Poster - A Timeline of Women in Football

Resource added: 03 July 2023

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With the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup about to kick off in Australia and New Zealand, now is a great time to inspire your girls to fall in love with football!

One great way to do this is to show them that football has always been played by women and that the idea that it’s a sport reserved for men is actually relatively recent…and wrong.

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There’s evidence that women played cuju, a sport similar to football during the Han dynasty in China, nearly 2,000 years ago. And there’s also evidence of women playing in annual football matches in Scotland in the 1790s.

By the late 19th century, football governing bodies had introduced rules designed to curtail violence on the pitch, which made it more socially acceptable for women to play the sport. And the first international women’s football match took place in Edinburgh in 1881.

By the 1920s, a number of women’s football teams had been founded across Britain and, in 1917, a tournament was set up for female munitions workers in the North East, which became known as the Munitionettes’ Cup.

By 1920, women’s football was a very popular spectators’ sport and in some cases, women’s matches were attracting larger crowds than the men’s. Some believe it was this that led to the FA’s ban on women playing on association members’ pitches, which came into force in December 1921. The FA stated that ‘the game of football is quite unsuitable for females and ought not to be encouraged’.

The ban lasted for 50 years, only being lifted in 1970, although this didn’t completely put women off playing football. The Northern Rugby Union decided not to follow the FA ban and so the albeit short-lived English Ladies Football Association played some of its matches at rugby grounds.

And in 1969, the Women’s FA was founded after so many women and girls were inspired by England’s success at the 1966 World Cup.

But the 1970s did mark a huge change for women in football. The decade saw the first event calling itself a Women’s World Cup, the first professional women’s domestic leagues being set up and the first national knockout tournament for women in the UK.

However, the inaugural FIFA Women’s World Cup was only held in 1991, and the first women’s football tournament was held in 1996.

In 2008, the FA finally issued an apology for the ban on the women’s game and, in 2022, England won their first UEFA Women’s Championship title, before going on and winning the inaugural Women’s Finalissima in 2023, beating Germany and Brazil, respectively.

As we look ahead to this World Cup, we can look forward to more and more interest in the women’s game, especially in the UK, thanks to the success and inspiring attitude of the Lionesses. We hope that your girls feel inspired by the action and more of them decide to give football a go!

If you want to encourage them further, then a school football tour is a great option.

And if you like this resource, you may also like our ‘Anatomy of a Football Pitch’ poster.