To mark the women’s Euros, this is a novel about the great Dick, Kerr Ladies FC, formed at a Preston munitions factory in 1917. Their popularity (their match against St Helens Ladies on Boxing Day 1920, played at Goodison Park, drew a crowd of 53,000) was one of the main reasons that the FA banned women’s football from fields and stadia controlled by FA-affiliated clubs for 50 years, from 1921 to 1971. The main characters are fictional, with none of them based even loosely on the legendary Lily Parr; but the real life manager, Albert Frankland, appears, and there are unexpected cameo appearances from Lloyd George, FA chairman Lord Kinnaird, and Preston North End hero Bob Holmes.
It’s not the best-written book I’ve ever read. Nearly all of it is dialogue; and, frustratingly, much of the dialogue sounds more Yorkshire than Lancashire; and people keep calling each other “pet”, which is a Geordie term, not a Lancastrian one. It’s very frustrating when authors from down south seem to think that Northern England is one amorphous mass where we all speak the same. It isn’t, and we don’t!! Also, it was “Dick, Kerr & Co.”, not “Dick Kerr” – sorry to be fussy, but the comma matters. The founders were William Dick and John Kerr, not Richard Kerr! And no-one would have been calling Preston “The Invincibles” 26 years after they won the double, any more than we call Arsenal “The Invincibles” 18 years after they went through the league season unbeaten! Oh, and, whilst I’m nitpicking 😄, this is not America – we do not buy “programs”, nor to we stand “in line”. I think someone used an American spellchecker on the Kindle version, because some other words are also spelt the American way, even though it’s a British book.
It’s very entertaining, though, and it covers a number of important issues. We see the growing confidence and independence of women as they take on jobs previously done by men, and male resentment of that. We see the struggles of football clubs to keep going without the income from fans, something which was an issue during the Covid lockdowns and was one of the reasons for the infamous Super League plan.
And we also see the struggles of self-funding hospitals. Most of the matches played by the real Dick, Kerr Ladies were to raise money for wounded servicemen. In this book, the women aim to raise money for the real life Moor Park VAD Hospital, in which the sweetheart of one of the women was being treated. Like so many First World War hospitals, it could only operate thanks to voluntary work and contributions raised by the local community. It wasn’t even in a stately home, as so many were: it began life in a pavilion provided by the Royal Lancashire Agricultural Society.
Strangely, it mentions the 1916 Zeppelin raid on Ramsbottom, but not the fact that the same raid killed 13 people in Bolton. It’s a little-known piece of Lancashire history: it’s thought that the bombers got lost whilst looking for either Manchester or Liverpool.
There are various sub-plots about the women and their families, involving a strict family who don’t really approve of women’s football, a violent husband and, as already mentioned, a badly wounded sweetheart, but the football team is at the centre of things, and the actual matches are those which took place in real life. The team’s first match was against their male colleagues. And they won. Then, on Christmas Day, they played another women’s works team, Arundel Coulthard Factory, at Deepdale, in front of 10,000 people.
In 1920, they played the first women’s international match, against France, but the book ends with the Christmas 1917 match. The account of the actual match is definitely fictitious: I don’t think there’s ever been any suggestion that the other team played dirty and included women thrown out of Dick, Kerr and Co. for stealing explosives! But the scoreline, a 4-0 win, is accurate!
There’s a sequel coming, and I’ll be looking out for it. I know I’ve nit-picked, but I do that! I genuinely enjoyed this book, and it was a very apt time to read it.