A Game For Girls

A spir­ited woman makes a dif­fer­ence in this in­spir­ing short story by Tracey Glasspool.

The People's Friend Special - - FICTION -

DIANE closed her front gate and be­gan the walk into town. Up ahead she saw her neigh­bour, Lucy, with her young daugh­ter, Katie.

She al­most al­ways met them on their way home from school as she headed to her yoga class. She looked for­ward to Katie’s big smile and hear­ing a tale or two from her day.

But on this par­tic­u­lar Wednes­day, Katie’s face was solemn.

“Hello, Mrs War­ren,” she said in a quiet voice, and car­ried on down her own front path with not a word more.

“Is ev­ery­thing all right?” Diane asked Lucy.

“There was a bit of fuss at school. Katie has been cho­sen for the foot­ball match next week and a cou­ple of the boys were mak­ing fun of her, say­ing that girls can’t play foot­ball. She’s quite up­set.”

“I should think so.” Diane was in­dig­nant.

“Her teacher has spo­ken to the boys, but she does love foot­ball and it’s re­ally got to her.”

They both looked over to where Katie was scuff­ing her shoe against the stone doorstep, her head down.

“I’d bet­ter not keep you,” Lucy went on. “I’ll see what I can do to cheer her up.”

Diane car­ried on walk­ing, deep in thought.

Katie’s fam­ily had moved in a few months ago and Diane had en­joyed get­ting to know the bright and bub­bly eight-year-old. It was so un­usual to see her look­ing sad.

As she worked through the yoga rou­tines and stretches, a thought came to her. Per­haps there was some­thing she could do to help.

After her class she made straight for Katie’s house. Lucy an­swered the door. “Hello.” She smiled. “Com­ing in for a cuppa?”

She stepped back and Diane saw Katie sit­ting on the stairs look­ing as glum as she had ear­lier.

“Thank you, but I won’t in­trude. I ex­pect you’re get­ting your tea. I just won­dered if you might have time to pop in on your way home to­mor­row. I might have some­thing to in­ter­est Katie.”

“That would be great.” Lucy dropped her voice to a whis­per. “I can’t seem to cheer her up at all, so any­thing you could do to help would be wel­come.” Diane smiled. “Leave it with me.”

****

The fol­low­ing day, Katie and Lucy were ush­ered into Diane’s liv­ing-room. On the cof­fee ta­ble was an ar­ray of pho­to­graphs and news­pa­per cut­tings.

Diane was sorry to see that Katie looked no hap­pier.

“Your mum tells me that some boys at school are be­ing a bit silly about foot­ball,” she said.

Katie looked at her feet and gave a small nod. Then the dam seemed to burst.

“They’re be­ing re­ally hor­ri­ble. They say that girls can’t play foot­ball, but at my old school I was the top goal scorer. Jack Lewis said that I was rub­bish and I’m not!”

“Of course you’re not,” Diane soothed.

She picked up an old sepia pho­to­graph. The edges were curled and a cor­ner was torn, but the pic­ture was clear and showed a group of young women lined up with their arms around each other.

They wore shorts, thick long-sleeved tops and stripy hats. All of them were grin­ning and one car­ried a foot­ball.

“I asked you over to­day so I could in­tro­duce you to Alice.” Diane pointed to a laugh­ing, dark-haired girl. “This pho­to­graph was taken nearly one hun­dred years ago in 1921. It’s the Ken­wick Ladies Foot­ball Team and that lady there is my grand­mother, Alice.”

Katie stud­ied the pho­to­graph.

“Did she play foot­ball?” “In­deed she did. And she was very good, al­though lots of peo­ple told her she shouldn’t play.

“I’ve got more pho­to­graphs here, plus some news­pa­per cut­tings about her and her team. Would you like me to tell you about her?”

Katie nod­ded.

“Yes, please.”

Diane picked up an­other pho­to­graph of Alice stand­ing with an older cou­ple.

“This is Alice with her mother and fa­ther . . .”

Who ever said foot­ball was just for men, any­way?

****

“Alice! What do you look like?”

Alice looked down at her­self. Her socks were straight, her sweater neat, and al­most all the mud had come out of her shorts. “What do you mean?” “A daugh­ter of mine,

go­ing out dressed like that.”

“I can hardly play foot­ball in a skirt, Pa.”

Alice’s fa­ther rolled his eyes.

“I’m not sure you should be play­ing foot­ball at all, my girl.”

Alice’s mother stepped in.

“Leave the girl, James.

