In which the British footballing authorities plot the demise of women’s soccer, and Lily and her teammates set off on a historic tour of North America.
“ST. HELENS GIRL JUST CAN’T STOP SCORING!” was the headline in the local paper.
“Lily Parr, not yet sixteen years old, is the new scoring wizard of the Dick, Kerr’s Ladies football team. Her feats in recent games can only be described as astounding,” continued the report.
“Yesterday at Longton, against a visiting team composed of the cream of French female players, Miss Parr scored five goals from the left wing. The French goalkeeper seemed quite unable to deal with the fierce cross-shots fired by Parr which were as hard and fast as some men could deliver. Parr’s final goal flew through the air with such velocity that the French keeper understandably made little effort to block the shot, probably saving herself from serious injury!
Fifteen thousand enthralled spectators witnessed Miss Parr’s magic, attesting to the fact that the popularity of women’s soccer has grown exponentially in the last three years. The women’s teams, composed of factory girls who hold down full-time day jobs, play for a nominal fee, and the bulk of the money generated by their matches goes to deserving charities.
This is not the first time Miss, Parr has scored five goals! Earlier in the month against a team composed of ‘The Best of Britain’ at Anfield in Liverpool she also hit the net five times, joined by team-mates Florrie Redford and Jennie Harris who scored two apiece for a record score of 9-1. No less than 25,000 spectators enjoyed this thrilling encounter!
Miss Lily Parr is a tall girl, around five feet ten inches, and an imposing figure on the field. Many professionals have already expressed admiration for the young girl’s prowess. No less an individual than Bobby Walker of Hearts and Scotland fame has described her as ‘the best natural timer of a football I have ever seen.’ Another well-known player stated recently: ‘Not only has she speed and excellent ball control, but her admirable physique enables her to brush off challenges from defenders who try to tackle her.’
In the next few weeks Lily and her team-mates are planning to appear in some games in Swansea, Cardiff and Kilmarnock against Welsh and Scottish teams. The proceeds of these games will go to help the families of striking coal miners involved in the recent lock-out. Several of the Dick, Kerr’s team are from coal-mining areas in Lancashire and are keen to help the striker’s families to avoid hardship during this difficult time.
‘These are our folks,’ states Miss Parr. ‘They’re our fathers and brothers and neighbors. We all agree that we need to help them.’
So keep your eyes open for the next appearance of Dick, Kerr’s Ladies in your town. Don’t miss the chance to catch the scoring exploits of our new local hero, Miss Lily Parr!”
“We’ve received several letters of complaint from English Football League teams,” said the Secretary of the Football Association. “With the men’s program just starting up again they feel that the popularity of the women’s game is diverting attention away and draining a valuable source of income. The directors of Newcastle United seem particularly upset! They think that, with the war well over, these women should be back in their homes raising and taking care of families not rushing around the football field!”
“I think they have a point,” agreed one of the committee members. “Football’s a game for men. It’s rough and physical. The types of knocks and buffetings the male players get, you’d not be wanting women to endure. They could get hurt badly. Might even affect their abilities to have healthy children.”
“Aye, and there’s another side to it,” declared a man with distinguished silver side-whiskers. “This here business of them supporting the miners. That’s politics! Nay, it’s tantamount to Bolshevism! I’ve friends among the mine owners, and they’re not well pleased that football’s being used to help out the strikers. In my view this committee needs to act to put these young women in their place!”
There was a murmur of agreement from around the table. The Committee consisted entirely of aging men of a conservative disposition, who were not happy about a Lancashire women’s football team upsetting the social order.
“So how do we proceed, gentlemen?” queried the Secretary.
“An acquaintance of mine, a Dr. Mary Scharlieb of Harley Street, could, I believe be persuaded to write a report suggesting that football is a dangerous and inappropriate sport for women,” suggested the silver-whiskered man.
“Some of these letters from football clubs are suggesting that there might have been irregularities involving the money that was supposed to be going for charitable causes,” said another committee member. “Perhaps we could make further enquiries and see if this could be used as a basis for action.”
“Very well, gentlemen,” said the Secretary. “Let us pursue these and other courses. We will meet again in two weeks, and discuss what further action might be taken in this matter.”
“So you’re the famous Lily Parr!”
