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Lily Parr was born in St Helens on 26th April, 1905. Her brother was a keen sportsman and he taught her how to play football and rugby.
Barbara Jacobs has pointed out in The Dick, Kerr's Ladies: "She (Lily Parr) was as adept at rugby as she was at football, spending hours on her own perfecting the technique of the power kick. She'd sorted that out by the time she was thirteen and in football could score from any place on the pitch, or in rugby kick the finest penalty or drop goal. A left-footer, her ability was natural, magic, but honed by her refusal to conform to the art of being a woman. She wasn't having any of it."
In 1919, the 14 year old Parr started playing football for the St Helens Ladies football team. Her second game was against Dick Kerr Ladies. St Helens lost 6-1. Alfred Frankland, the manager of the team from Preston, was very impressed with the performances of Lily Parr and her team-mate, Alice Woods. After the game Frankland asked the two women to join his team. He also offered to arrange for them to live in Preston. Lily agreed to live in the home of fellow player, Alice Norris.
Frankland agreed to pay Lily 10 shillings every time she played for the team. This worked out at about £100 in today's money. Lily was a great success and in her first season scored 43 goals for the club. Gail J. Newsham wrote in her book on the team, In a League of their Own (1994) about Lily: "Standing almost six feet tall, with jet black hair, her power and skill was admired and feared, wherever she played. She was an extremely unselfish player who could pin-point a pass with amazing accuracy and was also a marvellous ball player. And she was probably responsible in one way or another, for most of the goals that were scored by the team".
In 1920 a local newspaper wrote about this talented 14 year old: "There is probably no greater football prodigy in the whole country. Not only has she speed and excellent ball control, but her admirable physique enables her to brush off challenges from defenders who tackle her. She amazes the crowd where ever she goes by the way she swings the ball clean across the goalmouth to the opposite wing."
One of her team-mates, Joan Whalley, remarked on Parr's sense of humour: "When the older players were getting ready for a match, there were elastic stockings going on knee's and strapping up of ankles, there were bandages here there and everywhere. Then Parr walked in, and she stood looking around at them all and said, "well, I don't know about Dick Kerr Ladies football team, it looks like a bloody trip to Lourdes to me!"
In 1920 Alfred Frankland arranged for the Federation des Societies Feminine Sportives de France to send a team to tour England. Frankland believed that his team was good enough to represent England against a French national team. Four matches were arranged to be played at Preston, Stockport, Manchester and London. The matches were played on behalf of the National Association of Discharged and Disabled Soldiers and Sailors.
A crowd of 25,000 people turned up to the home ground of Preston North End to see the first unofficial international between England and France. England won the game 2-0 with Florrie Redford and Jennie Harris scoring the goals.
The two teams travelled to Stockport by charabanc. This time England won 5-2. The third game was played at Hyde Road, Manchester. Over 12,000 spectators saw France obtain a 1-1 draw. Madame Milliat reported that the first three games had raised £2,766 for the ex-servicemens fund.
The final game took place at Stamford Bridge, the home of Chelsea Football Club. A crowd of 10,000 saw the French Ladies win 2-1. However, the English Ladies had the excuse of playing most of the game with only ten players as Jennie Harris suffered a bad injury soon after the game started. This game caused a stir in the media when the two captains, Alice Kell and Madeline Bracquemond, kissed each other at the end of the match.
On 28th October, 1920. Alfred Frankland took his team to tour France. On Sunday 31st October, 22,000 people watched the two sides draw 1-1 in Paris. However, the game ended five minutes early when a large section of the crowd invaded the pitch after disputing the decision by the French referee to award a corner-kick to the English side. After the game Alice Kell said the French ladies were much better playing on their home ground.
The next game was played in Roubaix. England won 2-0 in front of 16,000 spectators, a record attendance for the ground. Florrie Redford scored both the goals. England won the next game at Havre, 6-0. As with all the games, the visitors placed a wreath in memory of allied soldiers who had been killed during the First World War.
The final game was in Rouen. The English team won 2-0 in front of a crowd of 14,000. When the team arrived back in Preston on 9th November, 1920, they had travelled over 2,000 miles. As captain of the team, Alice Kell made a speech where she said: "If the matches with the French Ladies serve no other purpose, I feel that they will have done more to cement the good feeling between the two nations than anything which has occurred during the last 50 years."
Soon after arriving back in Preston, Alfred Frankland was informed that the local charity for Unemployed Ex- Servicemen was in great need for money to buy food for former soldiers for Christmas. Frankland decided to arrange a game at between Dick Kerr Ladies and a team made up of the rest of England. Deepdale, the home of Preston North End was the venue. To maximize the crowd, it was decided to make it a night game. Permission was granted by the Secretary of State for War, Winston Churchill, for two anti-aircraft searchlights, generation equipment and forty carbide flares, to be used to floodlight the game.
Over 12,000 people came to watch the match that took place on 16th December, 1920. It was also filmed by Pathe News. Bob Holmes, a member of the Preston team that won the first Football League title in 1888-89, had the responsibility of providing whitewashed balls at regular intervals. Although one of the searchlights went out briefly on two occasions, the players coped well with the conditions. Dick Kerr Ladies showed they were the best woman's team in England by winning 4-0. Jennie Harris scored twice in the first half and Florrie Redford and Minnie Lyons added further goals before the end of the game. A local newspaper described the ball control of Harris as "almost weird". He added "she controlled the ball like a veteran league forward, swerved, beat her opponents with the greatest of ease, and passed with judgment and discretion". As a result of this game, the Unemployed Ex Servicemens Distress Fund received over £600 to help the people of Preston. This was equivalent to £125,000 in today's money.
