By Steve Bolton
It’s Not the Men
Blackpool has a long and successful history in men’s football. This has been well documented and recognised. I would like to take the opportunity in this article to celebrate the magnificent history of the town of Blackpool with the women’s game. There are many links between Blackpool and women’s football, which go back a century or more.
My name is Steve Bolton and I research and write about women’s football history. The footballer in the top left of the picture above is my Granny Lizzy Ashcroft. She had a long and fabulous career with the Dick Kerr Ladies, which she joined in 1923. Also joining in 1923 were two Blackpool women: Lily Buxton (top row, third from right) and Hilda Parkinson (front left). Lily played right up to the mid-1930s and Hilda’s last recorded game was in 1946.
Amongst other accolades Lily and Hilda were:
Guests at Civic Receptions given by the Mayor of Blackpool
Guests of the Lord Mayor of London
Invited for tea at the Houses of Parliament
They had the misfortune like my Granny Lizzy Ashcroft to spend most, if not all of their playing careers under the shadow of the infamous December 1921 FA ban. As we approach the centenary of this event, I would like to offer this short article as a tribute to them. Please note full credits and thanks are given at the end of this article.
Women’s Football History - The 1921 FA BAN
The most celebrated football team in the history of women’s football is the Dick Kerr Ladies of Preston. They only produced two ‘World Champion’ postcards and my Granny Lizzy Ashcroft is pictured on both postcards (see above) with her great friend Lily Parr.
Modern women’s football (as we would recognise it today) came to prominence because of the suspension of the men’s league during the First World War. The industrial towns all over the country and certainly in the North, started occupying their young female workers with football and a virtuous circle of high-profile matches took place to raise money for charity. This football reached its peak for the 1917-1918 season.
As the First World War came to an end, the high-profile women’s football matches reduced significantly and sometimes quite abruptly due to the huge social change taking place. The disastrous state of the country led to a revival for the 1919-1920 season. In 1921 my Granny’s team at that time, St Helens played 27 known games which were watched by approximately ¼ million spectators.
By late 1921 there would hardly be a blade of grass in the country that didn’t have a women’s football match taking place on it and this, plus other factors led to the infamous December 1921 FA ban. The Football Association were concerned of the effect on Football League attendances for the men. As a result, they banned women’s teams from playing at all League grounds. The ban would not be lifted until December 1969.
Blackpool - Je T’Aime
In 1920, the first ever foreign tour by a French football team took place. The four game tour was played against the Dick Kerr Ladies with the following results:
Fri 30 April 2-1 win for DKL at Preston North End’s ground - Crowd 22,000
Sat 1 May 5-2 win for DKL at Stockport - Crowd 15,000
Wed 5 May 1-1 draw at Hyde, Manchester - Crowd 3,000
Fri 6 May 2-1 win for France at Chelsea’s ground Stamford Bridge
On Monday 3rd May 1920, both teams were afforded a Civic Reception at Blackpool. The teams were conveyed in two motor charabancs from the Bull and Royal Hotel in Preston. The charabancs were decorated with tricolours. They were entertained by the Mayor Councillor Eli Howe and a representative of the Ex-Soldier’s National Federation.
After refreshments they were given a tour of the town which included visiting North Pier, the Tower, the King’s Convalescent Centre and the Winter Gardens where they had tea. The French women were to visit again in 1925, 1932, 1933, 1935, 1936, 1937 and 1938. They always insisted upon a visit to Blackpool!
The Blackpool Connection
One of the earliest Blackpool connections is a Dick Kerr Ladies game played at Bloomfield Road on Wednesday 29 September 1920 in aid of the British Red Cross Funds and the Manchester and Liverpool Universities Appeal Fund. The celebrated Bath Ladies FC who had formed in June were desperate to play the DKL but couldn’t make it, so the game was billed as DKL vs Ireland with the DKL running out 7-0 winners. Little has so far been discovered about that game but intriguingly the Imperial Cinema in Belfast was showing footage of the game a month later, so we know that the game was filmed.
The Bath Ladies did eventually get to play the DKL in January 1921 at Old Trafford in a famous game watched by 31,000 spectators. The game raised £2,000 for the Unemployed Ex-Servicemen’s Fund which was a huge amount of money. Unfortunately, 8,000 families applied for money from the fund and the 700 families ‘who were actually starving’ were prioritised and by the end of the month the charity needed more funds. This gives an idea of the state of the country in 1921.
