The Lady Footballers and the British Press, 1895

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  • 1 Bucknell University
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Nettie Honeyball and Florence Dixie founded the British Ladies Football Club (BLFC) in 1894 with the aim to provide football-playing opportunities for girls and young women, but also as a means of making money. Theirs, in effect, was an attempt to create a professional football league for women. Public interest in 'the lady footballers' was enormous, at least in its early stages, and generated considerable attention from the press. Overall, press coverage of the BLFC was negative (football is a man's sport; football is a working-class sport; women are physically incapable of playing the game; women shouldn't appear publicly in bifurcated garments, etc.), with only a few notable exceptions. Did the stance adopted depend on the political leaning of the newspaper? Or were the reporters simply reflecting the social and economic realities of their time, struggling to 'explain' a marginal group - women athletes, or more specifically, middle-class women football players - engaging in a working-class male game? This article examines the press coverage of the BLFC. The double standard evident in the newspaper coverage was, on the surface, as one might expect: if a woman played well, she was a freak, possibly a man in disguise; if she didn't play well, it proved that women shouldn't play football. But on closer examination, the double standard was actually rather nuanced: if she played well and looked the part of a woman, she could be subject to praise; yet if she played well and didn't conform to the standard of feminine beauty, she faced ridicule, and her gender called into question.

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