Celebrating Women’s Footballing Trailblazers
The Arthur Wharton Foundation is proud to announce our new celebration mural. The ‘Celebrating Women’s Footballing Trailblazers’ mural includes figures involved in football from the present and the past, which links into our motto: “Connecting the Present, to the Past, for the Future”.
With the Women’s Euros being held in England this summer, the mural had to focus on women’s football.
We strongly believe that in order to move forward you must look back to see where you have come from. Education and learning is critical. History provides us with fascinating insights, which help us understand and explain why attitudes towards women’s football are currently the way they are. Importantly, it can also provide lessons and guidance on how we can ensure that the women’s game can continue to grow and flourish.
All eyes on Wembley
At 5pm on Sunday 31st July 2022, England will play Germany in the UEFA Women’s EURO final. The game will be played at Wembley Stadium, London, in front a 90,000 capacity crowd. Millions of people will tune in to watch from all over the world. It’s going to be a magnificent occasion.
However, millions of those people watching Sunday’s final won’t realise that the women’s game is just 51 years old in relative terms. It’s what makes this team’s achievement, all the more remarkable. A quick look back at the history, highlights that the women’s game has been oppressed for a long time.
Quite unsuitable for females
Many women’s teams were formed during the First World War years (1915-1919), and help fill the void left by the Football League’s hiatus. These matches attracted huge attendances, raising much needed money for the war wounded. There was no league in place, with many of the games being held on public bank holidays to maximise player availability and crowd attendances.
53,000 crowd attend Boxing Day match
One memorable game took place on Boxing Day 1920, between the world famous Dick, Kerr Ladies F.C. (based out of Preston) and St. Helens Ladies. The game at the home of Everton FC (Goodison Park, Liverpool), was played in front of a crowd of 53,000 with the Dick, Kerr Ladies winning the game 4-0. This clearly irked the committee men at The FA, who finally lost patience and threatened by the popularity of the women’s game.
Nearly one year later, on 3rd December 1921, The FA passed a resolution declaring the sport “quite unsuitable for females and ought not to be encouraged”. They went on to inform their member clubs that they shouldn’t allow women to play at their grounds.
Playing on despite the ban
The remarkable achievements and success of these teams of women was of great embarrassment to the men’s footballing establishment. What must have annoyed them even more was the reaction from these female footballers.
Banned from playing on association pitches, they moved their goalposts onto rugby pitches, school fields and even scrubland. Matches continued to be played during the 1920’s, attracting large attendances which generated much needed money for political and working-class charities.
The Quaker Ladies
One of these teams was set up in Darlington by Lillie Galloway in 1925. Darlington Football club gave the women strips and allowed them to train at their ground, though they were unable to play matches there (due to the ban).
The Quaker Ladies quickly established themselves as the leading women’s team in the North-East of England. You can read more about Lillie Galloway and ‘The Quaker Ladies’ in this article written by Chris Lloyd and published in the Northern Echo on Saturday 2nd July 2022. It’s a fascinating story.
50 years in the wilderness
The ban caused significant harm to women’s football. Male chauvinistic attitudes towards women footballers was also evident in the way it was covered in print.
An example of this can be seen in the newspaper cartoon below (Evening Despatch – January 1927), entitled ‘Women Footballers’.
“We do not think however that women’s football will ever become popular. Referees couldn’t stand it, neither could the spectators, and what can the baby think about it?
“But surely that is nothing to brag about?”
It wasn’t until 1971 when the The FA Council lifted the ban which forbade women playing on the grounds of affiliated clubs. 50 years in the wilderness.
Worldwide restrictions on women’s football
The English FA wasn’t the only national association to place restrictions on women’s football. In France women’s football was also banned between 1932 until 1975. In Spain, women were denied the right to play football from 1935 until 1980.*
Incredibly, a law was introduced in Brazil in 1941 decreeing that women could not take part in a number of sports because ‘violent’ sports were ‘not suitable for the female body’. The ban wasn’t lifted until 1981.*
Things weren’t much better in Germany (England’s opponents in Sunday’s final). In 1955 the German Football Federation (DFB) in West Germany declared that women’s football was ‘essentially alien to the nature of women’ and that ‘in the fight for the ball, the feminine grace vanishes, body and soul will inevitably suffer harm’.*
Meanwhile in Italy
In 1933, to stop the ‘phenomenon’ of women’s football taking hold, the Italian National Olympic Committee (CONI) prevented women from playing in tournaments and competitions, pulling them towards athletics. It wasn’t until 1968 that the Italian Women’s Football Federation (Federazione Italiana Calcio Femminile, FICF) was formed.
England, Brazil, Germany, Spain and Italy…five of the only eight nations to have won the Men’s FIFA World Cup – all banned women from playing football.
Like seriously, what were they ALL thinking?
*Source: Suzanne Wrack’s book: A Woman’s Game: The Rise, Fall, and Rise Again of Women’s Football
Talented local artist paints a fitting tribute
Roll forward 51 years from the end of the English ban in 1971…to 2022….We always knew that we would celebrating the Women’s Euros 2022 with a Celebrating Women’s Footballing Trailblazers mural. It was always going to happen. Creating the opportunity for a talented, local female artist, and getting the local community involved was also really important to us.
Painted by talented local artist Jilly Johnston (from Newton Aycliffe), the mural reflects on the history of football from a number of perspectives. It celebrates some pioneering and trailblazing figures of both local and national interest from within the women’s game.