On 26th December, 1920, Dick Kerr Ladies played the second best women's team in England, St Helens Ladies, at Goodison Park, the home ground of Everton. The plan was to raise money for the Unemployed Ex Servicemens Distress Fund in Liverpool. Over 53,000 people watched the game with an estimated 14,000 disappointed fans locked outside. It was the largest crowd that had ever watched a woman's game in England.
Florrie Redford, Dick Kerr Ladies' star striker, missed her train to Liverpool and was unavailable for selection. In the first half, Jennie Harris gave Dick Keer Ladies a 1-0 lead. However, the team was missing Redford and so the captain and right back, Alice Kell, decided to play centre forward. It was a shrewd move and Kell scored a second-half hat trick which enabled her side to beat St Helens Ladies 4-0.
The game at Goodison Park raised £3,115 (£623,000 in today's money). Two weeks later the Dick Kerr Ladies played a game at Old Trafford, the home of Manchester United, in order to raise money for ex-servicemen in Manchester. Over 35,000 people watched the game and £1,962 (£392,000) was raised for charity.
In 1921 the Dick Kerr Ladies team was in such demand that Alfred Frankland had to refuse 120 invitations from all over Britain. The still played 67 games that year in front of 900,000 people. It has to be remembered that all the players had full-time jobs and the games had to be played on Saturday or weekday evenings. As Alice Norris pointed out: "It was sometimes hard work when we played a match during the week because we would have to work in the morning, travel to play the match, then travel home again and be up early for work the next day."
On 14th February, 1921, 25,000 people watched Dick Kerr Ladies beat the Best of Britain, 9-1. Lily Parr (5), Florrie Redford (2) and Jennie Harris (2) got the goals. Representing their country, the Preston team beat the French national side 5-1 in front of 15,000 people at Longton. Parr scored all five goals.
The Dick Kerr Ladies did not only raise money for Unemployed Ex Servicemens Distress Fund. They also helped local workers who were in financial difficulty. The mining industry in particular suffered a major recession after the war. In March, 1921, the mine-owners announced a further 50% reduction in miner's wages. When the miners refused to accept this pay-cut, they were locked out from their jobs. On April 1 and, immediately on the heels of this provocation, the government put into force its Emergency Powers Act, drafting soldiers into the coalfield.
The government and the mine-owners attempted to starve the miners into submission. Several members of the Dick Kerr team came from mining areas like St. Helens and held strong opinions on this issue and games were played to raise money for the families of those men locked out of employment. As Barbara Jacobs pointed out in The Dick, Kerr's Ladies: "Women's football had come to be associated with charity, and had its own credibility. Now it was used as a tool to help the Labour Movement and the trade unions. It had, it could be said, become a politically dangerous sport, to those who felt the trade unions to be their enemies.... Women went out to support their menfolk, a Lancashire tradition, was causing ripples in a society which wanted women to revert to their prewar roles as set down by their masters, of keeping their place, that place being in the home and kitchen. Lancashire lasses were upsetting the social order. It wasn't acceptable."
The 1921 Miners Lock-Out caused considerable suffering in mining areas in Wales and Scotland. This was reflected by games played in Cardiff (18,000), Swansea (25,000) and Kilmarnock (15,000). Dick Kerr Ladies represented England beat Wales on two successive Saturdays. They also beat Scotland on 16th April, 1921.
The Football Association was appalled by what they considered to be women's involvement in national politics. It now began a propaganda campaign against women's football. A new rule was introduced that stated no football club in the FA should allow their ground to be used for women's football unless it was prepared to handle all the cash transactions and do the full accounting. This was an attempt to smear Alfred Frankland with financial irregularities.
On 5th December 1921, the Football Association issued the following statement:
Complaints having been made as to football being played by women, the Council feel impelled to express their strong opinion that the game of football is quite unsuitable for females and ought not to be encouraged.
Complaints have been made as to the conditions under which some of these matches have been arranged and played, and the appropriation of the receipts to other than Charitable objects.
The Council are further of the opinion that an excessive proportion of the receipts are absorbed in expenses and an inadequate percentage devoted to Charitable objects.
For these reasons the Council requests the clubs belonging to the Association refuse the use of their grounds for such matches.
This measure removed the ability of women to raise significant sums of money for charity as they were now barred from playing at all the major venues. The Football Association also announced that members were not allowed to referee or act as linesman at any women's football match.
The Dick Kerr Ladies team were shocked by this decision. Alice Kell, the captain, spoke for the other women when she said: "We play for the love of the game and we are determined to carry on. It is impossible for the working girls to afford to leave work to play matches all over the country and be the losers. I see no reason why we should not be recompensated for loss of time at work. No one ever receives more than 10 shillings per day."
Alice Norris pointed out that the women were determined to resist attempts to stop them playing football: "We just took it all in our stride but it was a terrible shock when the FA stopped us from playing on their grounds. We were all very upset but we ignored them when they said that football wasn't a suitable game for ladies to play."
As Gail J. Newsham argued In a League of their Own: "So, that was that, the axe had fallen, and despite all the ladies denials and assurances regarding finances, and their willingness to play under any conditions that the FA laid down, the decision was irreversible. The chauvinists, the medical 'experts' and the anti women's football lobby had won - their threatened male bastion was now safe."
Alfred Frankland responded to the action taken by the Football Association with the claim: "The team will continue to play, if the organisers of charity matches will provide grounds, even if we have to play on ploughed fields."
Frankland now decided to take his team on a tour of Canada and the United States. The team included Lily Parr, Jennie Harris, Daisy Clayton, Alice Kell, Florrie Redford, Florrie Haslam, Alice Woods, Jessie Walmsley, Molly Walker, Carmen Pomies, Lily Lee, Alice Mills, Annie Crozier, May Graham, Lily Stanley and R. J. Garrier. Their regular goalkeeper, Peggy Mason, was unable to go due to the recent death of her mother.
