Overshadowed by the men’s game, Aznim Ruhana Md Yusup discovered that women’s football was systematically sidelined for decades.

 

THE National Football Museum in Manchester is built to document the history of the beautiful game, particularly in England.

It covers four floors, and exhibits include the original “Laws of the Game” from 1863 that detailed the first standard code for football.

England is the birthplace of modern football, and Manchester is arguably the most famous football city in the world.

Hordes of tourists visit Manchester for football tours over at Old Trafford, the home of Manchester United, or at Manchester City’s Etihad Stadium.

I was in Manchester as part of a tour arranged by Dashing, the men’s bodycare brand that organised the #DASHINGgoesManchester contest.

Dashing’s products include two fragrances inspired by Manchester City, and eight contest winners were flown to Manchester to watch a City game at the Etihad.

Unlike club museums, the National Football Museum gives an overall view of the game that is not influenced or dictated by club loyalty. But country loyalty still stands, hence an entire floor dedicated England’s World Cup win in 1966.

The World Cup victory brought tremendous joy to the country, but it also brought back women’s football. As a sport, women’s football was banned in England in 1921, and it was only rescinded in 1969 following all the World Cup excitement.

The ban was officially lifted in 1971, and it paved the way for the expansion of women’s football globally.

A total of 176 countries including Malaysia now take part in the sport, and there’s plenty of catching up to do after that forced 50-year slumber.


The National Football Museum in Manchester is founded to document and preserve the history of football. Photo by Aznim Ruhana Md Yusup.

FOOTBALL PIONEERS
It’s difficult to talk about the challenges of women’s football without understanding the patriarchal nature of the sport.

Even at the highest level, such as Fifa’s Women’s World Cup, the teams hardly get the same support as men’s, or the same level of respect.

One example is the United States’ women’s football team, which is more popular and successful than their male counterpart.

But it took a year-long, much-publicised dispute over wages for them to receive a fairer compensation system from US Soccer, the team’s governing body.

Complaints over the lack of financial backing is usually dismissed by saying that the sport isn’t popular, it isn’t making money and so it is not a worthwhile investment.

Throughout all this is the underlying feeling of — shall we say — uneasiness at the sight of 22 women running around a field after a ball.

This has been going on for as long as the history of women’s football. In the face of struggle for equality, it is no coincidence that one of the earliest football clubs for women was started by a suffragette.

I found this from the National Football Museum: “Nettie Honeyball started the British Ladies Football Club in 1895. She was a suffragette, fighting for the right to vote and wanted to show that women and men are equal.”

Honeyball is a pseudonym, and she said the following in February 1895. “I founded the club with the fixed resolve of proving to the world that women are not the ‘ornamental and useless’ creatures men have pictured. I look forward to the time when ladies may sit in Parliament and have a voice in the direction of affairs.”


One of the displays on the subject of women’s football in the museum. Photo by Aznim Ruhana Md Yusup.

FIGHTING SPIRIT
Women’s football reached a golden age in Britain during World War I.

With able-bodied men called up to serve their country in battle, it left spaces for women to fill up. This includes manufacturing jobs in factories as well as football fields.

The prevalent thinking at the time was that women are “delicate beings” not suited for physical activities, and those who picked up the sport were seen as a novelty.

Football matches became a fun and funny way to raise funds for war charities.

Things didn’t stay a joke for long and crowds grew to tens of thousands. The women became more competitive and The Munitionettes' Cup came to be held in 1917.

It lasted for two seasons — munitionettes being the informal name for women who worked in ammunition factories.

(It’s the kind of situation made popular by the 1992 film A League of Their Own starring Madonna, only it was set in America during World War II and featured baseball instead of football.)

But when the war ended, the factories closed and the men returned. Women were again relegated from the forefront of society.

In 1921, the English FA outlawed women playing football from its grounds, claiming the game is “quite unsuitable for the females and should not be encouraged.”

Some teams continued playing on their own for some time. But with no official support from sporting bodies they were soon overshadowed by the progress of men’s football teams and players.

Women’s football isn’t as popular as the men’s game - and to be fair, no other sport is — but it has established itself quite firmly in the modern sporting arena.

The Women’s World Cup has been held every four years since 1991, and women’s football is one of the events at the upcoming SEA Games in Kuala Lumpur.


File photo of the Malaysian women’s football team celebrating its first goal in the 2-0 friendly win over Singapore in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah last year. Photo by Malai Rosmah Tuah.

aznim.ruhana@nst.com.my

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