While exploring the hidden history of women’s football, one very significant and game-changing team who have popped up time and again are the Dick, Kerr Ladies, born out of a munitions factory right here in Preston.
When British men were called-up to fight for their country during the First World War, women were required to fill their roles at home. They worked on farms, railways and in factories, and as the war raged on, these roles were altered to increase support for the war effort. The Dick, Kerr & Co factory in Preston, which had been used for the manufacture of electrical equipment, was, like many others across Britain, converted into a munitions factory, and the factory girls became known as ‘munitionettes’.
Munitionettes were encouraged to undertake some form of exercise during their working days, and football became the most popular option. At Dick, Kerr & Co, an employee named Alfred Frankland had noticed the potential of the women playing on their lunchbreak and proposed that charity matches be organised. Frankland became the manager of the team and on a cold Christmas Day in 1917 – 100 years ago on Monday! – they played their first match at Preston North End, the very spot at which the National Football Museum Collection is housed. The match, against Arundel Coulthard Factory, drew in a crowd of 10,000 spectators and raised £600 – a lot of money at the time – for wounded soldiers returning from the Front. The Dick, Kerr Ladies secured a convincing 4-0 victory, which would set the tone for their future reputation.
Even when the war ended, and many munitionettes had to vacate their roles for the men returning home, the Dick, Kerr Ladies continued to play, though resistance was increasingly prevalent across the country, with newspapers giving voice to those in the general public who disapproved of both women playing sports and women wearing shorts!
They even took the game abroad. In 1920, Frankland arranged for the Ladies to represent England in an international match against France. Madame Milliat, founder of the Federation des Societies Feminine Sportives de France, was a strong activist for the female sport and had declared that ‘football is not wrong for women. Most of these girls are beautiful Grecian dancers. I do not think it is unwomanly to play football as they do not play like men, they play fast, but not vigorous football’.
The FA ban of 1921, which prevented women from playing on FA certified pitches, did not stop women’s football and did not derail the Dick, Kerr Ladies from their dazzling trail of success, but it did make it increasingly difficult. The team continued to play until 1965, when the diminishing number of teams to play against made it impossible to continue.
The Dick, Kerr Ladies are celebrated at the National Football Museum, and plans for a larger display are underway for later in 2018. In addition, a plaque has just been installed and unveiled here by Preston North End to commemorate the anniversary of that first Christmas match. If you want to find out more about the team, or if you have your own stories or memories of women’s football from this time, please get in touch via our comments or contact page.