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Dick, Kerr Ladies and Boxing Day 1920

Many memorable moments come to mind when you think of football at Christmas. For example, Boxing Day 1963, when 66 goals were scored across the ten fixtures in Division One.

Arguably, even more famous was the Christmas Day truce in 1914 when there was widespread ceasefire followed by a game of football between the English and the Germans.

Just six years on from that famous day in the trenches, another record-breaking football match took place.

The average attendance for a Premier League match in the 2017/18 season was 38,495. One of the grounds that would have significantly contributed to that average and the host for this famous match was Goodison Park.

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On Boxing Day of 1920, a crowd of around 68,000 spectators made their way across Stanley Park to watch Dick, Kerr Ladies vs St Helen Ladies. 53,000 were lucky enough to have a ticket and enter the stadium — still the biggest ever crowd for a women’s club match in the UK.

You might be wondering, why the story of Dick, Kerr Ladies isn’t more familiar?

That is largely due to the FA’s decision to ban women from using the fields and stadiums used by FA-affiliated clubs less than a year after their notorious Boxing Day fixture. A ban that would last half a century until it was finally repealed in 1971.

Despite the relentless opposition Dick, Kerr Ladies faced with claims that the game was not suitable for women, they were still able to lay the foundations for future generations.

Lilly Parr — unofficially recognised as the all-time leading goalscorer in women’s football with around 1000 goals — was rewarded in 2012 when she was the only woman to be made an inaugural inductee in the English Football Hall of Fame.

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Parr, like many other women, had worked for Dick, Kerr and Company during WW1 to help produce ammunition for the war effort. As competitive sport was encouraged for morale purposes, they participated in a handful of football matches against male-factory workers and defeated them.

They went on to play at Deepdale in 1917 where they beat Coulthards Foundry 4-0 in front of 10,000 spectators. The ladies were quickly becoming the stars of British Pathé newsreels.

 A year later, Molly Walker became the first woman to be transferred from another team to play for the Preston-based club. They also became the first woman’s team to play in an organised match wearing shorts.

In 1920 they became the first women’s team to play a match with a white football at night and even got permission from Winston Churchill to illuminate the pitch with two anti-aircraft search lights.

In that same year they defeated France 2-0 in front of 25,000 people in what is widely considered the first ever international women’s football match.

But no achievement highlighted the team’s success and popularity than that famous day in Liverpool in 1920, where just three years after forming as a club they were able to attract a crowd of over 50,000 people.

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Between 1917 and 1965 Dick, Kerr Ladies played 828 games and only lost 24 before the team was disbanded due to a lack of players.

Records state that during their existence they raised somewhere in the region of £180,000 — which in 2018 equates to over £10 million. That is more money raised for charity than other football team in history.

It’s heart-breaking to consider what Dick, Kerr and the other pioneers of women’s football could have achieved without the opposition from councils and government bodies.

Hopefully the rising popularity in the women’s game and the European Championships coming to England in 2021 can help break the record set in 1920 sooner rather than later.

For more on the Dick Kerr Ladies incredibly story, visit
http://dickkerrladies.com/ where you will a wealth of information by Gail Newsham. Her research contributed a great deal to this piece and I’m very thankful for that.

Featured Photograph/Biloblue/WikipediaCommons

Darren Barnard
Darren, 24, is a graduate of the University of Exeter, where he attained a degree in Drama. Following that, he travelled through Asia and Australia for two years, encountering entirely different sporting cultures. Unable to his watch his beloved Spurs and Chicago Bears as regularly as he was accustomed to, he was encouraged to pursue other countries sporting passions. An interest in AFL and NRL was unavoidable as he became infatuated with Australia's similar passion for sport. However it was among the corruption and chaos of Asian football, where he formed a lifelong friendship with the players and supporters of Than Quảng Ninh F.C.
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