In which Lily and the Dick, Kerr Ladies meet a team from France.
“You’re in the team, Lily,” declared Alfred Frankland. “I’ve put thee in on left wing. I think tha’s ready.”
“Thanks, Mr. Frankland,” said Lily, her eyes shining with excitement. “I won’t let you down!”
“I know, lass,” replied Frankland, smiling. “I know you’ve been dying to get out there on the field, but you’re such a young’un, and I wanted you to get settled here in the new job and the new town.”
He ran his fingers through his thinning hair.
“I’m tryin’ to put together an unbeatable team,” he continued, “with t’ best players in the north-west. I want to put Dick, Kerr’s Ladies on the top, and by heaven I’ll do whatever it takes to get up there.” He thrust out his jaw with determination. “You, Lily, are one of the best young players I’ve ever seen. I never saw a lass as could hit a ball as hard as you. You are an essential part of my team, but you’re young yet, so just take it steady, and one day your name’ll be on everyone’s lips!”
Lily looked at Alfred Frankland, taking in the earnest expression on his face and the fierce glint in his eyes. He’s deadly serious, she thought. He really is determined for us to succeed!
“Talk to Alice Kell, the captain, and she’ll see you get some kit and some boots, lass, and I’ll see thee this afternoon,” said Frankland dismissively.”
“Maybe he fancies you, Lily,” said Alice Woods, giggling mischievously.
“Come off it!” protested Lily, punching her friend affectionately on the arm. “Why he’s old enough to be mi Dad!”
“Aye, but you just said he told you how you such were a wonderful player!” persisted Alice. She stood up straight and thrust out her chin in a creditable imitation of her coach and said in a deep masculine voice: “Oh, Lily, you have such a hard shot! The way you hit that ball, it’s magnificent! I can’t wait to see you in a pair of shorts!”
Lily went a deep red, and leaping to her feet hurled her football boot at Alice who ducked instinctively as the heavy object sailed harmlessly over her shoulder.
“Here, steady on, Lily!” Alice exclaimed. “I were only joshin’!”
“Well, give over, Alice!” exclaimed Lily. “I don’t care about men, and I’m nervous enough already about the game. Feels like butterflies flapping about in mi stomach. I think I’m going to be sick!”
“Eh, never mind, Lily lass,” said Alice kindly as she reached up and put her hand on her friend’s shoulder. “You’ll do fine. I played enough games wi’ thee for St. Helen’s Ladies to know that you’ve got what it takes.”
“You think so, Alice?” queried Lily doubtfully.
“Why look at the size of you!” declared Alice. “You’re nearly six feet tall. You’re gonna scare the pants off the opposition! You’re a bloody great giant!”
Lily punched her friend again on the arm.
“Eee, Alice, watch your language!” she said. “Mr. Frankland’ll not stand for no effing and blinding from us young ladies. We’ve got to act with decorum!”
“That’s as maybe,” agreed Alice, “but you and I have heard much worse down in Pocket Nook of a Saturday night!”
“Aye, but tha looks grand in that kit, Alice,” said Lily, changing the subject. “A black and white striped shirt like Newcastle United wears and we get a striped cap an’ all. I do think that if our team’s well turned-out, we ‘ll likely play better too!”
Alice Woods nodded and smiled as she laced up her football boots.
The left-winger cut inside travelling at some speed and unleashed a fierce shot at the opposing goal. The goalkeeper dived across her line and stretched out an arm to deflect the shot, but the ball was traveling too fast and too hard and it carried way beyond her into the corner of the net.
Immediately Lily Parr was surrounded by a cluster of her team-mates who patted her vigorously on the back.
“Grand shot, Lil,” said Alice Woods. “I knew you could do it!”
Lily smiled back at her friend, and gave a thumbs up sign.
“Well done, Lily, and welcome to the team!” echoed Florrie Redford, who leaned over to give the young winger a swift peck on the cheek.
Lily’s heart swelled with pride at the plaudits of her team-mates, and she trotted contentedly back to the halfway line for the restart.
