Ahead of the match that finally cemented Scottish women’s football’s rightful place in our cultural consciousness, a group of trailblazers were honoured for their contribution to the sport.

In a special presentation before the Scotland vs Jamaica showdown at Hampden in May, some of the players from the first ever official women’s international match received long overdue caps from the Scottish Football Association (SFA).

During the event, Ian Maxwell, chief executive of the SFA, apologised to the women, including Rose Reilly, Elsie Cook and Jane Legget, who played against England in Munich in 1972, promising the sport would now get the attention and investment it deserved.

Richard McBrearty of the Scottish Football Museum told The Herald: “This was the sea-change because female international players were not awarded caps for playing in these early matches.

“It was seen as a wrong that needed to be righted. To get an apology for these pioneers that have a story to tell about just how bad the discrimination was, was amazing.”

It wasn’t until 1974 that the Scottish FA recognised women’s football after a UK-wide ban in 1921, and another Scottish ban in the 1940s.

READ MORE: More women and girls playing football in Scotland

Following two unofficial women’s world cups in 1970 and 1971, UEFA brought the European national associations together to hammer out formal recognition of the women’s game. Out of the 31 members, Scotland alone voted against the motion. 

Not to be cowed, the established women’s teams formed their own organisation in 1972, the Scottish Women’s Football Association.

It’s a shameful history for a nation famed for the devotion of its football fans. 

But with the waxing popularity of the game, women’s football is becoming just football after commentators and fans started dropping the previously obligatory preface. 

To move forward requires looking back, just as the SFA did in May, to acknowledge the players who held firm against centuries of physical and verbal abuse, so Shelley Kerr and her squad could take up the sport, train and play in official tournaments.

HeraldScotland: Rose Reilly hailed from Ayrshire but played football internationallyRose Reilly hailed from Ayrshire but played football internationally


Karen Fraser, PhD researcher at Stirling University into the history of Scottish women’s football from 1960, said: “Studying the history of the sport is important so that women and girls playing now realise that women playing football in Scotland has been going on a very long time. It has been a slow but steady climb.

“It’s also important that the predominantly male football community in Scotland can become aware of the long history of women’s football that has existed in the margins.”

The Scottish Football Museum at Hampden has been building a women’s football collection but it hasn’t been easy, and now they are appealing to the public for donations.

Richard McBrearty said: “We inherited our collections from the SFA but for the best part of the 19th and 20th centuries they didn’t want much to do with women’s football, and in fact disagreed with it. They definitely weren’t collecting any objects.”

READ MORE: Letters; Women's football is still badly treated

Women’s participation in the sport can be traced back to a 17th-century church document condemning the playing of football on the Sabbath.

Carstairs minister John Lindsay noted in kirk records dated 1628 the “insolent behaviour of men and women in footballing”, and called for a ban on such behaviour in his parish.

Another minister from Inveresk observed in the 1790s how the fishwives of Fissherrow played golf and football on Shrove Tuesday, explaining their sporting inclinations down to their “masculine” jobs.

The first women’s match to be played using football association rules took place at Easter Road in Edinburgh in 1881 against England with Scotland winning 3-nil.  

HeraldScotland: A painting at the Scottish Football Museum depicts a munitionette from Beardmore munitions factoryA painting at the Scottish Football Museum depicts a munitionette from Beardmore munitions factory


One week later a game was played in Glasgow which had to be abandoned after the crowd stormed the pitch and mishandled the players.

Mr McBrearty said: “The male spectators didn’t like what they saw. The general male attitude was that women shouldn’t take part in football, it’s a manly game and in the newspaper reports that’s what comes across.”

The breakout of the First World War brought opportunity to Scotland’s female footballers who filled the jobs, and football boots, of men sent to the front.

Mr McBrearty said: “The huge conscription of young men saw women’s football teams formed through the factories and there was a real change in attitudes.”

These munitionettes didn’t face criticism from the male press because their charity games contributed to the war effort, but when the men came home they were expected to return to more ladylike pursuits.

Women continued to play, forming local teams and leagues but records are fragmentary. 

Karen Fisher said: "What's surprising is just how much football was being played that has been ignored – it wasn’t hidden. A way to resist something is to ignore it and this is what was happening here."

Mr McBrearty said: “Women had to fight massively for recognition. That’s why it’s brilliant that the players now who’ve achieved so much are very aware they are standing on the shoulders of giants.”