Wednesday, June 26, 2019

What to look for when buying soccer boots for women

An estimated 75% of women playing soccer at grassroots level are thought to be wearing either men’s down sized boots or children’s boots. Most main manufacturers continue to ignore calls for specific soccer boots for female players and expert opinion is divided as to whether gender centred niche boots are necessary. Many manufacturers maintain there is no consumer demand for gender specific boots and make no secret their marketing focus is on visuals and cosmetic design only.

The upper materials on soccer boots are mostly made from synthetic leathers, traditionally superior kangaroo skin was used and although these are still available, the range is more costly than the more common synthetic leathers. Specially treated uppers are more waterproof although they may also prevent evaporation of sweat. Cotton socks help wick foot perspiration and many players wear two socks, a thin cotton over-sock as well as a football sock. Some models of boot include small airholes to allow air convection (i.e. warm air out replaced by cold air drawn in). However, this also causes the foot to become wet in rainy conditions.

It is important when buying soccer boots to match the style of boots and cleat (studs) configuration with what position you play on the field as well as the conditions of play. Ground condition are usually referred to as firm ground (FG) means firm natural surfaces, such as dry grass. Soft Ground (SG) refers to muddy pitches. Hard ground (HG) means indoor surfaces. The length of grass and the weather are another two important aspects to consider as well as the surfaces which may be artificial or natural.

Boots usually have a 10 studs (cleats) configuration spread uniformly across the sole of the boot. Some cleats feature removable studs, so that you can fit your own stud configuration on them. Many moulded cleats are perfect for long grass but not especially good for short or wet conditions. The modern trend of moulded soles means you may need to have two pairs ready and change them to suit the conditions. Boots with screw in studs will allow you to overcome this but these are less popular with modern players. The most popular boots have cleats with rubber spikes which are considered appropriate for firm-ground and short-grass fields. For regular soccer fields, it is recommended to go for models that have a metal insert.

By far the most common problem reported by consumers buying soccer boots for females is sizing. Some companies will have their own sizing system which does not comply with regular footwear sizing. Another frustration is sometimes the sizes marked on the boxes do not correspond to the boots they contain. Its s important to have new boots fitted but as most are bought over the net the added frustration is having to return them. In practice many people buy one size larger is the only way to avoid having to return them. You can always wear two socks to fill the boot, use soft inlays lacing the boots tightly to prevent unnecessary slippage. However, wearing boots too big or small can create a biomechanical mismatch which negates the function of the cleats (studs) beneath.

It is well to remember no boot ever has won the World Cup (female or male), and it is the skill of the player who dazzles and scores or saves the penalty. Comfortable boots may contribute but they do not act as performance enhancers no matter what level of play. Elite players will have their boots costumed to their feet by manufacturers but these are not the same products you can buy on the net or over the counter. Most serious players are brand loyal and rarely switch their choice of boot. New models have a very short shelf life and fashion dashes and new colourways aside, most new models are 'pimped up,' versions from a previous range. As to the future, Computer Assisted Design (CAD) may help custom soccer boots to particular anatomical requirements which would certainly provide the potential for improved fitting and sizing.

Dingle S 2019 Why are there no football boots designed specifically for women? Sarah Dingle on PM ABC
Kessel A 2019 Women's football: If the boot doesn’t fit then female footballers should have an alternative The Guardian

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Women’s feet, soccer boots and common injuries

Soccer is the world’s most popular organised sport with over 265 million males and 34 million females registered with the Fèdèration Internationale de Football Association (FIFA). The popularity of soccer among girls and women in all parts of the world is on the increase at a time when some claim the continued absence of gender specific soccer boots creates multiple problems, injury, and reduced participation for women soccer players. According to (Wunderlich and Cavanagh , 2001) there are sufficient anthropometric foot variations to make the present practice of down-sizing men’s boots potentially hazardous for women players.

Men have longer and broader feet for a given stature and according to Wunderlich and Cavanagh (2001) there are two calf, five ankle, and four foot shape variables, in men and women’s feet. They discovered gender differences in the navicular height at the arch, the lateral side of the foot, the first toe angle, and the girth of the forefoot at the ball of the foot. Women’s feet generally have a narrower heel (where the shoe grips the back of the foot), a wider forefoot causing them to currently prefer smaller fittings to accommodate the heel and, higher arches and a significantly pressure load under the foot caused by their wider hips. This study highlighted female feet and legs were not simply scaled-down versions of male anatomy but rather differ in a number of shape characteristics. These differences, they author claim should be taken into account in the design and manufacture of women's sport shoes.