When the Dick Kerr Ladies arrived in Quebec on 22nd December, 1922, they discovered that the Dominion Football Association had banned them from playing against Canadian teams. They were accepted in the United States, and even though they were sometimes forced to play against men, they lost only 3 out of 9 games. They visited Boston, Baltimore, St. Louis, Washington, Detroit, Chicago and Philadelphia during their tour of America.
Florrie Redford was the leading scorer on the tour but Lily Parr was considered the star player and American newspapers reported that she was the "most brilliant female player in the world". One member of the team, Alice Mills, met her future husband at one of the games, and would later return to marry him and become an American citizen.
In Philadelphia four members of the team, Lily Parr, Jennie Harris, Florrie Haslam and Molly Walker, met the American Women's Olympic team in a relay race of about a quarter of a mile. Even though their fastest runner, Alice Woods, was unavailable through illness, the Preston ladies still won the race.
Dick Kerr Ladies continued to play charity games in England but denied access by the Football Association to the large venues, the money raised was disappointing when compared to the years immediately following the First World War. In 1923 the French Ladies came over for their annual tour of England. They played against Dick Kerr Ladies at Cardiff Arms Park. Part of the proceeds were for the Rheims Cathedral Fund in France.
Dick, Kerr Engineering was eventually taken over by English Electric. Although they allowed the team to play on Ashton Park, it refused to subsidize the football team. Alfred Frankland was also told that he would no longer be given time off to run the team that was now known as the Preston Ladies.
Frankland decided to leave English Electric and open a shop with his wife in Sharoe Green Lane in Preston where they sold fish and greengroceries. He continued to manage Preston Ladies with great success.
Some of the players also lost their jobs with English Electric. Over the years Frankland had raised considerable sums of money for Whittingham Hospital and Lunatic Asylum. The hospital was always willing to employ and provide accommodation for Frankland's players. This included Lily Parr, Florrie Redford, Jessie Walmsley, Lily Lee and Lily Martin. In 1923 Frankland persuaded Lizzy Ashcroft and Lydia Ackers, two of St Helens best players, to join Preston Ladies. Both women went to work for Whittingham Hospital.
While working at the hospital Lily Parr met her partner Mary and together they bought a house in Preston. Lily continued to work and eventually became a Ward Sister at the hospital.
During the General Strike English Electric stopped Preston Ladies from playing on Ashton Park. Alice Norris pointed out: "It was our training night and we were told not to go up to Ashton Park anymore. Something must have gone wrong between him (Frankland) and the firm."
Despite the lack of sponsorship, Preston Ladies continued to be the best team in England. In 1927 they beat their rivals for the title, Blackpool Ladies, 11-2. Lily Parr, Florrie Redford and Jennie Harris all scored goals in the game.
Alice Woods stopped playing for Preston Ladies when she married Herbert Stanley in September, 1928. Other players like Alice Kell got married and gave up football. Florrie Redford emigrated to Canada in 1930 to pursue her career as a nurse whereas Carmen Pomies returned to France. Jennie Harris kept playing until the mid-1930s.
Lily Parr, who never got married, continued to play football for Preston Ladies. Lydia Ackers, who played for many years with Parr argued that: "I have never seen any woman, nor many a man, kick a ball like she could. Everybody was amazed when they saw her power, you would never believe it."
Joan Whalley was another one who played in the same team as Lily Parr later wrote: "She had a kick like a mule. she was the only person I knew who could lift a dead ball, the old heavy leather ball, from the left wing over to me on the right and nearly knock me out with the force of the shot.... When she took a left corner kick, it came over like a bullet, and if you ever hit one of those with your head... I only ever did it once and the laces on the ball left their impression on my forehead and cut it open."
Some shrewd observers believed she was good enough to play for a club in the Football League. Bobby Walker, a Scottish international player, belied that she was the "best natural timer of a football I have ever seen." Alfred Frankland went further describing her as the "best outside left playing in the world today."
On 8th September, 1937, Preston Ladies beat Edinburgh Ladies to win the "championship of Great Britain and the World". Preston won 5-1 with Lily Parr scoring one of the goals. Joan Whalley, who was only 15, also scored. A World Championship Victory Dinner was held at Booths Cafe in Preston.
Alfred Frankland made a speech where he claimed: "Since our inception we have played 437 matches, won 424, lost 7 and drawn 6, scored 2,863 goals and had only 207 scored against. We have raised over £100,000 in this country and in foreign lands for charity. We have won 14 silver cups, 5 of them outright, and hold a trophy awarded for the most meritorious assistance given to ex-servicemen."
Preston Ladies only played a small number of games during the Second World War. The rationing of petrol made it difficult to travel to games. Alfred Frankland also worked as a ARP Warden during the war and did not have the time to organize games.
In 1946 Lily Parr was made captain in recognition of 26 years service. She had only missed 5 games since joining the team in 1920. The local newspaper reported that she had scored 967 goals out of the teams total score of 3,022.
The Football Association refused to lift its ban on women players. In 1947 the Kent County Football Association suspended a referee because he was working as a manager/trainer with Kent Ladies Football Club. It justified its decision with the comment that "women's football brings the game into disrepute".
In 1950 Alfred Frankland calculated that since 1917 Preston Ladies had played 643 games. Of these, they had only lost 9 games. He also claimed that that the team had raised £140,000 for charity.
Lily Parr was aged 45 when she played her last game on 12th August, 1950. She scored a goal in an 11-1 victory over Scotland. During her long career she had scored more than 900 goals. Preston Ladies folded in 1965. Five years later the Football Association agreed to lift its ban on women's players.
Lily Parr retired from the hospital in the early 1960s. A life-long smoker she developed cancer and in 1967 had a double mastectomy. Lily commented: "It's taken me 62 years to grow these, now they have taken them off me!" She refused to give up smoking and asked her friends to bring in packets of Woodbines while she was in hospital.
