Women's association football is the most prominent team sport for women in few countries, and one of the few women's team sports with professional leagues.
The History of Women's Football
Early Women's football
Women have been playing "football" for as long as the game has existed. Evidence shows that an ancient version of the game (Tsu Chu
) was played by women during the Han Dynasty
(25–220 CE). Two female figures are depicted in Han Dynasty
(25–220 CE) frescoes, playing Tsu Chu. There are, however, a number of opinions about the accuracy of dates, the earliest estimates at 5000 BCE.
Europe's First Documented Matches
, the modern game, also has documented early women's matches. In Europe
, it is possible that 12th century. French
women played football as part of that era's folk games. An annual competition in Mid-Lothian
during the 1790s is reported, too. In 1863, football governing bodies introduced standardised rules to prohibit violence on the pitch, making it more socially acceptable for women to play. The first women's match recorded by the Scottish Football Association
took place in 1892 in Glasgow
. In England
, the first recorded game of football between women took place in 1895. Lady Florence Dixie
played a key role in establishing the game, organizing exhibition matches
for charity, and in 1895 she became President of the British Ladies' Football Club
, stipulating that "the girls should enter into the spirit of the game with heart and soul." She arranged for a women's football team from London to tour Scotland.
The most well documented early European team was founded by activist Nettie Honeyball
, in England, 1894. It was named the British Ladies Football Club
. Nettie Honeyball is quoted, "I founded the association late last year , with the fixed resolve of proving to the world that women are not the ‘ornamental and useless’ creatures men have pictured. I must confess, my convictions on all matters where the sexes are so widely divided are all on the side of emancipation
, and I look forward to the time when ladies may sit in Parliament
and have a voice in the direction of affairs, especially those which concern them most." Honeyball and those like her paved the way for women's football. However, the women's game was frowned upon by the British
football associations, and continued without their support. It has been suggested that exclusion of women was motivated by a perceived threat to the 'masculinity' of the game.
WWI Company Teams
Women's football first became popular on a large scale during World War I
, when employment of women in heavy industry spurred the growth of the game via company teams, much as it had done for men fifty years earlier. The most successful team of the era was Dick, Kerr's Ladies
, England. Dick, Kerr's Ladies played in the first women's international matches in 1920. They played a team from Paris
in April, and also made up most of the England team against Scots
ladies in 1920, winning 22-0. Dick, Kerr's Ladies returned to Scotland in 1921, for a second international with an audience of 6,000. They also toured Scotland afterwards, playing five matches for 70,000 people in the stands.
Women Banned in England and Scotland
Despite being more popular than some men's football events (one match saw a 53,000 strong crowd), women's football in England and Scotland suffered a blow in 1921. The Football Association
, in England, banned women from playing the game on Association members' pitches, on the grounds that the game (as played by women) was distasteful. A similar decree was made by Scottish football authorities. Some speculated that these decisions may have been driven by envy of the large crowds that women's matches attracted. The ban led to the formation of the English Ladies Football Association
, and women's football matches were moved to rugby
grounds and park football pitches not affiliated to the FA. The ban limited public exposure for women's football and slowed its growth, but did not stop it. Women's football continued to draw dedicated players and fans.
The 'revival' of the women's game
The English Women's FA
was formed in 1969 (as a result of the increased interest generated by the 1966 World Cup
), and the FA's ban on matches being played on members' grounds was finally lifted in 1971. In the same year UEFA
recommended that the women's game should be taken under the control of the national associations in each country.
In the 1970s, Italy became the first country with professional women's football players, albeit on a part-time basis. The first full-time professional team was the United States national squad, and in 1992, Japan was the first country to have a semi-professional women's football league, L. League.
The 21st century
At the beginning of the 21st century women's football, like men's football, has become professionalised and is growing in both popularity and participation. From the first known professional team in 1894 , to the hundreds of thousands of tickets sold for the 1999 Women's World Cup, support of women's professional football (soccer) has increased around the globe. It is now the third most popular sport in the world.
However, as in other sports, women have struggled for pay and opportunities equal to male football players'. Major league and international women's football enjoys far less television and media coverage than the men's equivalent. For instance the 2006 Algarve Cup, a significant international tournament, was televised very little in Europe (Eurosport did broadcast some games) and none at all in the USA (where the women's game arguably has the highest profile) and other regions. Another example is that FIFA's Women's web site links to information about the men's team. In spite of this, the popularity and participation in women's football is expected to continue growing.
