As a gal who loves women’s history with a boyfriend who loves football, When Football Banned Women was the perfect Sunday afternoon documentary for us two.
Hosted by Clare Balding, the documentary dives into the 1921 Football Association Ban on women’s football at its peak of popularity and its repercussions for the sport.
We meet the expert in the field, Gail Newsham. You can feel the passion through the television and the love she has for the historical football players. She discusses how it all began in Preston with a munitions factory football team (the Dick, Kerr ladies team) who managed to draw in huge crowds and the feats of the tall, striking striker, Lily Parr.
Bonus: My favourite scene is Clare Balding fangirling over wearing Lily Parr’s football boot.
The Dick, Kerr ladies team were hugely popular and also raised huge sums of money for the war wounded – about £10 million in today’s money. So why would the FA ban it?
The crowds were getting bigger, breaking attendance records until the FA banned women from playing on football clubs associated with the FA due to the ‘inappropriate nature of the game’.
Clare Balding notes the hypocrisy of encouraging women to work in the munitions factories but claiming a healthy form of sport was too much for a women’s fragile frame. The ban forced women to play in public parks on a more irregular basis with little room for spectators. Interest soon dropped off.
The effect of the ban is still present today – the pay gap between the genders in the sport, the differences in the press coverage. Balding states that it was the ban that has further encouraged the idea that ‘football is not for women’.
Reasons for the ban aren’t absolutely clear but the documentary does cover the top three. Women’s football was bringing in large amounts of money due to the popularity of their games and the FA had no claim to it. Newspapers at the time covered the “health repercussions” of women playing football and how it could damage their fertility. However, the deeper reason behind the ban is the politics of the day. Briefly before the ban, the Preston miners were striking for more pay as their standard of life was so low. The women playing football began raising money for the striking miners, in support of the cause so close to home. As women became politicised and used the money from the games to support miners, it was a step too far and it needed to be snuffed out.
This documentary was constructed so well – they did a fantastic job of showing you and making you feel supportive of women’s football before the ban and I truly felt a sense of loss when they started discussing the consequences. These women had a future in football. They were raising money for charity. The documentary discusses the effect of the ban on women’s football but I can’t imagine how the actual players’ lives were changed by it.