Lily glanced around and met the other woman’s glance, but she did not answer.
“Well, let me tell you,” continued the Stoke Ladies player, her lips set in a tight line. “Don’t try any of your fancy tricks here, lass, or I’m going to fix you up good!”
Lily’s throat was dry, but she held the other’s gaze without flinching.
“We’ll see,” she said in as firm a tone as she could muster.
Inwardly she was not worried. Players had attempted to intimidate her before, but she had just ignored them and let her feet do the talking!
Several minutes into the game, Lily received a pass from Florrie Redford, and glimpsing the approach of her full-back, danced neatly out of reach of a vigorous tackle, and sprinted to the byline before sending a raking center into the penalty box.
As she trotted back toward her own half, she heard a voice close by mutter:
“I’m warnin’ you. Don’t try that again, ‘Miss Fancy Pants’!”
Lily ignored the threat, and next time she received the ball at her feet, she swayed to her right, then to her left, and then to her right again, surging past her full back leaving the unfortunate player sitting ignominiously on her back-side. She then delivered a precise pass to the feet of Florrie Redford who swept the ball gratefully into the net.
“Alright, ‘Miss Famous Lily Parr’, you asked for it!” were the words hissed in her ear.
Moments later, with the ball sailing towards her but still several feet away, Lily was struck unawares from behind with a crunching tackle that left her spread-eagled in pain on the touchline. She rolled over wincing and gasping for breath. The full-back stood over her, a satisfied grin on her face.
“How d’yer like that, Lil?” she said, smiling provocatively.
Lily was seized with a sudden rage. A mist swam before her eyes, and she leapt to her feet, throwing herself on her opponent. She rained blows down on the woman’s heads and chest, oblivious to everything around her. Somewhere in the background she heard the referee’s whistle, and a couple of her teammates seized her by the arms and dragged her away from her opponent.
“Steady on, Lil!’ hissed Alice Woods in her ear. “Calm down! Take some deep breaths!”
Lily did as she was told, and then looked up to see the referee standing directly in front of her.
“I’ll not have fighting on the field of play,” he said sternly. “You’re off, young lady!”
He pointed in the direction of the changing rooms.
“But, ref,” protested Lily, “you saw that tackle! She could have busted my leg!”
“Aye, I saw it, lass,” snapped the referee, “and I already sent her for an early bath. I understand tha were provoked, but retaliation is not allowed in football whatever the excuse! So don’t argue! Tha must be gone!”
Lily’s heart sank as she trudged off towards the dressing rooms. She had let down her teammates with her outburst. Now they were down to ten, and all because she had lost control of herself at a critical moment. A couple of her teammates sent her sympathetic glances, one or two of the nearest leaning over to pat her shoulder as she passed.
“Bad luck, Lil!” called out Alice Woods.
As she passed Alfred Frankland on the touchline, he shook his head and then spoke to her:
“Lily, that were not worthy of you. You let your temper get the better of you. You’re a very talented young player, and them that’s not as good as you are going to try to wind you up and get you in trouble. You took the bait this time, but you’ll have to learn to control yourself. Let the referee be the one to dispense justice. You just get on wi’ the game. Understood!”
Lily, who had paused to listen, nodded ruefully.
“Got it, boss,” she said. “It’ll not happen again. I promise.”
Frankland nodded again, and Lily continued on her long lonely walk to the dressing room.
“What does this mean, Mr. Frankland?” asked Alice Kell in a worried voice. She was brandishing a newspaper whose headline read: ‘F.A. RECOMMENDS GROUNDS BE CLOSED TO WOMEN!’
“It’s serious, Alice,” replied Frankland grimly. “The English F. A. has told all clubs belonging to the association to deny access to their grounds to women’s football teams.”
“Why would they do that, boss?” asked an incredulous Florrie Redford.
“Well, they give two reasons,” replied Frankland. “The first is that ‘football is unsuitable for females and ought not to be encouraged. They quote a Harley Street doctor who says: ‘I consider it a most unsuitable game, too much for a woman’s physical frame.’ So they think it’s too dangerous and potentially harmful for women.”
“Why, that’s proper daft!” exclaimed Lily. “Women play lacrosse and field hockey. Them’s far more dangerous wi’ all those sticks flying about!”
