After 56 years of waiting, an English national football team has finally won a major competition and ‘brought it home’. With Chloe Kelly’s extra-time goal in front of a record-breaking crowd of 87,192, the Lionesses stole the Euro 2022 glory.
101 years on from the blanket ban on women’s football, this achievement not only broke records, but also shattered long held misconceptions and stereotypes of the women’s game.
Although not well-known, women’s football has a longer history than most people would expect. There were a number of women’s clubs in the 1890s and Preston was the stronghold of women’s football in the early days; the famous Dick Kerr’s Ladies being formed there in 1894 who often raised money for charity. Their match with St Helen’s Ladies on Boxing Day 1920 had an incredible 53,000 inside Goodison Park and thousands more locked outside. Interest in the game was never lacking, it was in fact a lack of acceptance, visibility and crucially funding that stunted its growth.
Locally, in 1914 during the war, interest in women’s football exploded. Teams were formed from the factories where women were taking on traditional male roles and formed sporting teams as a way of boosting morale. All factories had their own teams, such as Ruston Aircraft Girls and Foster Tank Girls, but many women ended up losing their jobs when the men returned from war. Determined to keep playing, the factory teams came together to form one team from 1918 onwards called Lincoln Munition Girls. The team ended up being so successful they were playing games at Sincil Bank and even had 10,000 come to watch them play.
In 1921 the FA banned women’s football from its clubs’ grounds on the basis that football was ‘quite unsuitable for females’, an attitude that thankfully began to change towards the end of the 1960s. The Women’s FA (WFA) was formed in 1969 and 1971 saw the FA Council finally lift the ban which forbade women playing on the grounds of affiliated clubs, with the first Women’s FA Cup Final taking place in the same year.
In 1984 the FA invited the WFA to affiliate on the same basis as County Football Associations, and in 1991 the WFA launched a national league, which kicked off with 24 clubs. 3 years later the FA took on the administration of the national league and in 1997 they outlined their plans to develop the women’s game from grassroots to elite level.
Lincoln Ladies FC were founded in 1995 and began playing in the East Midlands Combination League. The club was promoted in each of the following seasons, bar one, until reaching the FA Women’s Premier League Northern Division in 2002.
Lincoln Ladies reached the Semi-Final of the FA Women’s Cup in 2007-08 which is the time Rod Wilson, Scothern local, managed the team and saw them play at Sincil Bank in front of 3,000 people. At the time this was a record audience attendance for a Women’s FA Cup Semi-Final. “I was surprised when they turned up because at the time it was unheard of” Rod explains, “I think it’s only in a FA Cup Final they got more.” Lincoln Ladies are said to have had one of the largest fanbases of any female club in England, with over 1,500 often attending high-profile home matches.
For years Lincoln Ladies was filled with players from the local community. Players like Stacy Aisethorpe, Martha Harris, Megan Harris, Emily Harris and Carrie Wilson came from Scothern as well as many others from surrounding villages. Managed and coached by Rod and his friend Glen Harris, their hard work culminated in the team getting into the Women’s Super League.
As attitudes towards the women’s game progressed, so did the careers of the Lincoln Ladies players. Martha Harris ended up playing for England’s under 21s, later progressing to Manchester United and now Birmingham City. Casey Stoney, who became the manager at Manchester United, is now the head coach of San Diego Wave FC. Rachel Daly, whose name has become well known for being a key member of the Lionesses who won the Euro 2022, was also previously a Lincoln Ladies player and has recently been signed to Aston Villa.
“The attention women’s football is getting has come on tremendously” says Rod, “this is all the stuff we were trying to do years ago. Despite being one of the more successful clubs at the time, I remember things like the newspapers refusing to put the results in because they said ‘no one was interested’.”
“There are thousands upon thousands of people that supported women’s football from the beginning – the helpers, coaches and parents driving the girls around. We had lots of girls that played for Lincoln Ladies, the youth team or the reserves from every single village around here including Nettleham, Sudbrooke, Welton and Cherry Willingham. There has been a longstanding connection to the game around here.”
This connection to the local area is a small part in the history of the women’s game which is now finally getting the recognition it deserves.
Image: Lincoln City Ladies Mid 90’s