Not Overlooked Anymore: Lily Barr, Britain’s Dominant Female Football Player

This article is part of Overlooked, a series of obituaries of notable people whose deaths, beginning in 1851, were not reported in The Times.

In 1921, the Football Association, the governing body for English football, effectively banned women from playing the sport, deeming it “totally unsuitable for females”. But by that time, an outstanding player named Lily Barr had already gained fame for her skills on the court.

Her fame was part of the growth of women’s football at the time, exemplified by the match played at Goodison Park in Liverpool which drew a crowd of around 53,000, with thousands outside the stadium. (will stay biggest crowd For a women’s soccer game for 99 years, until Atletico Madrid hosted Barcelona in front of 60,739 fans in March 2019.)

Although a union ban would hinder Parr’s career, preventing her and other women from playing on the courts, she competed where she could, on fields and gardens in England and abroad, and continued to attract attention over the course of 31 years with the same team, Dick, Kerr Ladies Football Club.

In 1927, the English newspaper The Leicester Mail described her as “a remarkably quick and intelligent performer” with a “kick like a carriage horse”. By the time she retired from football, in 1951, she had scored an estimated 1,000 goals.

Gail Newsham, author of the 1994 book, said Parr “was a great player on a great team”. book “In a League of Their Own!: The Dick, Kerr Ladies 1917-1965”, and she contributed to the club’s massive success along with other top scorers such as Florrie Redford, Jenny Harris and Alice Kell, the team’s longest-serving captain.

Football officials began lifting bans in England – as well as in other countries – in the 1970s. The first official Women’s World Cup was held in 1991, and interest in the event has grown exponentially since then.

This year, the Women’s World Cup, which is currently taking place in Australia and New Zealand, features an expanded field of 32 teams, up from 24.

The competition between clubs in England also grew; The Women’s Super League, which began in 2011, became fully professional in 2018. In the United States, the National Women’s Soccer League started in 2013.

In 2002, Parr became the first woman agitator She is in the National Football Museum of England’s Hall of Fame, now in Manchester, and in 2019, the museum erected a life-size statue of her there, also a first for a British female footballer.

“We’ve come a long way since the days of Lily Bar, and she deserves recognition as a true pioneer of the sport,” Marzyna Bogdanovic, a spokeswoman for women’s football at the FA, was quoted as saying. in the sentinel in 2019.

Lillian Parr was born on 26 April 1905 in St Helens, about 10 miles north-east of Liverpool, to Sarah and George Parr, a glassworker. Growing up, she played soccer in the street with her siblings.

Women had been playing football in Britain since the late 19th century, but World War I gave them the chance to thrive. As men were sent to fight and women filled the country’s factories, the government encouraged football as an after-work activity.

Parr went to work for Dick, Kerr & Co., a locomotive manufacturer that converted production to munitions during the war, and joined the company team as a left-back when she was fifteen.

Her style may be rough and abrupt, but with a quick wit and dry sense of humour, she enjoyed strong friendships with many of her teammates, writes Newsham.

In one possibly apocryphal story, the team was playing at Ashton Park in Preston, England, northwest of Manchester, when a professional goalkeeper announced that a woman would not be able to score on a man. Parr, known for her strong left foot, accepted his challenge. She lines up to take a penalty kick against him and breaks the man’s arm with her shot.

Parr, who later moved to the left wing, exploded onto the scene in 1921.

On February 5 of that year, she scored a hat-trick – three goals in one match – in Nelson, England; She scored three days later at Stalybridge in a 10-0 win. In the 9-1 win at Anfield next week, she scored five goals against an all-star team put together by comedian Harry Weldon. In May, she scored every goal in a 5-1 win over a visiting French team.

Parr’s shooting and crossing abilities, combined with her impressive physique (she was only 5 feet 10 inches or so), soon made her a star, and she finished 1921 with 108 goals, according to Newsham.

That year, the team won all 67 games played and scored 448 goals while allowing only 22 goals. Other players, including Redford and Harris, contributed to the team’s dominance. In one match in April 1921 at Barrow, for example, the team won 14-2 with seven goals from Redford, four from Harris and three from Parr. Redford led the overall scoring, with 170 goals.

On December 5, 1921, the FA unanimously passed its resolution declaring that football among women “should not be encouraged”. It stipulated that all Al-Ittihad clubs “refuse to use their lands for such matches.” Since almost all the stadiums are owned by association clubs, women’s football has been banned on any large scale in fact.

Similar bans were common around the world for most of the 20th century. The momentum that had been building since World War I stalled, and the sport for women on the vine faded away.

However, the Parr team continued to play to smaller crowds and on tours abroad. In 1922, she led a trip to the United States. That October, the team tied the men’s team, 4-4, in Washington, D.C. Some sources report that President Warren G. Harding started the game and signed the match ball.

As she continued to play, Parr trained to be a nurse and worked at what was then known as Whittingham Hospital, a psychiatric facility north-east of Preston. Some considered Barr to be an odd symbol, but there is no evidence that she was gay.

“Like all of our great football stars, there are as many legends as there are facts, and we all embroider their story with our own influences,” Gene WilliamsProfessor of Sports History at the University of Wolverhampton. “That’s why it means so much to so many.”

Parr’s career lasted into her forties. She played her last game in 1951. In 1965 she retired from nursing. A few years later, she was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent a double mastectomy. She lived to see the ban on women’s football lifted in 1971, but died of cancer on 24 May 1978 at her home in Preston. She was 73 years old.

It is only in recent decades that recognition of the achievements of Parr and its club has gained momentum. Historic marks for her team now in Preston factory siteAnd Preston North End Stadium And Ashton Park. The English National Football Museum has installed a permanent display about her life in 2021.

“Lily is a lens through which to look at the women’s game in the 1920s,” Belinda Scarlett, then curator of women’s football at the museum, said. he told the Guardian in 2020. “It will tell the stories of all the women I’ve played with and against.”

She added that “women’s football might not have survived if those groups of women had not fought this ban and just played wherever they could find space to play football.”