Raise a glass to the belles of the ball

They were the toast of women’s football a century ago.

Dick, Kerr Ladies before their first match on Christmas Day 1917.
Dick, Kerr Ladies before their first match on Christmas Day 1917.

Today the nation will be urged to raise a glass at 3pm to the pioneering Dick, Kerr Ladies team on the 100th anniversary of their Boxing Day match in Liverpool which set a world attendance record for the female game.

On December 26, 1920 the Preston-based side, widely regarded as the best in Britain, faced their close rivals St Helens at Everton’s Goodison Park to raise money for ex-servicemen from the First World War.

A staggering 53,000 people were in the ground to watch the match, with up to 14,000 more locked outside.

This awesome Dick, Kerr line-up drew huge crowds to women's football.

“It was amazing,” said Gail Newsham, whose book In a League of Their Own is the authoritative history of Dick, Kerr Ladies.

“They were big stars and there was no-one to touch them in women’s football at the time. I think that’s why everyone wanted them to come and play at their grounds. They were real crowd-pullers.”

That Boxing Day match raised £3,115 - more than £600,000 in today’s money. The Preston girls won 4-0, even though they were without their star striker Florrie Redford who had missed the train to Liverpool. Florrie’s strike partner Jennie Harris gave them the lead in the first half.

But after the break captain and right-back Alice Kell moved up front and netted a hat-trick.

In action for Lily Parr's 200th game.

Today Gail will drive to St Helens to lay a wreath on the grave of winger Lily Parr who played in that famous game. She will then travel up to Lancaster to honour another team-mate Jessie Walmsley, before returning to Preston in time for the 3pm toast.

“In some ways it was a surprise that so many turned up for the Goodison Park game, but then it wasn’t because Dick, Kerr’s Ladies had been playing in front of big crowds regularly,” she said.

“But just imagine how the girls must have felt when they ran out onto the pitch that day and were greeted by such an attendance. They must have been blown away seeing all those people as they emerged from the tunnel.”

The official attendance of 53,000 was a record which stood until last year when 60,739 turned out to watch Atletico Madrid Ladies take on Barcelona in Madrid.

Gail is unimpressed, saying many were given free entry while the Goodison Park match was all pay.

“For me the Dick, Kerr Ladies’ record still stands as a proper paying crowd.”