When Women’s Football Came to the Island



This article looks at the early development of women’s football in Ireland, examining the cultural impact of the first women’s matches, and how this early heritage has laid foundations for future developments. Women took to playing association football not long after it was first established as a male bastion during the latter half of the nineteenth century. These early matches attracted large crowds, public and press criticism, and in some instances social disorder. The article first examines how the Irish press presented this sporting innovation and the first exposure to actual matches when the British Ladies Club arrived to play in Belfast in early June 1895. Beyond the expected disapproval, there is evidence that debate took place on women’s general role in society, and in particular how females could engage in sport. Also examined is the way British Ladies Club presented themselves as upper-middle-class, and how this contrasted with the way they were portrayed in the press. New research is presented, which casts doubt on the club’s middle-class image and shows how friction between the club and its main sponsor arose when a true picture of the players’ backgrounds came to light. In conclusion, the author contrasts the Irish response to the British Ladies Football Club with the women’s sides that played during World War I and the post-war period. It is shown that the early matches of the 1890s paved the way for a more appreciative and accepting audience.

Keywords: Women’s football, Ireland, Popular press, British Ladies Football Club, Football and culture

How to Cite: Gibbs, S. (2021) “When Women’s Football Came to the Island”, Studies in Arts and Humanities. 7(1). doi: