“I HAVE taken the trouble to ask medical specialists if football does women any harm. I am assured it does not if indulged in moderately.”
Edinburgh councillor Magnus Williamson was in full pomp in the City Chambers, his fellow male elected representatives of the general purposes committee listening closely as he put forward his argument that the ladies of the Edinburgh Dynamos football team be given permission to play a match at Meadowbank against an English side.
It was 1946 and any outcry against women’s football, he declared, was akin to that when women wanted to play golf or tennis and while he was “not an advocate” of ladies playing the beautiful game, if they wanted to then the council had “a responsibility to make sure women received a fair share of the facilities”.
Sadly, his equalities argument came to nought and the committee voted eight-four against letting the Dynamos take to the pitch. All because the Scottish Football Association had decreed that “all grounds which allowed women’s football would be banned” and that, the councillors feared, could have a potential detrimental impact on Hearts or Hibs.
That debate was held in 1946, almost 30 years after the great wave of women’s football teams established during World War One and 51 years from when civilised discussions about whether women should be allowed to play filled the letters pages of The Scotsman, and still women’s football was considered a green space oddity.
But that decision and the impact of the SFA’s move to try and quash women’s football by banning them from official grounds which began in the 1920s and lasted for 50 years – even in 1978 Scotland was the only country to vote against developing the women’s game through Uefa – is still being felt today says Stuart Gibbs, curator of a small exhibition on the history of the women’s game at Stockbridge Library.
“Sexism has always been at the heart of football in Scotland,” says the artist, who initially collated The First Ladies of Football exhibit for the national Scottish Football Museum and is trying to enlarge the archive as well as write a book on the subject.
“By not allowing women to play at official football grounds it kept their game amateur and even regarded as a novelty event, when the reality was that Scotland produced some very good female players – and it started in Edinburgh.”
Stuart admits another reason for the game’s failure to be taken seriously in years past perhaps stems from where it originated – theatreland. The very first official women’s game was held at Easter Road in 1881, when a Scottish side took on an English team, all organised by a theatre producer, Alex Gordon, with many of the players actresses or even ballet dancers such as Lily St Clair.
“To be honest, Gordon organised the event to make some money,” says Stuart, “and then others like him thought it was a good way to get themselves out of money troubles. It became a kind of ballet football which toured the country.
“It was the media sensation of the age and was even being reported on in America, New Zealand and Canada. But it perhaps meant that women who were more serious about playing were later not taken seriously.”
Women’s football does go further back than that though. Church documents suggest women were playing the game in 1628 in Lanarkshire, and an annual match of married versus single women was played in Inverness in the 1700s. But despite the crowds some games generated in the late 19th century – up to 12,000 spectators – the game never really took off until the advent of the First World War.
With women in the munitions factories, and the men at the front, football became a girl’s world. “Even then there were theatre connections – one of the first games was the pantos of the Theatre Royal versus the Lyceum. But it did take root and after the war there was an Edinburgh Ladies side.
“And Mary and Alfred Proctor founded the Edinburgh City Girls during May of 1937 to challenge Dick Kerr Ladies for the Championship of Great Britain and the World. The first match held in Blackpool wasn’t so successful [a 5-1 defeat,] but the match played at St Bernards old ground was a different story when Rena Shanks stepped up to open the scoring for the City Girls with Linda Clements and the famous Nancy Thomson adding the others in a 5-2 win.
“A few weeks later the side met Glasgow Ladies in the Championship final at Carmuirs Juniors grounds in Falkirk, with a resounding 7-0 win seeing them take the title.”
Two of the City players, Linda Clements and Mary Leslie, went on to establish the Edinburgh Dynamos in the 1940s, a squad which included by 1946 13-year-old Bett Davidson.
Her son, Keith Adamson, has helped Stuart piece together some of the exhibition information. “My mum played for Scotland as well as the Dynamos,” says Keith. “But because the Dynamos toured a lot she stopped when she met my dad as she didn’t want to be away so much. But when I was small she’d come down the tenement steps where we lived in Elliot Street and play some football in the street with me and my friends, and show us some keepy-uppy. She was pretty good and I’m devastated that when I was 12 I told her I didn’t want her old boots, or her old Scotland strip and I think they got thrown out. I even swapped her Dynamos top for a new white rugby top with a friend.”
Stuart adds: “The Dynamos played through the late-40s and early-50s but never quite reached the heights of the City Girls side. They were revived though during the late 1960s, winning the second Scottish Cup in 1972 and going on to win the trophy a further seven times.
“Overall though, women’s football has been quite a neglected subject and there is a great deal about the history that has gone untold and this is what the project is trying to address. I’m hoping to get a book out but new material is coming to light all the time and a lot of the work I’ve done so far has had to go in the bin.
“Slowly and steadily, though, a good picture of what happened is starting to develop, something we’ve not really had before.”
The First Ladies of Football runs at Stockbridge Library, Hamilton Place, until the end of the month opening 9am – 5pm and 1pm – 8pm Wednesday. If you have information which could help Stuart’s project please contact him via email firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com
GOING UP IN THE WORLD
SCOTLAND’S current national women’s side may still be waiting outside the turnstiles rather than participating on a level playing field with the men’s side when it comes to money, but they’re certainly performing on the pitch, rising to 21st in the world.
And at the end of this month they face a play-off match against the Netherlands to try and win a place in the World Cup for the first time. Despite some strong performances in the group stages – including a 7-0 trouncing of Bosnia Herzegovina – a recent 2-0 loss to Sweden saw them fail to qualify automatically for the competition in Canada.
But the women’s game remains amateur. Scottish goalkeeper Gemma Fay is still paying her student loan and midfielder Megan Sneddon, 2013’s Players’ Player Of The Year, is a postie whose round has caused her injury problems.