Jilly wanted to take herself out of her comfort zone in tribute to the endeavour of those who went before to affect change in the women’s game.
We absolutely love it and so does the community.
Local TV crew visit the Foundation
Our local ITV News team paid us a visit during the painting of the mural, you can access the article here. There’s some wonderful footage of Jilly, and Darlington Women’s team players, Toni Upton (Captain) and Martina Cuccunato (Goalkeeper and Foundation Ambassador).
Seven Pioneering Trailblazers
Deciding who would appear in the Celebrating Women’s Footballing Trailblazers mural was a difficult process. We ended up with a long list of pioneering trailblazers all worthy of a place on the wall. Eventually, we decided on the following women to include within the mural (from left to right):
- Hope Powell CBE – became England Women’s first-ever full-time national coach in 1998 (link to Wikipedia)
- Sue Campbell, Baroness Campbell of Loughborough – former Chair of UK Sport. Current Director of Women’s Football at The FA (link to Wikipedia)
- Lucy Bronze – current England footballer, who hails from the North East (Berwick-Upon-Tweed). Named The Best FIFA Women’s Player in December 2020. Also shares the same birthday as Arthur Wharton, October 28th (link to Wikipedia)
- Jill Scott MBE – current England footballer, who hails from the North East (Sunderland). England debut in 2006, over 150 caps and 27 goals (link to Wikipedia)
- Martina Cuccunato – current Darlington FC Women’s team goalkeeper, and a proud Ambassador of the Arthur Wharton Foundation.
- Rachel Yankey OBE – Pioneering trailblazer with 129 caps for England (also has Ghanaian heritage like Arthur Wharton). Rachael has played a significant role in supporting the development of the women’s game and the work of the Foundation. (link to Wikipedia)
- Lillie Galloway – Footballing pioneer, founded Darlington’s first ever women’s football team in 1925 – known as the Quaker Ladies. (link to PDF)
Local community involvement
Inviting local women and girls from our community to get involved with the Celebrating Women’s Footballing Trailblazers mural was an absolute joy for us. The highlight was listening to the conversation between the artist Jilly Johnson and children from a local school. They were so inspired by Jilly and the footballing trailblazing women she was painting.
Connecting everyone (the present), to the past (the footballing trailblazers in the mural), really helps us explain the history of women’s football.
We were so pleased to welcome Avril Galloway (Lillie’s grand-daughter) down to the Foundation to help paint. Other notable contributors (or should I say ‘artists’), included;
Anne-Marie Curry (current Mayor of Darlington), Cindi Hughes (former Mayor of Darlington), Carol Charlton (Chair of St. Teresa’s Hospice, Darlington), Sajna Ali (Councillor), Lucie Campbell (Shaun’s daughter) and Toni Upton and Martina Cuccunato, (both current Darlington FC Women’s players – Captain / Goalkeeper).
Martina is also an Ambassador for the Foundation and got a BIG surprise when she saw herself in the mural!
Time to support and celebrate women’s football
Sadly 100 years on from the ban, many of the deeply ingrained misogynistic attitudes the cartoonist (Pip) captured in the 1927 newspaper article referenced earlier – still exist today.
Women footballers are on the receiving end of near daily sexist, misogynistic and threatening online and offline abuse. Why? Surely, those men responsible for this abuse can’t feel threatened by women’s football, like the men in positions of power and authority did 100 years ago?
Stop the Hate
Football has a huge role to play in having a broader impact on societies perceptions on equality. Women’s football is the single biggest growth opportunity in football today. Those men that feel threatened, need to rest easy that the game is big enough for EVERYONE to enjoy. Time for them to stop the hate and start supporting women and girls football.
Can you believe that when the original Wembley Stadium opened it’s doors in April 1923, women were banned from playing there! Since then, women have empowered themselves to get to this position, to strive forward, over and around many barriers placed in their way.
Proud to support women’s football
The Arthur Wharton Foundation is extremely proud of this mural and what it represents. This coming season the Foundation will continue to sponsor three of the Darlington FC Women’s players.
We will continue to support and champion women’s football and help build a better, more inclusive game that we can all enjoy together.
Bring it home Lionesses
Our incredibly skilled, talented and inspiring Lionesses are doing themselves, their families, their country and those pioneering trailblazing women that came before them proud. Unfortunately Pip (our cartoonist friend from 1927) isn’t around to watch this Sunday’s final, imagine if he was?
The mural can be seen on the exterior walls of our Foundation HQ in Darlington, County Durham. It will remain on the wall until the end of October 2022 – so plenty of time for you to come and visit!
The mural is already a very important resource for the us – as we welcome many; groups, organisations, businesses, and schools to the Foundation.
Thanks for reading. Bring it home Lionesses.
Some Useful ‘Extra Time’ Resources
The FA – History of Women’s Football in England (website)
Suzanne Wrack’s book: A Woman’s Game: The Rise, Fall, and Rise Again of Women’s Football (Amazon)
Suzanne Wrack article in the Guardian (Jun 13, 2022): How the FA banned women’s football in 1921 and tried to justify it
Carrie Dunn’s book: ‘Unsuitable for Females’: The Rise of the Lionesses and Women’s Football in England (Amazon)
Women’s & Girls’ Football – Get Involved
It’s really important that the success of the Lionesses this summer encourages a new generation of girls and women to participate in football.
England Football has a fantastic website, which provides information on all the ways to get involved in football. From playing to watching to coaching and refereeing.
Support the Foundation
Whilst you are here, why not find out a little more how you could support the Foundation?