Kicking off a forgotten age of ladies’ football

Fleetwood Ladies Football Club around 70 years ago.
Fleetwood Ladies Football Club around 70 years ago.
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In the first of a two-part series, Rianne Harney, from Fleetwood Library, tells the story of the port’s forgotten football team – Fleetwood Ladies, in the 1920s.

In the early days of the 1920s, Fleetwood had two high achieving football teams. A men’s team and a ladies’ team.

Aerial view from the 1930s of North Euston Hotel and football ground

Aerial view from the 1930s of North Euston Hotel and football ground

Fleetwood Town Football Club has been the pride of the town since 1908.

In the first days, matches were played on the North Euston ground, where the Police Station stands today. There was a brief gap in the two years after the close of the First World War, where matches were held on Poulton Road behind the Queens Hotel, until they moved to their current home at Highbury Stadium in 1934.

In the October 6 1920 edition of the Fleetwood Express, there was described a hearty discussion between two men that was overheard at the local cinema. The ladies football match where Preston’s Dick, Kerr’s ladies team had played against a team from Ireland had been filmed and a montage of clips were shown to the Blackpool cinema audience as part of the Topical Budget.

“I don’t reckon too much to that,” the first man was heard to proclaim.

Sketch of lady footballers from the 1920s. Pic courtesy of Lancashire Library Service

Sketch of lady footballers from the 1920s. Pic courtesy of Lancashire Library Service

“I reckon it’s sporty!” came the reply from the other fellow, who added that his thinking was one of the Irish lady players was “as good as some of the fellows” he had seen.

“She can dribble an’ all. I’d have loved to ‘ave been there. I bet there wasn’t ‘arf some fun.”

His friend remained unmoved, “Don’t be so daft, football’s not a game for girls at all, it’s a pity they can’t fine summat else to do.”

The writer of the piece shared their thoughts with the reader and they were, why shouldn’t they (play) and that it may truly be stated those who disregard this form of sport for the fairer sex are considerably in the minority.

In January of 1921, tickets to watch Fleetwood vs. Great Harwood men’s teams cost 1/- for men, and 5d for ladies and boys, for admission to the ground. For a seat in the enclosure, the price rose to 1/5 for men and 10d for ladies and boys.

There was also a wager run each week with the Fleetwood Chronicle, wherein readers could guess the outcomes of all the matches that weekend. There was a coupon in the newspaper, which had to be returned by noon the day of the match and those who correctly guessed the final scores could receive £5 prize money, or a share of if there were several winners – and there was a £1 consolation prize, also shared, for those who came the closest if no one guessed correctly.

When the ladies team formed in 1921 and began playing matches with other Lancashire-based ladies teams, one of the first matches they competed in was against Preston-based team Horrockses Crewdson at Skelmersdale, on Saturday, February 5.

The Horrockses Crewdson ladies team was made up of the workers of the Preston based Mechanical Cotton Mill firm. Horrockses Crewdson was wholesalers of dress fabrics and bed linens, later made famous when the Queen wore dresses from their fabric during her six-month Commonwealth tour of 1953/1954.

This was the first ladies match which had taken place in the Ormskirk district and on the day, the gate saw the arrival of a 4,500 strong crowd of people to watch. The Fleetwood Chronicle’s opinion was the larger crowd was there to witness the novelty of lady players.

Fleetwood Ladies, also referred to as the Wyreporters, wore the traditional red and white stripes of the town and the Preston Ladies team wore amber and black jerseys and what are described as blue knickers.

At the opening of the match, Fleetwood Ladies lost the coin toss to their detriment and were made to play against the wind and a slope of the pitch.

The first half did not go in their favour – starting early when the weak performance of the Fleetwood backs allowed E Jones from the Preston team to score the first goal within the first five minutes. The first Fleetwood goal came from Captain Annie Cullen and brought the teams equal until E Jones kicked a beautiful centre and Preston scored again. The score at half time Horrockses Crewdson 4 – Fleetwood 1.

The second half was better for Fleetwood – the wind was behind them and they spent a lot of time in the mouth of the goal. Despite several corners, they could not get the ball in.

Fleetwood continued to press, and eventually were awarded a penalty for hands on the ball, Annie Cullen gave a beautiful shot and brought the score to 4-2. Unfortunately, despite many good tries the Preston team’s goalie was good, and executed many saves.

Preston scored again, and when the final whistle blew and brought an end to hostilities, the final score was Horrockses Crewdson 5 – Fleetwood 2.

Their second match was played closer to home on a Wednesday afternoon. The teams met on March 9, at the Blackpool ground. There were a large number of tickets sold and £127 was taken on the gate towards the YMCA’s Fylde Appeal. The match was watched from the stands by the Mayor and Mayoress of Blackpool, several YMCA officials and the directors of the Blackpool Football Club.