Most reported injuries (60%) in women’s soccer are located in the lower extremities (Junge and Dvorak, 2007). Female soccer players risk knee and ankle injuries with Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) injury four times more frequently than their male counterparts. According to published data the majority of ACL injuries occur in non-contact situations. According to the NCAA, women soccer players have the third-highest ACL injury rates in NCAA sports behind men’s spring football and women’s gymnastics. The most frequently diagnosed injuries were ligament (ankle) sprains (25.7 percent), followed by muscle strains (21.5 percent), contusions (15.9 percent) and concussions (9.2 percent). Women soccer players were nearly three times more likely to be injured in a game (14.4 injuries per 1,000 athlete exposures) than in practice (5.0 injuries per 1,000 athlete exposures). Pre-season has the highest overall injury rate (9.1 per 1,000 athlete exposures), while the post-season has the lowest (3.8 per 1,000 athlete exposures) as compared to the in-season injury rate of 6.8 injuries per 1,000 athlete exposures. Contact with other players accounted for the majority of injuries. The most common activity at the time of injury during competition was general play (30.8 percent), followed by defending (16.0 percent), heading (10.1 percent), ball handling and dribbling (9.7 percent), loose ball (8.1 percent) and goaltending (6.6 percent). The action of heading the ball ranks sixth as the most common activity at the time of injury. Although a player's age may not affect injury characteristics such as such as type, body location, and severity, the longer you play and the more training you do, does increase the potential to injury . Research confirms, higher game injury rates in male soccer and these have been attributed to greater physical intensity of play during games.

The aetiology of soccer injuries is multi-factorial and “intrinsic” factors such as general condition, muscle tightness should be distinct from “extrinsic” factors such as weather conditions and playing surfaces etc. There are however, some indications suggesting a link between footwear and ACL injuries. The most common mechanism of a non-contact ACL rupture is a deceleration event and a sudden change in direction with a planted foot (i.e. cutting manoeuvre). At the end of the last millennium Asics developed an innovative cleat designed to help prevent rotational collateral damage to the knee, reported in Australian Rules Footie players. The prototype shoes soon became popular with other football codes including Australian soccer players. The Asics system allowed optimal traction without hindering the player from running freely on hard or artificial surfaces. Similar cleat patterns were incorporated within contemporary soccer boot design but increasing reports of players misusing their cleats to damage opposition players meant the innovation had a brief run before traditional stud patterns once again prevailed.

Del Coso J, Herrero H. and Salinero JJ 2018 Injuries in Spanish female soccer players Journal of Sport and Health Science Volume 7, Issue 2, pp 183-190
Giza E, Mithöfer K, Farrell L, Zarins B, and Gill T 2005 Injuries in women’s professional soccer British Journal of Sports Medicine 2005;39:212-216.
Junge A and Dvorak J 2007 Injuries in female football players in top‐level international tournaments Br J Sports Med; 41(Suppl 1): i3–i7.
Mufty S, Bollars P, Vanlommel L, Van Crombrugge, K. Corten K , Bellemans J 2015 Injuries in male versus female soccer players : Epidemiology of a nationwide study Acta Orthop. Belg., 81, 289-295
Brookshire B. Ottwell E. 2016 Women in sports are often underrepresented in science Studies of competitive sports and exercise are still dominated by men Science News
Sentsomedi KS, Puckree T 2016 Epidemiology of injuries in female high school soccer players Afr Health Sci. 16(1): 298–305.
women’s soccer injuries Data from the 2004/05-2008/09 Seasons NCAA
Vojdinoski C 2019 Melbourne startup Ida Sports is on a mission to create the ideal football boots for women
Wunderlich RE, Cavanagh PR 2001 Gender differences in adult foot shape: implications for shoe design Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2001 Apr;33(4):605-11.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

The Evolution of Women’s Soccer Boots

Contemporary pictures of amateur teams (circa 1870) display a mixed bunch of rugged work boots. The only regulation governing boots relates to anything that may endanger their opponents.

Rule 13#: No player shall be allowed to wear projecting nails, iron plates, or gutta percha on the soles or heels of his boots.

Football boots emerged as an essential part of the sport in the late 19th century. when teams appear to wear the same boots. The men's winter game was often played in extreme weather and both boots and ball progressively got heavier as wet conditions prevailed. Sports clothing was worn for protection from the elements as much as decency and could be quite restrictive by comparison to today’s ultra-lite soccer kits. Early British football was very slow and not yet a spectators' spectacle. The game was considered more for participants and the general public was not actively encouraged to attend.

Both rugby and soccer boots evolved from engineer's boots (brogans ). Early photographs are testament to the availability of stout footwear (Denvir, 1979) and these were commissioned for public school boys, made by local boot makers to a quality superior to most workmen's boots of the 19th century. The distinguishing features were the boots were high cut to give extra support to the ankle and had a strengthened toecap in iron hard leather. Players used long laces to tighten their boots, As the popularity of football grew and clubs began to spring up across the UK, massed produced football boots were more the order of the day.

In 1880 boots began to incorporate a strap, narrow on the inside of the foot, which crossed over the bottom two or three rows of eyelet's, winding to the outside of the foot. This gave greater protection to the toes as players used the top of the foot to kick the ball and give it lift. Today, players use the side of their feet to pass the ball.