Franklin nodded. “I know, Lil” he said, “but they don’t really believe what they’re saying. They’re just lookin’ for some excuse to close us down.”
“What’s the second reason, boss?” said Alice Kell.
Frankland squinted at the newspaper.
“Complaints have been made…about the appropriation of receipts to other than charitable causes,” he read. “In other words they’re saying that you girls and I have been skimmin’ off the money for ourselves.”
“The miserable beggars!” exclaimed Lily in righteous anger. “Why, we’ve given thousands to the Distressed Ex-Servicemen and to hospitals and all sorts. I’ve never had but ten shillings from a game. What’s the bleedin’ F.A. ever done for the servicemen? They’re the ‘toffs’ who sent our lads off to die while they sat safe and sound at home,”
“Calm down, Lily,” said Frankland.
“So, do you think the clubs’ll abide by the F.A’s recommendation, Mr. Frankland?” asked Florrie.
“I’m afraid so,” answered Frankland. “I’ve already heard from Everton and North End to say we can’t use Goodison or Deepdale again. Without these stadiums it’ll be hard to accommodate the crowds we’ve been drawing. I don’t at the present moment know where we’ll be able to play! But I’d like to share with you ladies a letter that the Mayor of Liverpool sent on our behalf to the F.A.”
He pulled an envelope from his pocket and began reading:
“I may mention that in the past and present seasons I have watched about 30 ladies’ football matches between various teams and I have met the players, I have traveled with them frequently by road and by rail…On all sides I have heard nothing but praise for the good work the girls are doing and the high standard of their play. The only thing I hear from the man in the street is ‘Why have the F.A. got the knife out for women’s football? What have the girls done except raise large sums for charity and play the game?’”
There were tears visible in the eyes of some of the women as they listened to the Mayor’s eloquent words of praise for their efforts.
“Well, we still have some friends left,” remarked Florrie.
“The real reason for all of this,” said Lily bitterly, “is that those men want us women back in the kitchen where they think we all belong! Men think they know everything. Me, I got no use for any of ‘em! I play for love of the game, and I’m determined to carry on even if I’ve got to play down at the dog-track!”
There was a murmur of agreement and approval from around the room.
“Get us some games, Mr. Frankland!” declared Alice Kell firmly. “Even if they’re in Timbuctoo!”
Dick, Kerr’s Ladies continued to play matches once, sometimes twice, a week. They played with increased enthusiasm and intensity as if inspired to prove to the fogeys in the boardrooms across England that they would never be defeated. But now they were playing in parks and on recreation grounds to much smaller crowds. Whereas before Frankland and his girls could count on ten thousand, twenty thousand, sometimes thirty thousand spectators, now the attendances had dwindled to two or three thousand.
The French returned in March of 1922 in the shape of a team called Olympique de Paris, and the factory ladies renewed some old acquaintances. The games were played in fine sporting spirit in front of modest crowds once again for charitable causes, one of which was the restoration of the cathedral in Rouen, destroyed by shelling in the Great War.
During the tour Frankland appeared in the Dick, Kerr’s dressing room with a young woman trailing shyly behind him.
“Now ladies,” he began “I’d like you to give a hearty Lancashire welcome to Carmen Pomies from France. She’s going to join our team for a while. She’s a versatile lass, can play just about anywhere in the defense and she’s quite a useful goalkeeper which could come in quite handy as we’re a bit thin in that department!”
There was a chorus of warm greetings from around the dressing room. Some of the players already knew Carmen from previous encounters on the field, but they all crowded round shaking her hand and slapping her on the back.
“With Carmen and Woodsie and her crunching tackles at the back, the opposition’ll be scared to come in our half of the field,” said Lily to general laughter.
“We’re very glad to have you in our side, Carmen,” said Alice Kell warmly.
“Merci. Thank you, Alees,” replied Carmen. “I ‘ave always admired your team. C’est ma plaisir s’unir a vous.”
“Maybe you can teach daft Lily some French,” said Alice Woods. “I’ve been trying for months, but she’s no scholar!”
Lily punched Alice affectionately on the arm as a ripple of laughter ran through the room.
“I would be delighted to ‘elp you, Lilee,” said Carmen putting her hand on her new team-mate’s arm.
