Evolution of Women’s Football: 1800 to Today

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The Argentina 2023 World Cup began a few days ago and all the Italian media attention is directed towards the women’s national football team. Our Azzurre beat hosts Albiceleste in the group stage, but lost 5-0 to Sweden and will have to contend with South Africa. The final of the competition is scheduled for 20 August.

In the month in which the world of football stops to follow and cheer on its great protagonists, we at NCC have decided to go and rediscover the origins and the path that the women’s football movement has followed to arrive at its modern form.

How women’s football was born

The roots of this sport take us back, as for its male counterpart, to England. Here, already at the end of the 1800s, the first football teams were born to give the factory workers a break. The first match of which we have documentation is an international match, played on 9 May 1881 at Easter Road Stadium in Edinburgh.

The two teams – one made up of English footballers, the other from Scots – take to the field with corsets and high boots, so as not to tarnish the canons of decency of the Victorian age, and unleash controversial reactions throughout the United Kingdom. Prejudice against female players often forces them to play under a pseudonym and men fiercely protest the lack of modesty in female players.

Despite external opposition, new associations and clubs for female players continue to emerge. In London the British Ladies’ Football Club was founded in 1895, which in the same year organized a friendly match in London and attracted almost 10 thousand spectators. At the end of the 19th century, aesthetic standards also softened, thus allowing women not to have to play with boots and corsets.

The British Ladies’ Football Club organizes dozens of promotional matches in the early 1900s and is closely linked to the suffragette movement, fighting through sport to obtain equal rights and living conditions. Criticism rains incessantly, and some newspapers define the players as “ornamental and useless”.

The team disbanded with the onset of World War I, but its legacy continues to lead the way. In 1917 the Dick, Kerr Ladies’ FC was born, a football club that brings together the workers of the homonymous railway company, which became a real institution in the sector. Women’s football starts to become so popular that some players in the team earn their living solely from the receipts from matches.

And it is precisely at the beginning of the 1920s, perhaps in the most successful moment, that the English Football Association decides to ban women’s football on fields throughout the United Kingdom. The same decision is then also taken by other national federations, such as the German and Spanish ones.

From disqualification to rebirth

The ban arrives in 1921 and prevents women’s teams from organizing official competitions. Nonetheless, Dick, Kerr Ladies’ FC continue to play on rugby team grounds, as the relevant association has not joined the FA line and is making its pitches available to female players.

The period of “prohibition” lasts until 1970, the year that sees a historic turning point. The Independent Federation of European Women’s Football, based in Turin, organizes the first women’s World Cup in Italy. Some clubs also participated in the tournament and in the end it was Denmark who won the first edition of the competition. The Danish players did it again the following year in Mexico, winning the 1971 World Cup in front of a packed Estadio Azteca.

The two World Cups definitively clear the ban imposed by the FA and the other federations. All over the world, national organizations are starting to emerge to manage and protect women’s football, which broadly assumes the connotations it has today. In 1991 FIFA began to independently manage the World Cup, which replaced that of the Turin Federation and was equalized, in terms of rules and format, to the men’s one.

Things also change at the national level. Professionalism spreads like wildfire and in 1988 Sweden announces that its domestic league will necessarily be made up of players paid to take the field. Even if the disparity in pay with male footballers is still abysmal, all over the world the foundations are being laid to at least raise female salaries.

This is broadly the story of pink football, starting from the factories of the Victorian United Kingdom up to the 2023 World Cup in Argentina.

This article is originally published on nascecresceignora.it

 

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