To increase ground grip, the soles of the boots incorporated metal tacks but Rule 13 prevented these in official matches. They were replaced in 1890 with new plugs made from layers of leather an idea borrowed from hockey boots. Studs (sometimes referred to as cleats) were positioned to avoid isolated pressure points and unnecessary irritation of the foot. In the area of the hindfoot they were located towards the outside of the sole to avoid buckling. The common formation was six studs, two distal and proximal to the metatarsal heads and two on the posterior aspect of the heel.

By 1900 the soccer boot was a recognisable entity and not just modified footwear adopted from other sports. The Shurekik Boota was made from russet calf with fluted toecap and sold in 1901 for a cost 8/6d ($1.26A). In 1925, makers began to include removable studs to the boot design. To complete leg protection shin guards cost between 1/6d (22c Aus) and 2/11d (45c Aus); and football hose varied between 1/11d (30c Aus) and 4/11d (75c Aus). Professional players received 2/6 (37c. Aus) per game and some were paid special bonuses in addition depending on their skill. The sum varied according to the size of the crowd but even the best players seldom got bonuses over 2/11 (45c Aus). Boots cost three times that amount.

According to Morris (1981) 'baggy shorts and heavy boots" style remained the dominant costume theme, right up to the Second World War.

As women’s soccer gained greater popularity, bootmakers down sized versions of men's boots. These were made to a last model for men’s sizes (a mechanical shoe form in which shoes are built upon) with the arch placement, height, traction and stud size all built for the male foot. No consideration whatsoever was given to gender difference in anatomy. At the time, soccer boots were not intended to be super comfortable and it was fully anticipated during inclement weather they would become heavier. Football boots weighed approx. 500 grams when dry and twice as much when wet. Unlike today bespoke footwear it was the rare exception to have boots made to specific requirements. Players (male and female) wore heavy boots, which makes the early achievement of women’s soccer all the more remarkable.

One plausible explanation why soccer in the northern hemisphere became a winter sport was described by Manley (1992). The Medieval custom was to kill live stock in November in preparation for winter sustenance and this gave an excess of pig's bladders. Poet, Alexander Barclay (1476 - 1552) described this in 1508:

They get the bladder and blowe it great and then
With many beans or peasons put within
It ratleth, soundeth, and sineth cleare and fayre
With foot and with hande the bladder for to smite
If it falls to the grounde they lifte it up agayne
The sturdy plowmen, lustie, stronge and bolde.

Many historians accept the reason for the late edition soccer to sport despite its popularity was the lack of a uniform shaped ball, suitable for kicking. The pig bladder footballs were never a standard shape or size and all depended on the size and shape of the pig's bladder. The more irregular the bladder, the more unpredictable behaviour came once the ball once kicked. The pig’s bladder ball was blown up by mouth through clay pipes and lacked a standard pressure. Shoemakers covered the gaps with stitches to make the ball feel harder and more durable.

At the Great Exhibition, Crystal Palace, London (1851), bootmaker, William Gilbert from Rugby, Warwickshire, in England, had two exhibits i.e. around leather ball suitable for dribbling; and an ovoid ball for a game of carrying and handling. Gilbert had previously made his reputation as supplier of rugby balls to Rugby School and his wares were considered superior and harder than any rivals. He made his fortune selling oval balls not only in England but also to Australasia. The Gilbert name is still a major manufacturer of rugby products today. It took until 1855 to produce the first vulcanized rubber football and the panel pattern was similar to a traditional basketball. William Gilbert originally worked for H.J Lindon who tragically lost his wife when she contracted a lung disease thought to be caused by blowing up many hundreds of pig's bladders. Whether this inspired him or not remains unknown, but Lindon developed the first inflatable rubber bladder in 1862. This ensured the ball remained hard and oval. The first competition ball was used in a game in 1863.

In 1863 the English Football Association was established and they set out written rules for the game. At first there was no reference to the dimensions of the ball. However, in 1872 they decided to regulate the ball dimensions.

“the ball must be spherical with a circumference of 27 to 28 inches with a weight at the start of the game of 13-15 ounces “

This is still very much in force today with FIFA, the only change being in 1937, the weight increased to 14-16 ounces.

Once the English Football League in 1888 and the Scottish League in 1890 the demand for footballs increased. Companies like Mitre and Thomlinson's of Glasgow started to mass produce standard competition footballs. Strength of the leather and the skills of the cutters and stitchers were the main factors in producing a football that would retain shape. The top-grade covers were made with leather from the rump of a cow while lower quality balls were made from the shoulder. Advances in ball design came with the development of interlocking panels instead of the previously used leather sections that met at the north and south poles of the ball. The balls were then produced with a more acceptable round shape.

