Sports archivists have uncovered never-before-seen pictures of Britain’s first ever female football team – set up by SUFFRAGETTES for the Women’s Rights movement in 1881.
The astonishing black-and-white photographs show the moment pioneering campaigners swapped their corsets for footy shirts and formed ‘Mrs Graham’s XI’.
Historians believe the side helped women win the local Government vote and even sparked RIOTS, after stepping onto the football pitch in revealing bloomers and blouses.
Images of the team, from Stirling, Scotland, were uncovered by artist Stuart Gibbs, 47, while compiling an exhibition about the history of the women’s game.
He said yesterday (thurs): “They were on the cutting edge. The day after a controversial match in Glasgow the right for women to vote got the royal assent.
“The players were all part of the rights for women and the ‘rational dress movement’ so maybe the game was seen as a sign of the times and had some influence.”
The stunning shots were uncovered by artist Mr Gibbs while researching ‘Moving the Goalposts: A History of Women’s Football in Britain’ – currently touring the UK.
He compiled an album of pictures after scouring local libraries in Stirling.
Mr Gibbs found suffragette Scot Helen Matthews, who played under the name Mrs Graham, had set up the first official women’s club in the city.
She formed the side after seeing a men’s international football match at the Oval in London in March 1881 – in which Scotland thrashed the English side 6 – 0.
The team, known as Mrs Graham’s XI – also the first female national side – played their first official match at Easter Road stadium, home to Hibs, in Edinburgh, on May 7, 1881.
From that point on the team were never far away from controversy.
The second game, against England at Shawfield Athletic Ground, in Glasgow, on May 16 1881 sparked riots when they beat the England team 3 – 0.
Following the riot, the Woman’s Franchise (Scotland) Bill was given the royal assent, allowing rate-paying women to vote in local government elections.
This was a right women in England had enjoyed for two decades.
But events of that day caused such a stir that a Government ban was imposed
on women playing football in Scotland.
Despite the ban women still played, using pseudonyms to hide their identities – travelling to England to compete.
The team – which even included the world’s first black female footballer Carrie Boustead – were considered “improper” by their male counterparts.
But they battled on to eventually obtain recognition.
Mr Gibbs said: “There were critics right from day one. Even women’s magazines were against it, even though you wouldn’t think they would be.
“It just wasn’t acceptable for women to dress in trousers and football was considered a man’s game.
“The women had lots of fans, but they also had lots of objectors and there were a few problems caused by hooligans who tried to disrupt the game.”
Towards the end of the 19th century the British Ladies Football Club was formed by Helen Matthews, and Nellie Hudson, who played under the name ‘Nettie J. Honeyball’.
The team played their first game in front of a crowd of 10,000 on 23rd March 1895.
They went from strength-to-strength until 1896 when arguments about the team’s management caused Helen Matthews to breakaway and begin to play men’s teams.
Female teams played right through the First World War – but on December 5, 1921 the English Football Association voted to ban women’s football from grounds used by its member clubs.
The ban was not lifted until July 1971.
Historian Colin Yates, 54, who organised the ‘Moving the Goalposts’ exhibition – at the
Manchester City Stadium this weekend – said: “The games often caused anger from men who disliked women doing what, at that time, was a man’s job.
“But they played despite an FA ban of 50 years.
“I’m glad we have such an amazing archive of photos from that period to show exactly what the women did and how important it was.”