Portsmouth Ladies Football Club

Football

'Miss Anscombe possess the “soccer” talent, and generally succeeded in scoring when she broke away, threading through the opposing defence in quite the accepted fashion.'

Hampshire Telegraph, 13 April, 1917

Submitted by Jane and Chris Roberts, authors of 'The Greatest Sacrifice - Fallen Heroes of the Northern Union'

The Portsmouth Ladies Football Club are one of the unknown pioneering teams of women’s football during the First World War.

The Portsmouth Ladies Football Club may not be well know today, but between 1916 and 1918 these munition workers played before thousands of fans and raised hundreds of pounds for charity. They played both women’s and men’s teams, appearing at the grounds of Portsmouth, Southampton and Millwall. Their photographs appeared in the national press and one was even given to the French President. These were a visible sign of the significant developments that took place in women’s football during World War One.

While the club was formed in 1916, women were playing football in Portsmouth before the war. In March 1914 a charity game was played for a Royal Navy disaster fund. A team from a local musical revue played a team of “Local Ladies.” Ada Anscombe scored all four goals for the latter and she was a prolific scorer in a number of games played in 1916, again before the club was formally founded. The Portsmouth Ladies played several different women’s teams and their games proved popular, with Portsmouth Football Club even donating a set of kit to help them. Crowds often numbered several thousand, and one game at a naval fundraiser may have been watched by tens of thousands.

Emboldened by this success, the Portsmouth Ladies Football Club was founded, with women in all the leading positions. Miss Ada Anscombe become the Hon. Secretary and the goalkeeper of Post Office Ladies, Miss Elsie Courtney, became the Hon. Treasurer. The Hon. President was Mrs. Langdon, wife of Councillor Langdon. She presided at social functions while her husband became actively involved in promoting and organising games. Councillor Langdon also promoted the social side of the game, arranging several fancy-dress balls to raise money for the club where some of the players appeared in their football-kit. After they befriended one Canadian army unit, the soldiers travelled with them to another game to cheer them on. They brought their pipe band who played at a dance after the game.

Between May and December 1917 the club played around 15 games against male teams, often from the Naval and Army units stationed in the South of England. As well as English teams, they also played Canadian soldiers, who raced onto the pitch to photograph the women, and French sailors who presented them with a silver cake basket. These games were often played with ‘concessions’, as they were called, whereby the male players had their arms tied behind their backs. While they were celebrated for their efforts, the players were still presented as the ‘fair-sex’ in press coverage, which enjoyed reporting on their games. They were often captured by Stephen Cribb, a local sports photographer and future President of Portsmouth Football Club. His photographs appeared in both local papers and the Daily Mirror, meaning millions of readers saw images of the team.

The club went back to playing women’s teams in 1918 and even won a trophy called the Southern Championship. Probably their last wartime game was a 2-0 win against Southampton Ladies at Fratton Park in October 1918. They raised over £300 for charity, an impressive achievement. In this centenary year their efforts deserved to be recognised and celebrated as a reminder of the vital contribution of women to Britain’s war effort.