Guest Blog – Steve Bolton: The Pioneering Manchester Ladies Part One

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 

Manchester City v Manchester United

It’s another Manchester derby on Friday (12 February 2021) – this one is in the Women’s Super League and kicks off at 7pm. To mark this game I wanted to give a bit of focus to the early history of Manchester derbies in women’s leagues. The history of women’s football in Manchester does not always get the attention it deserves and many of us have been determined to change that for years. So hopefully the following will be of interest. It includes a few quotes from those involved in previous decades…

While the perception will always exist that Manchester United’s women’s team has always been City’s rivals and vice versa, for both clubs the real rivals have varied over the years. Derby matches have been played against Manchester Belle Vue and other prominent local clubs. However, any game between City and United takes on extra significance. United fans established a Manchester United Ladies team in the 1970s with close ties to the men’s club. This eventually was closed down by the men’s club before re-emerging in 2018 as a WSL 2 club. In September 2019 the first WSL Manchester derby between City and United occurred at the Etihad following United’s move into the top flight. This was a truly special day for both clubs and for those of us present.

The first competitive derby between City and United was actually in September 1990 in the North West Women’s Regional Football League Second Division when Neil Mather was City’s manager: “I was nervous for weeks on end, and it was coming and coming and coming. I thought ‘we’ve got to beat United in the first competitive Derby.’ Being a big blue it was like ‘whatever we do we’ve got to beat them.’ We were 4-1 up with about five minutes to go and then had a five minute collapse where I thought we’re going to blow this. At one point it had looked like we were going to get five or six and annihilate them and then we nearly lost it! Thank God we hung on for a 4-3 win, but I’ll never forget that game. We had a girl called Jenny Newton who was a manic City fan and scored and I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like it. When she scored her eyes were bulging and it meant the world and a lot of our girls were City fans. It meant the world to beat them.”

Lesley Wright: “The first time we played United in a competitive game there was about 150 there. They were a really strong team. Better than us at the time and they’d been established a lot longer.”

Rita Howard: “Despite being a United fan I loved playing as City Ladies against United. I absolutely loved it. Even though I’m a United fan I never contemplated joining them because the support from City, even when it waned a little, was far superior to anything United got. At best they’d get a kit and then it was ‘on your way.’ I know our closeness to City came from that beginning with Neil. His enthusiasm got us the kit, the tracksuits, the minibus…. All sorts of things. I know that wasn’t happening at United and at that time I don’t think any club connected in any way to a Football League side were as close as we were then. I think we got a lot more recognition from the beginning and that has carried on to today. Look at what City have done.”

Jane Morley: “I’m a season ticket holder at Manchester United but I was a manager at City Ladies. One day I’d been with City at a tournament and then went straight to Old Trafford for a men’s game. I was sat there when the bloke next to me – who I didn’t know – said ‘what you doing with that on!’ I realised I still had my City jacket on. I had to explain to him that I managed City Ladies.”

Bev Harrop was a Manchester United fan playing for City: “I had a United shirt underneath my City shirt! (laughs) Most of the time.  Not later on, I grew out of it eventually, but at first, I did.”

Jane Morley: “It angers me when people say that Manchester United now have their first women’s team. As with City when the relaunch happened that implies the stuff we did for the club years before doesn’t count. I played for United in the 70s and 80s before a few of us broke away to set up FC Redstar. We left United because we wanted to test ourselves. We had some great players and wanted to progress but those who ran United wanted to stay in a Manchester League and not join the North West League. So we broke away in 1985 and formed FC Redstar.

“Many of the teams we know today as WSL clubs are actually men’s clubs that have taken over established women’s clubs. Teams like Leasowe Pacific became Everton. I have to bite my lip sometimes when some clubs claim they created a women’s team… no, you took and rebranded a team. There were quite a few big teams around the time City Ladies started such as Broadoak with Tracey Wheeldon.” 

These snippets are from my book on Manchester City’s women’s team. Copies (signed by me) can be ordered here: https://gjfootballarchive.com/shop/

If you’d like to read more on women’s football in Manchester then take a look at: https://gjfootballarchive.com/category/womens-football-2/

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