Some minutes later she received a pass up the line from left-back Alice Kell. Controlling the ball with her instep she set off at full speed down the touchline, swerving inside her full back toward the goal. Waiting to the last moment, she slid the ball in a precise pass to the darting figure of inside right Jennie Harris who took the ball in stride and hit it past the advancing keeper.
“That pass were just perfect” remarked Jennie as they walked back together. “Tha’ put it on a plate for me!”
“Set up the next one for me, Lil!” called Florrie Redford.
Lily could only grin with pleasure.
“Have you heard the news, Lily?” asked Alice. “There’s some French lasses coming ower to play. Mr. Frankland knows a bigshot in Paris, Madame Someone or other, who’s sending a team of the best French women footballers here to play us in a series of exhibition games. He reckons it’ll bring in big crowds. He wants us to behave like we’re representing England!”
“That feller doesn’t miss a trick!” remarked Lily wryly. She liked her coach, but privately she thought some of his actions somewhat questionable. Had he not shamelessly poached most of the members of his current team from other women’s football clubs in the area with offers of jobs and money? Wasn’t he always looking for some angle to win free publicity for his team? Wasn’t he always claiming that Dick, Kerr’s Ladies were champions of England when there was no competition in women’s football to determine such a title?
Still, she thought, it’s all in a good cause! All the proceeds from ticket sales go to worthy charities such as hospitals and homes for wounded servicemen and such like. He’s giving us all a chance to do our bit for the country, so why should I worry if he’s a bit flash and a bit of a showman? Maybe he does exaggerate a bit about the team, but it’s with the best of motives!
“Does tha’ know aught of the French players, Alice?” asked Lily. “Are they any good?”
“That I don’t know, Lil!” declared Alice. “I reckon we’ll find out soon enough. They’re due in less than a week.”
“Well then,” said Lily decisively. “We’ll best get crackin’. Let’s ger over to the park and put in some shooting practice!”
“Madamoiselle Milliat, could you tell me how this trip to England with your French ladies football team has come about?” asked Jim Platt, Daily News reporter.
Alice Milliat, Secretary of La Federation des Societes Femenines Sportives de France leaned forward in her chair. Outside the window the muffled rumbling sounds of Paris traffic drifted up from the street below.
“Mais certainement, monsieur,” she said. “A Monsieur Frankland of the Dick,Kerr’s Ladies Football Team contacted me. ‘E was anxious to find fresh opponents for ‘is team, whom I believe are quite famous in your country. ‘E proposed a series of four matches at various venues in England with the proceeds going to charity. As you know, both of our countries have suffered in the terrible war only recently ended, and we both saw it as a marvelous opportunity to repair some of this damage. Of course, eet is a wonderful chance to promote the cause of women’s sport in both our countries. We seek official recognition here in France for women’s participation in all sports, but the men are…’ow do you say it in English? Ah yes…dragging the feet!”
“And the ladies of your team,” asked Platt, as he scribbled furiously in his notebook, “where did you find them?”
“They ‘ave been selected from several of the most accomplished women’s teams in France. Football is already a popular sport amongst our ladies. They will travel under the auspices of my club, ‘Femina Sport’,” explained Milliat.
“And how do you expect them to perform against Dick Kerr’s?” asked Platt. “They’ll be facing one of the best women’s teams in England.”
“I do not know very much about your team, monsieur,” replied Milliat with a dismissive wave of her hand, “but I do believe my…or rather our team will represent their country and their sex with pride. They play a sophisticated, flowing style of football, one of great skill and flair….the French way, monsieur,” she concluded proudly.
“And what about their kit, Madamemoiselle?” queried Platt, looking up. “What colors will they wear? Will they be wearing shorts or skirts? Some of our ladies have come in for some criticism for wearing shorts that are considered much too revealing!”
“Come, come, monsieur Platt,” scolded Milliat. “This will not be a fashion show! I am sure my ladies will be dressed elegantly but decorously for these games, but you should be more interested in their performance on the field. That is the problem with you men! You will not accept women as athletes!”
