In which Lily Parr, women’s soccer pioneer, and her teammates show off their skills in France and meet Winston Churchill.
The following day at Stockport’s Edgeley Park, the French, perhaps exhausted from their long trip and their efforts of the previous day, succumbed to a 5-2 thrashing.
“What you girls need,” said Alice Kell as the players left the field, “is a nice bracing trip to the seaside! I’ll have a talk to Mr. Frankland, and I’ll see if we can lay on a charabanc to take us up to Blackpool. What do you say?”
“That would be most delightful!” exclaimed Madeleine Bracquemonde warmly.
So it was that next day a large group of young women could be observed strolling along the promenade at Blackpool. Many were wearing overcoats and mufflers as a cold brisk wind was blowing, but the French women were used to this kind of weather, many of them having endured the sometimes biting winds on the French beaches facing the English Channel. They were thoroughly enjoying the relaxing outing in the fresh air, and were endeavoring to communicate as best they could with their hosts. Many of them had learned English in school, but struggled to understand the dialect and broad accents of the Lancashire women.
“What ees ze name of this candy?” asked Therese Brule as she walked alongside Alice Woods. “Eet ees most ingenieux ‘ow they make the word ‘Blackpool to appear all the way down the stick!”
“It’s called ‘Blackpool rock’” replied Alice. “Do you like it?’
“Oui,” replied Therese. “I like the flavor peppermint. What are the ingredients?”
“I think it’s mostly sugar,” replied Alice, “and some glucose syrup with a bit of peppermint flavoring. It’s very popular among the Lancashire factory workers that come here during ‘wakes week’.”
“What ees that?” queried Therese.
“It’s a special holiday time for workers,” answered Alice.
“Well, I ‘ave bought some sticks of thees ‘rock’ to take back for my family in France,” said Therese. “But, Alees, they tell me you are a fast runner, and that you win a race here in Blackpool.”
Alice nodded. “Yes,” she said proudly. “It was an 80 yard race. I’m quick over short distances.”
“That is most interessant,” declared Therese. “I, too, am an athlete. I have run 12.4 in the 80 yards and I am French champion in the ‘igh jump.”
“By gum, that’s fast,” said Alice respectfully. “You’d likely beat me by a nose!”
“My good friend, Genevieve Laloz, she ees also a runner,” said Therese pointing to a woman who was engaged in an animated discussion with Lily Parr. “She ees a champion at 100 yards et aussi in the 400 yards relay. And Germaine Delapierre over there, she runs the 100 yards hurdles.”
“That’s grand,” said Alice enthusiastically. “It’s important for us women to show the men how good we are at sports. I don’t think they appreciate us enough!”
Therese nodded sagely. “Eet ees a pity that we cannot go to the top of your wonderful tower,” she said. “It is so much like our Tour Eiffel. I am sure la vue est spectaculaire!”
“Yes, it’s a shame,” agreed Alice, “but they say the steel is getting so corroded that it’s not safe. I believe they’re planning to restore it next year. But we can still go to the Tower Circus at the base of the tower, and there’s an aquarium and a menagerie too!”
“Formidable!” exclaimed Therese excitedly. “Mes enfants,” she called to the group. “Allons au cirque! Let’s go to the circus! And after we eat the English fish and cheeps, n’est-ce pas!”
Her suggestion was met with enthusiastic agreement and the female footballers of England and France linked arms companionably and marched off towards the looming shape of Blackpool Tower.
The outing to Blackpool seemed to have done the French women a power of good as the next game, played at Hyde Road, Manchester, in front of 12,000 spectators, resulted in a 1-1 tie.
“You’ve done me proud girls. Right proud! And your country too! We’ve raised 2,766 pounds for the ex-servicemen’s fund, but this last game is very important, ladies,” said Alfred Frankland later, a serious expression on his face. “We’re off to Stamford Bridge in London. It’s the capital, a national audience, the big stage for you lasses. We’ve got to win!”
Later that evening Alice and Lily sat on the train to London peering out into the darkness of the English countryside.
“Mr. Frankland just told me I’m not to play tomorrer,” said Lily abruptly.
“Eh, I’m sorry, Lil,” said Alice. “Did he say why?”
