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67,000 At Goodison Park (1920)


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There was a huge attendance for the 1920 Boxing Day fixture between Manchester United and Aston Villa in the First Division: a crowd of over 72,000 saw United go down 3-1, with "many thousands who had made the journey unable to get into the ground". A new record for Old Trafford, the match proved the largest draw of the day – but it was not the most significant.


Thirty-odd miles down the road in Liverpool, another record crowd was gathering. At Goodison Park, the all-female works team of Preston-based munitions factory Dick, Kerr & Co were taking on a team from St Helens in a charity match for "disabled and unemployed soldiers and sailors" who had suffered in the Great War. Dick, Kerr Ladies, led by their star striker Lily Parr, ran out 4-0 winners, the match raising over £3,000 for charity. Initial reports said 45,000 had paid to watch the game, but that figure was later revised to nearly 53,000, with over 14,000 more reportedly locked out. It was a record attendance for a ladies match – and one which sent the misogynistic mandarins of the FA into a hot stew.


Dick, Kerr were a skilful outfit and had been drawing large crowds for quite some time. Initially this was tolerated because the menfolk were at war — but when the appetite for the women's game continued to match the men's after the Football League restarted in 1919, the blokes panicked, and this crowd proved to be the last straw. After nearly a year of frantic political manoeuvring, the FA finally banned women from the game, citing spurious medical reasons and unfounded financial chicanery.


"Few people will quarrel with the decision," reasoned a think piece in, ahem, the progressive and free-thinking Manchester Guardian. "If largish crowds have been drawn once or twice for matches between teams of women, those crowds are a symptom not so much of an interest in football as of an appetite for the sensational in athletic spectacles." This frankly dubious article went on to suggest that "cricket, lacrosse and hockey" were "good enough" for the ladies. "With these to go at, the most virile young woman might leave Association alone without any great feeling of deprivation." Some hope: women players would fight the good fight for the sport they had been deprived of, and eventually regain their rights — though the ban would, disgracefully, not be lifted by the FA until 1971.

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