“I apologize, Madamemoiselle Milliat,” said Platt, hastily changing the subject. “I understand you yourself have been something of a pioneer in women’s sports.”
“Indeed, monsieur, bien sur,” replied Milliat, her face lighting up with pleasure. “I have played hockey and I am a keen rower and swimmer. I have dedicated my life to expanding women’s participation in sports. I have had many lively discussions with Baron Coubertin of the Olympic Committee about introducing women’s track and field events into the next Olympic Games.”
“A very worthy cause, Mademoiselle,” said Platt ingratiatingly. “Well I will take no more of your valuable time, but I promise you my newspaper will follow the tour of your French Ladies Football Team with considerable interest!”
The reporter folded his notebook, and returning it to his inside pocket, he shook hands with Alice Milliat and made his exit.
“What do you think of these French girls, then?” asked Harold Davies, sports editor of The Daily News, to his senior reporter, Dick Swales.
“Well they’re certainly a different kettle o’ fish compared with our English lasses,” said Swales thoughtfully. “For a start they’re much smaller, why some of them look a tad on the delicate side. I’m afraid that they might get knocked about a bit by them strappin’ Lancashire lasses. Like that Lily Parr, she’s a hefty-lookin’ girl and no mistake, and I’ve heard that the two Alice’s, Kell and Woods, they’re fierce tacklers!”
“They’re tough’uns, for women! That’s for sure!” agreed his boss.
“I talked to the French captain at Dover,” continued Swales, consulting his notebook, “a Miss Bracquemond,” he struggled with pronouncing the name. “Anyway the first thing she said to me was ‘Tell me about these English girls. They are big and strong, aren’t they?’ She looked a bit worried!”
“Well I understand those French women are from a different class,” declared Davies. “From what I’ve read in the French papers they’re mostly educated, middle-class women, University students, accountants and secretaries and so forth. I do believe one o’ them’s actually a dentist! Our lasses on Dick, Kerr’s, they’re all working class girls that left school at fifteen, and went straight to work in the factories. I doubt they’ll have much in common with the French!”
“Except they’re all playing for pride, boss,” said Swales. “I’ve sensed that when I’ve talked to these girls. They feel like they’re representing women everywhere.”
“Aye, well play that angle down, Dick,” said Davies. “We don’t want to get our friends at the Football Association upset! Just concentrate on reporting the game, and maybe we can send a girl from the Ladies Page to talk wi’ them about fashions and such like.”
“Okay, chief, got it!” replied Swales obediently.
“Qu’est ce que c’est que ca? What is that?” exclaimed Madeleine Bracquemond, captain of the Femina Sport team as the train was pulling up to the platform in Preston, Lancashire.
Some of her teammates shrugged and others shook their heads, dumbfounded.
“Une bienvenue? Un bon accueil? Some kind of welcome?” ventured one.
On the platform stood a sizeable brass band. Men in uniform were playing raucously on their cornets and trombones, and a burly individual was beating thunderously on a large bass drum bearing the legend, ‘Dick, Kerr’s and Company Ltd.’
The French women stepped hesitantly from the train, glancing nervously at each other. At that moment the music came to an abrupt halt, and from beneath a banner that read ‘Bienvenue a Preston’ a tall man with a moustache and thinning brown hair stepped forward and declared in halting French:
“Je suis Alfred Frankland et je voudrais souhaiter la bienvenue a vous!”
Alice Milliat smiled with pleasure, and taking his offered hand, shook it warmly.
“Merci, monsieur Frankland,” she said. “We are most grateful for your warm welcome and for your addressing us in our native language, but as you can see I speak the English un peu, and my friends too.” She waved her hand indicating her teammates. “We are here as guests in your beautiful country, and so we would appreciate the opportunity to practice not only our football but our English also. So, please from now on speak to us in your beautiful language.”