Lily Parr died of cancer in her home in St Helens on 24th May 1978. In 1992, Lily Parr, England's best ever woman player, was inducted into the Football Hall of Fame at the National Football Museum in Preston.
I am indebted to the research carried out by Barbara Jacobs (The Dick, Kerr's Ladies) and Gail Newsham (In a League of their Own) for the information in this article.
It is an interesting question as to whether girls' schools should take up football. Personally I should hesitate to introduce football among very young girls. It has been done, however, in one or two schools and with success. Football is more strenuous than the usual games played at schools, and for very young girls to play might involve the risk of doing them harm internally. Most ladies' football clubs, I know, have young players and often they are very good. The Dick, Kerr's star player, Lily Parr, is only 16; and Miss Chorley, the clever little centre-forward of the St Helens team, is 16. Indeed there are few clubs which haven't 16- and l7year-old players.
On the other hand, the Atalanta club have a rule that no girl under 18 may play football, and I think such a rule is wise. The girl may seem to stand the strain all right, but it is probable that she will suffer later in life. On the whole, if football is to be introduced into schools, I think it should only be played at the colleges where the girls are usually in their late teens or early twenties.
Nor surprisingly, it was extremely difficult for many men to accept the idea of ladies playing what had always been regarded as a male preserve, their sport. Those who had been away at the front during the Great War would have had no real idea as to how the country was changing in their absence; how the role of their womenfolk within society was beginning to change quite dramatically, responding to the opportunity they had been given.The response to girl's football was quire mixed, anything from apathy to ridicule. Few took the ladies seriously, at least amongst the general public. But it must he remembered that it was men who helped the ladies in their formative years and organised the matches that were to give the girls the foothold in the sport that they so desperately wished for. Many were merely dismissive about the whole idea; women could not play football and that was that. But they would need to put up a better argument than this if they were to face the hundreds of girls up and down the country who had begun to defy such opinion, turning out regularly to fly down the football field in the face of adversity. It could he said that, with all the attention given to the suffragettes in the political sphere, the men of the day felt their dominance threatened in the world of sport also, almost as if they were besieged on all sides. Many other male bastions were being eroded away, such as cricket and golf and there were those who had the sense to accept the inevitable. But the stalwarts of male superiority were determined to fight to the end to defend what with hindsight was a dying era. What they did not bank on was that the ladies felt just as strongly and were prepared to fight just as hard.
The fair kickers of the Dick, Kerr's women's soccer club of Preston, England, lived up to their reputation yesterday at American League Park when they battled the Washington soccer eleven to a 4 to 4 draw. The women showed a fairly good dribbling game, but their kicking lacked both speed and force. The Washington kickers were extended most of the way. Although the men players, through good team work were given many opportunities they were not successful in registering goals, due to the brilliant defence of Miss Carmen Pomies, the Preston goalkeeper. She checked eleven of the fifteen attempts made by the local booters.Miss Lily Parr, at outside left, put up an aggressive game registering two goals in seven tries she had at the net. The girls were able to penetrate the Washington right wing with success, but were checked several times on attempts at the left wing and midfield. The District kickers counted first, Green placing one past Miss Pomier after 26 minutes of play. Miss Parr evened it up shortly before half time. The second half was rather loosely played by both clubs, but the women showed to better advantage with teamwork.
LGBT+ History Month: Lily Parr - trailblazer with a 'kick like a mule'
These were the words of the Football Association in 1921 as they banned female footballers from playing on professional pitches, leaving them with essentially nowhere to play.
Lily Parr was one of the many women who were potentially denied a professional career by the FA's ruling. But she and her fellow players persevered, playing where they could, and their efforts formed the backbone that the women's game is built on today.
Parr was also unashamedly herself. She and her partner, Mary, were open about their relationship, at a time when members of the LGBT+ community were ostracised.
This is Parr's story - a trailblazer with a left foot like a mule who drew 50,000 capacity crowds.
Image source, National Football Museum
Lily Parr scored nearly 1,000 goals in a stellar career
Parr was the fourth of seven children, born in 1905 in a deprived area of St Helens. She played football and rugby with her brothers, eventually turning out for the St Helens Ladies football team.
Author Barbara Jacobs said the left-footer had "a natural ability, magic, but honed by her refusal to conform to the art of being a woman. She wasn't having any of it." Parr could kick a ball, and kick it hard one future team-mate would describe her as having a "kick like a mule".
As men left to fight in World War One, Britain's munitions factories were short-staffed. They turned to women to fill the spaces left, albeit on half the pay of their male counterparts. During lunch breaks, women did what the men did before them - they kicked a football around. The supervisors were initially suspicious before they realised this could be a way to boost productivity, and teams were formed.
In 1919, the Dick, Kerr Ladies team, representing a factory in Preston, met the St Helens Ladies team. They lost 6-1, but it was St Helens' 5ft 10in 14-year-old winger who caught the eye of the opposition manager Arnold Frankland. He offered Parr and her team-mate Alice Woods a space on the team and a job in the factory. Frankland reportedly agreed to pay Parr 10 shillings every time she played for the team - and a supplementary payment of a packet of Woodbine cigarettes.
In her first season, Parr scored 43 goals before she turned 16. A local newspaper said there was "probably no greater football prodigy in the whole country." She reportedly broke a male goalkeeper's arm as he tried to block one of her shots.
The most astonishing moment came on 26 December, 1920. More than 53,000 people were inside Everton's Goodison Park stadium to watch Dick, Kerr Ladies, with around 12,000 stuck outside, unable to get in. They beat Parr's former team, St Helens Ladies, 4-0.
The team played 67 matches in 1921, with the players holding down full-time jobs. They twice represented England in matches against Wales - both of which they won - and they also beat Scotland.
