The FIFA Women’s World Cup started on the 20 July with England’s Lionesses looking to build on their success of winning the UEFA Women’s Championship last year. But did you know the role Berkshire and Berkshire adjacent locations played in the early days of the team? Read on to find out more.
In December 1921, the Football Association banned women from playing on its clubs’ grounds, leading to a downturn in women’s football. However, following on from the men’s World Cup success in 1966, the Women’s FA was formed in 1969; though it still took until 1971 for the FA to lift the ban.
In November 1972, England women were preparing to play their first official international match. Training in preparation for this game took place at Bisham Abbey. In 1962 the Abbey had become a National Centre for coaching sports and video footage from the training session there can be seen online.
England’s first opponents were Scotland, so the first official international women’s match played in Great Britain took place at Ravenscraig Stadium, Scotland on 18 November 1972. The game ended with a victory for England, 3-2.
Three games later and the England’s women team were preparing to take on Holland at Reading’s Elm Park. This was the first official women’s international match to be held on a Football League Ground. Their opponents were Holland, who were playing their first ever international game.
England fielded a young team including nine players aged eighteen and under. Two players had experience playing overseas: Sue Buckett, England’s goalkeeper, who had played in the USA and Europe; and Sue Lopez who had spent some months playing in Italy.
They were captained by defender Sheila Parker. She had been appointed as England’s captain in 1972, a few months after the birth of her son, and remained as captain until 1976. Under her captaincy, the England team won their first four games before the Elm Park match, including an 8-0 victory over Scotland.
The game against Holland was much tighter but still resulted in an England victory, 1-0. The star of the game was Margaret ‘Paddy’ McGroarty. She scored the only goal of the match, “a dipping and swerving free kick into the net” and her domination of the mid field was credited with giving the “English team control of the game” (Reading Evening Post, Saturday 10 November 1973, p.12).
England’s next match was also local as they played Wales at Wexham Park, the home of Slough Town, in March 1974 (a few weeks before the ground would find itself within Berkshire!). England won 5-0 with McGroarty scoring two more goals.
This England team would continue to progress and grow. From playing in front of 2,015 supporters at Elm Park, now they can boast playing in front of over 80,000 at Wembley stadium.
We would love to hear from you if you have any memorabilia or memories from these matches in Berkshire. Please get in contact with us.