A Game For Girls
A spirited woman makes a difference in this inspiring short story by Tracey Glasspool.
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?”
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.
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.”
“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.
“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?”
“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.
“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.”