Image source, National Football Museum
Lily Parr (front, holding the football) was the star player for the Dick, Kerr Ladies team
However, the Football Association - the sport's governing body - were also watching. Dick, Kerr Ladies often played matches to raise money for local workers, particularly for out-of-work miners, who the working class players felt a strong connection to.
The FA ruled in 1921 that women could no longer play at major venues, which meant they could not raise money for charity and would have to play on recreational grounds instead. FA members were also barred from officiating any women's football match.
Women's football had been tolerated during the war because it raised morale. But they had not expected its post-war popularity, one which was genuinely threatening the men's game. On 5 December, they declared football was "unsuitable for females".
Parr's dreams of a professional career were ended at the age of 16.
However, the team continued. Frankland took them on a tour of the Unites States of America, where they played nine men's teams in front of crowds of 10,000. In one trip, Parr and three of her team-mates took on the United States' women's Olympic relay team for a race over a quarter of a mile. They won.
The team was renamed Preston Ladies in 1926 and Parr remained with them. By the time she was named captain in 1946, it was reported she had scored 967 of the team's 3,022 goals, and had missed just five matches. During this time, she had qualified and continued to work as a nurse, as well as becoming the first in her family to own her own home. She and Mary worked at the same hospital and were open about their relationship.
Unlike male homosexuality, lesbianism was never illegal in England. Legislation was rejected because of a fear that any attention would encourage women to explore homosexuality.
Parr played her last game in August 1950, aged 45. She scored one last time in a 11-1 thrashing of Scotland. She scored just under 1,000 goals in her long career, but she had been robbed of a professional one.
Parr died of cancer in 1978, aged 73. She lived to see the FA overturn their decision to ban women playing on associate grounds - in 1970, almost 50 years after it had been imposed - and the governing body would, in 2008, issue an apology for its treatment of women's footballers in Parr's time.
Image source, National Football Museum
Lily Parr was the first female footballer to be commemorated with a statue
Parr's legacy, as a footballer and an LGBT+ icon, has grown since her death. The Lily Parr Exhibition Trophy was played between LGBT+ football teams from England, France and the United States between 2007 and 2009.
She was the first woman inducted into the English Football Hall of Fame at the National Football Museum in 2002 in Manchester, where a statue was built of her in 2019 to commemorate her achievements. The museum will also be opening a gallery dedicated to her in spring this year.
What Parr achieved was remarkable, and yet, it could have been more. How many people missed out on seeing Parr and her team-mates play? How many female footballers were lost because of the FA's ruling? And how many girls and boys would have been inspired to take up the game if they had been able to see players of Parr's quality on the biggest stages?
But Parr's legacy lives on. It is there every time a female footballer breaks a record, or an event is sold out, or a player is celebrated for her footballing prowess. The success of the women's game is a testament to Parr and those she played alongside.
You can watch a feature on Lily Parr's life on Football Focus on BBC One at 12:00 GMT on Saturday, 6 February.
Lily Parr refused to conform to stereotypes
Born in 1905 in St Helen’s, Lancashire, Lily Parr was different from the start.
Parr never wanted to engage in “girly” activities as a child. She defied the stereotypical feminine role by refusing to take part in the sewing and cooking activities organised by her mother.
She fought profusely against the stereotypes that women were given and was always true to herself and her sexuality. An imposing woman, Parr stood tall (literally) in the face of the many men who surrounded her profession.
She hated being called a lady, or lady like, and would always smoke cigarettes on the side-lines during matches.
Parr SCORED ALMOST 1,000 GOALS DURING HER 32-YEAR CAREER
In her first season playing for Dick, Kerr’s Ladies, Parr scored 43 goals. In her first year with the club she scored 108 goals. She was only 14 year’s old.
Her immense skills and abilities on the pitch rapidly started attracting fans and crowds, all of whom came to watch her play.
In her whole career, Lily Parr scored 986 goals. She had a reputation for her ability to kick harder than any player she was up against, both male and female.
“we have played 437 matches, won 424, lost 7 and drawn 6, scored 2,863 goals and had only 207 scored against.”
“We have raised over £100,000 in this country and in foreign lands for charity.”
The Dick, Kerr’s Ladies were also renowned for their charitable events. With Lily Parr as their star player, the team would put on charitable matches for the public. The crowd for these matches ranged in size from 4,000-50,000 fans. Between 1919 and 1951, Lily Parr and her team raised the equivalent of £7 million for charity.
Parr was her team’s (Not So) secret weapon
Lily Parr was feared and respected on the pitch.
She had a notoriously powerful left foot, ran faster and hit with more power than any other player. As a child, Lily Parr was as good at other sports, mainly rugby, as she was at football.
In fact, in 1922, Parr even challenged the American women’s Olympic relay team, beating them with ease.
To put Lily Parr’s performance into context, she scored 280 more goals in her career than Cristiano Ronaldo has so far.
“She had a kick like a mule… Parr was the only person I knew who could lift a dead ball, the old heavy leather ball, from the left wing over to me on the right and nearly knock me out with the force of the shot.”
Joan Walley, former teammate
Lily Parr played for the most successful women’s team of all time, the Dick, Kerr Ladies.
She started playing football as a girl with her brothers in St Helens before playing for the St Helens Ladies team. Parr was then recruited for the Dick, Kerr Ladies team, a side made up mainly of workers from the Dick, Kerr and Co factory in Preston.
The factory made tram cars and light railway equipment, but with the outbreak of war turned their attention to munitions. At this time most of the men had gone off to war, and more women were working in the factories. Many work places formed women’s football teams and the game grew in popularity during this period.
Parr started her Dick, Kerr’s career at the age of 14 and scored 43 goals in her first season. The team played 828 matches, won 758, drew 46 and lost only 24. In that time they scored more than 3500 goals, and Parr scored around 1000 of them.