Lily looked into the other woman’s eyes, and a warm feeling of friendship suffused her body.
“Here at last!” remarked Florrie Redford, leaning over the rail of the S.S. Montclare. “That were a rough crossing from Liverpool! Am I relieved to see dry land again! I thought we’d never get across! What’s the name of this town, Alice?”
“Quebec City,” said Alice. “There were a battle here. I learned it in History class at school. General Wolfe took the French by surprise when his soldiers climbed them cliffs in the night. From then on Canada belonged to England. It’s still a part of the Commonwealth. Poor old General Wolfe didn’t live to see it. He was killed in the battle!”
“Men!” said Lily contemptuously. “Runnin’ about killin’ themselves! For what? Fame and glory! Most men are daft as brushes! Anyway, we’re here to play football not have history lessons from Professor Alice!”
Alice and Lily scuffled playfully like two friendly puppies until Florrie said:
“Hey up, you two! Settle down! You almost knocked me overboard! Quiet down, now. Here’s Carmen coming, so no more talk about the French and the English fighting each other. We’re all friends now!”
Carmen Pomies approached them along the deck. They had all rapidly taken a liking to the modest young French woman who had joined the tour of Canada as goalkeeper. In practice she had proved a quick and agile guardian of the net, and the girls were confident in her as their last line of defense.
“Bonjour, Carmen,” said Alice. “Comment vous portez-vous?”
Carmen smiled. “Tres bien, ma amie,” she replied. “And now some Engleesh. When we ‘ave disembarked, I will show you around the citee. This part of Canada is French-speaking…” she paused and grinned roguishly, “in spite of the glorious victory of the General Wolfe! Oui, Alees, ma petite, I also learned the history in my school!”
“Why, Carmen, you’re a sly one,” said Lily. “I do believe you were eavesdropping all this time!”
Carmen giggled, and in a moment all the young women were laughing and slapping each other on the arms and shoulders. Alfred Frankland arrived at that moment, and stared completely mystified as to the source of this sudden merriment amongst his players.
“Bad news, ladies, I’m afraid,” began Alfred Frankland as they sat in the lobby of their hotel. “The Canadian Football Association has issued a statement that reads: ‘We do not approve of the proposal of ladies’ football.’ So the Canadian teams that were supposed to play against us are pullin’ out.”
“What’ll we do, boss,” asked Alice Kell anxiously.
“Well,” said Frankland, “although we’ll not be able to play in Canada, I’ve got a chap called David Brooks down across the border in the United States working to arrange some games. He’s an Irish man, who used to play for Newcastle United. So we’ll pack up and take a train south across the border to the east coast.”
“Washington! New York!” said Alice Woods excitedly. “Eh, Lil, maybe we’ll get to see the Statue of Liberty if you know what that is!”
“Of course I do!” replied Lily scornfully. “I’m not a complete duffer! I’ve seen the pictures. It’s a lady wi’ a torch!”
“Well, ladies,” continued Frankland. “You’d best get packed! The train leaves at 3 o’clock this afternoon.”
“New York here I come!” sang out Alice joyfully as she and Lily headed for the stairs.
“So they’re a bunch o’ lads! So what?” declared Lily truculently. “Alice and I grew up playing football with lads! I’m not scared of any man! I’m not afraid to tek ‘em on!”
“These are not boys, Lily,” said Alice Kell anxiously. “They’re grown men, and they’re professional players from the American Soccer League. They play pretty rough. I don’t want any of you girls getting’ hurt.”
“They’ll not hurt you,” Said Alfred Frankland. “I’ll see to that. I’ll have a word with the coaches and players, ask ‘em to go a bit easy. After all the crowds’re comin’ out to see the best women’s team in t’world! They can’t afford for you lasses to get injured.”
“I don’t want any man ‘going easy on me’” objected Alice Woods firmly. “I came here to play my normal game. I aim to tackle those men hard!”
“Why are we playing against men, boss?” asked Jennie Harris.
“On account of women not playing football in the United States,” replied Frankland. “When the games in Canada fell through, Mr. Harris could only find men’s teams to play you. There’s a Mr. Zelickman of the Broooklyn Football Club that’s helping to organize our fixtures. They’ve got four months-worth set up for us, about twenty-four games, some as far west as St. Louis and Chicago.”