By the nineteenth century strong rubber bladders were available which could withstand intense heavy pressure. Balls made from inner tubes and covered with heavy brown leather were light enough to bounce yet could be kicked. The leather outer was made by stitching 18 sections of tanned leather arranged in six panels of three strips each. The sections were stitched together by hand with five-ply hemp, leaving a small lace up slit on one side. This was done with the ball was turned inside out and once completed the whole sphere was reversed to turn inside out. A collapsed rubber bladder was inserted through the open slit and then inflated to the approved pressure. The slit was then laced tight. The ball was ideal for kicking but proved painful when using the head due to the heavy stitching. No exception was made for women's soccer.

Soccer balls were made from cowhide which presented two major problems. Balls made from natural hide varied in quality depending upon which part of the cow had been used to make the ball. Footballs varied in thickness and quality and the leather often degraded during play. A second problem related to the ability for cowhide to absorb water and became heavier as the game progressed. This slowed the game down and made heading difficult and painful. Later when a new type of inflatable valve was invented this improved the ball surface and footballs were made completely lace-less. Heading the ball and dribbling became easier and when waterproofing the ball became possible this completed the revolution.

Most authorities agree changes to the design of football boots took place after the Second World War, when there was a dramatic increase in international fixtures. This was made possible by improved air travel and transcontinental travel brought soccer players from the colder climes of Europe into contact with their Mediterranean and South America counter-parts. In warmer climates players wore less restrictive clothing, had flexible boots more suited to the climate and conditions. The Latin game was played faster and provided opportunity for athleticism rarely seen in the traditional European game. Radio broadcasts followed by televised sport meant more spectators could appreciate the novel Latin styles and appreciation of their skills caused a revolution in play and clothing. Boots became sports shoes allowing players to become athletes capable of leaps and volleys never before seen. The complete focus for design of the soccer boot was aimed at kicking and controlling the ball on the ground. (Lees & Nolan,1998). As the ankle boot lowered to become a soccer shoe alternative methods of providing ankle stability were necessary (Lees and Nolan, 1998). When manufacturers were made aware player’s boots were only in contact with the ball for about 10% of the game, they developed less heavy boots. Lighter footwear meant players were less exhausted and subsequently the overall speed of play increased. This made for a more enjoyable spectator sport. By the early 50's the soccer boot was streamlined with the ankle hugging component reduced to below the malleoli (ankle bones).

The need for ground traction to allow players to play over different surfaces was recognised early in the game and studs were added to the soles.

By the twenties, Adi Dassler developed replaceable studs which firmly established his credentials as soccer boot specialist in Germany. The length of studs was governed for in 1951 and when new polymers became available. natural materials were replaced by synthetics. The idea for moulded studs had been tried on hockey boots and when transferred to soccer boots a new revolution took place. Today plugs and cleats of variable length are used. Later with the introduction of artificial playing surfaces the need for long studs became redundant. Deep penetration was neither good for the surface nor advantageous to the players, with many poor performances and injuries reported. At the same time the popularity of indoor soccer necessitated a change in boot design.

The beautiful game received a massive boast in 1966 when England won the world cup. The resulting football fervour saw an increase in women playing the game. Every effort was taken to make the event a photo opportunity which players and boot manufacturers milked for commercial gain. The new slimline soccer slippers, now in black became more attractive to female players. At first soccer boots had been dark brown in colour but black prevailed until in the 70s, Hummel introduced white boots for Alan Ball (England and Arsenal). Took a brave player to wear anything other than black for fear of being picked on by rival fans. Two decades later, colourful boots (colourways) became a bi-word for companies like Adidas and Puma who realised soccer moms liked their offspring in high visibly fashionable boots. Worldwide televised events, such as the FIFA World Cup, with millions of viewers have made the football pitch the macho catwalk where the models i.e. players, demonstrate the new look and functionality of the footwear range from the companies that pay players tens of thousands of dollars just to be “seen,” wearing them. Professional footballers second main source of income is their individual sponsorship, after the salary they receive from their club. Brands seek to lock down key players with financial incentives and different conditions which makes it unusual to see football stars change their sponsors during their professional career. This does not mean it has not happened but it is the exception to the rule. In the lead up to the World Cup much store is put on the key sponsored players to show case the company's new range of boots.

Marketing rhetoric may infer a revolution in boot design but the trend has been a steady evolution as manufacturers have sought to improve safety and performance. Designs contain the accumulated wisdom of shoe makers combined with sport and material sciences to enable: foot flexibility during accelerated activity, shoe pitch, to give a pivotal action for efficient propulsion when moving forwards; and protection to the foot from surreptitious trauma. Improvements in the last decade have covered a broad range of design changes from the shape of the shoe to new lacing systems (Martin, 1997). As women¹s soccer gained greater popularity, companies like Adidas saw a market potential and in 1975 introduced the Adidas ANJA, specifically for women players. Despitethe manufacturers’ claims these were developed to the shape and function of the female foot, there is little evidence to support this. The incorporation of lightweight, resistant and hard wearing polymers into the boot construction with added cushioning has benefited both genders. The introduction of split sole shoe design has allowed greater support through the mid-foot as well as providing the flexibility required for accelerated movements. Shoe stiffness beneath is matched with contoured uppers with which to control the ball. From time to time boot designs incorporate novelties to attract the novice buyer but these fads usually have a short life. Soccer boots continue to have poor protective capability but manufacturers do try to incorporate innovative designs that are attractive to consumers as well as including design safety features determined by the rules of the game. However, the fashion half-life of a sport shoe today is very short and products are as likely to incorporate fads rather than functional components.