Parr played against both male and female teams and she reputedly had a harder shot than any male player. The team drew large crowds and in December 1920 a match against St Helens ladies, which Parr's side won 4-0, attracted a crowd of 53000 at Goodison Park. Parr was paid 10 shillings per week and travel expenses (around £100 in today's money).
Women’s football continued to grow in popularity until 1921 when the Football Association banned women from playing on their member grounds. Following the English ban the team toured America in 1922. Parr continued to play with Dick, Kerr Ladies, later renamed Preston Ladies until 1951.
After leaving the Dick, Kerr and Co factory Parr trained as a nurse. She continued to play football for Preston Ladies until 1951 and toured France again during this period.
Parr died at the age of 73 of breast Cancer and is buried in St Helens.
In June 2019, Lily Parr became the first female footballer to be commemorated with a statue, commissioned by Mars. The statue, shown above, is now proudly on display in our Match Gallery.
Lily Parr – Trailblazing History Maker
Football’s first female football superstar will get a new permanent museum gallery dedicated to her life and legacy.
The National Football Museum will celebrate Lily Parr – England’s first international women’s footballer – by creating a gallery to the player inside the museum. This gallery is expected to open in spring 2021.
The news comes exactly a year to the day that the museum unveiled a statue to Lily – the first statue ever for a female footballer.
Born in St Helens in 1905, Parr was one of most astonishing and important figures in English football.
Starting her career at hometown team St Helens Ladies, Parr moved on to Dick, Kerr Ladies FC and later Preston Ladies. Operating as an outside left winger, it’s believed she scored more than 980 goals in a 32-year career.
Parr was renowned for having one of the most powerful shots in the game, wowed capacity crowds with her skills, showcased her talents overseas, influenced generations of female players and defied a Football Association ban on the game she loved.
Off the field, Parr trained as a nurse and worked in Preston’s Whittingham psychiatric hospital.
The new gallery has been made possible thanks to a £55,440.00 grant from the Association of Independent Museums (AIM) Biffa Award, which gives grants to museums and heritage organisations to help tell stories of lesser-known historical figures through its History Makers Scheme.
The new interpretation will explore Parr’s career and influence and will open early in 2021 to coincide with the Football Association ban on women’s football exactly a century ago. Parr and many other women, defied authority and continued to play, helping the women’s game to survive.
In 2002, Parr became the first woman to be inducted into the National Football Museum’s Hall of Fame.
In 2019 the museum unveiled a statue to her. The monument, created by sculptor Hannah Stewart, was commissioned by FA sponsor Mars and is the only statue to a female footballer in the UK.
Belinda Scarlett, curator of Women’s Football at the National Football Museum said: “We are thrilled to benefit from the AIM Biffa award which will enable us to create a new museum gallery dedicated to Lily Parr and her achievements.
“I think that people may have heard the name Lily Parr and that she played football. But many have no real understanding of her dramatic story or influence. And more importantly, how her story fits into the narrative of women’s football.
“The impact and legacy of women like Lily on the development of women’s football regionally, nationally and internationally, is highly significant and under-represented.
“We unveiled a statue to Lily Parr at the museum last year. The AIM Biffa Award funding will enable us, in a sense, to bring this statue and her story to life.”
Emma Chaplin, Director of AIM, commented: “The purpose of the AIM Biffa Award History Makers programme is to inspire people through the lives and achievements of extraordinary historical figures. We’re pleased to support the National Football Museum in opening a permanent gallery dedicated to the influential life of Lily Parr.”
Rachel Maidment, Biffa Award Grants Manager, said: “It is a privilege to be able to support the National Football Museum in their quest to tell the story of remarkable sportswoman Lily Parr who was an inspiration to generations both on and off the field. We can’t wait to see this exciting gallery when it is completed in 2021.”
The National Football Museum wants to hear from people who love women’s football and want to get involved in the creation of content for the new gallery. People are asked to fill-in an online survey.
If you know lots about Lily or are a newcomer to the women’s game you can also get in touch: [email protected]
Lily Parr played a major role raising the popularity of the women’s game at home and abroad. With Dick, Kerr Ladies FC she pioneered international women’s football travelling overseas to play matches.
She played in significant football games including against St Helens Ladies at Everton’s Goodison Park which attracted a then record crowd of 53,000 and in the first recognised international women’s football match against France in 1920.
Notes to editors:
NATIONAL FOOTBALL MUSEUM:
The National Football Museum is currently temporarily closed due to the Covid-19 crisis.
The National Football Museum is a registered charity. It was established and its collection acquired thanks to £9.3m investment by the Heritage Lottery Fund. Its vision is to become a leading national museum by 2022, exploring why football is the game of our lives. The museum’s social purpose is to provide equal opportunity for all to enjoy football culture.
In January 2019, the museum became a charging attraction. All visitors except for those living within the Manchester City Council boundary now pay an admission fee. School groups within the Manchester City Council boundary are also admitted free of charge.
When the Museum reopens it will go back to its regular opening times: Seven days a week 10am – 5pm Last admissions 4.30pm. Open every day excluding Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Year’s Day. The venue is fully accessible for wheelchair access. Cathedral Gardens, Manchester M4 3BG.
• Since 1997, Biffa Award has awarded grants totalling more than £175 million to thousands of worthwhile community and environmental projects across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The programme administers money donated by Biffa Group Ltd through the Landfill Communities Fund. www.biffa-award.org
Landfill Communities Fund:
• The Landfill Communities Fund (LCF) is an innovative tax credit scheme enabling operators (LOs) to contribute money to organisations enrolled with ENTRUST as Environmental Bodies (EBs). EBs use this funding for a wide range of community and environmental projects in the vicinity of landfill sites. LOs are able to claim a credit (currently 4.2%) against their landfill tax liability for 90% of the contributions they make. Since its inception in 1996, over £1.6 billion has been spent on more than 56,000 projects across the UK. For further information please visit www.entrust.org.uk or see HMRC’s general guide to landfill tax.
