Author Topic: THE REAL UNTOUCHABLES  (Read 934 times)

Offline David

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« on: March 07, 2007, 01:24:49 PM »
Chicks, eh? First they want the vote, then they burn their bras, then one of them gets into 10 Downing Street. It's madness. They should get back in the kitchen and away from our football pitches! Or, at least, that's what the chauvinists (hello, Mike Newell!) say. Wacky World, of course, disagrees and has the facts to prove it. Since they were founded in 1987, the Arsenal Ladies side has been one of the shining lights of women's sport after winning the Women's Premier League and League Cup eight times and the Women's FA Cup seven times, with two domestic trebles coming their way into the bargain. It's a sensational record, but one that can be eclipsed by the amazing achievements of another ladies side who emerged from the depths of World War One.

As part of their Nation on Film series, the BBC will reveal the story of the Dick, Kerr ladies team, a side who came into being as munitions workers from Preston's Dick, Kerr and Co factory during the First World War. Women barely even had the vote at the time, so other 'luxuries' such as the right to play football seemed like a particularly distant dream. However, at the height of the war, with husbands, brothers, sons and fathers risking their lives abroad, it was felt that organised sporting activity would be good for the morale of both workers and the public in general and so women's football crept into existence.

The women of Dick, Kerr had already played a small game against the male members of the workforce during the early years of the war, but office worker Alfred Frankland saw the potential for something greater and with the help of co-worker Grace Sibbert starting planning for a Christmas Day 1917 match against a local team to raise funds for the war-injured. This was to be the team's defining moment as Frankland hired out Preston's Deepdale stadium for £20 (tuppence today, but a significant wad in wartime) and an amazing 10,000 spectators turned up to watch the side trounce local team Arundel Coulthard Foundry 4-0.

The match raised an impressive £200 for the Moor Park hospital at which many an injured serviceman was treated and Frankland immediately hired out the stadium again, leading to more money being raised for good causes. Indeed, so successful was the team that even after the armistice was signed in November 1918, the ladies flourished, traveling to St James' Park to face the Newcastle Ladies in front of 35,000 spectators. In December 1920, Frankland, with special permission from then Secretary of State for War Winston Churchill, organised one of the first floodlit matches ever held in England after hiring two anti-aircraft spotlights to keep the pitch in full view. Understandably, the game was hit with technical difficulties, but 10,000 fans left at the full-time whistle more than entertained, along with Pathe newscameras who recorded the whole thing.

The Dick Kerr ladies were now big news. They had played 59 games, winning 58 of them and drawing the other. When you compare that to Arsenal's historic season of 2003/04 in which the Gunners remained unbeaten in 59 matches except for six Cup losses you begin to see just how special Dick, Kerr's were. And soon, they were no longer just a small team playing against local sides, they were England's unoffical women's international team and for their first game as a national side they faced France. Northern strength met Gallic flair and, with the French and English media watching on, the first of a four-game series got underway with a comfortable 2-0 victory for the English in front of a 25,000-strong Deepdale crowd. A 5-2 victory at Stockport came the following day before a Manchester-based game finished in a 1-1 draw.

Despite their massive popularity, all these games had taken place in the North and with word spreading, the rest of the country wanted a taste of the action as well. So, for the fourth and final game in the series, the two sides traveled down to London to play at Stamford Bridge. The game didn't go as planned for Dick, Kerr's though as midfielder Jennie Harris was knocked unconscious. As this was the time before substitutions, the team was down to ten (wo)men and ended up losing 2-1. It was one of only twenty-four defeats the ladies suffered during their 828-game history but shortly after they returned to winning ways and huge popularity as a record 53,000 fans watched them trounce St Helens 4-0 at Goodison Park. 35,000 then saw them at Old Trafford and another 25,000 saw them thrash a Rest of Britain XI 9-1 at Anfield. The return match with the French in Paris finished in a 1-1 draw, with the pitch being invaded five minutes from the end.

As the saying goes though, what goes up must come down and fearing the phenomenal rise of Dick, Kerr's, the Football Association banned women's football in December 1921, using rumours about the legitimacy of the ladies fundraising as their get-out clause. The team continued, with a 1922 tour of America producing three wins against the professional mens teams of New Bedford, New York and Baltimore. However, Dirk, Kerr and Co became English Electric shortly after and in 1926 cut off all ties with the club. Frankland continued as manager until 1957 when he passed away and eventually the team disbanded in 1965, just six years before the FA finally ended their ban and recognised women's football. In 2002, star player Lily Parr was an Inaugural Inductee into the English Football Hall of Fame. At the age of fourteen in her first season for Dick Kerr's Ladies, she scored 43 goals. By the end of her career in 1951 she had scored more than 900. Now, who said women's football is a joke...