The history of women’s football in Scotland

Last month to mark the beginning of Euro 2017 Channel 4 screened a documentary about the fascinating history of women’s football entitled ‘When Football Banned Women‘.  In this post Dr Fiona Skillen (Glasgow Caledonian University) tells us more about the history of women’s football in Scotland:

Adapted from F. Skillen, Women, Sport and Modernity in Interwar Britain (Oxford: Peter Lang, 2013)

Scotland’s women’s team in 1895

Scotland played a fundamental role in the development of women’s football. Fragmentary evidence suggests that women were playing football as far back as the 16th Century in Scotland. [1] The first international match in the World, was a Scotland women’s international match versus England played in Edinburgh in May 1881.[2] There seems to have been an increase in participation, or at the very least media coverage during the 1880s and 1890s.

Numbers of women playing football increased tremendously during the First World War. Whilst undertaking war work in factories women were encouraged to play football. There are many theories about why women were encouraged to take part in what was considered a ‘man’s game’. One theory is that factory owners and managers wanted to increase women worker’s fitness levels, whilst another is that playing football during their breaks would stop them from causing problems. It is equally possible that the women themselves simply took the opportunity to get involved in a sport which was no doubt familiar to them but in which their active participation was discouraged. Whatever the reason women’s football was popular amongst women in a way that it had never been before and arguably only equaled again in recent years.

This increased participation continued into the interwar period. There is considerable evidence that women played football in the interwar period across Britain. We don’t know exact numbers of women playing football during this period, however there were enough for local teams and even leagues to be formed. Many of these were factory teams which played public matches attracting large crowds in the thousands, raising money for war relief charities. Dick Kerr’s famous women’s factory team played several times in Scotland against local teams and in front of large crowds of spectators during 1920 and 1921.

However, it was these charity matches which have been cited as the game’s downfall. In 1921, the Football Association withdrew all support for women’s football and the subsequent adoption of the policy by the Scottish Football Association ensured that women’s football in Scotland was severely curtailed.[3] The football authorities banned women on the basis that the believed that some of the money from these charity matches was being mis-appropriated. There is no evidence to substantiate these claims.

A later Scottish team – date unknown 

Regardless of the official reasons stated, this step to ban women’s engagement in the game could be seen as a reflection of society’s wider disapproval of women’s playing football. Throughout the interwar period there had been increasing discussions in the press over women’s suitability for the game. Many of the criticisms leveled at women’s early participation in other sports during the nineteenth century were re-asserted in relation to football in this period. It was viewed by some, including members of the medical profession, as too physically demanding, dangerous and unfeminine. This formal ban, representing official disapproval of women’s participation in football, ensured that pressure was put on local clubs to withdraw access to pitches and changing facilities, undermining the ability of many teams to play. McCaig has argued that the problems of access and lack of support, brought about in large part because of these new policies, retarded the development of women’s football in Scotland and it was not until the end of the 1930s that many women’s clubs reformed and sought out non-SFA affiliated pitches to play on.[4]

It was not until 1971 that the SFA ban was overturned and the Scottish Women’s Football Association was established. The first international matches since the ban took place in 1972.

 Toasting a win in the 1970s 

Since the 1970s women’s football in Scotland has continued to grow with Scotland’s women’s national football team qualifying for their first major tournament, Euro 2017.

Women’s football has a long, if relatively under-researched history in Scotland. If you’d like to know a little more why not check out the following links:


For further information why not watch the BBC Alba documentary, Honeyballers

Read more about the roots of Scottish women’s football and the role of Florence Dixie as part of the Dangerous Women Project:

Or visit Stuart Gibb’s touring exhibition ‘Game for Girls’


[1] F. P. Magoun, Jr, ‘Scottish Popular Football, 1424-1815’, The American Historical Review, Vol.37:1, 1931, p.11

[2] F Skillen, Women, Sport and Modernity in Interwar Britain, F Skillen, (Oxford: Peter Lang, 2013), p.190.

[3] Herald (6 December 1921).

[4] F Skillen, Women, Sport and Modernity, p.190.

Out Gallivanting – ‘Scotland’s Far North’ and ‘Lost Glasgow’

This month in Glasgow there are two photography exhibitions which are a must see for anyone interested in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland in the 1970s and for those of us who love Lost Glasgow on facebook.

So on Saturday I dragged my wee one along and saw the two exhibits in one day:

First, ‘Scotland’s Far North’ which is currently on at Streetlevel Photoworks and includes the work of three photographers Chick Chalmers, Tom Kidd and Glyn Satterley.

