Women in football

If there is something better than one woman’s fight for glory, it is eleven women fighting for glory as a team.  Although evidence of a football like game dates back to 5000BC, modern football as we know today came about much later in England circa 1850.  

The British Ladies Football Club North Team in 1895. Mrs Grahams XI are believed to be the first official women's football team in the UK and were set up by Helen Mathews who played under the pseudo name Mrs Graham in 1881. See SWNS story SWWOMEN; When women were battling to win the vote they knew exactly how to do it -- form the UK's first football team. Pioneering girls in Stirling stripped off their corsets and took to the pitch in an effort to change history. The team was set up alongside the Women's Rights movement in 1881 and experts believe the team directly helped women win the local government vote in Scotland by causing a stir on the football pitch in their revealing bloomers and blouses. The historic information was gathered by football historian Stuart Gibbs, 47, while completing an art exhibition called Moving the Goals Posts, which is touring the country.
The British Ladies Football Club North Team in 1895. Mrs Grahams XI are believed to be the first official women’s football team in the UK and were set up by Helen Mathews who played under the pseudo name Mrs Graham in 1881. (source: commons.wikimedia.org)

Women’s participation in the sport took even longer due to a lack of gender equality and the perceived “masculinity” of the sport.  Following the huge societal changes during the post World War I and the increased space for women to participate in typically male dominated activities, women finally took to pitch.  Improvement in women’s football however, was not fast.  Problems with equal pay and equal space in the sporting world still exist and continue to hinder women’s football.  Despite the obstacles, women’s football continues to grow and there are now 176 national women football teams around the globe.

Women Playing Football – Origin

World War I brought misery for the entire world.  It took a lot of aspects of humanity from world but it also paved the way for some revolutionary movements.  It is interesting to see that women’s football had its first sparkle during World War I.  Thanks to heavy industry in England, sports and especially football, were very well known throughout the entire island.  The first match on record was played between a team from London against one from Scotland.  The final score of this match was 22-0, with England taking the victory.

After this period, the Football Association banned women playing football, in association’s owners’ pitches, claiming that: “matches are distasteful and unattractive.”  Despite this opposition, women kept playing football in rugby fields and the sport grew.

 Women Playing Football – Historical Order

Soon after women took to the sport, tournaments were created for them to compete.  Munitionettes were British women employed in munitions factories during the time of the First World War.  The Munitionettes Cup, as name implies, was a tournament held among the women munition workers August 1917.  This tournament lasted for two years.

The English Ladies’ Football Association Challenge Cup was another early tournament.  It was only ever held once and took place between 1921 and 1922 with 24 teams joining.  The English Ladies’ Football Association held the tournament and the winning team took a silver cup, donated by the association board, home.

Women Playing Football – Reborn

After World War II, international events’ importance arose with an unexpected speed.  Tournaments, the Olympic Games, and other events fostered a sense of a global community.  In the field of Women’s Football, 1966 was an important year.  With the high interest generated by the 1966 World Cup, hosted by England, the English Women’s Football Association was formed in 1969.  The Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) also recommended countries to take control of women’s game over national associations.  Thanks to this impact created by UEFA in 1971, FA lifted the ban over association members’ grounds.

Women Playing Football – Ladies World Championship

Italy tried to organize a Ladies World Championship in 1970 without merging with any party contacted to FIFA.  This championship mostly played by clubs rather than national teams.  However, next year the first Women’s World Cup organized by FIFA and hosted by Mexico with national teams joining.  The final match was played at the most famous stadium in North America, Estadio Azteca, with at least 112.500 spectators inside.

Women Playing Football – Current Situation

Professionalism – Starting in the 1970s, countries started to create Women Football Leagues and Women National Teams.  The oldest semi-pro Women Football League was established in 1989 and still exists today.

Salary Inequality – There are only two aspects common between women and men’s football; there is a pitch and both teams consist of 11 people.  One of the most striking differences between women and men’s football is the stark contrast in salaries.

Currently, American football player Alex Morgan earns 650.000 Dollars annually from French team Olympique Lyonnais, while Brazilian football player Neymar earns 865.000 Euros (approx. 775.477 Dollars) in only one week! No female player comes close to those salaries.

Where Are We Now?

Sicilya Demir Spor
Sicilya Demir Spor captain Ayşegül Selenga Taşkent with the best Fair Play Coach Award received in an amateur women’s football tournament. Sicilya Demir Spor is the first truly fair play coed football team in Istanbul.

Through to the 21st Century, the ever-increasing popularity of football and increasing equality among men and women have brought us into a better phase.  The increasing demand led FIFA to organize a Women’s World Cup.  It started in 1991 and now occurs every four years.  UEFA also organizes a Women Champions League at the clubs level, and UEFA Euro at national teams level.

As with many sports, inequality in salaries is still prevalent between male and female players. Much work needs to be done to increase the visibility of female players and elevate them to the status that male players enjoy.  Despite the challenges on and off the field, as popularity in women’s football continues to grow and income equality becomes a topic of conversation, it is hoped that young women today will also have the opportunity to earn the huge pay packets that men are able to demand.

And what about Turkey? Sicilya Demir Spor is the first truly fair play coed football team in Istanbul: men and women play together, support each other, work with each other, help each other improve and enjoy a football without fouls, a football where what matters is having fun, respecting teammates and opposing teams, building confidence, embracing difference and playing for the joy of playing rather than for the joy of winning. A follow-up article that will tell you more about Sicilia Demir Sport will be published soon on our blog.

Written by Ahmet Kemal Surmeli, graduated from Bogazici, Current member of Binyaparak Erkekleri; he previously worked for TurkishWIN.  
Edited by Liz Manion, volunteer for Onar Istanbul and Editor for the blog  and Valentina Elmetti, Co-Founder of Onar Istanbul 
Additional readings: 
1. Bend it Like Beckham, 2002 ( film) 
2. Soccer Girl , 2007 ( film) 
3. Gracie, 2007 ( film) 
4. She’s the man, 2006  ( film) 
5. Women in sports, 50 fearless athletes who played to win by Rachel Ignotofsky
6. Dust bowl Girls, the Inspiring Story of the Team that barnstormed its way to basketball glory


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