“Chicago!” exclaimed Florrie Redford. “I’ve always dreamed of going there! Where’s the first game, Mr. Frankland?”
“Paterson, New Jersey,” replied the manager, “in a place called Clifton.”
The baptism of the Dick, Kerr’s Ladies in the United States was a rough one as the opening game ended in a discouraging defeat by 3-6 in front of 5,000 spectators on September 24, 1922. The physical power of the men overwhelmed the women, but they played an attractive style of passing game which appealed to the spectators and brought some cheers and appreciative applause. The crowd gasped at the strength of Lily Parr’s shots and the New York Times featured a modest article praising the young Lancashire woman’s skill and style.
The second game against a more modest team in Pawtucket Rhode Island resulted in an exciting and satisfying 4-4 tie. The men sportingly adapted their game to afford the women a more equal chance much to the approval and appreciation of the crowd. In New York City for the third game against NYC Centro-Hispano the women again took a buffeting losing 3-7 in front of 7,000 curious largely Latino spectators.
“This hotel’s a dump!” complained Lily vehemently. “The bed linen doesn’t look very clean, the paint’s peeling, and there were summat right nasty crawling across my bedroom floor last night.”
“Cockroaches! That’s what them creepie-crawlies are called!” declared Alice Woods. “We’ve got to talk to Mr. Frankland. We shouldn’t be staying in these shoddy hotels!”
“I’ve heard that Brooks chap might be skimmin’ some money off the gate receipts,” said Florrie. “Him and that American bloke, they’ve been chargin’ clubs a thousand dollars in advance just for the privilege of playin’ us, and there’s no sign of a penny going to charity.”
“I can’t stand that Brooks feller,” said Lily. “The way he looks at us girls, it fair gives me the creeps. I think he’s right sleazy. Someone told me he’d sneaked over ‘ere to get away from his wife and kids. You can’t trust a man like that!”
“Well, that’s as maybe,” said Alice Kell decisively, “but we’d best not be spreadin’ rumors and gossip. What we must do is to speak to Mr. Frankland about our accomodations. They just won’t do!”
“We’re not asking to stay at the Ritz, boss,” Alice Kell was saying a half-hour later, “but we feel that the team should be able to stay in a hotel that’s at least clean and neat!”
“I understand, Alice,” replied Frankland, “and you’ll be glad to know that we’ve been in touch with the United States Football Association to take over the organizing of our tour. Mr. Stanley, our club secretary, and I have been concerned for over a week now about the poor organization and financial irregularities of the games so far. We weren’t able to get a satisfactory response out of Mr. Brooks or Mr. Zelickman. We were concerned that our money might run out and that we might end up stranded here in a foreign country with no way to get home, so that’s why we contacted the USFA. We just received a reply to say that they have arranged to take over the running of the tour, and that they’re sending a Mr. Thomas Bagnall to be in charge.”
“That’s a relief, boss” declared Alice. “We were getting right worried!”
“Well, we’re not out of the woods yet!” warned Frankland. “Quite a lot of the games arranged by Mr. Brooks have been cancelled, so I’m not sure how many we’re going to have left! Probably no more than half a dozen or so, but let’s see if we can show them what our team is made of.”
“Don’t worry, boss,” said Alice. “You know we’ll do our best!”
“Washington D.C.!” exclaimed Alice Woods. “Who’d have ever thought it? Lancashire mill lasses in the capital of the United States!”
“Maybe we’ll get to meet the president!” said Lily excitedly.
“Well, if we do,” said Alice with a sly grin. “Don’t be offering ‘im one of your Woodbines, Lil!”
Alice nimbly dodged away from Lily’s playful punch.
“Of course you’re the big attraction!” she continued mischievously. “Lily Parr, girl wonder! You’re in all the newspapers! The star of the show! I hope thy head don’t get too big, and that you’ll remember poor little Alice when you’re rich and famous!”
“Aw, get on with you, Alice!” protested Lily, blushing awkwardly. “I’ve never gone looking for owt like that! It’s them journalists! They’ve got to write something! Look what they wrote about Florrie and Jennie – ‘Yes, some of those girls are pretty too!’ Why, we’re not fashion models! We’re football players! And most important we’re a team! We’re one as important as t’other!”
