A small number of clubs formed earlier in 1921. Brisbane and Australia’s first club, Latrobe Ladies, appear to have formed prior to 7 July 1921 (Telegraph, ‘Soccer Football Paddington Girls Form a Club’).
Credited with the side at Latrobe, Paddington, R.J. Powell was only a few days behind the formation of two Toowoomba Clubs (29 June) but a few more ahead of those formed 8 July 1921.
It is reported in a number of Queensland papers that 100 or so keen players met in the Brisbane Gymnasium, and on the night, elected to form The Queensland Women’s Ladies Soccer Football Association. Two teams were announced almost immediately, North and South Brisbane, with the prospect of three more being formed in the coming days. The Brisbane Gymnasium which stood on Turbot Street was demolished in the late 1930s but there are still images of the building (on bottom right). With 100 players in the Gym, we imagine the atmosphere would have been very exciting.
This meeting at the Gymnasium led to practice matches, which took place in early September – September 4 most likely – at Bowman Park, Paddington (now Bardon). Four teams were involved: Brisbane City, Latrobe Ladies, Celtic and Brisbane Ladies.
The players used an aluminium painted ball on specially organised training nights arranged and run by Mr W.G. Betts. Read more about early football in Australia at Beyond90.
The first public game of football played by women in Australia took place at the Brisbane Cricket Ground, The Gabba, on 24 September 1921.
10,000 people attended the match. It is often pointed out by the cynical that there was a men’s match afterwards, but it is our firm belief that the novelty factor would have drawn the crowd on its own. Women’s matches were drawing very large crowds in England at the time and only a few weeks later a headline match in Ipswich drew 3000 on its own.
The ‘Gabba’ match was well-received by the crowd. The Queensland Times described, ‘the skilful treatment of the game by these young ladies’, and noted that ‘the girls showed remarkable stamina’, and ‘evidence of keen training’.
On the day, The Reds, of North Brisbane, won by 2 goals to nil over the Blues, of South Brisbane. The Blues were captained by G Wenlock and The Reds were captained by Jean Campbell. At just 16, not only was Jean team captain, but she also played a key role in organising the match.
The players’ football outfits were long socks, long-sleeved football jerseys, baggy shorts, and purpose worn football shoes. On the surface, it would appear the strips were not too different from those worn now.
We know of a handful of public matches that took place after this initial game. One notable match took place in Bundanba (sic) on the 15th of October 1921. Brisbane North played Brisbane South in a fiercely competitive match that resulted in a 2-2 draw. As headline billing on a day of curtain raisers and bands and food, it was attended by over 3000 people. The team sheets were very similar to those of the Gabba match.
By the end of 1921, the English Football Association’s views on women’s football were well-known in the Australian British Association Football community. J.W. Kendall, Chair of the Queensland Football Association, only begrudgingly entertained the idea of women playing. In early February 1922, the British Association Interstate Conference in Melbourne elected to follow their EFA counterparts and ban women.
Shortly afterwards (22nd February 1922), the second annual general meeting of the Queensland Ladies Soccer Football Association took place (reported in the Brisbane Courier 25 February 1922). The association responded to the ban in kind. The notes from the meeting capture an enthusiasm to build on the first season of women’s football in 1921 and schedule more matches.
However, an article published in April of 1922 proposes that women were reluctant to play as a result of their fear of public opinion. Despite fear of public opinion practice and matches appeared to go ahead. In June of 1922, an article in the Telegraph included a brief interview with Vera Neil of the QLSFA who confirmed that practice matches would take place beginning June 3. Some of the practices were then reported by an article in the Brisbane Courier on June 19 as having taken place. And a match on June 22, a 12-0 victory to Brisbane Ladies over Brisbane City, was reported with reporters noting they were not informed until after it had taken place.
Another match took place in early August, having been advertised as ‘unusual spectacle’ (5 August 1922). Yet another was reported later in August in the Capricornian Newspaper (Rockhampton).
While these incidences are not evidence of a sustained competition or a thriving football community, between their reporting and the women’s own reluctance to bring them to the paper’s knowledge, it is possible that there was a much stronger movement of women’s football than first thought. It would be a mistake to jump to conclusions about the state of play with regards to women’s participation in football in this period, but these articles provide some evidence of interest beyond 1922.
Throughout the 1920s women were openly encouraged to participate in regular exercise, including sport. Croquet Golf, Tennis, and Swimming, for example, have been popular in Brisbane since the late 19th Century.
Here we note three team sports, women were encouraged to play instead of participating in football. Each experienced a surge in popularity and recruitment in the 1920s.
There is a range of motives for this, one theory could be the strips or uniforms were considered to be more effeminate another is the clearly the effect of the ban on women in football.
Queensland Women’s Hockey Association came into being in 1923. The game had been played in some Brisbane schools prior, and was being played in Western Australia (1901), Victoria, New South Wales in the early 1900s.
One of the reasons that women’s basketball was so popular was because it was able to appear as a ‘feminine’ sport; one that could provide the benefits of exercise and teamwork, but at the same time be seen as suitable exercise for women and girls.
Netball, a name the sport gained formally in 1970, was originally called Women’s basketball in Australia. Going by early reports of violence (see movethegoalposts.com.au) it was neither gentle or effeminate. One unfortunate player died in a collision and in another match four players were taken to hospital. The same article details uniforms too.
Similar to cricket, vigoro is a sport encountered by primary and high school girls in Queensland, New South Wales and Tasmania. Invented by Englishman John George Grant, and introduced into New South Wales schools in the 1920s and grew in popularity in Brisbane and other parts of Queensland including Toowoomba during the same period. Played on a pitch slightly shorter in length, with balls much lighter than those for cricket, and a differently shaped bat.
A number of newspaper articles (including Telegraph in Brisbane 2 July, Daily Standard 14 July) note a number of practice matches in early July of 1926. These led to the reformation or at least a brief public re-emergence of Queensland Ladies Soccer Football Association in public view in late July 1926, which included Brisbane City Ladies playing and beating a scratch team at Kedron Park, Brisbane.
Additional articles note another match in early September 1926.