New research rewrites history books of women’s football

Fri, 03 Dec 2021 00:12:00 GMT
Rose Reilly MBE with Eddi Reader and a team photo of Rutherglen Ladies
Rose Reilly MBE with Eddi Reader and a team photo of Rutherglen Ladies

The Scottish Football Museum today launched its biggest ever exhibition on women’s football after new research uncovered a hidden history of the game.

The exhibition celebrates the all-conquering interwar team Rutherglen Ladies FC who defied a ban on women’s football and paved the way for today’s professional stars.

Funded by Museums Galleries Scotland, it is based on research by GCU's Dr Fiona Skillen and football historian Steve Bolton. 

The new exhibition, which will be at the Hampden museum for six months, opened to the public ahead of the 100th anniversary of The FA’s ban on women’s football.

Dr Skillen, senior lecturer in history at GCU, said: "There's a perception that women's football didn't happen in Scotland between the Victorian period and the mid-1950s. This research shows that it did. We are rewriting the history books with our discoveries.

"Rutherglen Ladies showed incredible resolve and resilience and had to overcome significant barriers just to play the game. They deserve recognition for their unique place in history."

During the 1920s and 1930s, Rutherglen Ladies had to battle against the odds just to play matches, as the FA and the Scottish FA, across the border, deemed the game ‘quite unsuitable for females’. A ban was enforced on December 5, 1921.

Led by superstar captain Sadie Smith, the grandmother of singer-songwriter Eddi Reader, the players toured Ireland, played in exhibition games in front of thousands and raised money for charity.

Steve Bolton added: "In many ways the 1920s were the darkest decade for women's football and yet this pioneering team of Scottish women footballers toured England, Scotland and Ireland.

"They survived the pernicious effects of the 1921 English FA ban and prospered; beating the 'World Champion' Dick Kerr Ladies and securing their place in history. They were magnificent.”

The exhibition traces the development of the team from its foundation in 1921 through to disbanding in 1939. 

Eddi Reader, who attended a preview of the exhibition, said: “I am very proud of my grandmother. I was taken aback when I found out because her footballing prowess was never mentioned. They got banned but they didn’t care and they continued to play. I like that punk attitude”

Rose Reilly MBE, Scotland's greatest ever female footballer and an honorary graduate of GCU, said: “Rutherglen Ladies are the true pioneers of women’s football, hats off to them.

“I am so proud of them. They paved the way but their story got buried.”

Richard McBrearty, Curator of the Scottish Football Museum, added: “To host this fantastic exhibition is a real coup for the Museum.

“The national stadium is now the rightful home of the Scotland Women’s National Team, and the female players of the 1920s and 30s paved the way for the progress we’ve seen since then.”

To book your visit to the Scottish Football Museum, visit: scottishfootballmuseum.org.uk