It’s good ex­er­cise and she’s not do­ing any­one any harm.”

“You don’t have to lis­ten to the com­ments I get at work. Foot­ball is a man’s game, they say. Women have no right play­ing it. They get quite worked up.” Alice tilted her chin.

“Well, that’s their prob­lem. They don’t have to watch. Al­though maybe if they did they might change their minds.”

“And that’s an­other thing. I don’t want a great crowd of men look­ing at my daugh­ter wear­ing lit­tle more than un­der­gar­ments!”

“Oh, Pa! You’re so Vic­to­rian.” Alice watched as her fa­ther’s face be­gan to turn pur­ple. She knew when to back off. “I must go or I’ll be late.”

She opened the front door and ran down the path be­fore her fa­ther could say an­other word.

“I’ll be back be­fore dark,” she called.

****

Katie stud­ied the pho­to­graph.

“So her dad didn’t like her play­ing foot­ball?”

“Not re­ally. They were dif­fer­ent times for girls, even though things were be­gin­ning to change. But Alice had the sup­port of her mum, like you do, and she was a strong char­ac­ter.

“Not many peo­ple told Alice what to do! And she had other friends who sup­ported her as well.”

****

Alice jogged to the park with the icy De­cem­ber wind bit­ing.

As she reached the gate, a voice called out.

“Alice.”

She turned to see a tall fig­ure, scarf wrapped tightly around his neck.

She smiled. “Hello, Frank.”

Frank looked her up and down.

“You must be freez­ing.” “I am a bit. Pa was get­ting into his stride and I had to leave the house quickly. I left my coat be­hind. I’ll be fine once I get train­ing, though. Are you join­ing us?”

Frank shook his head. “I can’t. I’ve got work to do. I just wanted to let you know that Mr Bar­ris­ton is let­ting me cover your match on Satur­day for the news­pa­per.”

“Well, I’d bet­ter score a goal, then. Make sure I get my name men­tioned.”

Frank grinned, then he cleared his throat.

“Alice.” He hes­i­tated, then spoke all in a rush. “I won­dered if you might like to come to the the­atre with me next week. There’s a new play start­ing and I’m do­ing a re­view, but it would be lovely if you could come with me.”

Alice hid a smile at the blush which had cov­ered Frank’s hand­some face.

“That would be lovely,” she said. “I’d be de­lighted.”

“W-well, that’s good,” Frank stut­tered, look­ing like all his Christ­mases had come at once. “I’d best let you get on.”

Alice nod­ded.

“I’ll see you on Satur­day for the match.”

Up ahead, Alice could see a group of girls hud­dling to­gether.

“Hello,” she said as she reached them. “What’s go­ing on?”

Maisie Bryant, cap­tain of the team, thrust a news­pa­per for­ward.

“Look at this.”

Alice scanned the page and a head­line jumped out at her: Foot­ball As­so­ci­a­tion Bans Women Play­ers.

The FA had passed a res­o­lu­tion to ban women’s foot­ball from club grounds with im­me­di­ate ef­fect. Alice looked up. “But why?” “Read on.” Alice read out loud. “The FA state that the game of foot­ball is quite un­suit­able for fe­males and should not be en­cour­aged. Med­i­cal ex­perts agree, say­ing that kick­ing is far too jerky an ac­tion for the fe­male form. Cricket is sug­gested as an al­ter­na­tive, but only as long as girls do not throw the ball.”

The group of girls all be­gan talk­ing at once.

“This is ridicu­lous. I’ve never felt health­ier. And what about the game with Stoke on Satur­day? Where will we play?” Alice asked.

Maisie nod­ded to­wards an­other girl.

“Eve­lyn is go­ing to ask her fa­ther if we might be able to use the school grounds.”

Eve­lyn spoke up.

“Daddy has al­ways been very en­cour­ag­ing. I’m sure it won’t be a prob­lem.”

“Right.” Maisie clapped her hands. “Enough chat­ter­ing. We need to get some train­ing in.”

****

Katie’s eyes were wide. “Did they re­ally ban girls from play­ing?”

“They did for a long while,” Diane replied. “It wasn’t un­til 1971 that the ban on women play­ing at foot­ball club grounds was lifted.

“But girls like Alice and her team were re­source­ful and they found a way.”

****

As they had hoped, Eve­lyn’s fa­ther, head­mas­ter of the lo­cal boys’ school, was more than happy to al­low the team to use the school grounds.

On Satur­day morn­ing, Alice waited ner­vously on the pitch for the game to start. There was a large crowd and Alice scanned it, look­ing for Frank.