Changes in lacing and eyelet mechanisms have further increased the sweet spot for traditional shooting. A flatter surface helps players dribbling control and the undulating nature of the boot upper gives added traction. Football boots are becoming more of a fashion statement these days as marquee players make them a focal point for TV cameras. Designs and colourways which might previous have not been out of place on the disco dance floor are finding their way to the green blaze and all in the name of selling product. However, it may be worth bearing in mind, the minute you see visible high-end footwear on footballers' feet the more likely the industry has nothing else to offer.

The three most notable innovations in soccer boot design in the last century have had an Australian flavour, a country not always associated with the world’s favourite game. Most manufacturers now incorporate Rubberised Kangaroo Technology (RTK) into their top of the range boots. Kangaroo hide for sports shoes dates back to Victorian Times when quality croquet and cricket boots were made from the antipodean kangaroo hide. These soft yet hard wearing leather uppers are reported as giving added grip and ball control. Professional players put a lot in store being able to feel the ball through the upper of the boot and soccer boots that fits snugly are preferred. Other animal hides are available and tend to be used in cheaper boots. Brand leaders now incorporate synthetics uppers as a viable alternative to animal leather.

At the end of the last millennium Asics developed an innovative cleat designed to help prevent rotational collateral damage to the knee, reported in Australian Rules Footie players. The prototype shoes soon became popular with other football codes including Australian soccer players. The Asics system allowed optimal traction without hindering the player from running freely on hard or artificial surfaces. Similar cleat patterns are now incorporated within contemporary soccer boot design.

Australian Craig Johnston (formerly Liverpool FC ) was convinced by changing the surface contour of the soccer boot, greater ball control would follow. He experimented for many years until his prototype Predator was eventually accepted by Adidas, and now the Adidas Predator TM is an evergreen.

In 2019, adidas have again launched their Women's boot collection with claims these were engineered to specifically fit the female foot. Meantime their rivals, Nike continue to market soccer boots non specific to gender other than size.

The more elite players with boot contracts will at the very least have their boots crafted to fit their individual requirements. Whilst the same models may appear to be for general sale, these are unlikely to be a perfect match for every consumer. The difference is the former is bespoke and the latter, mass produced. In the absence of specific boots made for female players the market hype now is 'unisex' boots, based on 'What's good for the gander , is good for the goose,' in other words 'downsized soccer shoes.'

Are Men's and Women's Football Boots Identical? January 2018
Denvir C. 1979 The sports shoe In Baynes K & Baynes K (eds) The shoe show British shoes since 1790 England: The Crafts Council 90-93
Dingle S 2019 Why are there no football boots designed specifically for women? Sarah Dingle on PM ABC Kessel A 2019 Women's football: If the boot doesn’t fit then female footballers should have an alternative The Guardian
Lees A & Nolan L 1998 The biomechanics of soccer : a review Journal of Sports Sciences 16:3 211-234.
Manley D (ed) 1992 The Guinness book of records 1492: The world five hundred years ago Enfield: Guinness Publishing Ltd.
Martin DR 1997 How to steer patients toward the right sport shoe The Physician and Sportmedicine 25:9 138-140
Morris D 1981 The soccer tribe London: Jonathan Cape, London 193-194
Perez C C 2019 The Other Half: How the Gender Data Gap Makes Women Invisible HARRY N ABRAMS INC Rifkin B 2109 The difference between men's & women's soccer shoes

Sunday, June 9, 2019

A brief history of women's soccer

There are parish records of women playing a crude form of football in 1628, in Carstairs, Lanarkshire, Scotland, but it was only after the English Football Association standardized the rules of the game in 1863, prohibiting violence on the pitch, that women's soccer became making more socially acceptable a major rise in interest took place. In the UK, soccer (football) was a popular game played by both men and women, although games between the sexes did occur but were not encouraged These were often factory workers encouraged by their employers to engage in healthy pursuits away from work. The first-ever recorded women's international soccer match (Scotland v England) was in 1881, at Easter Road Stadium, Edinburgh, and organised by a theatre producer. Many of the players were either actresses or ballet dancers. A week later the teams played in Glasgow in front of a crowd of 5,000. Dubbed “a rather novel match", players wore jerseys, corsets, stockings, knickerbockers, belts, brogans, and cowls (hoods). The ladies demonstrated adept soccer skills to the bemused crowd of on-lookers. The match had to be abandoned following a violent pitch invasion during which the women were "roughly jostled", and chased by a mob as they left the grounds. Newspaper reports concluded this would be "probably be the first and last exhibition of a female football match in Glasgow." It was not uncommon during the Pantomime season for one theatre cast to challenge their rival theatre to a scratch game of soccer. Invariably the teams were female. The popularity of women's soccer in Scotland carried on into the 1890s, championed by writer and suffragette. Lady Florence Dixey, who managed a 'travelling ladies' football team'. Dixie played a key role is establishing the game of women's association football, organizing exhibition matches for charity, and in 1895 she became President of the British Ladies' Football Club, stipulating that "the girls should enter into the spirit of the game with heart and soul." She arranged for a women's football team from London to tour Scotland.