“I’m only teasin’, lass,” said Alice, putting her arm around her friend. “They’ve got to write something to sell their papers. But seriously, Lil, you’re a very special player. No-one hits a ball harder than you, and you’re not selfish – you supply crosses and passes for Florrie and Jennie and Alice Mills to score.”
“Thank you, Alice,” said Lily. “You’re my best pal, and I’m right fond of you!”
She leaned over, and kissed her friend affectionately on the cheek.
The following day, October 8, Lily Parr dazzled the Washington crowd with an outstanding performance in which she scored two goals from seven shots. In spite of the Washington men being ahead 3-1 early in the second half, the Dick, Kerr’s Ladies staged a thrilling comeback to tie the game 4-4. Heroic French goalkeeper Carmen Pomies kept her team in the game with eleven courageous saves as her goal was bombarded by players seeking the winner. The women played a tight passing game that enabled them to retain possession and hold the faster stronger men at bay.
“Eeh, Alice lass, you look proper poorly,” said Lily anxiously. “How dost tha feel?”
“I’ve not felt well for the last couple o’ games,” replied Alice.
Her face was pale and drawn with pain and she was clutching her side and grimacing.
“D’you remember when I tackled that Scottish lad in the first game at Paterson?” continued Alice. She paused, and winced in pain. “I fetched into him with quite a thump. I didn’t think aught at the time, but now I’m really hurting in my side!”
“I’m fetchin’ Mr. Frankland and sharpish,” declared Lily decisively. “You need to see a doctor and no excuses! Lay down on your bed and lie quiet while I find him.”
Alice nodded weakly, and sank back on her bed.
“Miss Woods has suffered a strangulated hernia as a result of her collision with the other player, and peritonitis has developed. This accounts for her stomach pain,” said the doctor.
“That sounds serious, doctor,” said Alfred Frankland with a worried expression on his face. “Is she in danger?”
“The peritonitis needs immediate treatment. It is a serious infection. We will treat it with medication. The hernia will give her some pain, and she will need to rest,” replied the doctor, “but she should be okay.”
“When can I get back in the team, Doc?” asked Alice urgently.
The doctor eyed her sternly.
“Young lady, you will not be playing football again for several months!” he warned. “If you ignore my instructions, I cannot answer for the consequences. When you return to England, you should seek immediate attention for the hernia. You may need surgery.”
“But they need me on the team!” protested Alice. “Can’t you patch me up, doc, just so I’m fit to play in Philadelphia for the last game?”
Before the doctor could open his mouth, Lily interrupted:
“Don’t talk daft, Alice! You’ll not risk your health over one football game! You’re my best pal, and if anything happened to you, I don’t know what I’d do! So you’ll listen to what the doc says and do what you’re told or I’ll box your ears!”
“You tell her, Lily!” exclaimed Alfred Frankland. “Now listen, Alice, I’m responsible for your health on this tour, and I’m going to see that you get back to England safe and sound, so you’ll play no more games in America. I’m sorry for thee, lass, believe me, but there it is. We want you fit and whole so one day you can play for us again, so be patient and get well!
“What do you think are your chances, Miss Kell, in the game against Philladelphia?” asked Lori Wilcox, a reporter for the local newspaper ‘The Inquirer’.
Alice Kell thought for a moment.
“Well,” she said finally, “we’ve been on a good run since the game in Washington. We beat the New Bedford Whalers, New York FC and Baltimore Soccer Club, We got a draw against Fall River Marksmen. So we’re coming into this game unbeaten since the third game. We’re optimistic!”
“Do you think that the men are easing up, not playing so hard so as to give you more chance?” asked Wilcox.
“Of course, they’re not tackling us as hard as they would men, and they’ve sportingly allowed us to play our normal game,” said Alice carefully. “They’re giving us a fair chance, but they’re not just throwing the games! In the match against Fall River their goalie let in a soft shot from our center-forward, and Florrie gave him a piece of her mind. She made it plain that she wanted to score on her own merits and didn’t need him to do her any favors!”
“So you think you have a chance?” repeated Wilcox.
“Providing the Phillies play the game without resorting to foul play, the Dick, Kerr’s Ladies will give the spectators a real treat in the art of dribbling and close passing,” said Alice.
