Stoke Ladies FC

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The founder of Stoke Ladies FC was a local businessman and entrepreneur, Leonard Bridgett. He was born in 1878 at Forsbrook in Staffordshire. His father Edwin was a stone mason, and his mother Annie ran a grocer's shop. Both parents were also born in Forsbrook. He had four brothers - Frank, Harry, George Arthur and Edwin, and a sister Mary Elizabeth.

As a young man he was an active sportsman; he played football for Burslem Park, Trentham and Stoke Reserves, and was a member of the Stoke Victoria Athletic Club and the North Staffordshire Harriers. His most notable athletic successes however were with Salford Harriers. In 1906 he was the Northern Counties 100yds champion with a time of 10.2 seconds, and he also recorded 22.6 seconds for 220 yds. His best achievement was 100yds in 10 seconds (from 1 yd mark) at Bollington, near Macclesfield, for which he won £450 in prizes.

young Len Bridgett

Len Bridgett, Northern Counties 100yds Champion 1906
(photograph courtesy of Jane and Peter Bridgett)

His younger brother, George Arthur, achieved even greater sporting fame, making 321 appearances for Sunderland FC between 1902 and 1911, during the course of which he scored 112 goals. He also gained 11 caps for England. After leaving Sunderland in 1912 he became player-manager of South Shields, and led them to the championship of the North Eastern League in 1913-14 and 1914-15. He ended his professional career at Port Vale in 1923.

Len went into business as a fish importer in Stoke on Trent - his family connections within the grocery trade may well have assisted him in this venture, and in 1900 he married Amelia Alice Hudson. Their first child, Alice Ida, was born on 31st March 1901, and at 5 hours old she was possibly the youngest person to be recorded in the Census of that year. He had three other daughters - Gladys, Lily and Eva, and three sons.

As a successful local businessman he participated in a variety of civic activities; he helped to reform Stoke City FC in 1908, and was a director for 7 years, during which time the club progressed from the Birmingham and District League via the Southern League to the Football League Division 2. He took part in local politics, first putting himself up for election in Ward 18 in 1919, but on this occasion he was unsuccesssful. In 1921 he tried his hand in Ward 21 in 1921, but again he was unsuccessful. Eventually he was elected in 1923 for Ward 18. He served on the Council for 15 years, before losing his seat in 1938, but regained it in 1946 and served for a further four years.

His first involvement with women's football appears to have been in early 1921 when the following photograph appeared in the Stoke Weekly Sentinel with the caption "Len Bridgett's team, Hanford Ladies." The same photograph was later released as a postcard with the title "Stoke-on-Trent Football Team." The location of the picture is not known, but there appears to be a single-deck tramcar in the background.

Hanford Ladies FC

left to right: Lily Brindley, unknown, Daisy Bates, Lizzie Carroll (?), unknown, unknown, Len Bridgett, Dolly Cooper,
Ada Derricot, Elsie Stanyer, Ida Bridgett (?), Tilly Wagg (?), unknown
Appeared in the Weekly Sentinel, 26th February 1921
(photograph courtesy of Paul Niblett)

On 5th March the famous Dick, Kerr Ladies of Preston paid a visit to Stoke, to take on a side representing the county of Cheshire. That, at anyrate, was how the team was described in the Stoke newspapers; the Lancashire Post referred to it as Cheshire and Staffordshire Ladies, and this was a more accurate description, as at least two members of the side were from Staffordshire - B. Shallcross in goal and Eva Bridgett on the left wing. The game, which the Preston side won 12-0, was played in front of 10,000 spectators at Cobridge.

During 1921 Len Bridgett's team was generally referred to as Stoke United. They played a number of times in aid of charitable causes, including two encounters with the Dick, Kerr Ladies of Preston. In the first of these, at Coventry on 28th March, 4,000 spectators saw Dick, Kerr win by 3 goals to nil. A week later, on 7th April, the teams met again, this time at the Old Recreation Ground in Hanley. 13,000 spectators turned out to watch the game, which was in aid of the Royal Staffordshire Infirmary. Bridgett's team still found Dick, Kerr too much of a handful, the Preston Ladies winning 2-0 on this occasion. The spectators received value for their money; the game was fiercely contested, so much so that Lily Parr and Hilda Durbar were sent off for fighting.

Stoke Ladies FC

Stoke United Ladies
players (back row) Hilda Eldershaw, Lizzie Carroll, Lily Brindley, Dolly Cooper, Ida Bridgett, Lily Bridgett
(front row) Daisy Bates, Annie Smith, Hilda Durbar (holding Cyril Bridgett), Elsie Stanyer, Eva Bridgett
Appeared in the Weekly Sentinel, 16th April 1921
(photograph courtesy of Barbara Thorley)

On 20th and 21st April Stoke played back to back games against St Helen's. The first game was played at Birmingham, and resulted in a 2-2 draw. The following day they met again at Port Vale in aid of the Stoke on Trent Police and Fire Brigade Charities. This time each side could only score once, Stoke through Daisy Bates and St Helens through S. Chorley.

In 1920 the Dick, Kerr team had travelled to France to take on a representative French XI in a series of four games, and in May 1921 the French team made a return visit. It is typical of Len Bridgett's entrepreneurship that he managed to secure a match between his side and the French. This took place at the Victoria ground in Stoke on 21st May, and was in aid of the local distress fund. The French had already appeared in the area; on 17th May they played Dick, Kerr at Longton Park, losing 5-1, but they proved too strong for Stoke Ladies, winning by 3 goals to one.

