Trailblazing women’s football side honoured

Unveiling of a blue plaque on the site of the Dick,Kerr Factory, Preston, where the first women football team was formed in December 1917.  L-r Sheila Parker, the first England Ladies team captain, former England international Rachel Brown and June Gregson a goalkeeper for the team 1949-57
Unveiling of a blue plaque on the site of the Dick,Kerr Factory, Preston, where the first women football team was formed in December 1917. L-r Sheila Parker, the first England Ladies team captain, former England international Rachel Brown and June Gregson a goalkeeper for the team 1949-57

A ground-breaking women’s football team, which launched the career of St Helens soccer superstar Lily Parr, are to be honoured with a blue plaque.

Dick, Kerr Ladies FC paved the way for women’s football, but over the years have received little recognition or support least of all from the FA, who banned them from pitches, saying that the game was “quite unsuitable for females”.

Former goalkeeper for Dick, Kerr Ladies FC, June Gregson trying on the replica kit

Former goalkeeper for Dick, Kerr Ladies FC, June Gregson trying on the replica kit

But 100 years since they were formed, the Dick, Kerr Ladies FC are finally being honoured with a blue plaque.

Formed as a morale-boosting exercise during the First World War, the team became hugely popular, drawing a crowd of 53,000 when they played St Helens at Everton’s Goodison Park in 1920.

But their success attracted detractors, and in 1921 the Football Association banned women’s football from being played in FA grounds.

The ban lasted until 1971 and changed the course of women’s football forever.

The side’s undisputable superstar was Lily Parr, who hailed from Union Street in Gerards Bridge, St Helens.

Almost six foot tall, Lily was a powerful and free-scoring centre forward who scored more than 900 goals during her career.

After working at Dick, Kerr, she retrained as a nurse but continued to play until 1951. She moved to Goosnargh in Lancashire, where she lived until her death in 1978 aged 73.

But the ladies finally achieved the recognition they deserved with a blue plaque – used to mark historic achievements – erected at the Alstom Factory on Strand Road, where the team was formed.

David Taylor, pro-chancellor and chairman of the board at the University of Central Lancashire, which helped organise the plaque, said: “The Dick, Kerr Ladies story is a key part of Preston’s sporting heritage. In our role as a civic university, we are delighted to work alongside Gail and the many other hard-working volunteers to highlight and commemorate the amazing achievements of these pioneering women. The Dick, Kerr Ladies all came from very traditional working class backgrounds and became the most successful women’s football team in history. For the people who live, work and study in our city, their success is something we should warmly celebrate.

“We have already given our backing to establishing a bronze relief in Preston to further celebrate these amazing sporting trailblazers and look forward to working with Gail on several other events planned this year to mark the Dick, Kerr Ladies centenary year.”

Gail Newsham, author of In a League of Their Own: A History of Dick, Kerr Ladies FC, said: “I have been championing the Dick, Kerr Ladies for 25 years. No other town or city in the world can boast the proud history of this pioneering team. I have always believed in them and been in awe of their success.

“They certainly deserve this long overdue honour. This blue plaque is the first in the world for the best in the world.

“Words cannot express how thrilled I am for them today.”