burnley. The scores were: in the first game, 3-2; in the second, 2-1.’
So when you head out to play or watch football one of these winter evenings, remember that it was the efforts of one women’s football club that went a long way to making it possible. Why not get in touch via our comments or contact page and tell us a bit about your team and share stories of your own football experiences to help us continue to unlock the #hiddenhistory of women’s football?