This week on the Secret Library we hear from Josh Flint on the tumultuous year that Hey’s Brewery Women’s Football team had in 1921. 1921 was a fascinating year for Women’s Football and Hey’s Brewery Women’s Football team encapsulated this, as they spent most of the year playing in front of enormous crowds and ended the year by being all but banned from football by the FA. On the 14th December 1921 the FA decided that women’s football should not be played at the same stadiums as the men, effectively banning women from playing competitively. This article will look at the two most important matches in Hey’s Brewery Women’s Team’s history leading up to the disastrous announcement by the FA at the end of the year.
Women’s football at the beginning of 1921 was gaining momentum, mainly due to notoriety of Dick Kerr’s Women’s Football Team from Preston, who were initially created by Dick Kerr’s Munitions Factory in 1917 to raise money for soldiers’ charities during the First World War. The interest created by Dick Kerr’s team allowed other women’s football teams to be created in West Yorkshire including The Atalanta Club in Huddersfield, in 1920, and the Manningham Mill Ladies’ and Hey’s Brewery Women’s Football Team in Bradford both formed in 1921. Arthur Hey saw that a women’s football team was a good way for his company, J. Hey & Company Limited, Northbrook Brewery, to advertise themselves to new audiences while also raising money for local charities. Bradford City men’s team helped Hey’s in particular as they were allowed to use Bradford’s ground, Valley Parade.
On the 22nd August 1921 Hey’s played Dick Kerr’s women’s team at Elland Road in their most high profile game to date. Here we have a team photo of the Hey’s team before the match and a photograph of the team captains with Miss Ella Shields, who was an artist and variety performer during the 1920’s, who started the match.
This Leeds Mercury match report states that despite Hey’s high work rate and passion their inexperience, having only been formed a couple of months previous, showed as they were defeated 9 – 0 by Dick Kerr’s team. The attendance for the match was said to be around fifteen thousand spectators, a massive amount of supporters for a women’s football match, or any football match in the 1920’s. The prospect of seeing Dick Kerr’s high profile team play was very popular in West Yorkshire.
The popularity of seeing these two teams face was clearly evident as just two months later, on the 19th October 1921, Hey’s and Dick Kerr’s had a rematch at Valley Parade in Bradford. Here we have photographs from both teams starting line-ups.
This time a more experienced Hey’s bravely took on the might of Dick Kerr’s team and were only defeated 4- 1, with Hey’s solitary goal coming from centre forward E. Jackson. After only being created a few month earlier and the heavy defeat in the previous charity match, this 4 – 1 defeat showed the real progress that Hey’s were making in late 1921. More importantly over four thousand spectators travelled to see this game and the match raised £184 for the Bradford Motor Lifeboat Fund.
By the beginning of December 1921 Hey’s were crowned Yorkshire Women’s Football champions. However, the momentum of women’s football came to a shuddering halt on the 5th December 1921 as the FA banned women’s football teams from being played at men’s football grounds, effectively banning women’s teams from playing. The FA were said to have tolerated the women’s game during the First World War as the men’s game had effectively shut down and they were raising money for serviceman, however after the war ended the FA saw the large crowds that were being drawn to the women’s game, by Dick Kerr’s, Hey’s and other popular women’s teams, and started to worry about the attendance for men’s football. So the FA decided to act. They not only banned women from playing at the FA’s Football League grounds but also FA members could not help women’s football in any capacity. The FA justified this ban by stating that ‘women were quite unsuitable to play football – as they may be injured – and should not be encouraged to do so,’ and in another attack on the women’s game the FA stated that some of the money that was supposed to go to charities didn’t. These accusations in the end did not matter as the FA had overnight destroyed the burgeoning women’s football scene in England.
The Yorkshire Evening Post published an interview with Hey’s Brewery owner Arthur Hey. Arthur’s anger is apparent as he said that the FA had given no reasoning for the ban except for the ridiculous notion that the gate receipts were not going to the charities. Hey’s Captain Mabel Benson saw the FA’s action as nothing more than ‘disgraceful interference’ and for no real reason. Mabel finished the article saying that she had been playing football since 1914 and had never received an injury where women’s hockey players were regularly injured, and yet no ban was placed upon them. The injustice that Arthur Hey and Mabel Benson were feeling strongly comes across in this article.
After than ban Hey’s continued to play but were finding it increasingly difficult to find places to play. Here is an article from the 14th March 1922 from the Leeds Mercury which states how Hey’s were not allowed to play at the rugby ground at Lidgott Green as the Yorkshire Rugby League Committee did not think that women should be playing football. This shows how the FA’s decision allowed other sporting committees to make similar decisions about the place of women’s football.
The story of Hey’s Brewery Women’s football team in 1921 and 1922 is a truly sad story of what could have been. The women’s game seemed to be on a continuous rise in 1921 and was attracting a large number of spectators and more importantly started to become a more respected sport. However with one act the FA had ended this momentum and women’s football has taken a very long time to recover. The question remains what could women’s football have become if this ban never happened.
If you would like to find out more about Hey’s Brewery Women’s Team then visit the Local and Family History Library at Leeds Central Library.
Dewhirst, J. The Origins of Women’s football in Bradford,
1921:The Year When Football Banned Women