December 5 each year marks the anniversary 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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Will McTaggart, who hosted a number of football film shows with me in the years before Covid, has alerted me to a new clip that’s been found by the BBC of the Manchester Corinthians women’s team of the 1960s. The Corinthians played from 1949 until the late 1980s (see elsewhere on this site for their story) and this clip is from March 1965. You can watch it here:
I’ve been researching and writing about the Manchester Corinthians and women’s football for many years (in fact my first book published in 1989 included material on the first games of Manchester City’s women’s team and I attended their matches back then). I’m currently working with the Corinthians and others to erect permanent tributes to them at Fog Lane Park which can be seen in this film.
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:
At the start of December together with Geoff Matthews I staged a talk at Hebden Bridge on the FA ban of women’s football. It was a wonderful night and lots of attendees asked about the future and what they could do to help promote the stories of the women who played at a time when the FA tried to kill female participation in the sport. Well, today I want to talk about recognising the Manchester Corinthians.
As part of my longstanding project into female participation and involvement in football in Manchester I have been researching a variety of teams, including the original Manchester United and Manchester City teams, and these will form part of a book that I will eventually produce (it’ll be a while before I can develop this in the way I want). The book will be of a similar scope to my Manchester A Football History on men’s football.
One of the key teams in Manchester’s football history is Manchester Corinthian Ladies. The team existed from the 1940s into the 1980s (some of their story appears in my book on Manchester City Women as several of their late 1970s players played for City in its inaugural season).
A lot has been written on the Corinthians (see the section on women’s football on this site for a few examples) but not nearly enough, plus there are some inaccuracies out there that need to be corrected. Basically, this team possessed a talented group of players who toured Europe and South America promoting football, female endeavour and Manchester.
I talked quite a bit about Corinthians at Hebden Bridge and we were fortunate to have three Corinthians as guests that night. Margaret Whitworth, Margaret Shepherd and Lesley Wright between them covered every season of the club’s life from the 1950s through to its demise (maybe next time we’ll get one of the players from the 1940s too).
What became clear was that we need to recognise these players further. on the night I mentioned my idea of having a plaque erected for the Corinthians in a significant/related location in Manchester. Several members of the audience thought this was a wonderful idea and asked if they could support the wider promotion of the Corinthians.
Previously I’d written an article in the Manchester City men’s match programme about the Corinthians and highlighted my desire to get a plaque erected about their achievements.
Since that night I have written to appropriate people at Manchester City Council about the Corinthians and the idea, suggesting a location and asking what we need to do. I’m still awaiting a reply sadly but I will be pursuing this again soon. If possible it would be great if anyone who can help make this happen gets in touch.
Those present at Hebden Bridge – and anyone else reading this – can help by raising the topic with Manchester City Council or any other body you feel can help. Manchester has plaques connected with men’s football but nothing highlighting the incredible achievements of its female footballers. Those women represented Manchester and England in a positive manner and won trophies in South America for example before either men’s club represented the city there. They also won a significant European competition before either men’s team yet their achievements are not recognised by the city.
With the women’s Euros being in England (and various sites in Greater Manchester) this year I would love to do talks and other events in Manchester celebrating the Corinthians and Manchester’s other teams. The event at Hebden Bridge was free to attend and was made possible by the support of a locally based business. We felt it was vital we made this free to attend to spread the word.
If anyone runs a key Manchester venue and would like a Corinthians celebration event then please get in touch. The more we can do to promote their story the better.
Thanks for reading this. If you would like to find out more about the Corinthians then follow the tabs on this site or use the search function. If you’d like to know more about the FA Ban then you can download for free an article I’ve recently co-written here:
Copies of my book on Manchester City Women are still available. This tells the history of City Women via the voices of the women (and some men) involved. The book has been heralded as a model for oral histories by the Oral History Society.
Here’s a link you can follow to order a signed copy of the City Women book:
Here’s the Oral History Society review:
Watch this space for more on the Corinthians and women’s football over the coming months. Thanks – now use the tabs and search to learn more on women’s football in Manchester. Ta!
I’m really looking forward to tonight’s ‘No Man Could Stop Us!’ show at Hebden Bridge Town Hall. If you are coming then feel free to use the hashtag #FABan when mentioning it on social media. We have some excellent guests and I’ll be highlighting the history of women’s football from the nineteenth century through to the 1921 FA ban. I’ll then explain what happened to the sport over the following 50 years, until it was officially lifted in January 1970. We’ll be hearing from players who had lengthy careers with Manchester Corinthians, Manchester City, Manchester United, Redstar, Bronte, Doncaster Belles and England. It promises to be an excellent night.
Late next week I’ll post an article here on the evening’s events for those unable to make it. The evening has been sponsored by Geoff Matthews and his company Cansquared – thank you for all your support and enthusiasm.
On Friday 3 I’ll be talking about the FA ban on women playing on FA affiliated grounds. It will be the centenary of the ban on December 5 2021 and ill be talking with women who played during the ban in the 50s and 60s and others who played in the 70s onwards. Incredibly the FA ban wasn’t lifted until 1970 and even then the FA did nothing to promote female participation. Details of the talk below (follow the link):
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/