She Believes Cup

History of Womens Football

Callum Irving

When the Lionesses took on Germany on Saturday in front of a historic crowd at Wembley, there was appreciation for former Lionesses on the pitch at half time. Here, we take a look back at how the Women's game has developed. 

Growing in the modern day, the history of women’s football stretches back to over a century ago.

In the 1890’s, there were a number of women’s clubs playing football. 1895 saw the first women's football match where North beat South 7-1. In 1921, The FA banned women from playing on Football League grounds. The FA said “…the game of football is quite unsuitable for females and ought not to be encouraged." However, 40 years later, The Women’s FA (WFA) was formed in 1969 with 44 member clubs and within three years the first 'Women’s FA Cup Final' and England Women’s international had been played, after the FA Council lifted the ban in 1971, exactly 50 years after placing the ban. 

In 1983, The FA invited The WFA to affiliate on the same basis as a County Association and 10 years later established a Women’s Football Committee to run the women’s game in England. The WFA launched a national league in 1991, which kicked off with 24 clubs and then in 1994 The FA began to administer a new FA Women’s Premier League with three divisions (FAWPL).

The FA outlined its plans to develop the women’s game from grassroots to elite level in 1997, and in the following year appointed Hope Powell as Women’s National Coach, the first time there was a full-time coach appointed for the England Women's side. 

Also, in 1998, the first 20 Centre of Excellence for girls were established and the league and cup competitions gained sponsors for the first time; the women’s game was really starting to build strong foundations for the future.

In 2002, The FA announced that football had become the top participation sport for girls and women in the England, an impressive three years ahead of schedule! The 2005 UEFA Women's Championship was hosted in England; a huge opportunity for the female game to grow more and more in popularity. The opening match attracted an unprecedented 29,092 spectators, with a further 2.9m people watching live on BBC Two. Unfortunately, the Lionesses were eliminated in the group stages with Germany being the ones to lift the trophy.

Four years later, 2009 was another successful year for the England Lionesses as they won the Cyprus Cup, beating Canada in the final to win their first international trophy. They also reached the UEFA Championship Final for the first time in 25 years, losing out to Germany in Finland.

In 2010, it was announced that the new ‘Women’s Super League’ would start in the spring of 2011. This was the beginning of The FA Women’s Super League (FA WSL), an innovative eight-team summer competition launched in April 2011. Arsenal beat Chelsea 1-0 in the inaugural match and went on to lift the title. The Gunners also won the WSL Cup, the ‘Continental Cup’, to add to their Women’s FA Cup success. 

2012 was a landmark year for women’s football in this country. The popularity of women's football in England was escalated by the success of Team GB Women who reached the quarter-finals of the London Olympics. The 2012 Olympics were the first where female competitors could compete in all the same sports as the men, and so there was even more pressure on the women’s team to succeed. The following year, England’s Lionesses won the Cyprus Cup for the second time and after 15 years and an impressive 162 matches, Head Coach Hope Powell left her role. 

2013 marked 20 years of The FA supporting the women's game and with this, The FA, Sport England, The Premier League and The Football League Trust launched their first joint national participation programme for girls’ football. The Football League Trusts Female Football Development programme (FFD) was run by 55 clubs across the country and aimed to get women and girls playing the game. 97% of the women and girls who have been introduced to football through this programme continued to be involved in the game.

2014 led to more historic moments in the female game, England Women played their first match at the new Wembley Stadium, attracting a record crowd of 45,619 for their match against Germany. Following this, was an unforgettable 2015 where England won bronze at the FIFA Women's World Cup in Canada and inspired an army of young Lionesses to take up the game. The success saw a major growth in female grassroots football across the entire country and more people than ever started to get behind the women’s game. Showing the continuing momentum, 2018 saw the biggest crowd for the SSE Women’s FA Cup final at Wembley with a bumper crowd of 45,423 seeing Chelsea defeat London rivals Arsenal 3-1.

After the recent success of the SheBelieves Cup, where England lifted the trophy in March, England made it to the semi-finals at the Women's World Cup, loosing to eventual winners U.S.A. 2-1. On Saturday they played Germany in-front of 77,768 at Wembley stadium, in what was the biggest ever attendance for an England women's game. This weekend is The FA's first Womens' Football  Weekend, and in The WSL we have Manchester City v West Ham, whilst Manchester United travel to Chelsea which is available to view on The FA Player.

 Manchester city v West Ham Tickets