UEFA has made a special contribution to honouring the most successful women’s football team of all time – Dick, Kerr Ladies, who were founded in the northern English city of Preston in 1917.
UEFA has co-sponsored a plaque which has been officially unveiled at Deepdale, the stadium of English Championship club Preston North End. The other co-sponsors are the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan), BAE Systems, FWP Architects, Preston North End, the English Professional Footballers’ Association and the English Football Association (FA).
The six metre-wide granite plaque includes the names of all of the Dick, Kerr Ladies players who set up the team in 1917, while working in a local munitions factory, to raise funds for the care of soldiers at a military hospital.
The ceremony marked the team’s centenary year, and the memorial was unveiled by Gail Newsham, the author of a book on the team called “In a League of Their Own! The Dick, Kerr Ladies 1917-1965”.
She was joined by former Everton and England goalkeeper Rachel Brown-Finnis, as well as Sheila Parker, who began her playing career with the Preston team and went on to become the first captain of the England national women’s team in 1972.
Dick, Kerr Ladies are acknowledged as pioneers of women’s football. Last month’s Christmas Day marked the milestone of exactly 100 years since the team played a match at Preston watched by 10,000 spectators.
The team soon became established as the best in the country, and played in front of their biggest crowd in 1920, when 53,000 spectators came to Everton’s home, Goodison Park in Liverpool, to see them play St Helens Ladies. Such was the popularity of the game that between 10,000 and 14,000 people were said to have been locked out and unable to gain admission. That same year, the team also played international matches against opposition from France.
Although the English football authorities banned women’s football in 1921, Dick, Kerr Ladies went on to become unofficial world champions in 1937, and raised the modern-day equivalent of £10 million for war-related charities over the years of their existence until 1965.
Other former players were at the ceremony in Preston, including June Gregson, who played for the Ladies in the 1940s and 1950s and was the oldest past player present. They were joined by family members of the original team, including David Coulton, grandson of founding player Grace Sibbert, and Valerie Conn, granddaughter of the team’s first-ever captain Alice Kell.
“Today is probably the proudest day of my life,” said Gail Newsham. “Dick, Kerr Ladies have waited far too long for their place in the spotlight, but finally they are centre stage, and will be remembered forever.”
“The unveiling of the memorial is truly an honour to be part of,” added Rachel Bown-Finnis. “It represents the 'wonder years' of women's football. It's so important to understand the history to inspire the stars of the future.”
Sheila Parker reflected that the players deserved this historic memorial. “They brought women's football into the sporting world,” she said. “Now everyone can see and will now know who the Dick, Kerr Ladies players were, and their names will never be forgotten.”
Rachel Pavlou, The FA’s national women's football participation manager, said that the Dick, Kerr Ladies memorial is a fitting tribute to 100 years of a “remarkable football club” – “an important reminder of the amazing work that this group of women did for the women's game and wider community through their fundraising efforts.”
“As well as the club’s players, staff and administrators, the memorial also celebrates the fantastic, dedicated volunteers who have worked tirelessly to continue the Dick, Kerr Ladies' legacy - it is through their hard work and commitment that the club lives on 100 years after it was first founded."
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