The history of women’s football in England
“A little crazy to see my face up there on Tower Bridge,” England women’s national team captain Leah Williamson wrote on her Instagram.
A glorious sight to behold in the London night sky with the number 8 placed in the center of the English flag with a large message to its left, “You’ve never seen an icon quite like this.” It is certainly not the only brand visual of the English captain in his country.
Williamson’s Pepsi SRKesque SRKesque billboards across the country are hard to miss. The 25-year-old, arms outstretched, almost as if inviting the world to come and see what England has in store for us this footballing summer. A summer for the Women’s Euro. One that presents a different narrative to the men’s championships in 2021. For one, it comes just months after the 100th anniversary of the Football Association’s (FA) ban on women’s football in the country.
Seeing this billboard of @leahcwilliamson all over the country is a daily shot of “look how far we’ve come!”
— Leigh Moore (@Leigh_Moore) June 15, 2022
In the 1920s England saw a surge in the popularity of women’s football with a record 53,000 watching a charity game at Goodison Park for unemployed and disabled veterans between Kerr Ladies and St Helens . An attendance record that lasted 92 years. It would, however, only take a year for the country’s football governing body to ban women from playing in FA-affiliated venues. A ban that will last 51 years.
“Complaints have been made regarding football played by women, the Council felt compelled to express the firm opinion that football is wholly unsuitable for women and should not be encouraged,” the decision said. FA Advisory Committee.
“Complaints have also been made about the conditions under which certain matches were staged and played, and the allocation of proceeds for non-charitable purposes. The Commission is further of the opinion that an excessive proportion of revenues is absorbed in expenditure and an insufficient percentage devoted to charitable purposes. For these reasons, the Council asks Clubs belonging to the Association to refuse the use of their grounds for such matches.
The FA received support from the political establishment as well as sections of the British media at the time. The Hull Daily Mail went so far as to praise the governing body for their decision, calling it “an excellent thing” and saying the game “is not suitable for women”.
100 years later, another statement on the FA website reads quite differently.
“England will host the UEFA Women’s EURO finals in July 2022.”
“Fans will be able to see some of the best players in the world in action as 31 matches will be played at 10 venues across the country over the three and a half weeks of the tournament. Hundreds of thousands of fans are expected to attend the tournament and millions more will watch the event televised globally.
Sheila Parker, who was named the first official captain of the England women’s team after the FA’s ban was lifted in 1972, could not have seen this day in her playing days.
“Nowadays there’s so much money at stake,” she said in a recent interview with Sky Sports.
“And in my day we sometimes had to pay to play, and the money was very hard to come by in those days, but it seems that has completely changed now.”
Parker also mentioned how difficult it was for her family and friends to keep up with her and the England team playing in the country.
“They only played very little and far between games and in various places there weren’t many around my house,” the 75-year-old said.
“Not many family members were able to make it happen, but those who managed to make it, they were thrilled for me.”
Fast forward to today and it would take some effort not to stumble upon something or the England squad link ahead of the Euros. A situation best described by Sophie Bronze’s Instagram status when she saw a man on a train drinking from a Pepsi bottle that shaped the face of her sister, Lucy. “I can’t escape you,” she wrote.
Post-match interactions and selfies with fans are an important and beautiful factor of women’s league games in England. Even though they play in smaller capacity venues than the men, the majority of them form a more personal bond with the fans in those post-game moments than their male counterparts.
Take the pre-tournament training session where girls and women from the grassroots clubs were invited to St George’s Park to watch the squad practice ahead of the Euros. A training session that ended with the England players clicking photos, signing autographs and chatting with these grassroots players, some younger and some older than them.
They can expect an even larger number of women and men waiting for them on Wednesday evening. Having scored 12 goals and conceded one in their three wins on the way to the tournament, England will start the tournament not only as hosts but also as favourites.
The Lionesses, as they are known in England, will face Austria in the opening match of a Euros at home in a sold-out Old Trafford, otherwise known as the Theater of Dreams. There couldn’t have been a finer storyline for a billboard ban story.
You have to go back to the words around another screening of Leah Williamson and her teammates to fully understand the magnitude of what the country is about to see. Nike presented several in England. One, at the White Cliffs of Dover.
“You’ve never seen England like this,” he said.