One of the first modern pro women's teams was the US Women's Team, which played their first match in 1985. Japan has a sponsored league, called the L. League, which hosts friendlies, as well as football camps, striving to increase skills and level of play.
The Women's United Soccer Association (WUSA) in the United States, in the early 2000s, was the first true all-professional league for women anywhere in the world; however, its ephemeral success was a setback for professionalism, and to date the top national leagues in the advanced countries, such as the Premier League National, the L. League, the W-League, Women's Bundesliga (Germany and Austria), Toppserien (Norway), Superliga Femenina (Spain), Women's National Soccer League (Australia), and others are either amateur or semi-professional. The organisers of WUSA, however, have announced plans to relaunch the league in 2009 as Women's Professional Soccer.
For the Women's Olympic Football Tournament, given the general abandonment of amateur regulations in the Olympic Games in the 1990s, the national women's teams do not have restrictions due to professionalism or age, thus the tournament becomes a back-to-back re-World Cup with the best teams of the previous year's World Cup plus the hosts. However, England and other British Home Nations are not eligible to compete as separate entities because the International Olympic Committee does not recognise their FIFA status as separate nations, and it remains to be seen how, or even whether, the United Kingdom will be incorporated into the 2012 Olympic tournament, given that FIFA does not recognise the UK as a single sporting entity.
The growth in women's football has seen major competitions being launched at both national
level. For more information see Women's football around the world
and International competitions in women's football
The Munitionettes' Cup
In August 1917 a tournament was launched for female munition workers' teams in North-East England. Its official title was the "Tyne Wear & Tees Alfred Wood Munition Girls Cup," but it was popularly known as "The Munitionettes' Cup." The first winners of the trophy were Blyth Spartans, who defeated Bolckow, Vaughan 5-0 in a replayed final tie at Middlesbrough on 18th May 1918. The tournament ran for a second year in season 1918-19, the winners being the ladies of Palmer's shipyard in Jarrow, who defeated Christopher Brown's of Hartlepool 1-0 at St James's Park in Newcastle on 22nd March 1919.
The English Ladies' Football Association Challenge Cup
Following the Football Association ban on women's teams in December 1921, the English Ladies' Football Association was formed. A silver cup was donated by the first president of the association, Len Bridgett, and this was competed for in the spring of 1922. 24 teams entered the competition, the winners being Stoke Ladies, who defeated Doncaster and Bentley Ladies 3-1 on 24th June 1922.
UEFA Women's Championship (Women's Euro)
In 1937, Dick, Kerr's Ladies
played Edinburgh Ladies
in "The Championship of Great Britain and the World"
, but there was no formal international tournament until 1982 when the first UEFA European Competition For Representative Women's Teams
was launched. The 1984 Finals
was won by Sweden
. This competition name was succeeded by the UEFA Women's Championship
and today, is commonly referred to as the Women's Euro
won, in the 1987 Finals
. Since then, the UEFA Women's Championship
has been dominated by Germany
, which has won six of the seven subsequent competitions, including the 2005 Women's Euro
Women's World Cup
The first Women's World Cup
was held in China
in 1991, and was won by the USA
. The third Cup, held in the United States
in 1999, drew worldwide television
interest and a final in front of a record-setting 90,000+ Los Angeles
crowd, where the home team won 5-4 on penalty kicks
Prior to the FIFA's establishment of the Women's World Cup, several unofficial tournaments took place, including the FIFA's Women's Invitation Tournament 1988, which was also hosted in China.
Besides the United States and Germany (which won the 2003
World Cups), the strongest women's teams have traditionally been , , and , with nations like emerging as powers.
In 2002, FIFA inaugurated a women's youth championship, officially called the FIFA U-19 Women's World Championship. The first event was hosted by Canada. The final was an all-CONCACAF affair, with the USA defeating the host Canadians 1-0 with an extra-time golden goal. The second event was held in Thailand in 2004 and won by Germany. The age limit was raised to 20, starting with the 2006 event held in Russia. Demonstrating the increasing global reach of the women's game, the winners of this event were North Korea. The tournament was renamed the FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup, effective with the 2008 edition to be held in Chile.
In 2008, FIFA will institute an under-17 world championship. The inaugural event will be held in New Zealand.
In a League of Their Own! The Dick, Kerr Ladies 1917-1965 ISBN 1-85727-029-0