Daisies, Lilies and Angels

Women footballers in Sunderland - 1889

Women's Football  Home

Following the unsuccessful attempt by young Scottish ladies to establish a football team in 1881, sporadic accounts of ladies' matches appeared over the next few years. On 23rd April 1887 two teams reportedly representing Edinburgh and Grimsby met at the Thornes football field in Wakefield, the Scottish team winning by a solitary goal. The next serious effort I have uncovered took place in Sunderland in 1889. On 11th January of that year the following notice appeared in the Sunderland Daily Echo:

press cutting

This in itself is of tremendous interest to students of women's footballing history, as I am unaware of any previous mention of a Canadian Ladies team. The announcement seems to have triggered a latent interest in football among the young women of Sunderland, as the following notice appeared a week later on 18th January.

press cutting

On 21st January the Southwick Lilies received two replies to their invitation. This notice also included a further reference to the mysterious Canadians, who evidently had a high opinion of their skills:

press cutting

The Lilies were clearly an impatient bunch, as they had already issued a further challenge, which appeared on 22nd January:

press cutting

I have been unable to find any mention of women footballers in the Sunderland Daily Echo prior to this date, so this exchange may record the first teams of their type in the North East. The name of the second team indicates clearly that these were working-class women; Craven and Speeding operated a rope works in Fulwell Road 1.

It seems that these exchanges led to a lot of pub chat and posturing as to the outcome of an eventual encounter, as on 24th January the Southwick Lilies upped the stakes with a more direct challenge: (the microfilm copy is hardly legible so a transcript is given below)

We, the Southwick Lilies, are willing to play either the Angels or Daisies a game of football on Saturday 2nd February on a ground to be agreed upon. If this does not suit we will hear no more boasting or paper talk. Kindly send note or post card to the Secretary, W. L----, 25 Barnetts Buildings, Southwick Road.

In the same edition the Echo carried the first overt criticism of the women footballers:


Sir - Allow me as a parent of one of the "Southwick Lilies" to say a word upon the subject. This morning as I passed to my work I was stopped by a friend of mine, asking my opinion upon the subject. Well, as a father, I said, "It is going too far". "Yes", was the reply; "last night as I stood at my door I overheard a little conversation between your daughter and another ----, they were having a little laugh to themselves about their team." I think if the Southwick Lilies, likewise the Craven Angels and the Dog Daisies were to go home and attend to house duties, and kept the old man's boots clean, it would look much better than learning the art of football - Yours truly,


Southwick, Monday

The showdown does not appear to have taken place, and there was no report of it in the newspaper. With such a build-up it is inconceivable that an encounter between two of these teams would have gone unreported. Nor was there any further mention of the Lilies, Daisies or Angels in the columns of the Echo. It is possible that they got cold feet, or other more practical problems prevented them from confronting each other on the field. The honour of being the first women footballers in the North East fell to two previously unmentioned sides - Greener's Violets and Greener's Cutters. On 2nd February 1889 they played a six-a-side match, which resulted in a win for the Violets by 8 goals to 2.

press cutting

As with the previously-mentioned teams, the Violets and the Cutters were also working-class women, employed in the Glass Works of Greener & Co. at Millfield, Sunderland.

What of the Canadian Ladies? April 15th came and went without any mention of their arrival in Liverpool. Given the publicity that attended the launch of the British Ladies' Football Club in 1895 it seems certain that there would have been widespread coverage of a visiting Canadian team six years earlier. Had they succeeded in their aim of arranging fixtures against male professionals not only the local, but the national papers would have carried accounts of the games. This rather ambitious objective is probably the clue to what happened. It is highly unlikely that any professional club would have agreed to play against a team of women, even though large gates would have been guaranteed. Without the prospect of a reasonable financial return, the most likely explanation is that the trip was cancelled. It is intriguing to think that a women's international football match might have taken place 30 years earlier than the Dick, Kerr encounter with the French. Or was it all a publicity stunt? The answer may lie in the dusty archives of some nineteenth century Canadian newspaper.

1. Craven and Speeding would later have a women's football team during the Great War.

Patrick Brennan
Rowlands Gill - May 2007

Women's Football  Home

Valid XHTML 1.0!