In which a young working-class girl, destined to become a star of women’s soccer, meets her team-mates for the first time.
“I’ll introduce you to some of the girls,” said Alice Kell to fourteen year old Lily Parr. “This is Florrie Redford, our center-forward,” she continued indicating an attractive blonde-haired young woman, who was lacing up her football boots. “Florrie, this is our new recruit, Lily Parr, from St. Helens.”
“Gosh!” said Lily awkwardly as Florrie rose to her feet and walked across the room. “You’re right pretty!”
Florrie smiled with pleasure as she shook the young girl by the hand.
“Why, thank you, Lily,” she replied. “That’s very sweet of you to say so, and by the way you have the loveliest jet-black hair I’ve ever seen. It’s most attractive.”
Lily felt herself blush, and her heart beat a little faster at receiving such a generous comment. Usually a confident and rather brash individual, she felt nervous and unsure in her new surroundings. So much had happened to her in such a short time! Barely a week ago she had been living at home with her parents and her siblings, playing for the St. Helens Ladies team at the weekends, and now here she was, barely a teenager, on her own in a strange city, lodging with another girl, and working at one of the biggest factories in the area Dick, Kerr and Co. Ltd. She was roused from her reverie by the sound of Florrie’s voice again.
“So Lily, what position do you play? You look like a center-forward! You’re so tall! Maybe I should be worried that you’re my replacement!”
There was a playful glint in Florrie Redford’s blue eyes.
“Nah,” answered Lily bashfully, “I’m rubbish wi’ mi ‘ead, but I got a pretty good left foot! So I usually play outside left.”
“She’s gor a kick like a mule!” said a voice. This time Lily recognized that it was her friend and former schoolmate, Alice Woods, who had just joined the Dick, Kerr’s Ladies team with her. “She can lift a heavy leather ball clear across the field from one side to t’other,” continued Alice. “And I’ve seen no woman nor even some men as can kick a ball as hard as she can. Some o’ them goalies, when they see her gerring set to take a shot, they just shift outa the way double quick!”
“Well, welcome to the team, Lily,” said Florrie. “I’m right glad you’ve joined us. You’re going to like it here. There’s a good spirit, and the coach, Mr. Frankland, he’s a luvly feller. He’ll do anything for the team.”
Lily thought of her first meeting with Alfred Frankland in her parent’s cramped front room. She had seen him on the touchline earlier that afternoon, shouting encouragement to his team, who had overwhelmed her own St. Helen’s Ladies by six goals to one! She hadn’t thought to see him again, and had left immediately after the game, but later that day her friend and team-mate, Alice Woods, had come looking for her. Alice’s eyes had been sparkling with excitement as she told her friend that the Dick, Kerr’s coach wanted the two of them to come play for his team.
“He’s offering ten shillings a game, Lil, and a job in the factory. He’s an office supervisor. It’s a great chance to better ourselves, and play for the best women’s team in these parts. You know like the bard says: ‘There is a tide in the affairs of men which taken at the flood leads on to fortune!’” Alice had exclaimed excitedly.
“Eh, Alice, you and yer Shakespeare,” Lily had declared in exasperation to the older girl. “Anyway, we’re young lasses not men. I don’t have much use for men. They think they’re so superior!”
“Come on, Lily,” Alice had coaxed. “You could at least listen to what he has to say!”
“Eh, well,” admitted Lily grudgingly, “he’d best ask me mam, then!”
Later that afternoon Alfred Frankland had picked his way gingerly across the backyard of the modest Parr dwelling in Pocket Nook, a tough neighborhood of St. Helens, and entered the parlor to talk with Lily’s mother. She had taken an instant liking to the earnest man in his late thirties, dressed in a neat conservative suit who spoke so glowingly of her daughter’s prospects.
“Although she’s still young,” he had said, “she’s tall and strong and quick with a tremendous left foot shot. She will be a big asset to my team. I can offer her ten shillings for each game she plays, as well as a full-time job in the factory, and there’s a nice steady young lass, called Alice Norris, that your Lily can lodge with. She’ll take care of her and see she comes to no harm.”
Mrs. Parr had given her consent with a smile. She knew her daughter loved to play football as much as she was itching to explore the world outside St. Helens. There’s nowt for her here, thought Mrs. Parr. I want better for her than what I got. Let her see the world before she has to get hitched and start a family. And besides, St. Helens is such a dirty town, not like when I were a kid. Slag heaps from the mines, chemical fumes and this part of town, full of pick-pockets and drunks. It’s no place fer a lass!
So, here stood Lily in the changing room at Ashton Park in Preston, meeting her team-mates for the first time, a tight knot of mingled apprehension and excitement in her stomach.
Later that evening Lily sat in the snug parlor of Alice Norris’ lodgings in Preston, drinking a cup of tea and staring into the fire.
“So how did you get interested in playing football, Lily?” asked Alice in a friendly tone.