AIM Biffa Award History Makers:
• Through the Association of Independent Museums (AIM), Biffa Award gives grants to museums, galleries and cultural facilities so that they can tell the stories of some of our lesser known historical figures through the History Makers Scheme.
• AIM is a national charitable organisation which helps independent and independently spirited museums, galleries and heritage sites prosper by connecting, supporting and representing them.
The aim is to be an exciting, informative and celebratory month, to educate out prejudice and make LGBT+ people, in all their rich diversity, visible. This year's theme is Body, Mind, Spirit, reflecting the Personal, Health, Social & Economic (PSHE) school curriculum. LGBT+ History Month is spotlighting five people to illustrate this theme. Here is the first:
Lily Parr was born in 1905 in St Helen’s, Lancashire. She was the fourth of seven children and learned to play both football and rugby from her older brothers. As a child she rejected traditional girls’ pursuits, such as cooking and sewing, and focused on sport..
Her size (she was 6ft), strength and lack of fear along with her athleticism, meant that by the time she was 13, she was able to hold her own. Lily’s football career began in 1919, at 14 years of age when she signed for St Helen’s Ladies. In her second match, when her team played against Dick Kerr’s Ladies, a factory team from Preston, she impressed the manager Alfred Frankland so much, he invited her to join his squad. As part of her signing, she was offered a job at the factory, lodgings with a teammate in Preston and 10 shillings for every game she played.
Women’s football at this time was hugely popular. During the First World War, when millions of young men had been sent to the front to fight, women’s football was used to boost morale, and teams played to raise large amounts of money for charities for disabled servicemen. Dick Kerr’s Ladies was one of the earliest teams and were the first team in which women played in shorts! In her first season at Dick Kerr’s Ladies, winger Lily Parr, scored 43 goals. A local newspaper wrote of her:
Lily played against both male and female teams and she reputedly had a harder shot than any male player. A male goalkeeper once had to be stretchered off after she’d taken a penalty against him, apparently shouting:
Lily also played international football and completed tours of France and the US, where she was hailed in the press as
Despite the FA banning women’s teams from playing on affiliated pitches until 1969, Lily carried on playing football for 32 years, from 1951 at Preston Ladies, scoring over 980 goals throughout her career.
WATCH this short video [2.5 minutes] shown as part of the launch of LGBT+ History Month 2021 - 'Body, Mind, Spirit' - on Friday 6th November 2020.
Lily eventually stopped working in the Dick, Kerr & Co. factory and trained as a nurse, working at Whittingham Hospital and Lunatic Asylum. Whilst working at the Hospital, Lily met her partner Mary, and together they bought a house in Preston. Although it was socially unacceptable to be a lesbian at the time and many lesbian couples went to great lengths to conceal their relationships, Lily and Mary refused to hide. Lily is therefore celebrated as an LGBT+ icon as well as a footballing one.
Lily died in 1978 and is buried in St Helens. She was the first woman to feature in the National Football Museum’s Hall of Fame in 2002 and in 2019 a life-size statue of her was erected outside the museum.
Biography by Lou Englefield, Football V Homophobia, for LGBT+ History Month
Female Goal Machine
In 1920, the Dick, Kerr team played many charity matches at big grounds like Everton and Manchester United, watched by up to 25.000 spectators. But in December 1921 women’s football was banned by the Football Association. Dick, Kerr Ladies carried on playing unofficial games until 1965. By then the team had changed its name to Preston Ladies. Lily Parr had a career as a nurse at Whittingham Hospital, but carried on playing until 1950. When she retired as a player it was estimated she had scored 967 goals.
Why we should all be more like legendary lesbian football player and all-round badass Lily Parr
LGBT+ History Month is all about remembering our forefathers, foremothers and forepeople who paved the way for the rest of us, and there are few UK figures who are more trailblazing than chain-smoking lesbian footballer Lily Parr.
Lily Parr was born in 1905 in a small rented house in St Helens, Merseyside: one of seven children, and grew to be a striking, tall girl with jet black hair and an athletic frame. She was well known for her large appetite, her heavy drinking and love of high tar Woodbine cigarettes – known as ‘gaspers’ because of the effect they had on first time smokers’ lungs.
As a kid, she spent her spare time playing football on a stretch of waste ground, honing her skills.
As writer Barbara Jacobs points out in The Dick, Kerr’s Ladies: “She (Lily Parr) was as adept at rugby as she was at football, spending hours on her own perfecting the technique of the power kick. She’d sorted that out by the time she was thirteen and in football could score from any place on the pitch, or in rugby kick the finest penalty or drop goal. A left-footer, her ability was natural, magic, but honed by her refusal to conform to the art of being a woman. She wasn’t having any of it.”
Dick, Kerr Ladies F.C. in 1921 (Wikimedia/Creative Commons)
In 1919, she began playing for St Helens Ladies and caught the eye of the manager of the Preston factory team Dick Kerr Ladies. He offered her and her team-mate Alice Woods a job in the factory and a spot on the team, and they agreed.
The Dick, Kerr & Co factory in Preston had taken on a score of women employees in 1914 to help produce ammunition for the First World War, and football was encourage to maintain morale amongst the female staff. After a group of women beat a group of male apprentices during an informal lunchtime game, Dick, Kerr Ladies F.C. was formed, and went on to make history. They were the first women’s team to wear shorts, tour the continent and the US, and raised money for charity too.
In her first year with the club, Parr scored a whopping 108 goals. The Dick, Kerr’s Ladies F.C. drew big crowds from the get go, in fact when they beat Arundel Coulthard Factory 4–0 on Christmas Day 1917, they did so in front of a crowd of 10,000 people.
