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More information about WWI Women's Football brought to light at Coventry History Centre

As part of the HLF funded No Game For Girls project, celebrating womens’ football in WW1, Coventry-based company eyefull productions are uncovering a wealth of history about the ‘munitionettes’ or factory girls from Coventry’s factories, and their pioneering journeys into football.

Much is being discovered too about some of the men of the time who were instrumental in supporting and helping the factory girls organize into teams and arrange competitions and leagues across the city, playing at Highfield Road, the Butts Ground, Stoke Grounds amongst others.

Below, local historian, Lionel Bird describes his work in the History Centre at The Herbert researching possible founders of Coventry Ladies Football Club after the war:

For some months now I have been researching the origins of Women's Football in Coventry. In particular, the efforts of women munition workers during World War One, who decided to play "the beautiful game" as part of their recreational activities. This must have given them a welcome break from the harsh industrial conditions experienced in the city's numerous factories engaged in munitions production. The majority of my research has been conducted at the History Centre housed in The Herbert, a facility which offers detailed information of historical importance and probably contains material on subjects which would appeal to many individuals.

The "Munitionette" female footballers captured the imagination of the general public and huge crowds flocked to see matches. The following factories raised female teams: Humber, Rudge-Whitworth, Coventry Ordnance, Daimler, White & Poppe and Coventry Chain. The matches took place during 1917 and 1918. Recent research by fellow Coventry City F.C. historian, Mike Young and myself, has unearthed important information, which goes beyond the end of the Great War. Some of the footballers expressed a desire to carry on playing after hostilities had ceased. This eventually led to the formation of Coventry City Ladies Football Club during April/May 1921.

Previously it was understood that Frederick Selman was the founder of CCLFC but new information confirms the true founder to be a Mr. P. Johnson. Selman played an important role in establishing the team and became chairman. He was also instrumental in establishing the English Ladies Football Association in December 1921. His invaluable work gave the club a national identity, which allowed Johnson to concentrate on the mechanics of running the team. Johnson was trainer and secretary, no doubt coaching the women on the finer points of the game and crucially arranging the fixtures.

An insight into the dedication of Johnson is given in a report featured in the Derby Telegraph of 27 August 1921. The newspaper was previewing the first women's football match to be held in Derby, at the Baseball Ground, with Coventry City Ladies taking on the famous Dick Kerr's team from Preston four days later. The report reads: "The Coventry Ladies team was only formed at the latter part of last season, and its inception was entirely due to the tireless energy and enthusiasm of Mr. P. Johnson. Recruits (players) were soon forthcoming and a call here and there (appeals) got together the necessary funds for the outfits (playing kit). Practice took place on a piece of waste land with goal posts erected. Residents of Coventry soon got to hear of the doings and flocked to admire and applaud." The match at Derby was played in front of a 9,000 crowd and Dick Kerr's won 3-1.

By 8 October 1921 Coventry City Ladies had played 10 games, winning 5, losing 4, and drawing 1. They had scored 25 goals and conceded 17. Goalkeeper S. Sidwell and right-winger F. Edwards, had been identified by the ELFA as outstanding players and selected them for the league's representative team. Meanwhile, Frederick Selman attempted to establish an official Coventry Women's League, but sadly failed. No doubt insufficient finance and lack of support scuppered the idea. Evidence suggests Coventry City Ladies disbanded sometime during 1922.

Women's football in Coventry was resurrected in the late 1960's during Jimmy Hill's period as manager of Coventry City F.C., the ladies team being known as the Bantams, taken from the old nick-name of the male team which was now known as the Sky Blues.

The current Coventry City Ladies F.C. had a remarkable season 2013/2014, winning the Southern Premier League title and the Birmingham County Cup. Very little is known about Mr. P. Johnson and I would like to give him the recognition he deserves. He was a pioneer of women's football in Coventry and through this article, I would like to appeal for people to come forward if they can help identify him or provide more information.

For more information and updates about the project, and for tickets for the upcoming 1917 commemoration match at the Butts Arena Monday 25th August go to facebook.com/nogameforgirls.

If you have any family stories or archive relating to the factory girls in Coventry in WW1, please contact the No Game For Girls project manager
franporter@mac.com / 02476 550372

LIONEL BIRD
COVENTRY CITY F. C. HISTORIAN.

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