Then the whis­tle blew and she for­got her nerves as the game be­gan.

Stoke were a strong side and scored an early goal, but the Ken­wick Ladies held their de­fence and, just after half-time, Alice col­lected the ball, man­aged to dodge her op­po­nent, and passed to Maisie, who scored the equaliser.

As the other girls crowded round to con­grat­u­late her, Alice saw Frank on the side­lines, scrib­bling in his note­book.

He looked up and Alice caught his eye. He smiled and winked.

Buoyed up, Alice raised her game even fur­ther and in the fi­nal five min­utes man­aged a cross from a cor­ner straight into the back of the net.

As the whis­tle blew, the crowd and the team went wild in their ap­plause.

Frank came run­ning over as the team headed off the pitch.

“That was bril­liant!” he ex­claimed. “You’ll cer­tainly get your name in the paper.”

Alice was ju­bi­lant.

“It was a good crowd, too. We’ve raised a lot of money for the hos­pi­tal fund. I don’t know what the FA is think­ing by ban­ning us.”

A gag­gle of sup­port­ers came over to con­grat­u­late the girls.

“Don’t for­get the the­atre on Wednes­day,” Frank called, and Alice nod­ded as she was swept away.

The fol­low­ing morn­ing, Alice waited ea­gerly for her fa­ther to re­turn with the morn­ing paper. She was look­ing for­ward to read­ing Frank’s re­port.

But when her fa­ther came in his face was solemn.

“I’m not sure you want to read this,” he said. “Al­though maybe it will bring you to your senses.”

Alice took the paper from him, puz­zled. As she read on, his mean­ing be­came clear.

The worst game of foot­ball I’ve ever had the mis­for­tune to watch. The term “Ladies” does not seem to ap­ply at all. Ab­so­lutely no ball skills what­so­ever.

All the play­ers were crit­i­cised for their play, their ap­pear­ance and for drag­ging down the rep­u­ta­tion not only of the game, but of women them­selves.

Let­ters to the Ed­i­tor echoed the sen­ti­ments of the piece.

This was the first ladies match I’ve seen. I hope it will not be my fate to sit out an­other.

Alice threw the paper on to the ta­ble.

“This is aw­ful. There’s

no men­tion of the goals, and they haven’t said any­thing about the money we raised.”

“Maybe you should stop play­ing, Alice,” her fa­ther sug­gested. “It’s just not right.”

Alice was too an­gry to speak. In­stead she grabbed her coat and dashed from the house.

When she got out­side she re­alised she had no clear idea of where she was go­ing, other than that she needed to work off her anger.

As she strode round a cor­ner, she al­most crashed into Frank com­ing the other way.

“Alice!” he said. “I was just com­ing to see you.”

Alice glared at him, her eyes blaz­ing.

“How could you write that? Were you even watch­ing the game?”

Frank raised his hands. “Please, Alice, let me ex­plain.”

Alice swept past him. “There’s noth­ing to ex­plain. You’re as small­minded as ev­ery­one else.” She marched on. “And you can for­get the the­atre on Wednes­day. I never want to see you again.”

****

Diane looked down at Katie. The lit­tle girl had a frown on her face.

“That wasn’t very nice of Frank to write that. He’s just like Jack Lewis at my school.”

“Well, like I said, it was a very dif­fer­ent time for girls. They were still ex­pected to stay at home, look after the house and chil­dren, and leave the rest of the world – in­clud­ing foot­ball – to men.

“But some­times things aren’t quite as sim­ple as they seem.”

****

A few weeks after the game against Stoke, Maisie brought along an­other news­pa­per to train­ing.

It con­tained news of the in­ten­tion to set up an English Ladies’ Foot­ball As­so­ci­a­tion with its own league, cup and rules.

“We don’t need the FA grounds,” Maisie said. “We can con­tinue to use the school and show ev­ery­one how se­ri­ous we are.”

Alice was pleased that the game would con­tinue, al­though she was still smart­ing over Frank’s ar­ti­cle.

She was in her bed­room one evening when her mother came to find her.

“Frank is at the door,” she said. “He wants to speak to you.”

Alice shook her head. “I don’t have any­thing to say to him.”

“At least hear him out, Alice. He’s a good lad and he looks very con­trite.”

“A good lad wouldn’t have writ­ten what he did.” But Alice stood up. “I sup­pose I could give him a few min­utes.”

Alice’s mother smiled.

“I’ll show him into the liv­ing-room.”