The only male on the pitch was referee, Mr A Ward, of Kirkham, a First League referee, who was aided by linesmen from the Blackpool Football Club.

The Fleetwood Ladies Team were: Florrie Rance, J. Gillette, Liveley, E. Atkinson, Martha Davies, Violet Brown, Maggie Shaw, Janie Collinson, Annie Cullen (Captain) Mary Willan, and Gladys Holdsworth.

The opening to the report, which followed the game in the Fleetwood Chronicle, begins: “The spectacle of women playing football is losing its novelty.”

A telling comment. The reporter also took great delight in recording, what is undoubtedly his, and the responses of the match crowd. They reported one person noted the Preston Ladies in their black and amber jerseys looked “like a crowd of little ‘humbugs’ running about.”

The reporter also wrote the teams both wore “chic little caps” which matched their team colours and served to only partly cover their brown little curls, but that “they never forgot to pat their little curls back into place as often as they came popping out,” and yet also “the players took their football in deadly earnest.”

This is backed up by the statement that from the moment the Mayoress, Mrs WC Callis, kicked off the match, the teams both went at it “tooth and nail” and that it nearly amounted to as many hard knocks as were delivered in any men’s match.

The team were cheered on by shouts, and doing well, until Preston goalie Miss Mason was injured in a scrimmage in the goal mouth. Both teams, the officials, and the ‘traineresses’ armed with towels and other paraphernalia gathered around to assist.

The game got going again and Captain Annie Cullen scored, and then within another 15 minutes, Martha Davies did too. Davies was described as a “thrustful maiden” and her goal-scoring as in the style reminiscent of George Wilson.

Many goal attempts were thwarted by “wild kicking” which was considered to be more good luck than good management, and the crowds were stirred up by the strict linesmen, Mr Heathcote, in particular was cheered for his courtliness.

The final Fleetwood goal came from Mary Willan, who fastened onto the ball like a terrier and closed the match Fleetwood 3, Horrockses Crewdson 2.

After the game, a new ball was auctioned off, signed by the Mayoress Mrs W C Callis and members of both the Fleetwood and Horrockses Crewdson teams. The ball was presented by Mr J Bateson, of Abingdon Street and raised a further £6.

On March 19, the teams met again, this time at Haslingden.

The match was played in aid of the Greenfield ex-servicemen’s massage centre. The ladies who played in this match were: Florrie Rance, J Gillett, Martha Davies, Violet Brown, Janie Collinson, E Atkinson, Maggie Shaw, Gladys Holdsworth, Annie Cullen, Mary Willan and S Sharp.

The weather didn’t seem to put off the spectators, despite wind and rain, 2,000 turned up to watch.

Fleetwood won the coin toss this time and had the wind and rain behind them as they played. The first goal attempt by Mary Willan was blocked by the Preston goalie, and then a corner gave the Preston team an own goal, giving Fleetwood their first goal of the match.

The play continued in midfield for a while, until Janie Collinson scored Fleetwood’s second goal after a pass from Violet Brown. Then a scrimmage resulted in Mary Willan scoring Fleetwood’s third goal of the first half. Half-time saw Fleetwood 3, to Horrockses Crewdson 0.

The second half opened with a goal from Preston, and both teams were said to suffer from the heavy ground. The match ended Fleetwood 3 – Horrockses Crewdson 1 and the teams and officials had a lovely tea while Fleetwood’s captain Annie Cullen accepted the Silver Cup.

The next match took place at home for the team, and pitted them against Chorley Ladies. They played at the North Euston Ground on April 8. Chorley won the coin toss and defended the shore goal with the wind behind them.

Both teams were described as dangerous at different points in the match, many of the players were knocked over and “the smelling bottle was in frequent use.”

Yet by half-time, the Chorley Ladies led 2-0 and by the end of the match it was Chorley 2, Fleetwood 1 after Annie Cullen scored and Florrie Rance was splendid in goal.

The ladies’ next away game was at Kendal against Barrow around April 8.

Monies went to the ex-servicemen’s organisation and the Mayoress of Kendal, Mrs H Horgarth, kicked off before the 5,000 strong crowd. By half-time, the score was Barrow 2, Fleetwood 1 – after a goal from Maggie Shaw, and then the game ended in a draw after Gladys Holdsworth equalised.

The team drew another game, this time with Chorley, at Chorley in April, and again bumped heads with Horrockses Crewdson ladies on April 16 at Ormskirk, this time in aid of the Fleetwood Hospital.

With this charitable scheme in mind, the Fleetwood Ladies did their town proud with a halftime score of 2-0 after goals from Mary Willan and Janie Collinson and by close of play the score was 2-1.