“He just said I’m too young for such an important game. He wants his older, more experienced players on the field,” replied Lily in a disappointed voice.
“But you’ve been playing ever so well. Never mind, lass. Don’t fret!” said Alice soothingly. “You’ll get your chance again another time!”
Lily nodded glumly and peered moodily out the window.
“I’m going into the corridor for a smoke,” said Alice. “Coming, Lil?”
Lily shook her head.
She must be disappointed, thought Alice. I’ve never known Lily turn down the chance to smoke one of her beloved Woodbines!
“Not such a big crowd today, Mr. Frankland,” said the reporter.
“Aye, well we’re not so well-known down here in London,” replied the coach, “but that’ll change after today, you can be sure! Still, they tell me there’s at least ten thousand come through the turnstiles which is nowt to sniff at for a ladies’ game!”
“Good Lord!” exclaimed the reporter suddenly. “Did you see that?”
“See what?” asked a perplexed Frankland.
“Your captain, Alice Kell, and the captain of the ‘Frenchies’ just kissed each other right there in the center circle in front of all these people!” declared the reporter.
“Aye, well there’s no call to get excited,” retorted Frankland. “Those French ladies tend to be a bit emotional. I’ve heerd that ower in France even the men kiss each other on t’ cheek, so I wouldn’t get too excited about two women!”
“But it’s not done over here!” objected the reporter. “That’s not how we do things in England. We observe decorum. We don’t go around kissing strangers in public!”
Frankland was about to point out that the two team captains were hardly strangers, but the reporter had already dashed away down the touchline to make sure his photographer had snapped the controversial kiss!
The match got underway, but after only a few minutes French defender, Laloz, collided with Jennie Harris, sending the slight inside right crashing to the ground. The Dick, Kerr’s trainer came sprinting onto the field with his bucket and sponge, but it soon became clear that Harris could not continue, and she was helped limping from the field. The game had to continue with only ten players on the English side.
“Our visitors must have learned some of your robust tackling techniques!” Alice Kell muttered to her namesake.
Alice Woods made a grimace, and stuck out her tongue.
“I play hard but fair!” she retorted.
“Aye, well you’ll have to play even harder now we’ve lost Jennie,” said Kell.
The loss of their darting inside right indeed seemed to have thrown the team off balance, and the Dick, Kerr’s defense was kept busy holding back wave after wave of French attacks. Ann Hastie pulled off several excellent saves, but the French nevertheless managed to score twice. Florrie Redford pulled one goal back in the second half, but it was not enough, and the ladies from Lancashire endured the rare bitter taste of defeat. And this on what had been supposed to be their moment in the national spotlight!
As their disconsolate players trudged off the field after the final whistle, French captain, Madeleine Bracquemonde, walked over to Alice Kell and threw her arms around the English woman’s shoulders.
“Ca ne fait rien, ma amie! Never mind, my friend!” she said consolingly. “You and your team played bravely. You were at a great desavantage. Ca ira mieux une autre fois. You will do better the next time, I am sure. It ‘as been un grand honneur to play against you. I ‘ave been talking with Madamoiselle Milliat, and we plan to invite you to come to our country in November to play some more matches with us. I ‘ope you will come.”
“We’d love to, Madeleine,” replied Alice, her face brightening at this suggestion. “I’m sure Mr. Frankland will be in favor.”
“Bien! Tres bien,” said Madeleine, smiling with pleasure. “And don’t forget to bring the big one, that Lily Parr. She is…’ow are the Americans saying it…something else! Phenomenal!”
“So this is France, eh?” said Lily Parr scornfully.
“I can’t believe we’ve actually arrived here in Dieppe,” replied Florrie Redford excitedly. “Look at that gorgeous gendarme over there in his black cape. I wish he’d come over here and arrest me!”
“Dieppe!” scoffed Lily. “Don’t look any different from Birkenhead! And just like Lancashire of course it’s pouring with rain!”
“Let’s duck in here and have a cuppa!” said Alice Woods, indicating a small café. “By the time we’ve got warmed up a bit, maybe the rain’ll be stopped.”
“Good idea, Lil,” said Alice and the three friends went inside and sat at a small table.
When the waitress arrived, Alice said proudly in her best schoolgirl-French accent: “Tres tasses de the, s’il vous plait.”
