18 May 2017
History in the making - Dick, Kerr Ladies are honoured with the first ever blue plaque awarded to a women's football team
Gail Newsham said "no words could express" how thrilled she was as an historic first blue plaque dedicated to women’s football was unveiled in Preston to celebrate the centenary of the Dick, Kerr Ladies Football Team.
The plaque has been added to the former Dick, Kerr & Co, now Alstom, factory building on Strand Road, where the team originally formed 100 years ago.
The grandson of founding player Grace Sibbert, David Coulton, and Valerie Conn, the granddaughter of the team’s first ever captain Alice Kell, were on hand to officially unveil the plaque.
Former players Sheila Parker, who started her playing career with the Preston team and went on to become the first captain of England in 1972, and June Gregson, who played for the
Ladies in the 1940s and 50s, were also in attendance along with former Everton and England goalkeeping legend Rachel Brown-Finnis and Rachel Pavlou from the Football Association.
Gail, a proud Lancastrian and author of "In a League of Their Own' A history of Dick, Kerr Ladies FC," has worked tirelessly to preserve the team’s legacy since 1994.
She said: “I have been championing the Dick, Kerr Ladies for 25 years. No other town or city in the world can boast the proud history of this pioneering team.
"I have always believed in them and been in awe of their success. They certainly deserve this long overdue honour.
"This blue plaque is the first in the world for the best in the world. Words cannot express how thrilled I am for them today.”
Dick, Kerr Ladies were founded at Preston's Dick, Kerr & Co. munitions factory in 1917 to raise money for wounded soldiers and around 10,000 spectators attended the first game on Christmas Day 1917, which took place at Preston North End's Deepdale ground and raised the princely sum of £600.
Three years later, 53,000 fans watched them play at Everton's Goodison Park, which remains one of the largest crowds for the women's game in the UK.
They went on to record a whole series of ground-breaking 'firsts' for the women's game, including having the first female manager and taking part in the first women's international game - a match against a French XI which they won 2-0 in front of 25,000 fans.
However, in 1921, the Football Association (FA) banned the women's game, on the grounds that football was "unsuitable for females and ought not to be encouraged".
Despite the ban, the side continued to play across the world and chalked more than 200 games without defeat.
They disbanded in 1965, four years before the Women's Football Association was formed, due to a lack of players.
However inspired by their story, Gail embarked on a mission to ensure that "these special ladies" were never forgotten.
The grandson of player Grace Sibbert, David Coulton, paid tribute to Gail's dedication and efforts. He said: "A great deal of thanks must be given to Gail who has made the media and public aware of the great journey those ladies embarked on 100 years ago.
"The part my Grandmother played in getting the team started in 1917 always fills me with pride whenever I see photos of the teams or read about their exploits as pioneering ladies footballers.
"Today’s unveiling is a fitting tribute to the girls of Dick Kerr and the memories they have left to us and the future of women’s football."
It is hoped the blue plaque will be the predecessor to a bronze commemorative Dick, Kerr Ladies relief plaque planned for the city in the future.
Already, the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) has committed to providing some of the funding for the bronze plaque, with other local partners being invited to contribute.
University of Central Lancashire Pro-Chancellor and Chair of the University Board David Taylor commented: “The Dick, Kerr Ladies story is a key part of Preston’s sporting heritage. In our role as a civic university, we are delighted to work alongside Gail and the many other hard working volunteers to highlight and commemorate the amazing achievements of these pioneering women.
“The Dick, Kerr Ladies all came from very traditional working class backgrounds and became the most successful women’s football team in history. For the people who live, work and study in our city, their success is something we should warmly celebrate.
"We have already given our backing to establishing a bronze relief in Preston to further celebrate these amazing sporting trailblazers and look forward to working with Gail on several other events planned this year to mark the Dick, Kerr Ladies centenary year.”
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