Ray of the Rovers: The Working Class Heroine in Popular Football Fiction, 1915 – 25

Melling, Alethea orcid iconORCID: 0000-0003-3133-5367 (1998) Ray of the Rovers: The Working Class Heroine in Popular Football Fiction, 1915 – 25. The International Journal of the History of Sport, 15 (1). pp. 97-122. ISSN 0952-3367

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Official URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/09523369808714014


The First World War became a watershed for the lives of many women in Britain, as they were suddenly thrown into roles that society had previously denied them. Women were expected to enter male spheres in the home and work place as part of the war effort, resulting in a more expendable income for many and profound changes in dress and lifestyle. Trouser suits, shorter hem lines, 'Bobbed' hair and cigarettes were all part of a new androgynous look created to accommodate women's redefined roles. 'Ladies Football', to use their own term, fitted neatly into this new status quo.' However, it was not exclusive to the First World War and nor was it essentially a working class phenomenon, as the football stories would lead us to believe. Firstly, as both Gail Newsham and David Williamson point out in their respective studies, 'Ladies Football' was played during the late nineteenth century. For example, in 1895, Nettie Honeyball was made secretary for the British Ladies and she apparently made a great impression playing before a crowd of 8,000 at Newcastle. In the 1890s a travelling Scottish team, managed by Lady Florence Dixie, was a source of ridicule when it was rumoured that one of the girls played in her brother's underwear
However, as football veteran Joan Whalley was quick to point out in an interview for Granada Television, although many came to mock the women, they left the ground impressed by their skill and quality of football. Secondly, a significant number of girls from 'white collar' modes of employment, such as teaching and secretarial work, became involved in 'Ladies Football'. The Atlanta Sports Club, Huddersfield, for instance, was made up of girls from 'white collar' backgrounds."
'Ladies Football' was becoming hugely popular by the end of the war and in the early post-war period. It was commanding huge crowds and raising large sums for charity, while elevating the status of women both in their communities and within their redefined roles, proving that they could function perfectly well within the spheres that convention had denied them for so long. For example, St Helens Ladies AFC played Dick, Kerr's Ladies, raising £3,000 for ex-servicemen at Everton in front of a crowd of 50,000

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