The waitress face clouded as she replied:
“J’en suis desolee, mademoiselle! Nous ne servons pas le the. Je puis offrir le café au lieu de cela.”
“Oui,” said Alice, “Tres cafes.”
“What were all that about, Alice?” asked Lily.
“They don’t have tea, Lil,” answered Alice. “Only coffee. The French don’t drink much tea. Anyway it’d probably be weak as water, not like good strong Lancashire tea!”
“Drat!” said Lily suddenly. “I left mi ciggies in the hotel. I’m dying for a smoke!”
A handsome, neatly dressed Frenchman leaned towards them from a neighboring table.
“Pardon me, ladies, for intruding,” he said in excellent English, “but I could not help overhearing one of you say that you had forgotten your cigarettes. Could I please offer you one of mine?”
He held out a blue-colored package emblazoned with the word ‘Gauloise’. Lily glanced suspiciously at the cigarettes.
“Let me assure you, mademoiselle,” continued the man, “they are very good. Indeed they are the brand most popular here in France. I would be most honored if you would try one.”
Lily felt flustered by the man’s elaborate courtesy, the like of which she had rarely encountered, but she accepted a cigarette. She put it in her mouth, her new acquaintance produced a silver lighter, and moments later she was savoring the fragrant slightly acrid taste of the tobacco.
“Not bad,” she said. “Not bad at all! Tastes almost as good as a ‘Woodie’. Ta, mister.”
“She means ‘thank you’, sir” said Alice by way of explanation.
The man acknowledged the thanks with a slight tilt of his head.
“It is my pleasure,” he replied. “I wonder if I may ask if you ladies are visiting our beautiful country to see the sights. You are tourists, peut-etre?”
“Actually no,” said Alice. “We are members of a women’s football team here in France to play some matches against a French team.”
“Formidable!” exclaimed the Frenchman in a mixed tone of surprise and admiration. “But you are trois femmes tres jolies. Surely the women footballers are big and muscular and ugly.”
“Oh, not all of them,” replied Florrie with a flirtatious shake of her blonde hair.
“But where are your games to be played?” asked the man. “I should so like to see one of these matches.”
“We’re playing in Paris on Sunday,” answered Alice, “and then in Roubaix, Le Havre and Rouen.”
“That is wonderful!” said the man excitedly. “But please allow me to show you this afternoon some of the sights of Dieppe. It would be my privilege to escort three such lovely ladies.”
“That would be…..” began Florrie, but Alice interrupted. She had seen Lily frantically shaking her head and frowning.
“That is a very generous offer, monsieur,” she said, “but I’m afraid we cannot accept. We have a very strict schedule to follow, and we are already late for an important function. We must go!”
“Quel dommage! What a pity,” said the man, smiling. “Perhaps another time!”
“Yes,” said Alice. “Come along, girls,” she continued sharply as Florrie and Lily hastily drained their coffee cups. “Au revoir, monsieur.”
Outside in the street Florrie exclaimed indignantly:
“What function are you talking about, Alice? There’s nothing on the schedule for today! He seemed like such a nice man, and good-looking too!”
“Mi ma warned me to watch out for French men,” said Lily. “She told me they were charmers and not to be trusted!”
“He may well have been a very nice gentleman,” said Alice, “but we’re over here as ambassadors, representing our country, and our behavior has to be above reproach. Besides, Lily’s still awfully young. At fifteen she’s too young to be gallivantin’ around with French gentlemen who offer her cigarettes!”
“I don’t trust any men,” said Lily dolefully, completely missing Alice’s teasing remark. “I’m far happier with my friends.”
“Cheer up, Lily,” said Florrie. “You’ll be interested in boys soon enough. In the meantime, we’re all girls together, eh!”
The three friends linked arms, and set off down the pavement in the direction of their hotel.
Two days later on Sunday October 31, 1920, the Lancashire women achieved a hard-fought draw against the French team in Paris, watched by 22,000 people. The score was 1-1 when the referee blew his whistle several minutes early to protect the players as the crowd, incensed by his decision to award the English team a corner-kick, invaded the pitch. Players and officials fled to the safety of the dressing rooms with the crowd baying and screaming behind them.
