Women's football teams have participated in football for almost as many years as the men, though often in the face of considerable opposition from the authorities governing the male game. Women are not mentioned as such in the official laws of football, but can still be found guilty of ungentlemanly conduct, as can their male counterparts and are otherwise subject to the same rules.
Mixed football is not officially permitted by the FA, who banned it on August 25, 1902, after the women's game had experienced something of a boom in the late 1890s, organised by Nettie Honeyball (secretary of the British Ladies team) in England and by Lady Florence Dixie in Scotland.
A typical example of this boom was the North-South game at Crouch End Athletic Ground in 1895. The Manchester Guardian reported, "The ladies of the 'North' team wore red blouses with white yolks, and full black knickerbockers fastened below the knee, black stockings, red beretta caps, brown leather boots and leg-pads'. The North won that game 7-0.
The women's game continued to grow, however, during World War 1, when star teams included Dick Kerr's (Preston) Ladies, who were formed in 1917 to raise money for a military hospital. After the war, Dick Kerr's Ladies toured the country playing to large crowds, including one of 53,000 at Goodison Park, and
raised an estimated £70,000 for charities.
Outstanding players of the era included the Pioneer Ladies captain Ada Anscombe, who, it was rumoured, had been approached by a male side who offered two of their own players in exchange for her.
Games between men and women footballers actually took place during the war years, chiefly in aid of charity. Records exist of the men compensating for any physical advantages by playing with their hands behind their backs (a game between convalescing Canadian soldiers - who kept their hands behind their backs - and a women's team in 1917 resulted in the ladies winning 8-5).
The Football League banned ladies' teams from using League grounds in 1921 but women's sides continued to flourish both in the UK and abroad. Leading British women players were lured to Italy and elsewhere in the 1960s, where they were able to claim professional status - a trend revived in the 1980s, just as it did in the men's game, when Scottish international Margaret Wilson had two years with Bari in Italy.
The Women's FA was established in 1969 and boasted twenty-one leagues and 8000 registered players by the end of the 1980s. The 1921 ruling was rescinded and the FA allowed women to use FA pitches; full affiliation of the WFA followed
A Women's FA Cup was inaugurated in 1971, with Southampton beating Stewarton and Thistle in the final. There were 44 teams in England that year, a number which increased five-fold by the end of the decade. The Cup Final began to enjoy television coverage in the late 1980,s while a Premier League was created in 1992, in parallel with that in the men's game. Top English sides include Doncaster Belles, Arsenal and Millwall Lionesses.
The WFA founded an English women's side in 1972, the team making its debut against Scotland at Cappielow Park, Greenock, on November 18, 1972, losing 3-2. A European Championship was started in 1982 and in 1984 England lost 4-3 on penalties to Sweden in the competitionís first final.
A year later, England's women won the "Mundialito" mini - World Cup, beating Italy 3-2 in the final; they won it again in 1988. The first full-scale Women's World Cup was hosted by China in 1991, with the USA emerging as the first champions.
More remarkable matches in the history of the women's game include an unusual meeting between Norwich Ladies and Milton Keynes Reserves in 1983: Norwich finished up 40-0 victors, 22 of their goals being scored by England international Linda Curl.