“I was never that keen on cooking and sewing and all that stuff,” replied Lily. “I suppose I’ve always been a bit of a tomboy, Alice. I was always a big, tall lass, and mi brothers took me along when they went to play footie with kids in the street. We used to play on a piece of wasteland down from our house. There was one day, and this lad said: ‘I’m not playin’ wi’ a lass!” And mi brothers told him I were as good as any boy, but he didn’t believe them. So they told him to go in goal and let me take shots at him. He was laughing. He didn’t think I could beat him. The first shot from about ten yards went flashin’ past his hand before he could shift himself. So he says, “Hey-up, she didn’t let me get ready!” So I waited until he was good and ready, and then I hit the next one like a rocket past his other hand. He said it were a fluke. So the third one I smashed straight in his face and it knocked him flat on his back. And he jumped up wi’ tears in his eyes, and said it weren’t fair, and he wasn’t gonna play wi’ me no more. But the other lads were impressed. I never had to do that again to get a game! So, I grew up playin’ wi’ lads all the time. Why, we even played rugby! That’s far rougher than footie! When there was no-one about, I’d practice for hours in the street, firing shots at the lamp-post!”
“It’s funny you should say that!” said Alice. “That’s a bit like how our team got started at the factory. On our lunchbreaks some of the lasses would take on the lads in a shooting contest. We had these little square winders in the cloak room, so we’d take turns outside in the yard hittin’ the ball at ‘em. Whoever was first to take out a winder was the winner. If the boys won, we’d have to buy ‘em a pack of Woodbines, but if we won, the lads had to buy us a bar of Five Boys chocolate!”
“I’d rather have had the Woodbines,” remarked Lily.
“D’you mean you smoke already, Lily?” asked Alice in surprise. “You’re a bit young for smoking, ain’t you?”
“Makes me feel more grown-up!” exclaimed Lily truculently.
“Anyhow,” continued Alice, “Mr. Frankland was watchin’ us one day at our shooting contest, and he suggested that we form a ladies team to play charity matches, and he said he’d be the manager. So we did!”
“I’ve heard there’s a load of women’s teams now,” said Lily. “Mi mum told me they got started ’cos all the lasses were working in the munitions factories during the war, and they needed summat to do for fun, and they wanted to help the soldiers who were coming back wounded.”
“Aye, that’s right,” agreed Alice. “They called the lasses ‘Munitionettes’. We played our first game a bit more than a year ago, Christmas Day, 1917, against Arundel Courtyard Foundry. Mr. Frankland moved heaven and earth, and got us Deepdale, Preston North End’s ground, and he talked up the game and put up posters, and if you can believe it there were about ten thousand people in the ground when the game started! Since they suspended the professional men’s competition, the public’s been starved of football, so they were more than happy even to watch a bunch o’ lasses! Anyway they weren’t disappointed! We put on a grand show, beat ‘em four-nil! And we raised a good sum of money for the Moor Park Hospital for wounded soldiers!”
“That’s grand, Alice!” said Lily warmly. “I can’t wait to play, but maybe I’m too young yet. My friend Alice Woods, she’s nineteen, a grown woman, but I’m still a kid!”
“Not to worry, Lily,” said Alice. “You’ll get your chance! Mr. Frankland’ll put yer in when he thinks you’re ready. You’re so big no-one’ll believe you’re only fourteen!”
“Who are the best players on the team, Alice?” asked Lily.
“Well, you’ve met Florrie Redford, ‘The Glamor Girl’” said Alice with a grin.
“Oh yes, indeed,” replied Lily. Once again her heart beat a little faster as she remembered the pretty blonde.
“Well, she’s the one who grabs the most goals,” continued Alice. “She works very hard on the field, runs and shoots whenever there’s the slightest chance. And then at inside left there’s Jennie Harris. We got her from Lancaster Ladies just a couple of months ago, and we’ve already seen her skill and ball control. She’s snatched a couple of goals. Alice Kell is the captain, very strong, a good tackler, and a leader on the field. She’s very versatile. She usually plays at right back, but she’s played at center-half and even in goal. What about your friend who came with you from St. Helens, Lily?”
“Oh, you mean Alice Woods?” replied Lily. “Why, we’ve way too many ‘Alices’ in this team! There’s you, Alice Norris, and the captain, Alice Kell, and my pal, Alice Woods! Well, my Alice, as I’ll call her, she’s five years older than I. She’s very quick. I heard someone say that she’s faster than a miner’s whippet! Actually her Dad was a miner. He passed away some years ago. Anyway she’s right quick. She’s won some sprinting races. She won a cup for the 80 yards dash in Blackpool! She started playing football, like I did, with brothers. They must have played rough ‘cos Alice likes a good shoulder charge just like a man. She’s got herself hurt once or twice ‘cos she doesn’t shirk a tackle. She’s a lot braver than me. Oh, and she prides herself on her education. I was never much for books, but Alice’s mum sent her to a real good school, and she learned to do fine hand-writing and she read the plays of Shakespeare. She quotes him all the time! Gets a bit tiresome sometimes, but she’s a good lass!”
“Well,” said Alice, getting to her feet, “I reckon I’m for bed. I’ve got to be into work by seven o’clock tomorrow, so I’d best get mi beauty sleep!”
“Okay,” said Lily, draining the last dregs of her tea, “I’ll follow you shortly. Good night!”
This is an extract from a longer story I have written about Lily Parr, star player for the Dick,Kerr Ladies soccer team in their heyday from 1917-1922. At their peak the team drew crowds of thousands as they took on the best English ladies teams and overcame a team composed of the cream of the French women players. After the patriarchal English Football Association had banned them from the major soccer stadiums, they embarked on a tour of North America, taking on and defeating several men’s teams! Lily was the star of the team, noted for her fierce left-foot shot. She played for the team well into her forties long after her earlier team-mates had hung up their boots. She is rightly remembered as one of the greatest women soccer players of all time. The dialogue in the story is, of course, entirely my own invention!