Category Archives: Women’s football

World War I: Portsmouth Ladies, slayers of Arsenal

World War I: Portsmouth Ladies, slayers of Arsenal

Top level football came to a halt in England during the first World War. Many footballers were away from their homes fighting for their country and with resources scarce, football wasn’t really a priority for the nation.

Despite the difficulties of war, the appetite for football remained, and with so many in desperate need of aid a charity football team “Portsmouth Ladies” were set up in order to raise some funds for numerous charities including the Red Cross. They played games across the south of England, normally against male sides and always gave good accounts of themselves.


On the outbreak of war the team was founded and played a local side described as ‘Lady Artistes” by the Portsmouth Evening News. They won the game 5-1, the local reporter first impressed that the ladies were “attired in correct football gear” and even more impressed by the play of Miss Anscombe who scored four goals for her side. The Portsmouth Ladies side included a woman by the name of Gauntlet who you imagine must have been a formidable character. The full side was listed by the Evening News as follows:

Local Ladies – The Misses Davey; Cage and Warwick; Wood, Gauntlet and James; Yates, Arnold, Anscombe, E.G. Warwick and Grey.

After the match the team were ‘entertained to tea’ at a nearby hotel. A lot of money having been raised for the Naval Disasters Fund.


It was two years later when they played against their largest reported crowd, an almost unfathomable reported figure of 30,000 watching them at Alexandra Park in Portsmouth. Though more contemporary sources list it as 1,000. It’s likely the 30,000 figure was used to boost interest for future games. Later in the same year Portsmouth Ladies played against a team of French sailors, defeating them by three goals to two in front of thousands spectators on Southsea Common. According to a newspaper at the time the French Sailors presented the ladies with a silver fruit basket.


Further travels took them all the way to the capital where they played a team representing ‘Woolwich Arsenal’ – though interestingly Arsenal had dropped their ‘Woolwich’ prefix just before the war yet were still referred to using it – whom were defeated by Portsmouth Ladies. The Ladies were presented with a ‘Cup’ for their valiant efforts. Portsmouth Ladies other opponents included sides representing different aspects of the military including the Navy, Army and ‘Submarine men’. 

In September 1917 the side travelled to Berkshire to play a charity match against a team the Reading Mercury describes as ‘sturdy Canadians’ in a match at Elm Park. The reporter bemoans the bad weather which he feels had a large effect on the attendance. He also makes it clear that he feels the Canadians weren’t trying very hard and that “they allowed by their tactics their opponents to score eight goals and responding with five themselves the ladies were proclaimed victors by the margin of three. Still, the game served its purpose. It provided much amusement to the onlookers who after all had an afternoon’s enjoyment.”.


The match report also mentions that as part of the conditions of the match the Canadians were forced to tie their hands behind their backs. The whole game sounded like great fun and a magnificent spectacle. They even employed a local band from Bearwood Hospital to play before the game and during half-time.


The team continued to play matches in the south of England until the conclusion of the first World War. Whatever happened to Miss Gauntlett, Miss Anscombe and their star French goalkeeper. However, it’s hard to separate fact from fiction. The 30,000 crowds, the remarkable fact that they never lost a match and even their French goalkeeper. Was she even French? What we do know for sure is that they raised hundreds of pounds for differing charities and clearly brought a lot of joy to many during a difficult time for the country.

Pictures and information from the excellent:


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Posted by on September 6, 2015 in Women's football


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A combined men and women’s world ranking

A combined men and women’s world ranking

I’m a sucker for an international tournament, so like many I was glued to the TV as the Women’s World Cup filled the summer football void. The World Cup divided opinion on social media into three distinct camps. The first was the misogyny filled moronic opinions, those who weren’t interested and those who loved it. (And to be clear, the latter two are the only correct positions to take on the matter).

For the first time I can remember the English national team exceeded their country’s expectations, finishing the tournament as Europe’s best team. The only drawback for the England side wanting to inspire a nation was that the time difference with Canada meant the games were played deep into the European night. Surely more would have enjoyed the games if they were played at friendlier hours for non-insomniacs.

What has been interesting are the discussions about how the women’s game can grow post-World Cup. Whilst I think it’s often unhelpful to tie women’s football too close to the men’s game, I think doing something on a joint basis may be interesting. Therefore, I propose a new world ranking that ranks every country in the world at how good they are at men’s and women’s football. This world ranking would give us a great indication as to how good a country was at football – rather than how good they are at men’s football – surely two different things.

Current (joint) World Football Rankings

Country followed by women’s ranking/men’s ranking

  1. Germany (2/2)
  2. Brazil (6/6)
  3. England (5/9)
  4. Netherlands (12/5)
  5. France (3/21)
  6. Italy (13/17)
  7. Spain (19/12)
  8. USA (1/34)
  9. Colombia (25/4), Denmark (15/24) & Switzerland (21/18)

[Note: Iceland are currently ranked 18th best women’s side in the world and the 23rd best men’s side. A fantastic achievement for a small country.]