By Unknown -, Public Domain, Link

In 1894, the British Ladies' Football Club was formed. The first captain was Mary Hutson (known affectionately as Nettie J Honeyball), and around 30 women made up the squad and trained twice weekly under the coaching tutelage of Bill Julian (Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur). Players now required to wear down sized men’s football boots, Blouses and knickers (with no corsets), but still required to wear a cowl. In the event their hood was dislodged (by heading the ball), the game was stopped to allow the player to adjust her cap or hairpins. The club's first public match took place at Crouch End, London in 1895, between teams representing 'The North' and 'The South'. The North won 7–1 in front of an estimated 11,000 spectators. In total, the team played some 100 exhibition matches openly promoted the women’s suffrage movement. Sadly, when the funds to support them dried up, the activities of the club came to an end. Women’s Soccer raised important issues within Victorian society, including dress reform, the feminine ideal, women's sexuality, and the rigid British class structure in a way that no other sport had done before. In 1902, the English Football Association Football took such a dim view of matches between women's and men's teams, they forbade the clubs which belonged to their association from playing against women's teams.

(Video Courtesy: Sheroes of Historyby Youtube Channel)

During WWI (1914-1918), the introduction of conscription in 1916 in the UK made the need for women workers urgent. Large numbers were recruited into jobs vacated by men who were now fighting in the war. The high demand for weapons, meant the munitions factories became the largest single employer of women. In 1915, the male game was effectively suspended for the duration of the war. This was replaced by woman’s soccer and teams from munitions factories and other industrial sectors competed against each other. The first recorded match was in Ulverston, Cumbria on Christmas Day, 1916. A year later an English team played an Irish team on Boxing Day 1917 in front of a crowd of 20,000 spectators.

When the girls employed in the Ministry of Munitions Inspection Department issued a challenge to the female operatives in another local factory to meet them in a football contest special permission from the F.A. to play it was granted. It took place on the ground of the Nottingham Forest F.C. and hundreds of pounds was raised for local charities. The Tyne Wear & Tees Alfred Wood Munition Girls Cup, (Munitionettes Cup) was established for female munition workers' teams in northeast England in 1917. A solid silver trophy was donated for a knock-out competition to be held between Munition Girls. Teams would turn up on the day and play, and whatever takings were made at the gate would go to charity. Despite its name, ladies' teams from Tyneside District drawn from any establishment or concern such as works, factories, mills, railways, tramways, collieries, shops etc. were allowed to compete. Blyth Spartans, defeated Bolckow Vaughan 5–0 in a replayed final tie at Middlesbrough in 1918 in front of a crowd of 22,000. The popularity of women’s soccer did not immediately dim after the conclusion of the war in 1918, and The Munitionettes Cup ran for a second year in season 1918–19, the winners were the ladies of Palmer's shipyard in Jarrow, who defeated Christopher Brown's of Hartlepool 1–0 at St James' Park in Newcastle. The first known American lady’s soccer team formed was from factory workers in a munition factory during the First World War. These women made up the first U.S. soccer team and played their first game in 1917 to raise money for injured service men from the crowd. At the end of the war many of the factories closed and the female workforce found themselves shunted back into domestic life, and returned to their "right and proper place" in society. Medics were quick to demonise women playing soccer as unsuitable for the delicate female frame and altogether an unhealthy pastime.

One of the most successful teams of the era was Dick, Kerr's Ladies of Preston. They were formed in 1917, and were made up of 11 factory workers from Preston, England. Their first match was attended by 10,000 people and raised £600 in gate money which was donated to a fund for wounded soldiers. On Boxing Day 1920, 54,000 people attended Goodison Park, Liverpool with thousands more were locked out of the ground. Dick Kerr's Ladies beat St Helen's 4-0. The team also played in the first women's international match in 1920, against a team from Paris, France. The first leg was played in Preston and the team on arrival were followed through the streets of the town by an enthusiastic crowd. In the week that followed, they played four games in four different English towns. In October of the same year, Dick, Kerr's Ladies travelled to France on an exchange tour. Dick, Kerr's Ladies made up most of the England team against a Scottish Ladies XI in 1920, and won 22-0. By 1921, there were about 150 women's teams in England, centred mainly in the Midlands and the North, these included the Soup Canteen Ladies and the Marley Hill Spankers. In the same year a match was played between a French team and the Plymouth Ladies took place and in the following year, Dick, Kerr's Ladies travelled to the United States and Canada, where they earned great respect from the spectators for their performance against men's teams.

