The History of Women in Football

In honour of the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup, which got underway this past weekend on SuperSport and can be viewed live by DStv viewers, we take a brief look at the history of women in football.


Women’s first involvement in football was as spectators to the emergent sport, with the first known female fan of the beautiful game no less a figure than Mary Queen of Scots back in the mid-16th century. In the 1970s a ball made of leather and inflated with a pig’s bladder was discovered in the rafters of the Queen’s Chamber, Stirling Castle. It is now proudly displayed in the Stirling Smith Art Gallery and Museum.


Moving on a few hundred years to the late 19th century, we have the formation of the British Ladies’ Football Club in 1894. The first official match played by women took place at Crouch End in London on 23 March 1895, featuring teams that represented North and South London.


Women’s football continued to grow in Britain in the early decades of the 1900s, with women becoming a key part of the working force when many men were conscripted to fight in the World War of 1914 to 1918.

Matches would often be played during lunch breaks at factories and women’s football surged in popularity. For example, a game between Dick Kerr’s Ladies and Newcastle United Ladies played at St. James Park in September 1919 attracted a crowd of 35,000 people and raised significant funds for local war charities.

A year later, the first women’s international game took place: Preston-based Dick Kerr’s Ladies beat a French XI 2-0 in front of 25,000 spectators. Later in 1920, no less than 53,000 people watched Dick Kerr's Ladies beat St Helen's Ladies 4-0 on Boxing Day.


Women’s football flourished in the 1920s but soon was effectively banned, with the FA at the time saying the game of football was "quite unsuitable for females".  It was almost half a century until women's football got back on its feet, with the formation of the Women's Football Association (WFA) in 1969, and the unbanning of the women’s game in 1971.

A year after the ban was lifted, women’s football in America began to take hold and gain in popularity due to the ruling that equal funding would be given to men’s and women’s sports in colleges. The new law meant that more women could go to college with a sports scholarship, and as a result, it meant that women’s football was becoming a more common sport at colleges all over the United States.


Fast forward to the 1990s and women’s football had its first World Cup (held in China in November 1991, at the urging of then FIFA president Joao Havelange) and became an official Olympic sport at the 1996 Games in Atlanta.


The women’s game really began to capture the imagination when the 1999 World Cup in the USA drew enormous crowds. On the back of this success and the growing prestige of further World Cup tournaments and club football, women’s football is beginning to rival the men’s game for popularity and media presence – best exemplified by SuperSport’s unrivalled coverage of the 2019 World Cup.

For the latest news, fixtures and results from the FIFA Women’s World Cup, head to SuperSport’s tournament page.

For more information on the unmatched football on DStv and the upcoming

fixtures, visit