IT was the first official women’s football international. Fifty years ago this week Scotland v England took to the field at Ravenscraig Park in Greenock.

In what was described as a match with passion and ability on both sides, Scotland raced into a two-goal lead, thanks to goals from Mary Carr and Rose Reilly.
England hit back through Sylvia Gore before half-time, with goals from Lynda Hale and Jeannie Allott after the break condemning the Scots to a 3-2 defeat.

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However, it wasn’t until 2019 that their efforts were recognised and they were presented with caps for playing in the game.
It should have been the game that was finally the launch pad for women’s football but as new research reveals, women’s football dates back much further and encountered several hurdles to get off the ground.

HeraldScotland: Dundee Strikers lining up in 1971.Photo credit Linda Gellatly.Dundee Strikers lining up in 1971.Photo credit Linda Gellatly. (Image: Linda Gellatly)
Thanks to a study on the early history of the women’s game by Dr Fiona Skillen of Glasgow Caledonian University and Karen Fraser of Stirling University picking up the journey from the 1960s, the story of women’s football can be shouted about and even traced back to the 1600s.
The story will feature as part of a series of events this month to mark the 150th anniversary of the first men’s international which took place on November 30, 1872 at West of Scotland Cricket Club. There will also be a masterclass by Rose Reilly at Glasgow Caledonian University.
“There are hidden histories that I revel in uncovering, “ said Dr Skillen. “There has always been this myth that women didn’t really start playing football until the 1960s, but women have been playing football since 1628 in Scotland.
“It is the earliest recording we have of women playing football and as far as we know it is the earliest recording we have in Europe.
“There was a minister who was complaining about men and women not coming to church. When they were having barley breaks they were playing football. We have anecdotal evidence of women playing during that period as well as fishwives and it shows there is a history that we don’t really talk about. Then in the 1880s and 1890s, women were playing more formal football where as before then it would have been folk football and different rules.”

HeraldScotland: Johnstone Red Rockets in 1962. Johnstone Red Rockets in 1962. (Image: Stuart Gibb)
One of the turning points for the women’s game came in 1891 at an international match at Hibernian Park in Edinburgh between England and Scotland.
“This is the first international that women play in,” Dr Skillen added. “Scotland won 3-0 and generally there was quite a favourable reception to women playing football. That first match was seen as entertaining, a spectacle to go to and watch, but it dies a death and nothing substantial comes from that event until 1895.
“British Ladies FC tour all over the country and their first game is a carnival atmosphere with people coming to watch them and being really excited about it. The second game which is only a few days later in Glasgow – people were not happy about it.”
The match prompted the crowd to break on to the pitch with the team having to be rescued and taken away for their own safety. Any further trail of women playing football in the Victorian era runs cold, but with the outbreak of the First World War, it changed life for women and their opportunities.
“Suddenly we begin to see women’s football springing up all over Scotland, and not just Glasgow or Edinburgh,” noted Dr Skillen. “It is largely because women are now working in factories in a masculine environment where men would have played football in their lunch and tea breaks. So the women start to do it and they start to play against each other then the clubs start to play factory against factory.
“The women are playing and it doesn’t attract a negative attitude as the women are playing for war charities. Suddenly this is acceptable, it is patriotic and if you go and watch these women playing you are doing your duty as you are giving to a good cause.”

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Crowds increased to 15,000 for a game at Celtic Park but by the end of the war the English FA brought in a “ban”.

HeraldScotland: Stewart Thistle in 1961. Photo credit Elsie Cook.Stewart Thistle in 1961. Photo credit Elsie Cook. (Image: Elsie Cook)
Dr Skillen added: “They don’t stop women’s football but it stops the teams being able to play at grounds where clubs are associated to the FA. They can no longer play on the pitches and it also stops any formally qualified FA referees from being involved.
“They are essentially pulling the rug out from under their feet – they are stopping them from having legitimate matches. It really undermines the women’s game and in Scotland it is even sneakier.
“While there is no formal piece of legislation to stop women playing, it is essentially an informal ban in place. Clubs are warned not to encourage women to play or have access to their facilities, but a formal ban is brought in much later.”
Stopped in their tracks once again, Dr Skillen says there are theories that the game was banned because it was feared it was becoming too popular and would undermine the men’s game when it resumed after the war. But the FA claimed they were protecting women from themselves and that they are not physically suited to football.
Dr Skillen said there were also claims of corruption in the women’s game.
Charity matches had been played during the war, but there was concern the money hadn’t reached the charities.
However, there is little evidence to back up that up.
She added: “There is definitely a backlash after the war of getting women back into their places in society and this idea of women is very much associated with the new, independent woman and that is what society is pushing for.”
Despite repeated attempts to put women off, they found a way to keep playing.
Rutherglen Ladies FC formed in 1921 while other clubs were disbanding.
“JH Kelly, the manager, hand-picks players from clubs which are closing down and has this superstar team, which is maybe why they become a success story.” 
Once again the country was on the verge of war with the Second World War beginning in 1939, and at that point the women’s game seemed to fizzle out.
It was the 1960s before the women’s game built momentum with the Scottish Women’s Football Association forming in 1971 but it was at a time when the ban was still in place.
Karen Fraser explained: “ Uefa decide to put it to their members about the situation with women’s football in their countries as they believe it is growing. Thirty-one out of 32 associations vote in favour of supporting and recognising women’s football, but the only one that doesn’t is Scotland.
“In 1974, they eventually give in and there is speculation the reason was due to the Equalities Act which was due to come in the following year.”
Graeme Brown of the Hampden Collection, which was created to celebrate and promote the game’s heritage in Scotland and is now bidding for what is known as Scotland’s Square Mile to be given Unesco World Heritage status, said: “Our  #Fitba150 programme of events celebrates the birth of international football, which for both men and women started in Scotland, in 1872 and 1881 respectively and to celebrate Scotland’s rich culture to bring this fantastic history to new audiences.
“In 2019, ahead of the Women’s World Cup in France, we launched our Scottish Women’s National Team Poetry Society.
“This is the world’s first international football team poetry society, which encourages both Scotland’s top poets and football fans to put pen to paper to celebrate the amazing achievement and success of the team. 
“We now have a collection of over 50 poems on The Hampden Collection website, celebrating the women’s game and all who played it including the pioneers Rose Reilly, Elsie Cook and Edna Neillis.”

To find out more about the events go to