100 years on: a home win for the women’s game

The most successful women’s football team in history has been recognised for its pioneering play on the pitch 100 years ago.

The Preston factory team Dick, Kerr Ladies FC, was featured in a documentary about the women’s game on Channel 4.

Earlier this year the first blue plaque dedicated to women’s football was officially unveiled in Preston to celebrate the centenary of the creation of Dick, Kerr Ladies FC.

The team of Lancashire female munitions factory workers went on to play in front of enthusiastic crowds of more than 50,000.

Their success was only stopped by a ban from the FA in 1921 which stopped the women’s game from being played on football grounds and lasted half a century.

The Dick, Kerr and Co factory on Strand Road in Preston is now home to multinational rail company Alstom. And it’s where the plaque now has pride of place.

The grandson of founding player Grace Sibbert, David Coulton, and Valerie Conn, the granddaughter of the team’s first ever captain, Alice Kell, officially unveiled it.

They were joined by former players Sheila Parker, who started her playing career in Preston and went on to become the first captain of the England team in 1972, and June Gregson who played for the ladies in the 1940s and 50s.

The ceremony and the TV documentary come at a time when women’s football is gaining a new audience through the BBC’s televising of the Women’s Super League.

Attendances are also starting to grow with the likes of Manchester City and Chelsea among the big teams in the emerging English domestic game.

David said: “The part my grandmother played in getting the team started in 1917 always fills me with pride whenever I see photos of the teams or read about their exploits as pioneering ladies footballers.

“The unveiling is a fitting tribute to the girls of Dick Kerr and the memories they have left to us and the future of women’s football.”

Gail Newsham is the author of a book about the exploits of the team and has worked hard to preserve its legacy.

She said: “I have been championing the Dick, Kerr Ladies for 25 years. No other town or city in the world can boast the proud history of this pioneering team.

“I have always believed in them and been in awe of their success. They certainly deserve this long overdue honour. This blue plaque is the first in the world for the best in the world. Words cannot express how thrilled I am for them.”

The University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) has been involved in getting recognition for the team and helped organise the plaque.

Pro-Chancellor David Taylor said: “The Dick, Kerr Ladies all came from very traditional working class backgrounds and became the most successful women’s football team in history.”

Formed at the munitions factory during the First World War, the Dick, Kerr Ladies played their first game at Preston North End’s Deepdale ground on Christmas Day 1917

A crowd of 10,000 spectators came to watch them notch up the first of many famous victories and £600 was raised for wounded soldiers. That sum today would be worth more than £38,000.

The team soon became established as the best in the country and played in front of their biggest crowd in 1920 when 53,000 spectators came to Everton’s Goodison Park to see them play St Helens.

Such was the popularity of the game that between 10,000-14,000 people were locked out unable to gain admission to the match.

Rachel Brown-Finnis, who made 82 appearances for the England women’s team between 1997 and 2013, praised the women of Dick, Kerrs.

She said: “I think it is important that girls who play the game understand where it all started.

“These women were a shining light and even now we are aspiring to be like them.

“We wouldn’t be where we are and I wouldn’t have reached the heights in my career without Dick, Kerr Ladies.” As part of the 100th anniversary year, UCLan has hosted a conference to highlight discrimination against women in sport and its Law School, along with Gail, has created a museum display documenting the history of the team that will be exhibited across Lancashire in schools and public places. A centenary dinner is also planned.