Over the last few years much has been written about pioneering women’s football teams and I’m delighted to say that Manchester has had several of these over the years. I’m sure anyone reading this knows about my book on Manchester City Women (available here: https://gjfootballarchive.com/shop/ ) and about the other articles on this blog discussing other clubs, including the Manchester Corinthians (see: https://gjfootballarchive.com/category/womens-football-2/ ).
Thanks to the Manchester Corinthians the story of pioneering Mancunian female footballers has received some decent coverage in recent years but it would be wrong to think that the women who played for Corinthians were the first women who played football in our region. There are games staged in Manchester going back to the 1880s of course. However, following the 1921 ban (which saw the FA ban women’s football games from FA affiliated pitches) opportunities were restricted significantly.
In Preston the famous Dick Kerr Ladies have been heralded for their efforts and in the 1950s & 1960s Manchester Corinthians found global fame for their exploits, but football tends to overlook many other clubs and in 1940s Manchester, before the Corinthians became established there was another female football club that promoted the sport, charity work and female prowess.
For today’s guest blog researcher Steve Bolton provides the first part of his research into the stories, facts and evidence of this Manchester team:
Part two will be published soon.
If you played for a women’s team in the Manchester region during the 1940s to 1960s then please get in touch. I’m writing a detailed history of women and football in Manchester and your information may help both mine and Steve Bolton’s research.
If you played an active part in developing women’s football prior to the FA ban then please get in touch by emailing gary@GJFootballArchive.com or follow me on twitter: @garyjameswriter or facebook.com/garyjames4
2019 marked the 70th anniversary of the establishment of Manchester Corinthians – a pioneering women’s team that toured the globe promoting women’s football and Manchester.
The Manchester Corinthians were a team of local women who were brought together under the management of Percy Ashley at a time when the FA banned women from playing on FA affiliated grounds. Established in 1949, Ashley’s team toured the world promoting the sport and demonstrating what a dedicated group of players the club possessed. This was at a time when FA affiliated clubs were banned from allowing women’s games on their grounds.
Many of the Corinthians are now in their seventies and eighties but they still get together from time to time to talk of their exploits. In September 2019 I managed to arrange with Manchester City for some of the women who played for the Corinthians to be guests of City at a women’s game at the Academy Stadium. While there I chatted with a few of the women. Margaret Hilton, who now lives in Australia, told me her memories of a groundbreaking tour in 1957: “Bert Trautmann, the City ‘keeper, joined us on a tour of Germany. He acted as an ambassador and watched some of our games. We saw him around but I was too shy to chat to him. It was great having that recognition and support.”
Corinthians, representing England, won a major competition in Germany which was, at the time, regarded as a women’s European Cup – these were the early days of cross-continent football and UEFA were not involved with organising competitions for the women’s game. Anne Grimes felt that winning that competition in 1957 encouraged the club to make further trips abroad and to play in major stadia. 50,000 watched them in a game at Benfica and then in 1960 the Corinthians ventured outside of Europe for a tour of South America. It was supposed to be a six week tour but such was the popularity of the games that the women were asked to stay for three months. Margaret ‘Whitty’ Whitworth told me: “We stayed in all the best hotels and it was quite glamourous. There were lots of scrapes along the way. We were young women and loved every minute of it. We didn’t care about the FA ban, we just got on and played.”
Whitty had joined the club as an eleven year old in 1958 and was fourteen when she travelled to South America. Her parents had to give permission but some of the women also gave up their jobs for the opportunity of representing Manchester – and England – on the tour. Whitty: “What a great experience for us all! The stadiums… the reception from the crowd… it was all incredible but we all just took it in our stride. It’s only afterwards that you look back and realise how significant it all was.”
A second team was established by Percy Ashley as time progressed called the Nomads – it’s no coincidence that Ashley chose the names Corinthians and Nomads. Both these names had been used by prominent amateur male football clubs that had toured promoting the game and this is exactly what he sought from his women’s teams. He wanted them to promote all that was positive about female participation in football and they certainly achieved that over the decades. The Nomads and Corinthians would face each other regularly, raising money for charity and, to ensure fairness and quality, the teams would be balanced when appropriate.
The Corinthians and Nomads won a host of tournaments and trophies over the years and in 1970 Whitty was player of the tournament when they found trophy success at Reims in France. Margaret Shepherd, nicknamed Tiny due to her height (she was a tall central defender!), remembers the excitement of that trip and the celebrations that followed the victory over Juventus in the final: “It was a great experience and the celebrations were so special.”
The experience of playing against leading European teams was to have a major impact on the lives of the women. In fact, Jan Lyons, decided to move to Italy to spend more time playing football and ended up playing for Juventus for two seasons in the Italian women’s league of the period.
Manchester Corinthians survived into the modern era and continued to play once the FA ban was lifted – a ban they had challenged. The club was still going strong in 1982 but, due to ground changes and related issues it soon officially changed its name to Woodley Ladies, though was often still known as Corinthians. Some of the 1980s team members became players with Manchester City’s women’s team in its inaugural season of 1988-89. By that time the volume of women’s clubs, leagues and competitions had grown.
The club was resurrected for a period in the late 1980s, playing in Tameside, but it was during the period between 1949 and 1975 that Corinthians were true pioneers. They promoted the sport globally at a time when many refused to accept that women could play football.
Hopefully, over the coming years, we’ll be able to promote the club, its achievements and these pioneering women further in Manchester.
I’m writing a detailed history of women and football in Manchester. If you played an active part in developing women’s football prior to the FA ban then please get in touch by emailing gary@GJFootballArchive.com or follow me on twitter: @garyjameswriter or facebook.com/garyjames4
My book on Manchester City Women (which talks of the evolution of women’s football since the late 70s and the Corinthians women who played for City) can be ordered here (all copies will be signed by me): https://gjfootballarchive.com/shop/
This paper provides an overview of an oral history project focusing on the experiences of female footballers, in particular those playing for Manchester City Women since its formation as a community initiative in 1988, through to its modern-day position as a leading Women’s Super League club. It discusses the development of the project, analysis of the methodology employed and provides high-level findings on the club’s history, the participants and the research process. For too long female participation, even at England’s most famous clubs, has not been widely recognised, reported on or understood. This project, supported by a professional football club, begins to address these omissions. It does so by focusing on personal testimonies, together with archive material to generate an historical account of how a team, established as a community initiative, developed into a major trophy-winning club.
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Today women’s football in England is recognised as a significant sport with a professional national league, together with a supporting pyramid beneath that. There are many issues within the game of course, but it is in a more prominent position than only a decade ago and its profile is considerably higher than it was in the 1970s. At the start of that decade the FA ban preventing women’s games from taking place on FA approved grounds was still in place and teams like Manchester Corinthians, established in 1949, continued to fight for their right to play on an equal footing with the men.
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Dr Gary James is writing a detailed history of women and football in Manchester. If you played an active part in developing women’s football prior to the FA ban then please get in touch via the Manchester FA or follow Gary on twitter: @garyjameswriter. His new book, “Manchester City Women: An Oral History” is available at £16.95.