Blackpool Carnival 1923
This was a huge statement of intent by the town of Blackpool. I think it is hard for us to picture now just how big the Carnival was, but the statistics are amazing. Over a week, vast numbers of people visited Blackpool. One hundred tonnes of confetti had been purchased by the Council and some of the processions were 3 to 4 miles long. The week-long event was widely covered in newspapers.
The famous Dick Kerr Ladies entered a float in the Carnival and a football match was played. The Open-Air South Shore Baths were inaugurated as part of the Carnival, with future Blackpool Olympic Champion Lucy Morton helping to open. The Baths were to feature with women footballers again in the 1930s (more on this later). According to the Leeds Mercury newspaper, when the effigy of King Carnival was burnt on the beach at 11pm on the Saturday 16th June, half a million people watched.
Dick Kerr Ladies vs Rest of the United Kingdom
The Carnival ran from Saturday 9th June to Saturday 16th June. The football game was played on the Wednesday evening of the Carnival at the KL Cricket Club at Squires Gate. Women were banned from FA affiliated association football grounds, so alternative pitches had to be found. Lily Parr scored 2 and my Granny scored the other goal in only her third game for the Dick Kerr Ladies. Lily Buxton and Hilda Parkinson were playing for the ‘Rest of the United Kingdom’. Lily Buxton scored a penalty for that team. The Blackpool Gazette and Herald recorded that there was a good crowd and the final score was 3-1 to the DKL.
Dick Kerr Ladies Float
The game was played on the Wednesday evening of the Carnival. The Dick Kerr Ladies beat The Rest of the UK. There were different processions on most of the days with floats coming from all over the North West. The Dick Kerr Ladies Float took part in the procession on Friday. According to author and DKL authority Gail Newsham, my Granny wasn’t present on the float that day. This was from oral testimony from Lydia Ackers whom Gail was able to interview before she passed away. The Blackpool Gazette at the time reports that on the float were: Annie Yates, Lily Martin, Annie Crozier, Molly Walker, Jenny Lancaster, Franklin, Townley, Morris, Lily Parr, Lily Lee, Doris Wilding and Alice Kell.
Dick Kerr Ladies vs Femina Sport of Paris
In the May of 1925, Femina Sport of Paris toured the United Kingdom. This was a very busy and demanding tour over two weeks. Games against the DKL were played at Herne Hill, Padiham, Mellor, Fallowfield, Hyde, Kilmarnock, Dumfries, Belfast, Chorley and Herne Hill. The DKL won 7, drew 2 and lost one. Lily Buxton and Hilda Parkinson were key DKL players in this incredibly important series of games. This was the last appearance of French football legends Carmen Pomies and Madeleine Bracquemond together on tour.
A Win and a Kiss
The first game was played at Herne Hill Velodrome. Manager Alfred Frankland made sure that the media were there in force. There are several clips of this game available on the British Pathe and BFI websites. The game was kicked off by George Robey who was the famous music hall comedian of the day and the DKL won 4 -2. The “Lilies of England defeated the lilies of France” ran one headline. The scorers for ‘England’ were Lily Parr (2), Lily Lee and Blackpool woman Lily Buxton.
During the day, both teams were received by the Lord Mayor of London at Mansion House. They were also entertained to tea on the House of Commons Terrace as the guest of Liverpool Fairfield MP Major Sir Benn Jack Brunel Cohen KBE. Major Cohen was a relentless supporter of disabled people after losing both his legs at the Third Battle of Ypres and was one of the founders of the British Legion. An incredible man. I think that the phenomenal work and huge amount of money raised by the women footballers led to this invitation. The famous photo of the legendary Carmen Pomies kissing her great friend Florrie Redford went all over the world.
Femina Sport Sing in the Winter Gardens
In between the Fallowfield and Hyde games on Monday 18th May 1925, the teams were able to fit in a trip to Blackpool. They were afforded a Civic Reception and this time got to meet Blackpool’s Olympic Champion swimmer Lucy Morton. They were driven by a tri-colour festooned coach from Preston. Two corporation omnibuses were then provided for them to drive along the Promenade to visit the Open-Air Baths at South Shore.