 

Streetlevel describe the exhibition as follows:

These three bodies of work from the late 1970s provide a unique insight into Scotlandʼs remote landscape, islands and people. Glyn Satterleyʼs series presents a document of life in the neglected area of Caithness and Sutherland at a time when the myth was much banded about that the oil industry brought wealth and prosperity to the whole of Scotland. Chick Chalmers ʻOrkneyʼ project and Tom Kiddʼs ʻShetlandʼ both present fascinating photographic insights of these island archipelago’s at a time of change with the effects of the oil industry on the traditional life of these cultures. Candid and sympathetic, the images show that Scotlandʼs Far North managed to take its place in the modern world without losing too many of the customs and traditions which give these places their special character and ethos.

For me this exhibition really challenges the stereotypical images of the Highlands and Islands. Yes there are sheep, fishermen, farmers and scenery, but there is so much more – we see the everyday working lives from women putting together the local paper by hand (above © Glyn Satterley), tattie picking, weaving, men washing windows and arguing in pubs. We also see the annual events such as Stromness Shopping Week fancy dress parade, the yard of ale competition and my favourite the ‘tossing the broom’ competition. I also liked the domestic scenes such as ‘John and Jeanie with pet lamb’ (above © Tom Kidd) or Fay and her son, described as ‘incomers’ on Sanday (below)

‘Roadside Graffiti, north of Scourie, Sutherland’ is also interesting (above © Glyn Satterley ).

But I think the image that made me think the most was this one

The caption read

‘Because she committed suicide, a 24 year old girl was rejected by both parishes on Hoy and consequently buried on the parish border in an out-of-the-way place. The 90 year old grave is attended by a sympathetic visitor’.

I wondered how widespread this practice was. As a historian of the twentieth century I have no idea how taboo suicide was in the nineteenth century in Orkney, though I can imagine. I’ll need to find out.

My daughter Caroline’s favourite was this one:

After I’d read the caption to her –  ‘North Ronaldsay has a unique breed of sheep which live outside a dyke built around the island. They eat mainly seaweed’ – she said ‘I’ll call him Ronald, take a photo so I can show Ronald to Dad’. So that cheered me up after the previous image.


Then we went off to see the ‘Lost Glasgow: More than just memories‘ exhibition at the Glasgow City Heritage Trust . Although I’d seen some of the images on the facebook page, the highlight was that you could pick up the pictures of the rails to read the captions. Caroline in particular really loved this, and although it was busy we still had a chance to see all the photos.

Our joint favourite was this one of the wee girls making clothes for their dolls (© Daily Record).

Norrie, who runs Lost Glasgow, was also on hand to have a wee chat. He has been enjoying how many people have recognised relatives and friends in the old photos of the city and all the stories he’s been hearing.


If you’ve not had a chance to visit either exhibition you still have time:

‘Scotland’s Far North’ runs until 27th August

Lost Glasgow‘ runs until the 30 August

 

Valerie Wright (University of Glasgow)

Out gallivanting – Larry Herman, Street Level Photoworks

Another month, another excellent photographic exhibition in Glasgow.

A couple of weeks ago I was in Glasgow city centre and thought I’d pop in to see Larry Herman’s ‘Clydeside 1974-76‘ at Street Level Photoworks. I’d seen this photograph of children on the roundabout by Red Road high flats and thought I’d see if there any more images of high rise (I’m currently working on a project entitled ‘Housing, Everyday Life and Wellbeing over the long term: Glasgow 1950-75‘ which considers people’s experiences of living in high rise flats in the city).

© Larry Herman: Red Road Flats, Glasgow

Chatting to the attendant resulted in me becoming ‘visitor of the day‘!

But really the highlight was the diverse images displayed and the quality of Herman’s photography. Just about all aspects of life feature; work, home and play. There’s everything from men working in the ship yards of the Clyde, and not just Glasgow but Greenock too, the coal fields of Lanarkshire and outside Chrysler car factory in Linwood. We see women at work in factories, building sites and their homes. There’s also photographs of community groups compiling local newsletters and trade union meetings and much more too.

Many images stick in my mind but this is my favourite. When we think of women’s role in the textiles industry in Scotland we might first think of Dundee jute workers or Paisley mill girls, but the story of the thousands of women who worked in machining factories running up everything from car seat covers to clothes has yet to be told.

If you’ve not been along already, I would highly recommend a visit – the exhibition is on until 27th of November.

Valerie Wright (University of Glasgow)