Kick off for dance tribute to female footballers

24 August 2021

They thought women’s football was all over in 1921 but a century on, the story of a pioneering team will be told through dance.

The cast of Quite Unfit for Females. Left to right, Louise Gibbons, Hannah Dial, Lucy Starkey, Beckie Callow, Maya Marsh. Photo by Robin Zahler

The iconic Preston-based Dick, Kerr Ladies were a catalyst for a 50-year ban on women’s football. Now, the fancy footwork they displayed on the field in front of thousands will be reflected in performances by About Time Dance Company.

The premiere of Quite Unfit for Females will take place outdoors on September 18 during the Lancashire Encounter Festival in Preston. Performances will be presented in the Flag Market at 2pm and 5pm.

There will be a further performance and school workshop at the National Football Museum in Manchester in October.

Preston-born Jenny Reeves, About Time’s artist director, has choreographed the performances funded by Arts Council England, the University of Central Lancashire in Preston and the National Football Museum.

“There’s an amazing link between the physicality of football and dance, and the story of Dick, Kerr Ladies is inspirational,” said Jenny.

The cast of five dancers have trained with a football coach to ensure their movements mirror those of the game.

Established in 1917 as a charitable football team to raise money for soldiers during World War One, Dick, Kerr Ladies were named after Dick, Kerr & Co Ltd, the munitions factory where they worked.

Their first match at Deepdale, the home of Preston North End, attracted a crowd of 10,000 people and raised £600, the equivalent of £50,000 today.

By 1921, Dick, Kerr Ladies were so popular that they played more than 60 games in a year while still working full-time and a total of almost 900,000 people watched their matches.

However, by December 1921, the Football Association declared the beautiful game to be quite unsuitable for women and banned ladies football. Although all FA clubs were told to refuse permission for their grounds to be used for ladies matches, the Dick,Kerr team were defiant and continued to play until 1965.

Their determination lit a spark which led to the formation of the Women’s Football Association in 1969, the lifting of the ban in 1971, and in 1997, the development of women’s football by the FA, ultimately resulting in its popularity today.

“Women’s football is on the rise so it’s a really exciting time for the story of Dick, Kerr Ladies to be told,” said Jenny.

Quite Unfit for Females will encapsulate Preston’s local heritage, celebrate women’s history and could bring dance to an international sports audience with the hope of further performances at the Women’s Euro tournament next year.

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