The heavy leather football used in the 1930 World Cup Final (Wikimedia/Creative Commons)
By all accounts, Parr was in her element, with a reputation for being a fierce, formidable opponent. After scoring a penalty against a male goalkeeper who mocked her, saying she couldn’t score past him, he exclaimed: “Get me to the hospital as quick as you can, she’s gone and broken me flamin’ arm!”
Back then, footballs weren’t the relatively lightweight globes they are these days. One of Parr’s teammates would later write: “She was the only person I knew who could lift a dead ball, the old heavy leather ball, from the left wing over to me on the right and nearly knock me out with the force of the shot…”
The popularity of women’s football – and Dick, Kerr’s Ladies F.C. continued to grow. On Boxing Day of 1920, they played a match against St. Helen’s Ladies at Goodison Park in Liverpool that drew a crowd of 53,000 spectators, a record attendance for women’s club matches that lasted for 98 years.
Unfortunately, this success drew the attention of, yes, you guessed it: the patriarchy.
Less than a year later, Dick, Kerr’s Ladies and all other women’s teams lost their official recognition by the FA, who banned them from playing at FA grounds. The wording of the ban is about as infuriating as you might expect:
“Complaints having been made as to football being played by women, Council felt impelled to express the strong opinion that the game of football is quite unsuitable for females and should not be encouraged.
“Complaints have also been made as to the conditions under which some of the matches have been arranged and played, and the appropriation of receipts to other than charitable objects. The Council are further of the opinion that an excessive proportion of the receipts are absorbed in expenses and an inadequate percentage devoted to charitable objects.
“For these reasons the Council requests the Clubs belonging to the Association refuse the use of their grounds for such matches.”
Two team captains greet each other with a kiss. England, Preston, 1920 (Wikimedia/ Creative Commons)
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The ban stayed in place until 1971, but didn’t stop Lily Parr continuing to play football, or living her life to the full.
Records seem to show that Parr did whatever she wanted off the pitch as well. Openly lesbian, she lived with her partner Mary.
After the Dick Kerr factory was taken over by new company English Electric, many women lost their jobs. However, the team continued, rebranded as the Preston Ladies. And as the team had raised a lot of money for Whittingham Hospital and Lunatic Asylum, many unemployed members were offered jobs there. Parr retrained as a nurse, and it was there she met Mary, one of her co-workers. They fell in love and didn’t hide the fact they were an item, in fact they even bought a house together.
Parr continued to work at the hospital, eventually rising to the rank of Ward Sister. She also continued to play for the Preston Ladies until the age of 45. In 1946, she was named captain. In 1950, she scored in an 11-1 victory over Scotland.
The heavy hobnail boots she wore that day are now displayed at the National Football Museum, still caked in mud. She died from breast cancer in 1978, aged 73, 7 years after the FA ban was lifted.
In 2002, she became the first and only women to enter the Football Hall of Fame. So, this LGBT+ History Month, let’s all pause and take a moment to remember her life and her incredible achievements. Maybe we should all try to be more like her in 2021 (apart from the heavy smoking, that is).
The true story of the WWI footballer and lesbian icon who scored 1,000 goals
Forgotten Women is a series dedicated to giving women of history the exposure they deserve. This week, we’re celebrating Lily Parr, one of many women to play professional football during the First World War and the greatest player of her era.
Like many footballers today, Lily Parr was a distinctive-looking person. Nearly six feet tall, she had jet black hair and, like many sportspeople of the time, was a chainsmoker. As a winger, Parr flew up and down the pitch, taking no prisoners – even once breaking a male goalkeeper’s arm with the force of her strike. She was brilliant, scoring more than 1,000 goals on her way to becoming the most famous female footballer of the early 20th century.
Parr was born in St Helens, Lancashire, into a working-class family and was one of seven children. She preferred being outdoors playing football with the boys than sewing with the girls and aged 14 she joined St Helen’s Ladies. She caught the eye of manager Alfred Frankland, scouting for talent for his own team, Dick, Kerr’s Ladies, affiliated to Dick, Kerr and Co munitions factory.
Factory teams were a big thing during the First World War. While the men were away fighting, matches between female factory workers were springing up all over the country. With the promise of 10 shillings per game and a job at the factory, Parr moved to Preston to join the team.
Lily Parr practises the javelin as part of her training with Preston Ladies football team, September 1938
Why was she a trailblazer?
During the misery and hardship of the First World War, football was considered to be the ideal morale-booster. A women’s league was formed, and teams drew in large crowds across the country. Dick, Kerr’s Ladies were pioneers – one of the earliest known all-female football association teams, they scandalised some with their decision to wear – gasp – shorts.
Dick, Kerr’s Ladies were soon in the spotlight for their triumphant winning streak. Their matches were being attended by enormous crowds – the audience for a 1920 Boxing Day match numbered 53,000 – with another 14,000 unable to get in (for context, Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium holds 59,867 people).
Parr was clearly the star player, celebrated for her strength and aggression. She was already famous for scoring 43 goals in her first season alone, and was also openly gay.
In 1921, Dick, Kerr’s Ladies were at the height of their popularity. But on 5 December the FA took a stand against women playing football, and called on clubs to ban women’s teams from their grounds. Men returned to the stadiums and women’s football became relegated to village greens.
The Dick, Kerr Ladies embarked on a tour of America instead, playing men’s teams. On return, they lost support of the factory and became Preston Ladies. Parr retrained as a nurse, continuing to play for Preston Ladies until 1951, and living with her partner, Mary, in Preston.
What is her legacy?
Parr died in 1978, a pioneer of women’s football and an LGBTQ+ icon. In 2002, she became the first woman to be inducted into the English Football Hall of Fame.
The Forgotten Women series is part of Stylist’s Visible Women campaign, dedicated to raising the profiles of brilliant women past and present. See more Visible Women stories here.