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The birth of Coventry City Ladies Football Club - and how the car industry helped it to prosper

Local historian Lionel Bird has recently been undertaking research on the story of women's football in Coventry, using resources at the Coventry History Centre, situated within the Herbert. Lionel has traced the story of Frederick Selman, who was to become a pioneer of the women's football world:

The outbreak of the First World War in August 1914 provided the catalyst for the emergence of women's football in Coventry. The city's huge industrial manufacturing base was adapted to produce vital munitions as part of the war effort. Thousands of men bravely joined up to fight, creating a massive shortage of skilled labour. The men were replaced by women workers who became known as "Munitionettes". They worked long hours in difficult conditions to produce munitions and shell cases. They had to endure food shortages, discrimination by some male workers and a serious lack of suitable living accommodation. But they got the job done.

It was during these difficult times that women's football prospered in Coventry. Ladies factory teams were formed at companies such as Rudge-Whitworth, Humber, White & Poppe, Coventry Ordnance, Coventry Chain and Daimler. Matches were played regularly between 1917 and 1918 to raise money for Coventry's wounded military personnel. On the pitch, the women footballers enjoyed themselves which must have been a pleasant change from the harsh conditions of factory life. They were complimented on the quality of their play and some women continued playing after the war had ended.

In 1921 Frederick Selman, a labourer employed at Sterling Metals in Foleshill, formed Coventry City Ladies Football Club. He became trainer and chairman. Some of the players he recruited had links to the Humber Ladies team. He must have been inspired by the exploits of the world famous Dick Kerr's Ladies from Preston, who had just appeared at Highfield Road in a match against Saint Helen's Ladies, in front of 27,000 people. Coventry City Ladies would later play Dick Kerr's Ladies and Stoke-on-Trent Ladies. Although they lost both matches, they did not disgrace themselves. Frederick was a Coventry City supporter and had a long association with the Saint John's Ambulance Brigade, who regularly volunteered their services for home matches.

Frederick was born in Twerton, Somerset, in 1890. He joined the Fifth Dragoon Guards and was based at Woolwich Barracks in 1911. He volunteered for action in August 1914. He was subsequently wounded and honourably discharged in September 1915. In 1921 he resided at Corporation Cottages in Radford. On 5 December that year the Football Association sensationally banned women's football on League grounds, citing potential health problems as the reason. Frederick attended a meeting in Blackburn twelve days later where he proposed the formation of the English Ladies Football Association. He was elected a vice-president of that organisation. A national cup competition was introduced and he attempted to form a Coventry Women's League. Unfortunately, this failed, probably due to insufficient finance and lack of support.

Frederick Selman died in Blackpool in 1952 whilst on holiday. He was a keen dancer and apparently collapsed on the dance floor of the Tower Ballroom. The ban on women's football was lifted in 1971 and the game today, prospers both locally and nationally. I think Frederick would be immensely proud of the current success experienced by Coventry City Ladies Football Club.

LIONEL BIRD
COVENTRY CITY F.C. HISTORIAN.

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