“And of course there’s your secret weapon, Lily Parr!” remarked Wilcox.
“Oh aye,” said Alice with a smile. “Our Lily, she’s a special player. Only 17, you know. Most of us are 21 or 22, so she’s four or five years younger. Can you imagine what she’ll be like when she’s our age? She’s the complete player: speed, skill, power, and the hardest shot in women’s football! Do you know she once broke a goalkeeper’s wrist with a shot?”
“Really?” said Wilcox scenting a story.
“Yes,” continued Alice. “There was this chap that didn’t think much of women playing football, and he was jeering us and saying that women couldn’t shoot for toffee. So Lily gets tired of it, and she tells him to go stand in the goal, and see if he can stop her shot. He grins and says he can stop any shot from a soft woman any day of the week. So he gets on the goal-line, and Lily places the ball at the edge of the box, takes a run up and blasts the ball and the poor man over the line and into the net. I could tell that she put everything she had into that shot ‘cause she were angry! Next thing we know this chap is rolling around screaming that his arm’s broken! Lily just laughed and said it served him right!”
“Quite a character, eh?” remarked Wilcox. “I understand she smokes cheap English cigarettes, and enjoys a glass of beer!”
“Never mind about that!” exclaimed Alice Kell. “Just come to the game and watch her in action!”
“Don’t worry!” Wilcox assured her. “I wouldn’t miss it for the world!”
“They’ve challenged us to a relay race at the baseball ground!” said little Jennie Harris to Lily Parr.
“Who has?” asked Lily.
“The United States Women’s Olympic relay team!” replied Jennie. “You know these Americans. Any stunt they can pull to promote something. Frankland’s agreed to it. He thinks it’ll increase interest in our game.”
“But Alice Woods is our fastest runner!” objected Lily. “She’s won races, but she’s too sick to run.”
“Well Frankland says you and I are both quick,” said Jennie, “and then there’s Florrie Haslam and Molly Walker can join us!”
“I’m game!” stated Lily decisively. “I’m always up for a challenge! Let’s show these Yanks what Lancashire lasses are made of.”
Later that afternoon at the Philadelphia Baseball Ground the makeshift relay team from Dick, Kerr’s Ladies Football Team surprised the hastily assembled press and crowd by outrunning the American Women’s Olympic relay team by several seconds. With minimal baton-passing practice and little experience of the event the Lancashire women nevertheless put their hearts into winning the event. Lily Parr established a tidy lead over the first one hundred yards, a lead sustained by Haslam and Walker, allowing Jennie Harris to skip home inches ahead of her American opponent.
The English women, arms linked and smiling broadly, posed for the Inquirer’s cameras.
“This is for you, Alice,” Lily murmured to herself.
The final game of Dick, Kerr’s Ladies US tour kicked off in front of 5,000 cheering fans. The women were a goal behind inside three minutes, and fell further in arrears after fifteen. Then to the delight of the crowd Lily Parr pulled a goal back. She raised her arms in the air in triumph and sprinted to the side of the field.
“Anyone got a ciggie?” she called out above the roars. “Give me a drag!”
Hoots of laughter erupted as a man at the edge of the crowd handed her his cigarette. Lily inhaled, and blew a cloud of blue smoke into the air above the crowd before returning to the field.
Both sides scored again before halftime making the score 3-2 to Philadelphia. Within minutes of the restart Lily took a pass from Jennie Harris, cut in from the left and unleashed a fierce drive that flew into the top corner of the goal for the equalizer. The crowd, who had taken the women to their hearts, shrieked with joy!
After this the game see-sawed back and forth and when the whistle blew for full-time, the score signaled a narrow victory for the Philadelphia Men’s team by 6-5! But the battle of hearts had clearly been won by the gallant women of Lancashire!
Reporter Wilcox was scribbling furiously in her notebook:
‘The women gave the locals a corking game besides giving the crowd a rare treat in witnessing them pass and dribble in real English style.’
As the players were leaving the field she caught up with Philadelphia goalkeeper, Peter Renzuli.
“How was the game, Pete?” she asked him.
“Hey, Lori, we’re the national champs and we had a hell of a job beating them! They were great!”
