A level playing field


Foy & Gibson ladies football team, 1917

This morning, Dodgy Perth watched the USA v Australia game from the women’s world cup. Unfortunately the septics won. But sometimes bad things happen to good people.

It got us wondering when the first women’s football happened in Western Australia.

According to soccer historian Richard Kreider, after WWII there were a few ladies social matches, particularly among the Italian community.

However, the first organised women’s soccer game was not until 1971 when the Vel-Belles played the Beauts as a curtain raiser to WA v Moscow Dynamo.

To find women’s football older than this, we need to turn to the Australian version.

In the late 19th century, when women in other countries were beginning to play games seriously, most men found the idea either ridiculous, or at the very least unladylike.

The West Australian even found space to mock the idea of women’s sport in a lengthy song, of which this verse is typically misogynistic:

The goal-keeper looked at the ball—quite amazed at it!
Now, the next time it neared her she’d turned to a friend
To examine the cut of her blouse, and to chat on it,
Said the captain, “Miss Bodgers, I wish you’d attend!”
So she turned to see where the ball was, and she sat on it.

With attitudes like this, it’s easy to see why women’s sport was slow to develop in WA.

But with so many young men away fighting in Europe during WWI, the women got a chance to play Australian Rules.

Taking place at Subiaco Oval on 29 September 1917, the event was organised as a charity fund raiser by Miss Gell Howlett.

A team in maroon played a team in gold. The former won three goals to two.

Even so, this ground-breaking moment in WA sporting history was scorned by the media, who mocked it as women in ‘fancy dress’ who showed little talent. Although there some amusement value, it was said to be a total failure as a game of football.

Seems the women didn’t quite see it that way, since leagues were quickly established both in the metropolitan area and in the Goldfields, and grand finals were keenly fought.

There’s a really good exhibition of the history of the women’s game on at the State Library right now. Get to see it if you can.