“Golly, those French spectators get pretty worked up!” panted captain Alice Kell. “I don’t think the ref’ll let us out on the pitch again after this. Maybe that’s as well! I was getting tired, and these French ladies play much better on their home ground. We’ll have to play harder in the next match!”
“Some of the French players have invited us out to a night club in Montmartre,” said Florrie Redford. “I asked Mr. Frankland, and he said it would be okay if we were back in the hotel by eleven o’clock. Who wants to go?”
“Count me out!” exclaimed Alice Kell. “I’m just too tired!”
“Jennie?” said Florrie hopefully.
The petite inside forward nodded enthusiastically.
“I’m game,” she said.
“Alice?” asked Florrie.
“Only if Lily can come as well,” replied Alice.
“But she’s too young,” protested Florrie. “They’ll not let her in.”
“Nonsense!” exclaimed Alice Woods. “She’s a big, tall, strapping lass. We’ll say she’s twenty-one. Nobody’ll notice! Anyway, if Lily doesn’t go, I don’t either!”
“Alright,” said Florrie reluctantly. “Get changed quickly. We’re going to meet some of the French girls in the lobby.”
An hour later, Lily and Alice were seated at a table in the night club with two of their hosts Madeleine Bracquemond and Genevieve Laloz. At a neighboring table sat Florrie and Jennie accompanied by Therese Brule and Germaine Delapierre. They were all sipping glasses of wine except Lily who had settled for a glass of light beer when told that her favorite brown ale was unavailable. She had bought herself a pack of Gauloise cigarettes – ‘when in France, do as the French do’ she had told her amused friends – and was puffing away, trying her best to look grown-up and sophisticated. The other women were chatting animatedly amongst themselves.
“So you went to college, Germaine,” said Florrie. “What was that like?”
“Il me donne beaucoup de satisfaction,” replied Germaine Delapierre. “It was most fulfilling. I had always wanted to study philosophy. A good education can give a woman many advantages. It can open new doors. But what about you, Florrie?”
“I left school at fifteen,” replied Florrie. “I had to. The war was on, and they needed women to work in the factories. I’d not be here now if I’d not gone to work for Dick, Kerr and Company. They sponsor our team, you know.”
“Yes,” said Therese. “It is quite different to our situation. We are amateurs. Many of us play for Madamemoiselle Milliat’s club, Femina Sport. Your team is a little more…professional although I know and admire that you have raised so much money for charity, especially for the poor wounded soldiers.”
At the other table Lily was motionless, staring at another table, her cigarette neglected in the ashtray, its smoke curling lazily up to the ceiling. She nudged Alice sharply in the ribs.
“Alice!” she said in an urgent whisper. “Those two at that table over there. One’s wearing men’s clothes, but I swear she’s a lass. They’ve been holding hands, and just now one kissed the other one…on the lips!”
Madeleine Bracquemond turned her head and smiled at Lily.
“I know it must seem strange to you, ma cherie,” she said, “but Paris is a free and sophisticated city. They are indeed both women, and they are lovers. They are Lesbians.”
A puzzled expression appeared on Lily’s face, and she knitted her brows.
“You mean to say that they’re like a husband and a wife, only they’re both women?” queried Lily hesitantly.
“Yes,” answered Madeleine simply.
“Come on, Lil,” said Alice impatiently. “You know of women like that. You remember those two women teachers that lived down the street in St. Helens. Everyone knew they were that way!”
“Aye, but they kept it behind closed doors,” said Lily in a shocked voice. “These two are so open about it! Kissing in public! They couldn’t do that in St. Helens!”
“Not everyone is the same, cherie,” said Genevieve Laloz. “And if it is true love, can it be wrong? Why should they hide it?”
Lily was silent for a moment as she picked up her cigarette and inhaled deeply. Maybe Genevieve is right, she thought. Live and let live.
At that moment the dancers came bursting onto the stage, kicking up their legs in an elaborate ‘can-can’, and the women settled back to enjoy the show.
In the next match in Roubaix, the English women seemed to find their rhythm, and comfortably triumphed by two goals to nil. Florrie Redford, apparently no worse for wear for her excursion into Paris nightlife, scored both goals. The third game at the Stade de la Cavee Verte in Le Havre was a resounding victory for the English women whose confidence was increasing with every game. Many reporters covering the game were already beginning to notice the emergence of Lily Parr as the star of the team. Fast, powerful and with a stunning left foot shot, she was involved in several of the goals in the 6-0 victory. The final game at the Lilas Stadium in Rouen brought Dick, Kerr’s Ladies a third victory by 2-0.