The Mayor gave a popular speech where he quipped that France had lost a million and a half men during the war, “and was it surprising therefore, that the women of France now sought to replace those in the realms of sport?” In the evening the French team visited the Winter Gardens and were impressed by the Empress Ballroom. They lined up beneath the orchestra and gave a spirited rendition of ‘La Marseillaise’ for which they received tumultuous applause from the large audience in the ballroom.
Filming at the Iconic South Shore Baths - 1931
This amazing photograph below shows the DKL (Preston Ladies) being filmed at the South Shore Baths in November 1931. The film clip is available to watch on the British Pathe website and is entitled: “The Champions (1931)”. The player wearing the white shoes in the foreground is my Granny. If you watch the clip carefully you can see Lily Parr about to sneak off for a cigarette. Lily Buxton narrates in a strong Lancashire accent. The clip claims that she has played 253 matches with only one absence. This is what I would call an ‘Alfred Frankland statistic’ and probably should be treated with some caution. However, she was quite a reliable team member! In an interview with the Lancashire Evening Post, she describes training with her friend Hilda Parkinson on Blackpool beach which included swimming regularly in the sea, even in winter.
England vs Belgium
The Belgium team had been playing France regularly for several years. Honours went to the powerful French side initially, but by 1932 the Belgium side were winning the encounters and demanding a tour against the English sides to declare who was the best team in Europe.
The Belgian tourists won only one of the seven games on their tour. It was at the Royal Lancashire Agricultural Show in Bolton. The beautiful medal below was awarded to my Granny for that game. The Belgium women won 2 -1 and they were ecstatic to have won the game. The teams played in an absolute quagmire and were commended for their pluck.
The first game of the tour was played at Thrum Hall, Halifax and possibly because Hilda Parkinson was born in Halifax, she was made Captain. She also scored the first goal in their 4 - 1 win. For the rest of that tour the Captaincy reverted to Lily Parr.
Lily and Hilda on Tour - 1935
In April 1935, my Granny captained the second ever DKL tour to France. They played in Paris and according to extensive French media reports, they lost 6 - 2.
It was a young and inexperienced side that went over (particularly the goalkeeper), but regulars such as Lily and Hilda also played. They had also played against a very strong French side, but such a great defeat may have been aided by the 'party atmosphere' on the crossing to France, where the ladies were entertained by the Scots Guard Band who were also on board the ship.
This was not the DKL’s heaviest defeat, but it certainly didn’t fit with Alfred Frankland and his branding. Two days later they took on the French team led by the legendary Madeleine Bracquemond in Rouen. DKL lost this game too, but by a much more respectable 2 goals to 1 at Stade Bruyeres.
My Granny Lizzy Ashcroft retired in 1935. Lily Buxton appears to have retired about the same time. Hilda Parkinson remained a key player throughout the 1930s. She also played for the team in 1946 when they resurrected after the Second World War. On Saturday 22nd May 1948 she accompanied the team when they defeated a Manchester Ladies team 16 - 1 on the Catholic Field at Clitheroe.
These are astonishing and important careers through a golden period of women’s football and this article is my small and sincere tribute to two tremendous Blackpool athletes.
The incredible and unknown story of the Dick Kerr Ladies was rescued by the pioneering work of Gail Newsham. Gail’s book: “In a League of Their Own” and Gail’s website: www.dickkerrladies.com are the place to go to read the complete story of this fantastic and legendary women’s football team.
My main aim in writing this short profile is to draw out and illustrate the parallel careers that two fantastic Blackpool women had with my Granny. It is also a homage to the incredible body of work produced by Gail, which is always my starting point.
Author: Steve Bolton
BSc Hons Maths (University College London), PGCE (University of Nottingham)
My passion is researching and writing about the history of women’s football. I have had several articles published and I am currently working on my first book: “Granny Played Football”. Granny Lizzy Ashcroft was one of the most influential and important pre-WW2 women’s footballers. She made her debut at the age of 16 for St Helens Ladies at St Andrews in April 1921, in front of a crowd of 30,000. After the English FA ban, she joined the Dick Kerr Ladies in 1923 where she played until her retirement in 1935. She was Vice-Captain under Lily Parr from 1932-1934 and in 1935 took over the Captaincy from her great mate Lily and led the DKL on their second ever continental tour.
I am custodian of the Bolton Family Archive, which is one of the foremost collections of pre-WW2 women’s football memorabilia in private hands.
Twitter Handle: @STEPHEN11981196