(Video Courtesy: British Pathé by Youtube Channel)

The Football Association in London became concerned the popularity of the lady’s game might threaten Association Football (men), and in 1921, banned women from playing soccer on the same fields as men, claiming the game (as played by women) was distasteful. They also suggested the charities which benefited from gate monies were corrupt. The Scottish Football Association (SFA), similarly denied access to women's football teams in any of their club ground grounds. As a consequence, women’s soccer in the UK continued on an unofficial basis and games moved to rugby grounds and public parks. The ban was finally lifted in 1971.

(Video Courtesy: ITV News by Youtube Channel)

In England, the ban led to the formation of the English Ladies Football Association (ELFA) in 1921. There were 57 teams of amateur players and some changes in the Association rules were accepted to accommodate women players, including:-

1. Size of playing field will be altered
2. Introduction of a lighter ball
3. Eliminating charging
4. Use of hands will be allowed to protect face

The English Ladies Football Association Challenge Cup competition was held in 1922 with 24 teams in competition. Stoke Ladies, beat Doncaster and Bentley Ladies 3-1 in the final. In the same year, the ELFA ceased to operate but women continued to play in local parks with no money or infrastructural support from the either the English nor Scottish Football Associations. In 1937. the top two teams in the UK were Dick Kerr's and Edinburgh City Girls,and they met in the later rounds of The Championship of Great Britain and The World. The first match was held in Blackpool and Dick Kerr's beat Edinburgh City Girls 5-1. In the return match at St Bernards old ground the Edinburgh City Girls beat their rivals 5 -2. Later, in the final Edinburgh City Girls thrashed Glasgow Ladies a resounding 7-0 win to win the title.

Once it registered the general health of young men (and women) between the wars was so poor it would be impossible to conscript an army to defend boundaries, the political culture changed to embrace ‘physical culture.’ Poor public health in European cities were identified as the main cause of widespread maladies, and authorities set to getting their nations healthier. Championed by strongmen like Eugen Sandow and Bernard McFadden, ‘physical culture’ became the focus of attention to strengthen the population and develop health and fitness through exercise and good diet. Across Europe and other places, women were allowed to participate in gentle team sports. Women's soccer gained ground in Belgium, France and Germany. but without national infrastructures, interest soon faded.

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Despite open and virulent misogynistic ire, gradually across the Western World, women took up “unwomanly athletics,” including the game of soccer. On the pretext the exercise would improve their figures in the minds of men, young girls clamoured to be physically active. Italy and France created women’s soccer leagues in the 1930s, and in Scandinavia mixed soccer was played as a novelty. Then in 1931, Kapp Sports Club put together a women’s team and they played Hamar woman’s team in the first registered woman’s soccer match in Norway in 1931. Hamar won 3-0. During the Second Republic (1931 to 1939), Spanish women had become to be more active in sports and even dared to play some ball games. However, this was reversed in the Franco régime (1936 and 1975) when women were prevented, once again, to participate in sporting activities. By the 1930s Germany became the leading nation in the area of women's sport. This was in part, encouraged because of the general held belief strong offspring could only be born of strong mothers. Whilst the contact game of soccer was not played by German girls, they did engage in non-contact ball games using their feet to control the ball. German’s generally dismissed women’s soccer as played in the UK and America, as vulgar and unhealthy. Despite this, in 1930, a German women’s club was founded in 1930, but the news met with such a 'storm of indignation', it was quickly disbanded a year later.

Soon after the Second World War initiatives were taken by women in Germany and England to become officially licensed to play football and gradually other countries in Europe started women’s soccer leagues. Prejudice was still event and when the Edinburgh Dynamos ladies arranged to play against an English side at Meadowbank, Edinburgh in 1946, the Edinburgh Counsel banned them from taking to the pitch. In North America in 1950, there was one girls’ soccer league in St. Louis, Missouri. The Craig Club Girls Soccer League had four teams and played a 15-game season.