The tour had been a resounding success. Unbeaten, the English women had scored eleven goals, conceding only one in reply in front of a total of 58,000 spectators, earning a substantial sum for charity. At Le Havre in a solemn moment they had laid wreaths at the military cemetery for the fallen soldiers of The Great War. They returned home more famous and acclaimed than ever.
“It’s that Frankland fellow, Mr. Churchill,” said Smithers apologetically. “The chap with the ladies football team. The ones who are raising all that money for charity, the wounded servicemen and so on.”
Winston Churchill raised his eyes to glance at his secretary, and then carefully placed his smoldering cigar in a nearby ashtray.
“What does he want?” he asked tersely.
“Well, sir, his latest fund-raising scheme is to stage a game for his team at night, so he needs a way to illuminate the pitch,” answered Smithers.
“So what does he want from us?’ repeated Churchill with a frown.
“Well, sir, his request is most irregular. He wants to borrow some of our searchlights and flares to light up the pitch. I don’t think anyone’s ever asked to use our equipment for a football game. I would imagine that it’s against department policy!”
Churchill picked up his cigar and took a pull on it, tilting his head back to exhale the smoke up towards the ceiling. He appeared to be thinking deeply, but in fact had already made up his mind.
“You know, Smithers, I was invited to see those ladies playing against the French gals a few months ago,” he mused. “They put on a damn good show. It was most diverting.” He grinned roguishly. “All those pretty young women in their shorts, showing off their legs.” He chuckled. “Caused quite a stir amongst the fellows around me!” He paused again. “Those women have made a significant contribution to the country with their work during the war in the munitions factories and with their charity work for good causes. They deserve our support. Give them what they want, Smithers!”
“Yes, sir,” said Smithers obediently.
“And get me a ticket for the game!” added Churchill with a broad smile.
“A remarkable player, that young Miss Harris,” remarked Winston Churchill as he watched the Dick,Kerr’s Ladies Team players jogging back to the center circle after their second goal. “It’s exactly as Mademoiselle Milliat the head of the French team put it when they were over here. She said the girls were like ‘beautiful Grecian dancers.’ The way Miss Harris controlled that pass from Lily Parr and swerved past the defender with such ease! Poetry in motion, Smithers!”
“Yes, of course, Mr. Churchill,” said Smithers absently. He was staring nervously at the searchlights which were trained on the field of play, brightly illuminating the figures of the players as they lined up for the kick-off. Mr. Churchill’s secretary was nervous because one of the searchlights had already failed once, causing a significant pause in the game while repairs were made.
At that very moment the same light abruptly failed again seconds after the ball had been kicked into play.
Churchill swore under his breath.
“Smithers!” he snapped. “Get down there and get that light up and running again in double-quick time, and stay down there in case it fails again!”
“Yes, sir,” replied the secretary promptly. Secretly he was relieved to have the chance to get away from his demanding boss. He didn’t care much for football anyway. Rugby was his game! Still those ladies in their revealing shorts had certainly been easy on the eye.
“Well, Smithers,” roared Churchill. “Don’t stand there dreaming, man! Get moving!”
Smithers scuttled away briskly. By the time he had arrived at pitch-side, the electrician was already working on the light, which came back on shortly afterwards to a round of derisive cheers from the twelve thousand spectators who had paid to see this nocturnal sporting spectacle. The game resumed.
At the half-time whistle, the two teams headed for the Deepdale dressing rooms to sustained applause with Dick Kerr’s Ladies leading The Rest of England team by two goals to zero, inside right Jennie Harris having scored both. The diminutive forward had undoubtedly been the star of the first half with her nimble footwork and accurate passing. Lily Parr a formidable figure on the left flank had also made a considerable impact with her speed and fierce shooting.
“I thought the other gals were supposed to be the best of the rest, Frankland,” said Winston Churchill. “But your team dominated the first half. The other gals hardly got a kick!”
The Dick, Kerr’s coach had been intercepted on his way to the dressing-room by the ebullient politician who was keen to discuss the game.