The introduction of such a simple measure would draw attention to the fact that women’s football exists (even admitting that is hard for some fans and media) and would give a small outlet every month to demonstrate the progress of both men’s and women’s teams in a country. It may also bring into focus the bizarre situation we have where the men’s and women’s rankings are calculated using a different method. But that’s a different battle for a different day.


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An introduction to women’s football

I did something that I’d never done before last week. I attended women’s football matches.

Women’s football has lagged behind the men’s game for decades. The fifty year FA directive that saw womens teams banned from using men’s football grounds was only lifted in the early 70s and the women’s game has never recovered to the pre-war days of 50,000 crowds at Goodison Park

Recently however, the game has seen a bit of a renaissance with the formation of a national league (the FA WSL) and the coverage of women’s football, especially the English national side, has increased over the past few years.

Women’s clubs at the top of the game in England are linked to already established Premier League and Football League sides, but they generally play at non-league stadia (to accommodate the sort of attendances they are likely to attract). Arsenal Ladies play at Borehamwood, Liverpool play at Widnes and Birmingham Ladies play at Sutton Coldfield. On Wednesday evening of last week I travelled to Staines Town to see Chelsea Ladies play Millwall Lionesses in a Continental Cup match.

Chelsea Ladies 4 Millwall Lionesses 0, WSL Continental Cup @ Staines Town

It didn’t take too long to see that Chelsea were a step above in class over Millwall. Not unsurprising considering Chelsea are in WSL1 whilst Millwall play in WSL2. The Lionesses struggled with the crisp passing of Chelsea, but held on valiantly until England international Eni Aluko – one of the few players I actually recognised – broke the deadlock. This opening goal settled Chelsea down, and apart from a few dangerous set pieces, Millwall barely troubled Chelsea’s Chilean goalkeeper Christiane Endler.

Not many kids to entertain on a school night

Not many kids to entertain on a school night


Despite the crowd being less than 200, the atmosphere inside the ground is very different to a non-league match with a similar attendance. That’s both unsurprising and perhaps even encouraging. But, it’s quite difficult to fully understand who this game is actually being promoted to. Is it being promoted towards Chelsea FC fans who can no longer afford to attend games at Stamford Bridge (entry is set at a very reasonable £5 and £1 for children)? Or is it the demographic being aimed at young children (a disconsolate looking Bridget, Stamford’s sister I’m told, walked slowly around the pitch during the match). I was very confused to see two 14 year old lads at the game until the second half when I saw the larger group of 14 year old girls giggling amongst themselves.

As far as I can surmise, WSL sits in a strange netherworld in the footballing galaxy. The games are played at non-league stadia, using famous club names, in front of low crowds, the programmes they produce are glossy, thin and expensive (£2) but Chelsea (for example) still use Staines Town’s corner flags. I also saw, for the first time, a player make a referee blush by making a rude comment. Normally the referee would ‘banter’ back at the player, but he was a bit taken aback by the Chelsea player’s remark…



Reading Women vs Arsenal Ladies, WSL Continental Cup @ Farnborough FC

If Chelsea playing at Staines feels odd, then Reading playing in Hampshire, 24 miles away from the Madejski Stadium feels even stranger.The crowd at Farnborough was around double that at Staines the previous evening. Bolstered by some rowdy Arsenal fans, and some rather optimistic Arsenal fanzine sellers there were approximately 400 in attendance for this tie.

WSL2 side Reading fared much better than Milwall had managed against WSL1 opposition the previous night and went ahead when the diminutive Fran Kirby flicked the ball with the outside of her right foot, past Japanese World Cup winner Yukari Kinga, ran onto the loose ball and slotted past the Arsenal keeper to put Reading 1-0 up. It was a magnificent goal and ranks as one of the best I’ve seen live this season.

Reading celebrate their win over Arsenal

Reading celebrate their win over Arsenal


Kirby was a thorn in the side of Arsenal all game, and eventually proved to be the difference between the sides. A bit of trickery in the box left Arsenal defender Casey Stoney on her arse and the eventual shot from a Reading striker was parried away only for Lauren Bruton to finish well. Kirby’s excellent performances have seen her deservedly called up to the England squad for the first time.

What’s quite refreshing about the women’s game is that players generally have a lot more time on the ball. It means that rather than rush a pass, or hitting it long, they normally have time to pick out a pass to a team-mate. It leads to some very attractive football. The two WSL games I’ve witnessed have seen far more attractive passing football than I’ve seen at many games this season (if passing football is your thing of course!).



WSL is a fantastic opportunity to see some footballers playing at the peak of their sport. I’ve seen World Cup winners, England internationals, players from afar afield as Chile and Belgium and Wales. In the 90’s British football fans were drawn towards Serie A by the allure of watching Paul Gascgoine at Lazio, many still watch Italian football, hopefully fans will be pulled into women’s football by Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester City and will stay because of the quality of football show. WSL is certainly going to become a part of my own football calendar.

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Posted by on May 26, 2014 in Women's football


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