‘Pamela’ and the Off-side Rule have more in common than you’d think.

I’m still ploughing my way through Samuel Richardson’s Pamela’ and things are hotting up. With her virtue still miraculously intact, Pamela is finally allowed to escape the wandering hands and ruinous intent of her master, Mr B. Her carriage departs, but instead of returning her home, she is kidnapped and held against her will, while lies are spread of her ruined reputation to her parents and her captors.

Pamela leaves Mr B, for home

*If you don’t know the ending, look away now*  Knowing that Pamela should consider herself fortunate to become legally shackled to her abductor her makes me furious, even if we have to view it in the context of the time. It’s easy to see the inequality through contemporary eyes, and the struggle for equal rights for women has made giant leaps forward. Even so, it’s easy to be blind to the disparities of our own times because they are what we consider the norm.

Take, for example, the Women’s World Cup currently under way in Canada. If you weren’t aware of last year’s World Cup in Brazil you must surely have been dead. In comparison, the women’s version of the tournament is only screened on BBC3 and on the BBC Sports website, and we’re oh so very grateful for the increased coverage and higher profile. It is a good thing, but why has it taken so long? and why is there still such a massive disparity between the women’s and the men’s game? Unfortunately there’s no simple answer, and there are many contributing factors. There’s no getting away from the fact that currently women’s football tends to have less finesse than its male counterpart, due to the huge difference in available funding, sponsorship, facilities and training, and such factors won’t miraculously change overnight.

Things have improved for female players in England since the FA created the Women’s Super League in 2011, with teams able to pay players a professional wage at last, if at a far more humble level than their male counterparts. A recent article on the BBC Sport website suggested that for most, this would amount to approximately £50 a week. Before the WSL, all players had to support themselves, many holding down full-time jobs as well as fitting in family life and training. At the last World Cup, one of the England players was told she could only have time off, if she could get another member of staff to cover her shifts at the leisure centre where she worked! Even now the entire Thailand women’s national team all have 9-5 jobs as well as the demands of football and home life.

So there have been recent improvements in women’s football, but did you know that women’s football was actually thriving and very popular a hundred years ago? Dick, Kerr’s Ladies FC was established when women workers at an ammunitions factory started joined the male apprentices for a kickabouts during lunch breaks. The women were good, and under the management of office worker Alfred Frankland, they beat Arundel Coulthard Factory 4-0 in front of a crowd of 10,000 on Christmas Day, 1917. Dick, Kerr’s Ladies FC played their first International in 1920 going on tour to France and playing teams in Paris, Roubaix, Havre and Rouen, drawing in three matches and winning one.

Dick Kerr's Ladies FC

Dick Kerr’s Ladies FC, 1921

The team’s popularity was huge after the tour and 53,000 fans crowded to see them play at Goodison Park, with several thousand left outside unable to enter the full to capacity stadium. Concerned that women’s football might threaten the popularity of the men’s game, on the 5th December 1921, the FA banned women’s football, using the lame excuse that women are not physically able to play football. Along with many others, the Dick, Kerr’s Ladies lost their official FA recognition and the rest is history. The ban was in place for 50 years, only being rescinded in 1971, but effectively setback the women’s game by the best part of a century.

Complaints having been made as to football being played by women, Council felt impelled to express the strong opinion that the game of football is quite unsuitable for females and should not be encouraged.

A poll published last week showed that even today, still only 19% of dads want their daughters to play the game, with swimming, gymnastics and athletics seen as more feminine choices. The FA ban might have been lifted but its damaging influence still holds sway. As we shake our fists at the injustices of Pamela’s world, what will future generations make of ours?

lionesses strikers

The England Women’s  Strike force: Jodie Taylor, Lianne Sanderson, Ellen White, Fran Kirby, Eniola Aluko, and Toni Duggan . Borrowed from my other life as theknittedfootballer.com

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