“Thank you, Mr. Churchill,” replied Frankland. “My team have the home-field advantage, of course, and they have played together so much that their teamwork and understanding of each other is highly developed. The opposition who have some outstanding individual players have never played together before this evening.”
“Ah, you’re much too modest, Frankland,” insisted Churchill. “Credit where credit’s due! You’ve shaped a wonderful team that’s drawing large crowds, and frankly some of these gals play as well as the men. Harris, Parr, Redford and your captain, Alice Kell, they’re all outstanding.”
“You’re too kind, Mr. Churchill,” said Frankland.
“Tell me, sir, where you got the white soccer ball that they’re using,” demanded Churchill. “I’ve never seen such a thing before! They’re always a kind of dirty brown color. But a white ball is most useful for a night game like this. Much easier to pick out, I’m sure.”
“Well, sir,” said Frankland with a smile, “we were unable to find a company in England that manufactured white footballs. So we simply had one of the ground-staff paint some regular balls white. It’s a makeshift measure as the one we used in the first half has already lost a great deal of the paint from the women kicking it around so much. But we have another white ball for the second half!”
“Fascinating!” exclaimed Churchill. “Well, Frankland, I mustn’t keep you from your players. You’ll no doubt want to talk to them. I hope the second half is as good as the first!”
“Thank you, sir,” replied Frankland with a slight inclination of his head.
The second half was indeed an exciting one as Dick, Kerr’s once again dominated the play, Florrie Redford and Minnie Lyons adding two more goals for a resounding victory. A team of cameramen from Pathe News captured the occasion on film for later distribution to cinemas and picture-houses.
At the end of play a microphone was set up at the edge of the pitch and Alfred Frankland briefly addressed the crowd.
“I would like to thank you all for coming out to see the game. It was the first night-time ladies football game ever played and I hope you all enjoyed it.”
A rousing cheer rang out with sustained applause from the stands where the distinguished guests were seated.
“As you know the women play these games for charity,” continued Frankland, “and although the final total is not yet available, we believe that we will be able to donate at least six hundred pounds to the Fund for Distressed Ex-Servicemen. The money will be used to buy food for Christmas for these men who so gallantly fought for their country in the last war.”
An even louder cheer rang out amidst thunderous applause.
“Finally,” concluded Frankland, “I’d like to thank Mr. Winston Churchill and his department for supplying the lights that made this game possible.”
Churchill stepped to the microphone amidst cheers.
“I know you don’t want to hear a politician droning on and on,” began Churchill to considerable laughter, “So I will simply say that we appreciate the wonderful efforts of Mr. Frankland and his ladies to raise money for our boys. I think they put on a fine show, and I’d like to thank the women of both teams for the rousing display of football that you have just witnessed.”
Further applause mingled with some good-natured laughter as Churchill concluded his remarks and wandered off to be introduced to the two teams who were waiting patiently to one side.
Churchill walked down the two lines of players smiling and shaking hands as they curtsied awkwardly. Occasionally he would pause to make a remark. At last he paused opposite the towering figure of five feet ten inch Lily Parr.
“Ah, Miss Parr,” he said smiling. “You are a truly exceptional player if I may say so. I am sure many people must have commented on the force of your left foot which I am sure equals that of many men!”
“Thank you, sir,” she said awkwardly, “but I have to tell you mi dad never votes for you Tory lot. He’s always voted Labor!”
There was an audible gasp, and an intake of breath from the men and women close to Churchill. They knew only too well his irascibility.
Churchill appeared momentarily dumbfounded, and then he put his head back and brayed with laughter.
“I like you, Lily Parr,” he said at last. “Blunt and to the point. Exactly like me even if we are on opposite sides of the political fence. You tell your father next time you see him that he’s raised a fine, honest young daughter, and he should be very proud.”
Lily’s face went beet-red and she curtsied awkwardly as Churchill moved off towards the end of the line.
“Gosh, Lil,” whispered Alice Woods. “That were close. You nearly put your foot right in it there!”
Alfred Frankland’s face wore a very worried look as he entered the dressing room at Goodison Park ten days later.
“What’s up, boss,” asked Alice Kell, noticing the expression on her boss’s usually calm countenance.