An unofficial Women's European tournament for national teams were held in Italy in 1969. Four countries took part: Italy, France , Denmark and England. The host nation took the honours beating Denmark 3 nil inform of 10,000 people. In the same year, the Women’s Football Association (WFA) of Great Britain , was established (replacing the English Ladies Football Association ). The WFA included clubs from Scotland and Wales and there was a link with the Republic of Ireland. The women’s game continued to grow with a national England team and a premier league. The WFA was a voluntary-led organisation with limited resources and sometimes organised matches had to be rescheduled or cancelled. Things started to change in the 70s, and a seven-nation Women’s World Cup was organised in Italy in 1970. Denmark took the honours. The following year, a second took place in Mexico City and matches were played in the 100,000-person capacity Estadio Azteca, which was filled to capacity for some of the games. The German Football Federation officially allowed German women to play football in 1971. In the same year, the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) passed a near-unanimous vote (31 votes to one) to promote and integrate women’s football. They instructed their members to take control of women's soccer within their territories. After almost half a century, the (FA) rescinded their ban on women playing on Football League grounds. The one dissenting vote came from the SFA. The SFA finally lifted their ban on women’s soccer in 1973, and recognised the Scottish Women’s Football Association (SWFA) in 1974. It took them until 1998, before they brought the game under the auspices of the SFA. The English FA had only lifted the ban six years previously in 1992).

In the US, after the Title IX (9) legislation made mandatory gender equality in American education in 1971, more girls were encouraged to participate in team games like soccer. Despite the interest, few professional opportunities for women existed at that time and organized women's soccer matches were limited. The Scottish Women's Football Association (SFWA) was founded in 1971, and started a six-team league. Scotland's first official match against the Old Enemy took place in Greenock, in 1972, and the Scottish ladies came away defeated after England beat them, 3–2.

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The Women’s Football Association in England, held their first WFA Cup competition (The Mitre Challenge Trophy) in 1971. Southampton WFC were the inaugural winners, beating Scottish club, Stewarton & Thistle, 4-1. Eventually WFA Cup competition became the FA Women's Cup in 1993.

Mitre Sports was the first company to show sponsorship interest in women’s soccer. others followed but there were some years when the competition was not sponsored. Eventually from 1982, Football League clubs began to allow the final of the women’s premier cup competition to be played at their premises. Southampton Ladies were dominant in the 1970s and appeared in 10 of the first 11 finals winning on 8 occasions.

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The first UEFA 1984 European Competition for Women’s Football had 16 teams in contention : Belgium, Denmark, England, France, Finland, Germany, Iceland, Italy, Netherlands, Northern Ireland, Norway, Portugal, Republic of Ireland, Scotland, Sweden, and Switzerland. The final was over two legs and Sweden eventually beat England on penalties. Total attendance was 20,830 (3,472 per match). The competition eventually became the UEFA European Women's Championship (UEFA Women's Euro) and was held every four years.

Chinese women were allowed to play soccer in the 1970s and the Chinese Football Association started in 1975. By the 80s, women’s soccer leagues operating and the China women's national football team took part in FIFA's Women's Invitation Tournament 1988, which was hosted in China. The competition was a success and as a result, FIFA approved the establishment of an official World Cup for 1991, which would also be held in China. Twelve national teams took part in the competition with four from UEFA, three from AFC, two from CONCACAF and one from CONMEBOL, CAFand OFC. The US team beat European champions Norway 2 -1 in the final. In 1996, China were silver medallists at the 1996 Olympics and reached the FIFA Women's World Cup, final in 1999. China once again hosted the 2007 FIFA Women's World Cup, and four years later they won the 2011 FIFA Women's World Cup in Germany and finishing as runner-up in 2015 in Canada. The first women's football team in Japan was formed in 1966 and a national competition for female soccer players was started in 1989.

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A women’s association soccer tournament was introduced at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, Georgia. Unlike the men’s competition, the Olympic women's teams were not restricted due to professionalism or age. Eight women's national teams from four continental confederations competed and in the final the United States beat China 2 -1 in front of 76,489 spectators at the Sanford Stadium, Athens, Georgia

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Most experts agree, Mia Hamm is considered the best female soccer player in history. She played with the U.S. women's national soccer team for 17 years and won the Women's World Cup in 1991 and 1999. She took Olympic gold medals in 1996 and 2004.

Aged 19, she was the youngest team member in history to win the World Cup and in 1999, she set a new record for most international goals scored when she netted her 108th goal for the U.S. team. Mia and her fellow players around the world have made Women’s soccer the third most popular sport on the planet.

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Interesting Sites
The Malitdas
Scotland Women's World Cup squad for France 2019
Women’s Football
FIFA Women's World Cup France 2019 TM

BBC News – Why was women’s football banned in 1921? BBC News Magazine 12 December 2014
Ewan E, Pipes R, Rendall J and Reynolds S (eds) 2018 New Biographical Dictionary of Scottish Women Edinburgh University Press
Football History Boys: The Rise of Women’s Football 1914-1918 (2014) The Football History Boys
Pfister G. Fasting K. Scraton S., and Vázquez B, (1998) Women and Football - A contradiction? The Beginnings of Women’s Football in Four European Countries In: The European Sports History Review 1 (1998), 1-26
The Honeyballers: Women who fought to play football BBC Scotland News 2013
Tate T. (2013) Girls with Balls - The Secret History of Women's Football John Blake Publishing Ltd
With the ball at her feet: A living history of Queensland women's football