Some of the facts for you to digest.
At its inception women's football was embraced by the FA for the patriotic nature of their games. The League programme had been suspended in 1915 following the outbreak of the first world war and women took to the field as a means of raising much needed funds for wounded soldiers and their families. Many of them had lost their own fathers and brothers in the conflict and they understood the harsh reality of life without their loved ones. However, it proved to be a bigger success than anyone could ever have imagined and once the novelty aspect had disappeared, it was obvious that women's football was very much a crowd pleaser.
In the early 1920's the national enthusiasm for Dick, Kerr Ladies had in some ways parallelled that seen by the rapid expansion of the professional male game during the same period. In 1920, divisions 1 and 2 of the men's football league were each expanded from 20 to 22 clubs. The following year a new division 3 was formed, mostly from southern clubs but soon followed by a division 3 north. However the national interest in women's football was quite substantial, but it was a state of affairs that wouldn't be allowed to last. Women's football offended the middle class propriety of the FA's ruling council and perhaps more importantly it was grabbing some of the limelight from the male game.
The Dick, Kerr Ladies had earned themselves the reputation as being the premier team in the land and the charities they were playing for to quote the press, recognised 'what a little gold mine these girls were'. By 1921 the popularity of the Dick, Kerr Ladies was at it's height and they were the team that everyone wanted to see and they had been booked to play an average of two games a week. They were even feted as the unofficial England team because of their superiority but on 5 December 1921, the FA banned ladies football and effectively changed the course of the womens game forever. The minutes of the meeting read as follows:
Complaints having been made as to football being played by women, the Council feel impelled to express their strong opinion that the game of football is quite unsuitable for females and ought not to be encouraged.
Complaints have also been made as to the conditions under which some of these matches have been arranged and played, and the appropriation of receipts to other than charitable objects.
The Council are further of the opinion that an excessive proportion of the receipts are absorbed in expenses and an inadequate percentage devoted to charitable objects.
For these reasons the Council request clubs belonging to the association to refuse the use of their grounds for such matches.
It was as easy as that! The axe had fallen and fifty years of prejudice and exclusion were to follow. It was probably the biggest sporting injustice of the last century. Some members of the medical profession also supported the FA, stating that football was a dangerous pursuit for women and could seriously affect their fertility! Some even thought that a woman's only role in sport was to stand on the sidelines, watch and applaud.
The fact is that women were attracting crowds far in excess of many of the men's games. The same year that the Dick, Kerr Ladies played in front of 53,000 at Goodison, the biggest crowd at a men's match was 37,545 at 1st division Chelsea, 2nd division West Ham attracted 20,100, division 3 south Millwall 16,650, and division 3 north Stockport 11,050. The remainder of the new division 3 north and south could only attract crowds of between 2500-9500 and with the Dick, Kerr Ladies regularly attracting crowds in excess of 30,000, it isn't difficult to see why the men felt threatened by the success of the women's game.
Consequently we have a nation that for generations has been brought up with the belief that football is a man's game, but only because men wanted it that way in order to keep it for themselves. History does prove it to be otherwise but the glittering legacy of women's football had been conveniently buried and largely forgotten. For many years British women have had to be content to play football on Sunday and always have their status in question. If only women's football had been allowed to prosper and grow at the same pace as their male counterparts. Just imagine where it would be today.
It's going to take a very long time to erode the negative attitudes and lip service given towards the women's game, but at least we can take inspiration from the Dick, Kerr Ladies who never gave in despite all the prejudice they faced.