The first game of soccer at Valley Parade


Published in the match day programme: Bradford City v Rochdale, 20-Oct-18

It may come as a surprise that the first recorded game played by association football rules at Valley Parade was on 7 May, 1895 and that it was a women’s match. As such it would best be described as an exhibition game by so-called ‘Lady Footballers’ that formed part of a series of matches staged across the country. The motives were entirely commercial, organised to exploit the curiosity of people in women’s football at a time when ‘soccer’ was fast emerging as the dominant winter code.

The organiser was the so-called British Ladies Football Club that had been formed in January, 1895 and which toured Great Britain during its brief existence until around September, 1896.

A crowd of between two to three thousand people came to watch the spectacle that had been arranged at the Manningham FC ground at relatively short notice. The Bradford Daily Telegraph however was pretty dismissive about the match falling a long way short of being a competitive contest and did not disguise the fact that a predominantly male audience had attended for reasons other than to watch a serious sporting spectacle: It was fun that was expected by the spectators, and fun was all that was forthcoming, the attempts at football being feeble and farcical.

Its comments were equally sexist: There was nothing in the costume of the lady footballers to shock the sensibilities of Mrs Grundy, but all the same the attire is not likely to become popular with the fair sex, for the simple reason that it is not becoming. Had the lady footballers been less favoured by Nature they would have presented a ‘dowdy’ appearance, but the natural beauty and grace of several saved the team from this.

The great drawback to ladies’ football, however, seems to lie in the fact that it seems a physical impossibility for ladies to run quickly and gracefully. As an exhibition of football the play was a miserable travesty of a splendid game and as an entertainment it soon became tedious.’

Women’s football received a boost during World War One when teams were formed by munitions workers and indeed, on 6 August 1917 Park Avenue staged an exhibition game between two such works sides. It was during the war that the famous Dick, Kerr Ladies came to prominence and in the immediate aftermath was successful at attracting large crowds to its games. On Boxing Day, 1920 for example 53,000 came to watch the Preston side at Goodison Park. The example of Dick, Kerr’s inspired the formation of other works teams including those at Manningham Mills and Hey’s Brewery in Bradford during 1921.

The next game of women’s football at Valley Parade was on 13 April, 1921 when the Manningham Mills Ladies’ side (also known as Lister Ladies) was defeated 0-6 by the Dick, Kerr team in front of 14,000 spectators.

Dick Kerr v Listers at VP Apr-21Thank you to David Wilkins for sending a photo of that game which shows DKL in stripes.

In October, 1921 Hey’s Ladies were defeated 1-4 by Dick, Kerr’s at Valley Parade and the crowd of that game has been variously reported as 4,070 and 10,000 (the higher attendance claim may have been exaggerated for effect).

The following December the Football Association enforced a ban on women’s football that endured for 50 years and which prevented women’s football being staged on the pitches or grounds of FA registered clubs. Similarly, FA registered referees were barred from officiating women’s football games.

The story of the origins of women’s football in Bradford is told on the VINCIT website  where you will find other features about the origins of sport and football in the district.


John Dewhirst

John’s book A HISTORY OF BCAFC IN OBJECTS (vol 1 in the BANTAMSPAST HISTORY REVISITED series) provides background about City memorabilia. In future issues of The Parader he will feature objects that tell the history of the club. If you have a City artefact in your possession that you would like him to feature in the programme contact him at johnpdewhirst at gmail dot com or tweets @jpdewhirst

John has written widely about the history of sport in Bradford: Links to his features on the history of Bradford sport

Elsewhere on this blog you can find his programme articles from earlier games this season and last.


Details here about the new bantamspast History Revisited book by Jason McKeown and other volumes in the same series: BANTAMSPAST HISTORY REVISITED BOOKS