“Well, ladies,” declared Alfred Frankland expansively, “for summat that started out so disastrously, this tour has proved quite a success. We played nine games, all against men’s teams, winning three, tying three and losing three. We made a host of good friends in several cities, and raised the profile of women’s football in the United States. The crowds loved us, and we made some cash as well.”
“It’s a pity that we can’t play all our games over here then,” said Alice Kell. “It’ll be back to parks and greyhound tracks and crowds of five hundred or a thousand thanks to the enlightened men of the FA.”
“I’ve a name for those gentlemen that tha’d best not hear,” said Lily. “Why is’t that all the universe is run by men? And usually old men, no offence, Mr. Frankland! Tha’s not really old!”
“Why thank you, Lily,” Frankland said drily. “It’s right what they say about you. You always speak your mind. You’re a plain speaker, and you don’t care who knows it! It’s one of your most endearing qualities! But let me assure you ladies that this team will continue no matter what, and that I will remain the manager for as long as you want me. We must fight to survive, and we must prove on the field that women’s football is worthy of appreciation and respect. We must convince the Football Association to withdraw their restrictions and support our efforts!”
At this proud declaration a ripple of approval ran through the ranks of the assembled players of the Dick, Kerr’s Ladies Football Team, and several of them put affectionate arms around each other.
“Like Dumas’ musketeers it must be ‘all for one, and one for all’,” said Alice Woods fiercely.
“We play for love of the game, and we’re determined to carry on as a united team of sisters,” echoed Jennie Harris.
“I wonder if we’ll ever play again to 50,000 at Goodison Park,” mused Lily. “That were a great moment. It was the greatest of my life. I’ll remember it till my dying day!”
She paused for a moment, a faraway look in her eye.
“I wonder,” she finally said. “I’m just barely seventeen. What’s ahead for me?” She paused again, and glanced around the room. “Will I ever reach such heights again?”
Although the Dick, Kerr’s Ladies Football team never again played before such crowds as they had enjoyed in their heyday of 1917-1922, the team soldiered on for the next four decades as other women’s teams fell by the wayside.
Many of Lily’s teammates in that wonderful squad of the early twenties retired, some such as Alice Kell and Alice Woods got married, others such as Florrie Redford and Alice Mills emigrated (to Canada and USA respectively). A new generation of players emerged to replace them.
Lily herself continued in the team even after Dick, Kerr’s and company were bought out by the English Electric Company and support was withdrawn. The team was renamed Preston Ladies, and continued to flourish under the dedicated management of Alfred Frankland who quit his office job and set up a greengrocer’s shop so that he would have the freedom to train his team. Lily played her last game in 1950 at the age of 45! She scored more than 900 goals for her team over the years.
She lived openly as a Lesbian with her lifelong partner, and worked as a nurse at Wittingham Psychiatric Hospital. She was diagnosed with breast cancer (a result of her lifelong smoking habit) during the 1960s and endured a double mastectomy. She treated the experience with her characteristic candor and bluntness, remarking:
“It took me sixty years to grow these, and now they’re going to take them both away!”
She lived a further ten years, finally succumbing to the cancer in 1978.
Just seven years previously the Football Association had finally withdrawn their sanctions from women’s soccer – much too late for Lily to derive any benefit!
Lily Parr was inducted into the Football Hall of Fame at the National Football Museum, the sole woman in the first round of inductees in 2002.
The dashing ladies of the Dick, Kerr’s team rose to fame at the very time when women were struggling in many societal settings to achieve equality and acceptance. The suffragette movement had paved the way for access to the ballot box, and opportunities for work and service for women outside the home during the First World War had changed society permanently. The women footballers of England with their many popular and famous teams were the victims of a cruel backlash from the male bastion of the Football Association, and women such as Lily Parr paid a high price. Who knows what heights of recognition and acclaim women footballers might have achieved if they had not been so summarily marginalized?
The parts of my story that deal with team history and match descriptions are to the best of my knowledge accurate. Although the main characters, English, French and American, are all real people, their dialogue and much of their characterization is the product of my vivid imagination. I sincerely hope that I have not offended any living relatives of the people in my story. It has always been my intention to paint a positive and sympathetic picture of all concerned.
Michael Neat, September 2, 2017.