Manchester Corinthians Plaque

I promised an update on the plan we’ve been putting together to have a plaque erected to the Manchester Corinthians – a pioneering women’s team that was established in the 1940s and promoted football, Manchester and female endeavour across the world over the following four decades. Today we had a progress meeting which was attended by representatives from Manchester City Council, the Friends of Fog Lane Park, myself and, most importantly, Janice Lyons, Margaret Shepherd and Margaret Whitworth from the Corinthians.

The meeting went exceptionally well and we discussed the plans for the erection of a plaque and further recognition to highlight the Corinthians history and significance. It was extremely positive and the support and enthusiasm from Manchester City Council and the Friends of Fog Lane was great to see.

It is clear we will need to raise some funds to achieve all we want to achieve. Hopefully, we’ll be able to formally announce fundraising plans in June. Watch this space.

Everyone agreed that the Manchester Corinthians’ history needs celebrating at Fog Lane Park. Why Fog Lane? This was the site of their training ground and home for many, many years with their old pitch located close to the former home of Percy Ashley, the founder, which is still clearly visible today from the park.

If you’d like to find out more about the Corinthians then please use the category link below or search my site for more details. I’ve also written various other articles for the Manchester Evening News, When Saturday Comes, the Manchester FA and She Kicks. Some of these are linked to here:

https://www.manchestereveningnews.co.uk/sport/football/manchester-corinthians-england-women-germany-17205385

https://www.manchesterfa.com/news/2020/mar/08/manchester-corinthians-ladies

There’s also this article I co-wrote on the FA’s ban of women’s football which also mentions Corinthians:

https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/17460263.2021.2025415

Manchester City and Women’s Football Before and During the FA Ban

December 5 2021 marks the centenary of a FA decision that was to have an impact for decades, many would argue that the effects of it are still being felt today. On December 5 1921 the FA leaders decided to ban women’s football from FA affiliated grounds. This ban was to remain in place for almost fifty years and stifled the development of the women’s game. Here’s a feature on the connections between Manchester City and the women who played before and during the ban.

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Pioneering Mancunian Women

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.”

Film of one of their games and of Bert Trautmann in attendance can be viewed here: https://www.britishpathe.com/video/stuttgart-womens-football/query/trautmann+ladies

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/

The Italian Job: A Manchester Corinthian’s Journey

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.