When the Football Association banned women's games in December 1921 Len Bridgett once more used the opportunity to publicise his team; on 10th December 1921 the Weekly Sentinel carried a photograph of the side with the storyline, "Mr Len Bridgett's team of lady footballers are willing to play any women's team in the world for a 50 guinea challenge cup." It is not surprising that with his natural ability for showmanship he was elected as the first President of the ELFA later that month. His subsequent involvement with the ELFA is described in detail here.

The Dick, Kerr team under their charismatic manager Alfred Frankland had arranged a tour of the United States and Canada in September 1922. Such a venture was beyond the means of Len Bridgett, but he was not to be totally outdone, and in September 1923 he arranged for Stoke Ladies to visit Barcelona to play two games against Les Sportives of Paris, for a trophy presented by the "Cooperativa de Casas Baratas" (an organisation for the construction of cheap housing backed by the Journalists' Union). The first match took place on Sunday 8th September, when, according to El Mondo Deportivo, the following teams lined up at the stadium in Industria Urgell-Villarroel which had been vacated the previous year by Barcelona FC.

Stoke Ladies: E. Spooner, Ida Bridgett, Tilly Wagg, Daisy Bates, Theresa Cooper, Lizzie Carroll, Ada Derricot, Dolly Cooper, L. Bedford, Elsie Stanier, Eva Bridgett
Les Sportives: J. Smachteur, S, Guille, S. Lacombe. T. Renaut, H. Rillac, G. Viotti, M. Bracquemond (cap), B. Geuty. P. Puisais, G. Sprier, E.Journé

Prior to the commencement of play the referee had to deal with a protest from Les Sportives against the inclusion of Bedford in the Stoke line-up, on the grounds that she was resident in Paris and licensed by the French Ladies FA. They were concerned that she might be the "star among the twenty-two players." The dispute was resolved when it was agreed that Bedford could play in the first match only, the result of which would not count towards the awarding of the trophy.

The fears of Les Sportives were well-founded; Stoke took the match, thanks to a hat-trick from centre-forward Bedford. The following day the teams met again at the same venue. Bedford did not appear in the line-up, but Stoke once again emerged as winners, albeit this time by a single goal to nil.

Who was "L. Bedford," whose presence on the field caused such a fuss? The French sports paper L'Auto revealed that "the Stoke team was strengthened by Redford of Fémina." Bedford was actually the famous Florrie Redford of Dick, Kerr Ladies, who had moved to Paris to play for the leading French side.

Stoke Ladies at Barcelona

Stoke Ladies versus Les Sportives - Barcelona - September 1923
The kick off (photograph courtesy of Helge Faller)

Stoke Ladies at Barcelona

Stoke Ladies at Barcelona - September 1923
back row: Len Bridgett, Daisy Bates, Lizzie Carroll, E. Spooner, Ida Bridgett, Theresa Cooper, Dolly Cooper
front row: Lily Bridgett, Tilly Wagg, Elsie Stanyer, Ada Derricot, Eva Bridgett
(photograph courtesy of Jane and Peter Bridgett)

Elsie Stanyer

Elsie Stanyer in full flight - Barcelona, September 1923
(photograph courtesy of Jane and Peter Bridgett)

Barcelona Trophy

The trophy presented to the Stoke team after their victory in Barcelona

Spanish medalSpanish medal

Medal awarded to Ada Derricot at Barcelona 1923
(photograph courtesy of Ada Rigby)

One scalp had eluded the Stoke Ladies - that of the Dick, Kerr team. In two encounters with them in 1921 they had lost on both occasions. On 29th September 1923 they travelled to Colne to play them once more. Stoke were billed as the holders of the English Ladies' Football Association Cup and the International Cup (the trophy they had won in Barcelona), and Dick, Kerr as the winners of seven cups and two sets of gold medals. The report in the Evening Sentinel claimed that the Stoke Ladies were out to avenge the defeat of their sister club Stoke United. This was a little disingenuous - it was largely the same team which took the field at Colne. The result was different however; in a hard-fought game Stoke took the lead with a shot from Daisy Bates1 that came after a 50 yard individual run. Dick, Kerr were unable to respond, and would have gone 2-0 down had Dolly Cooper not failed with a penalty kick five minutes from the end. The images below show the Stoke Ladies group photograph prior to the match, and the programme (price 2d) which was sold at the ground.

Stoke Ladies at Colne

Stoke Ladies at Colne - 29th September 1923
back row: Gladys Bridgett, Theresa Cooper, J. Longshaw, Dolly Cooper, Ida Bridgett, Len Bridgett
middle row: Lily Bridgett, Ada Derricot, Daisy Bates, Elsie Stanyer, Lizzie Carroll
front row: Tilly Wagg, Eva Bridgett
(photograph courtesy of Jane and Peter Bridgett)

Stoke Ladies at ColneStoke Ladies at Colne
Stoke Ladies at ColneStoke Ladies at Colne

(photographs courtesy of Jane and Peter Bridgett)

This appears to have been the last outing for Stoke Ladies FC. The FA ban was making it increasingly difficult to organise suitable venues, Len's brother Arthur, who had assisted with the running of the side had new responsibilities at Port Vale FC, and Len himself had secured a seat on the Town Council. He continued to be involved in local sporting events, but his days as a manager of a women's football team were now over. The family fish business continued to prosper, and Len remained as Managing Director until his death in 1955.


1. Daisy Bates continued her association with football after hanging up her boots; on 11th January 1925 she married Bob Dixon, the goalkeeper for Stoke City.

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