A polite ripple of laughter ran through the waiting crowd, and with the ice well and truly broken by the delicacy of the Frenchwoman, Frankland proceeded to present the new arrivals to the dignitaries of the town including the Mayor and some prominent local businessmen.
The French players were ushered into a charabanc to take them to their hotel, and were astonished to see crowds of people lining the streets, apparently cheering to welcome their arrival in Preston.
Murmurs of surprise echoed around the charabanc. Comments such as “Extraordinaire!” “Prodigieux!” and “Remarquable!” could be heard. Madeleine expressed her astonishment at the numbers of people standing in the cold:
“There must be thousands! Can we be so famous?”
A bewildering series of receptions and dinners and factory tours followed over the next two days. The French women tried their utmost to appear pleasant and gracious though each one yearned secretly to enjoy just a few moments of peace and quiet in their hotel rooms. At last the day of their first game approached, and the young ladies of ‘Femina Sport’ prepared to face their rivals.
“They’re almost all little’uns,” said Alice Woods. “Almost as tiny as you, Jen!”
Inside-right Jenny Harris rose to her full height of four feet ten inches, and stuck out her tongue at Alice before firing in a shot at goalie Ann Hastie.
“You should give ‘em some respect, Alice,” said Lily soberly. “They’re supposed to be France’s best. Oftimes grand things come in little packages, as me mum used to say!”
“I never heard your mum say any such thing,” jeered Alice. “Anyway the ref’s just called Kell over for kick-off, so we’ll find out how good they are in a minute!”
Dick, Kerr’s Ladies kicked off to the roar of the crowd, some twenty-five thousand strong. At first the French team seemed intimidated by the noisy partisan atmosphere at Preston North End’s Deepdale ground, but after a while they began to settle down. Captain Bracquemonde neatly side-stepped a lunging tackle from Alice Woods and set her forwards off on an attack. The French forwards engaged in a dazzling exchange of passes before forcing Hastie to a diving stop on the line. A smattering of polite applause greeted this demonstration of skill.
“You were right, Lil,” whispered Alice Woods as she passed her team-mate. “They’re a nippy bunch, but I’ll not miss my tackle next time!”
True to her word when Bracquemonde next received the ball, she had no time to turn or deliver a pass as Woods flew in with a crunching tackle that took the legs from under the French captain.
The whistle blew, and the referee awarded a free kick to the French, wagging his finger sternly at Alice.
“No more of them, lass!” he called sternly.
Alice stuck out her tongue as soon as his back was turned.
“She’ll not forget that tackle,” Alice said with satisfaction to Lily.
The game was turning into a fascinating contest between the speed and guile of the French team and the power and strength of the English. The play see-sawed back and forth for a while until Lily getting free of her marker hit a hard cross into the box and Florrie Redford turned the ball into the net.
There were cheers and shouts from the crowd as the English players trotted back to the center circle. Rattles whirred and scarves waved furiously above heads of the crowd. A dense cloud of cigarette smoke hung over one corner of the ground.
Lily Parr strolled over to the touchline.
“Ler us have a puff on your ciggie,” she called.
A roar of laughter greeted her impudent request, and as she stepped up to the terrace wall, a burly man in a flat cap handed her his Woodbine, and she took an enormous puff, exhaling the smoke through her nose.
“Hey up, our Lily!” roared the crowd as the French players looked on in amazement at this indecorous incident.
Although the French team played with skill and courage, little Jennie Harris popped up in their box to score a second goal and send the English women in winners in the opening encounter.
As the two teams headed for the dressing room there were numerous hugs and slaps on the back. Alice Woods ran over to the French captain and held out her hand.
“No hard feelings, I hope,” she said.
“Non, pas du tout. Not at all,” replied Bracquemond sportingly. “Football is a…physical game. We must expect a few knocks and tumbles. You are a strong woman and a tough tackler. I admire your dedication.”
“Thank you…er…Mercy,” said Alice, somewhat embarrassed by the warm response. “You are a fine player, yourself. Very skillful.”