When Alice en­tered the room, Frank twisted his cap in his hands.

“Hello, Alice,” he said. Alice said noth­ing.

Frank cleared his throat. “I just want to ex­plain –” Alice cut him off.

“You’ve made your views quite clear.” She looked up at him. “That wasn’t a fair re­view of the game. Why did you write it? You know how im­por­tant foot­ball is to me.”

“I do,” Frank said. “And what was pub­lished in the paper was not my view of the match. Or my words.”

Alice was about to protest, but his words caught her at­ten­tion.

“Go on,” she urged. “When I gave Mr Bar­ris­ton my piece, he said prais­ing women’s foot­ball wouldn’t sell pa­pers, not after the FA de­ci­sion. So he com­pletely rewrote it, and only in­cluded the let­ters which were com­plain­ing about the game.

“There were lots which were re­ally pos­i­tive, but he just put those in the bin.” Alice hes­i­tated.

“So what did you write?” Frank smiled ner­vously. “The truth. That it was an ex­cit­ing and well-played game, and that al­though Stoke took an early lead, the match was saved by the hero­ics of Miss Alice Chap­man.” His grin got wider.

“I think I ac­tu­ally men­tioned your name three times.”

Alice be­gan to smile, then she stopped her­self.

“But you just let Mr Bar­ris­ton print what he wanted. You didn’t stand up to him at all.”

“I couldn’t have stopped him.”

“But you could have stuck to your prin­ci­ples. You could have –”

This time it was Frank who cut Alice off.

“I did. I left the paper a few weeks ago. That’s what I wanted to ex­plain to you.

“I’ve not been work­ing since, but to­day I went to see the Ed­i­tor of the ‘Her­ald’. He’s taken me on as a staff writer and he’s a com­pletely dif­fer­ent char­ac­ter from Mr Bar­ris­ton.” He stepped closer. “I did it for you.” Alice looked up at him. “Did you?” she said.

Frank nod­ded.

“You mean an aw­ful lot to me, Alice,” he said softly. “I tried to see you be­fore, but your fa­ther wouldn’t let me in. While I had no job or prospects I didn’t think it was right. But now I’m back in work and luck­ily it was your mother who was home to­day.”

Alice smiled and reached up to touch Frank’s cheek.

****

Diane smiled at Katie. “You see, there have al­ways been girls who play foot­ball. And while there were those who tried to stop them, there were also those who cheered them on.”

“Did Alice keep play­ing?” Katie asked.

“She did for a while. Her team went to France to play an in­ter­na­tional game and they got to the semi­fi­nal of the Ladies’ league. Even her fa­ther went along to watch.

“Alice told me she thought that se­cretly he was quite proud of her. But it was still very hard for women, then. They had a lot to fight against.”

“Did you ever play foot­ball?”

Diane laughed.

“I did a bit. Alice and Frank got mar­ried and had five chil­dren: three girls, in­clud­ing my mother, and two boys. They were all brought up kick­ing a ball and passed it on to their chil­dren.

“We’ve al­ways been a sporty fam­ily,” she con­tin­ued. “In fact, my grand­daugh­ter plays for the county team – al­though she plays rugby, not foot­ball.”

Katie looked at the pho­tos on the ta­ble.

“I’m go­ing to tell them all about this at school.”

****

The next day there was a knock on Diane’s door.

It was Katie and her mother, and Diane was pleased to see the girl had her spark back as she bounced up and down on the doorstep.

“You look a bit hap­pier, Katie.”

“She cer­tainly is.” Her mother smiled. “And she has some­thing to ask you.”

Katie stopped bounc­ing and took a breath.

“I told ev­ery­one at school about Alice, and even Jack Lewis said she was cool. Miss Rose wants you to come into school to tell ev­ery­one about the women’s foot­ball team and show your pho­tos.

“We’re learn­ing about women’s suf­fer­ing and she said it would fit in well.”

“Women’s suf­fer­ing?” Diane thought for a mo­ment. “Do you mean women’s suf­frage?”

“That’s right. Women be­ing able to choose the Prime Min­is­ter.”

“I would be de­lighted, Katie.”

Katie grinned and clapped her hands.

“Mrs War­ren?” she added.

“Yes, Katie?”

“You know how Alice and Frank had an ar­gu­ment, then they got mar­ried . . .” “Yes.”

“Well – I won’t have to marry Jack Lewis, will I?” Diane laughed.

“Oh, Katie. Some­how I don’t think you will be do­ing any­thing you don’t want to.”

The End.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.