“It’s Florrie!” he answered. “She just called to say she’s missed her train, and she can’t get another till much later in the afternoon. She’ll not be in time for the game. We’ll have to reshuffle. We’ll move Jennie into the center for the moment, and see how the first half goes.”
“But I’m tiny,” objected Jennie Harris. “What’ll I do wi’ them high balls.”
“We need to keep the ball on the floor,” said Frankland. “Lily, you need to cross the ball low and hard, okay?”
“We’ll see how it’s working at half time,” concluded Frankland.
Forty-five minutes later the players trooped back into the dressing room, and flopped down onto the benches. They were one-nil ahead against local rivals St. Helen’s ladies.
Frankland strode purposefully into the room.
“Well done, ladies,” he said. “Good goal, Jennie. Now St. Helens are pushin’ us hard, and we need more goals. Any suggestions?”
There was silence for a moment, and then Alice Kell, the captain, spoke up.
“You know me, boss,” she said. “I’ve played in every positon on this team including goalkeeper, especially in the early days. Now I know left back’s mi best spot, but I think our opponents might be vulnerable to some high balls into the box. Let me go up front and play center-forward. Maybe I can get a goal, or knock it down for Jenni or Lily. At the very least I can put them under some pressure.”
“What do you think, ladies?” asked Frankland.
He looked around to see his players nodding decisively.
“Alright then,” he said. “Alice Kell up front. Alice Woods move across to cover the left flank. Lily and Florrie Haslam some high balls into the box from left and right.”
“Boss, it seems like an awfully large crowd,” remarked Jennie Harris. “I’ve never seen Goodison Park so packed!”
“I didn’t want to make you lasses nervous before, but I suppose it’s no harm you knowing,” replied the coach. “There are fifty three thousand people here tonight!”
Gasps of surprise echoed around the dressing-room.
“Tha’s pullin’ our legs!” exclaimed Lily in disbelief.
“That I’m not!” said Frankland decisively. “And what’s more they turned away ten thousand or more at the gates. There were no more room.”
The women stared at each other in awe.
“Fifty thousand people turned out to watch a bunch of factory girls play footie!” exclaimed Alice Woods incredulously.
“This is why I didn’t want to tell ye,” said Frankland. “Now you mustn’t be scared or overawed or let it go your ‘eads. Concentrate on getting the ball up to Alice, and scoring that second goal. If we win tonight, you’ll all be famous the rest of your lives!”
The women rose to their feet, put their arms round each other’s shoulders, and hugged warmly, a few of them kissing lightly on the cheek. Then they shuffled out of the dressing room for the second half.
The roar that greeted their return to the field was shattering, and some of the girls flinched visibly. They had played to large crowds before, but this was something else!
After a hesitant start, the women soon adjusted to the new formation and Lily Parr and fellow winger Florrie Haslam began to bombard the St. Helens box with high curling centers. Lily, in particular, with her power and accuracy was able to place several threatening balls on the head of Alice Kell, and it was no surprise when the makeshift center-forward finally propelled one firmly into the back of the net beyond the clawing fingers of the opposing keeper.
Alice raised her arms in the air and was engulfed by team-mates thumping her on the back. The deafening roar that emanated from the crowd seemed to lift the players until they felt they were walking and running on air.
Around the middle of the half Alice Kell flicked on a high center to Jennie Harris who slid it past a defender for Alice to rush onto the return and bury it in the net. With ten minutes to go Alice met another center, this time from the right, with her head. It went sailing into the corner of the net to complete her hat-trick.
At the final whistle pandemonium broke loose as Alice was embraced by her team-mates, and carried on their shoulders to the touchline to acknowledge the cheers of the crowd.
“Florrie’d best not miss any more trains,” remarked Lily drily to Alice Woods. “Kell might get her job permanent-like!”
Dick, Kerr’s Ladies’ game against St. Helens Ladies at Goodison Park, Liverpool, had broken all records with its fifty-three thousand attendance, and had raised more than three thousand pounds for The Distressed Ex-Servicemen’s Fund. Dozens of ladies’ teams all across England were now playing to large crowds and raising thousands of pounds for charity. Women’s football had reached a pinnacle of popularity!
Little did the players and managers suspect, but within months they were to begin a cruel slide into oblivion.