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  • Writer's pictureJohn Woodman

Women's Football Started on Strand Road

A special BBC programme on Tuesday night covered the inception of women's football, its success and the sudden decision of the FA to ban it entirely. World War One saw women move into work hitherto the exclusive domain of men. In particular the manufacture of munitions for the constant and urgent demand of the military on the Western Front, particularly in Flanders with the Somme 'offensive'. Such was the immediacy of the army's call for more shells of all calibres that factories and other workshops were ordered to stop what they were doing and assign equipment and workforce to producing artillery shells. By 1916 the drain on the country's manpower had been enormous and women took on a host of tasks including of course conducting on buses and trams, with many also being trained as drivers.

Blackpool's Blundell Street tram depot saw at least two track lengths sectioned off with machinery installed for shell casing production. Women were recruited for this work, much as similar operations up and down the country, with many also handling explosives and priming the shells. The prevalence of female munitions and ordnance operations led to team sports becoming part of individual factories, one of the largest being that on Strand Road, Preston where Dick Kerr Works was sited. Famous for being the country's largest tram manufactory, the Works team - Dick Kerr Ladies became the foremost women's football team during the period up to 1921. All women football matches played before packed terraces on regular grounds quickly became a national sport outlet - with revenue used to aid convalescent charities and others.

Dick Kerr Ladies acquired fame, certainly in the north, being filmed and photographed much as the present leading teams are the subject of continuing media coverage. The BBC programme was short on historic film but diligently covered this rarely known aspect of football history with interviews onsite at Deepdale, and even in Blackpool. It is not known if Blackpool Tramways fielded a ladies football team, but certainly the Electricity and Tramways had an all male football team playing in the northwest. This legacy lingered on well into the 1960s by then becoming the Blackpool Transport Team with training taking place behind the former Lytham St Annes tram depot off Squires Gate Lane. That legacy lingers on to the present day with Blackpool Football Ground using the same site as its training ground. In the 1930s a withdrawn 'Glasshouse' car was donated by the Tramways Department for use as a team dressing room - but sadly no photos have come to light thus far of this particular second use.

As women's football comes back into public cognisance having been arbitrarily banned by the English FA in 1922 (from FA grounds) - it was timely to see recognition of the pioneering female teams who drew massive crowds to their matches in the dark days of the Great War - and slightly beyond. One photograph does exist of the Dick Kerr Ladies team on the top deck of a Blackpool tram in 1920 during the visit of a French equivalent delegation to the town. That is being saved for a future book on those early years of Blackpool and the Fylde coast tramways in1910 - 1920.

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