British Ladies' Football Club

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British Ladies' Football Club, "North" team, 23 March 1885 British Ladies Football Club.jpg
British Ladies' Football Club, "North" team, 23 March 1885

The British Ladies' Football Club was an all-woman football team formed in the United Kingdom in 1885. The team had as its patron Lady Florence Dixie, an aristocrat from Dumfries, and its first captain was Nettie Honeyball (real name likely Mary Hutson). [1]

Association football Team field sport

Association football, more commonly known as football or soccer, is a team sport played with a spherical ball between two teams of eleven players. It is played by 250 million players in over 200 countries and dependencies, making it the world's most popular sport. The game is played on a rectangular field called a pitch with a goal at each end. The object of the game is to score by moving the ball beyond the goal line into the opposing goal.

Lady Florence Dixie British writer

Lady Florence Caroline Dixie, was a Scottish traveller, war correspondent, writer and feminist. Her account of travelling Across Patagonia, her children's books The Young Castaways and Aniwee, or, The Warrior Queen, and her feminist utopia Gloriana, or the Revolution of 1900 all deal with feminist themes related to girls, women, and their positions in society.

Dumfries town in Scotland

Dumfries is a market town and former royal burgh within the Dumfries and Galloway council area of Scotland. It is located near the mouth of the River Nith into the Solway Firth. Dumfries is the traditional county town of the historic county of Dumfriesshire. Dumfries is nicknamed Queen of the South. People from Dumfries are known colloquially in the Scots language as Doonhamers.The nickname has also given name to the town's professional football club.


The club's first public match took place at Crouch End, London on 23 March 1895, between teams representing 'The North' and 'The South'. The North won 7–1 in front of an estimated 11,000 spectators. [2]

Crouch End area of north London

Crouch End is an area of North London, approximately 5 miles from the City of London in the western half of the borough of Haringey.

Historical perspective

"First Match of the British Ladies' Football Club", March 1895 British Ladies Football Club 1895.png
"First Match of the British Ladies' Football Club", March 1895

Until the 19th century, women's participation in football was limited to folk rituals linked with marriage customs. In Inverness, for example, single women would annually play a match with married women, whilst prospective husbands watched from the sidelines. [3] The first record of a woman's team coming together to play football occurred on 9 May 1881, at Edinburgh's Easter Road Stadium. The match was billed as a Scotland v England international and featured Mrs Graham's XI. [4] [5]

Mrs Grahams XI

Mrs Graham's XI was a women's football team formed by Helen Matthews in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1881. It is considered the first British women's football team and a pioneering team in the history of the sport. Because it was not safe for women to play football without harassment, the players used pseudonyms to protect their identities. Matthews, also a goalkeeper for the team, claimed to be "Mrs Graham".

Just over a week later, on 20 May 1881, [5] the teams played in Glasgow in front of a crowd of 5,000. This match had to be abandoned following a violent pitch invasion during which the women were "roughly jostled", and chased by a mob as they left the grounds. [4] Further games resulted in similar pitch invasions, which soon resulting in ending this early attempt to introduce women's football. [6]

It is uncertain, from the coverage of the time, what the pitch invasions were in protest against. However, the press tone, which would dominate coverage of women's football for the next century, was clearly established in 1881: barely disguised contempt regarding player appearance, including costume, and the standard of play, [4] overlaid with a certainty that football was a rough man's game unsuitable for women. [6]


An attempt to form a new club was made by Alfred Hewitt Smith [7] with Nettie Honeyball as the figurehead for the British Ladies Football Club founded on 1 January 1895. [6] Lady Florence Dixie, the youngest daughter of the Marquess of Queensbury, [8] acted as chairman and sponsor. In 1894, an advertisement was placed in the Daily Graphic seeking those interested in forming a football club for women [9] which attracted around 30 women, who trained twice weekly under the tutelage of Tottenham Hotspur wing-half Bill Julian. [10]

Helen Matthews politician and womens footballer

Helen Graham Matthews, also known by her pseudonym Mrs Graham, was a Scottish suffragette and women's footballer. She is known for founding the Mrs Graham's XI, widely considered to be the first British women's football team.

Archibald Douglas, 8th Marquess of Queensberry British politician

Archibald William Douglas, 8th Marquess of Queensberry PC, styled Viscount Drumlanrig between 1837 and 1856, was a Scottish Conservative Party politician. He notably served as Comptroller of the Household between 1853 and 1856.

<i>The Graphic</i> British periodical literature

The Graphic was a British weekly illustrated newspaper, first published on 4 December 1869 by William Luson Thomas's company Illustrated Newspapers Limited.


The club divided into a north and south team and on 23 March 1895, 10,000 [notes 1] spectators watched the inaugural game at Crouch End, London. Unlike in the matches of 1881, players no longer had to wear corsets [11] :xvi and high-heeled boots, but acquired standard man's boots in suitable sizes. They still had to wear bonnets, with the game being stopped if any woman headed the ball and it dislodged either bonnet or hairpin which had to be replaced before the game could resume. [6]

The reaction was generally one of being heckled by the crowd, and press censure, [12] bordering on derision. [10]

Despite this, the club went on tour, sponsored by Lady Dixie, [8] and in the following two years played some 100 exhibition matches. [10] The tour attracted great publicity from the press, though not entirely restricted to the sport as, at the time, women playing football was intricately linked to the 'Rights question'. [8]

The strain of playing so often took its toll, and by September 1896 the ladies could only field a few players. They were also broke, and arriving in Exeter found they had insufficient funds to either leave or pay their hotel bill. Appeals to the mayor of Exeter fell on deaf ears and he refused to pay. The ladies had to be rescued by friends, and the activities of the club came to an end. [6]

Women's football once again fell into obscurity until the First World War, when Lloyd George required women to work in factories whilst the men were at the front. On Christmas Day, 1916, the first recorded match between factory organised women's teams, occurred in Ulverston, Cumbria. [6]

Political agenda

In a year when the cultural, social and public concern over what was decent and what was unnatural were already focused, [notes 2] football for women raised important issues within Victorian society, including dress reform, the feminine ideal, women's sexuality, and the rigid British class structure in a way that no other sport could. [11] :xvi

Lady Dixie, a keen advocate of women's rights, [14] believed that football was excellent for women's physiques, and predicted a day when it would be as popular with girls as with boys. [6] Moreover, she was a supporter of the rational dress movement, which sought to liberate women from the corsets and petticoats of Victorian society. She, therefore, saw football as a weapon of subversion and a means of pushing the boundaries, since the members of the club played openly in knickers and blouses. [15] :201

Nettie Honeyball was well aware of the political ramifications, telling an interviewer that:

There is nothing of the farcical nature about the British Ladies' Football Club. I founded the association late last year, with the fixed resolve of proving to the world that women are not the 'ornamental and useless' creatures men have pictured. I must confess my convictions on all matters, where the sexes are so widely divided, are all on the side of emancipation, and I look forward to the time when ladies may sit in Parliament and have a voice in the direction of affairs, especially those which concern them most. [11] :25


  1. Variously reported in newspapers at the time as up to 11,000 [2]
  2. Oscar Wilde's trial began in April and concluded in May with his conviction for indecency against Lady Dixie's nephew Lord Alfred Douglas [13] :112

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  1. "The Honeyballers: Women who fought to play football". BBC News. 26 September 2013. Retrieved 17 February 2015.
  2. 1 2 "Ladies' Football Match" . The Standard. London. 25 March 1895. Retrieved 17 February 2015 via British Newspaper Archive.
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Further reading