Meet the first female footballers (who kicked up quite a fuss in their knickerbockers!)
In buttoned-up blouses and billowing bloomers, they may not look as though they are dressed for the football pitch.
But these are the members of Britain’s first official female football teams – whose clashes on the field in the 1880s sparked riots off it and contributed to greater empowerment for women.
The pictures, uncovered as part of an exhibition charting the history of women’s football, reveal the characters who tackled a man’s world for the first time.
Feminist goals: Mrs Graham”s XI, from Stirling in Scotland, are thought to be the first women”s football team in Britain, and sparked riots after they beat England 3-1 in their second match ever in May 1881
Top of their game: Nellie Hudson, known as Nettie J Honeyball, and Helen Matthews, who played under the pseudonym Mrs Graham, set up pioneering ladies” sides in the late 19th century
However, while thousands flocked to see their matches by 1895, when these photographs were taken, they were still less fascinated by the players’ silky skills than by what silkies they might be wearing for the unladylike spectacle.
One newspaper report at the time said: ‘The young women presented a pretty appearance on the field, and this was in a great measure due to the nice assortment of colours, as well as the dainty way in which the women set them off.’
Casting aside corsets in favour of voluminous knickerbockers and prim bonnets amounted to quite an eyeful back in Victorian times and spectators frequently tried to get on to the pitch to get closer to the players.
Another newspaper of the day noted: ‘There will always be curiosity to see women do unwomanly things, and it is not surprising that the match was attended by a crowd numbering several thousands, very few of whom would like to have their own sisters or daughters exhibiting themselves on the football field.’
At the centre of the furore was the British Ladies’ Football Club, which played dozens of games that year.
Kicking against oppression: Mrs Graham”s XI, pictured training in Loakes Park in 1895, are even credited with helping women get the vote
Founded by the enigmatic Nellie Hudson, known as Nettie J. Honeyball, the club fielded teams called North and South which played against each other.
In a newspaper interview she declared she had founded the club ‘with the fixed resolve of proving to the world that women are not the ornamental and useless creatures men have pictured’.
Sports writers of the day tended to disagree, though. According to a match report from The Sketch, ‘it would be idle to attempt any description of the play’.
It went on: ‘The first few minutes were sufficient to show that football by women is totally out of the question.
‘For the most part, the ladies wandered aimlessly over the field at an ungraceful jog-trot. A smaller ball than usual was utilised, but the strongest among them could propel it no further than a few yards.’
Blooming outrage: The women, whose team even included the world”s first black female footballer, shocked their male counterparts by playing in revealing bloomers and blouses
In the North team was Helen Matthews, a goalkeeper who played under the name of Mrs Graham. She had founded the first female Scottish national side, Mrs Graham’s XI, in 1881.
Riots erupted after the team defeated an English side twice. As a result, women were banned from playing football in Scotland, so Matthews headed south and later joined forces with Hudson.
But many believe her team deserves credit for helping women get the vote in Scottish local government elections, since campaigners received the royal assent just a day after the unrest.
Stuart Gibbs, 47, who helped compile the exhibition, said: ‘The players were all part of the rights for women movement so maybe the game was seen as a sign of the times and had some influence.’
Historian and exhibition organiser Colin Yates, 54, added: ‘The games often caused anger from men who disliked women doing what, at that time, was a man’s job.’