Women’s World Cup: When did women’s football start?

Women’s World Cup: When did women’s football start?

The Women’s World Cup is fast approaching on the 20th of July. To get into the spirit and celebrate women’s football, why not share with children the history of women’s football? Discover the answer to the burning question when did women’s football start? Plus, information about what it was like when it first started and how the sport has progressed for women today.


First match

The first ever recorded women’s football match was played on the 9th of May 1881. It took place in Edinburgh at Easter Road Stadium and was Scotland versus England. However, the score was never recorded so to this date it is unknown who won.

In this game, the Scottish team that played was known as Mrs Graham’s XI, run by the team’s goalkeeper, Helen Graham Matthews. She was a former suffragette and preferred to be known as her pseudonym Mrs Graham. This was due to the prejudice towards female football players in the Victorian times. They were often tormented on and off the pitch so many women tried to hide their true identities to protect themselves.



Back when the first recorded women’s football match took place, the outfit rules were strict. Women had to wear corsets, normal heeled boots and bonnets. This was to make sure that they didn’t break the Victorian standard of decency as society pressured women to look a certain way. These outfits restricted movement for women players and they couldn’t move freely but they still put their all into the game.


Pitch invasions and criticism

England and Scotland met again on the 20th of May 1881 in Glasgow but due to pitch invasions, it was cancelled. The players were treated rough and chased by angry mobs due to them being women. They had to flee the pitch to get to safety because of the chaos.

Criticism continued through the media where the players appearance and standard of play was criticised. Due to this, the public saw football as a man’s sport and something women shouldn’t participate in.

Future matches that were held in Scotland led to further brutal pitch invasions. Because of the many pitch invasions that occurred, women’s football was banned in Scotland for many years. It didn’t come back until 1971 when the Scottish Women’s Football Association was launched.


First match in England

The first women’s football match in England occurred on the 23rd of March 1895 which was a derby. It was between two teams that were named the north and the south. The teams were made up of players from the British Ladies’ Football Club that was founded by Lady Florence Dixie. Each team represented the north and the south of London and played the first derby in front of 10,000 people.

By this time, the outfit regulations were more relaxed as they no longer had to wear corsets. Women were also allowed to wear football boots instead of regular heeled boots. However, bonnets were still required to wear whilst playing which still brought difficulties. If bonnets were knocked out of place or off heads, the game had to be stopped to put them back in place.

Over a couple of years, the club played about 100 matches across the UK which attracted negative media.


when did women's football start- future generation of womens football enjoying win

Women’s football was a social reform

Due to the British Ladies’ Football Club, women’s football became a social reform. This is because Lady Dixie believed in fighting for women’s rights and was a part of the suffragette movement. She believed that football was good for women and their physiques. Lady Dixie also supported the rational dress movement which aimed to put a stop to women wearing corsets just because they were seen as respectable.

Also, she decided to push boundaries through football by encouraging her team to wear blouses and short like knickers to push against what society saw as respectable. Lady Dixie promoted women’s football and strived for a future where more girls would play the sport. She wanted a world where girls could compete without the stigma attached just like men’s football.


Women’s football during WWI

During the first world war, another women’s football team was made by Dick Kerr. The club was formed in 1917 and was created to raise funds for the war. All proceeds that were made were donated to local hospitals treating soldiers that were wounded. Due to this, the club were more respected than past women’s football teams.

The club played a match on Christmas Day in front of 10,000 people which raised £600 (equivalent to £50,000 in today’s money). The team continued playing after the war due to the success and respect, however, they split in 1965 right before the women’s FA was formed.


1921 women’s football ban

During the first world war women’s football became slightly more popular, and afterwards, the success kept growing. This became a threat to men’s football as the crowds for their games started to dwindle compared to women’s games. They also didn’t make as many headlines as the women. However, the popular view from society was that women should leave the pitch. The disdain amongst society heightened when it was alleged that women were being paid for playing. This was unacceptable to many as it made women’s football a professional sport and a career for the players.

Due to these aspects, the FA banned women from playing football in December 1921. Women were also not allowed to use league pitches and facilities. The FA rationalised the decision based on the claims of players being paid, but it was also clear they didn’t like women playing.

As women were banned from pitches and qualified referees weren’t allowed to officiate their games, women’s football was ultimately destroyed. Their credibility crumbled after years of building it up slowly, even though many teams made attempts to continue.

The ban went on for years and wasn’t lifted by the FA until 1971. But by this time, women’s football had been tarnished and had to be built back up to earn respect for years. Because of this, England actually didn’t have a proper professional league until 2018.

Once children have learnt about this awful ban, encourage them to participate in all sports. Plan activities during lessons that involve sports and offer incentives for sports such as reward stickers.


Modern day women’s football

Finally, 88 years after the first women’s football game was played, the sport gained new respect. After the ban was lifted, the first England Women’s International and the Women’s FA Cup were played in Wembley Stadium.

In 1993 the Women’s Football Committee was set up to run English games, making football become a top sport for women and girls. This popularity grew when England hosted the UEFA Women’s Championship in 2005.

Further respect for the sport was gained in 2012 when the women’s Team GB reached the quarterfinals of the London Olympics. Two years later, the England Women’s team played for the first time at the new Wembley Stadium. This game drew the largest crowd for a women’s match in history. It totalled around 45,619 people!

The popularity of women’s football has come on leaps and bounds, especially recently due to the success of the Lionesses in the 2022 Women’s Euros. The team managed to reach the final and win the whole tournament gaining huge interest from the media and the public.


How to interest pupils in women’s football

Encourage children to watch the 2023 Women’s World Cup and support the Lionesses as well as supporting women’s football as a whole too. You could stream a few games in the classroom to gain an interest in the sport. Support girls further with a passion for football by giving them access to footballs for them to play with. You could have footballs for the whole class to use during breaks by ensuring you have plenty of them, so girls have a chance to use them too. Allow girls to bond through football and set up girls-only matches after school to entice them to participate.

Inspire girls further to get involved with our blog encouraging girls to play football. Discover activities and ways you can excite girls to play football ahead of the World Cup.


Use this history of women’s football and the answer to when did women’s football start to educate children about how the sport began and what it took for women to play professionally. It is important for children to know what women have been through to get to where they are in football today. It’s a great way to start conversations on the upcoming Women’s World Cup and to encourage excitement for the tournament. Delving into this history also inspires girls to join in the sport and feel like they can play football, which is essential.

<a href="https://blog.hope-education.co.uk/author/amber-vaccianna/" target="_self">Amber Vaccianna</a>

Amber Vaccianna

Hope blog writer

11 July 2023

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