LGBT+ Historical past Month: Lily Parr – trailblazer with a ‘kick like a mule’

LGBT+ Historical past Month: Lily Parr – trailblazer with a ‘kick like a mule’

A profile shot of Dick, Kerr Ladies footballer Lily Parr
Lily Parr scored practically 1,000 targets in a stellar profession

“The sport of soccer is kind of unsuitable for females and ought to not be inspired.”

These have been the phrases of the Soccer Affiliation in 1921 as they banned feminine footballers from enjoying on skilled pitches, leaving them with basically nowhere to play.

Lily Parr was one of many many ladies who had their skilled profession ended by the FA’s ruling. However she and her fellow gamers persevered, enjoying the place they might, and their efforts shaped the spine that the ladies’s sport is constructed on at the moment.

Parr was additionally unashamedly herself. She and her associate, Mary, have been open about their relationship, at a time when members of the LGBT+ neighborhood have been ostracised.

That is Parr’s story – a trailblazer with a left foot like a mule who was paid in cigarettes and drew 50,000 capability crowds.


Parr was the fourth of seven kids, born in 1905 in a disadvantaged space of St Helens. She performed soccer and rugby together with her brothers, finally turning out for the St Helens Women soccer group.

Creator Barbara Jacobs mentioned the left-footer had “a pure skill, magic, however honed by her refusal to adapt to the artwork of being a girl. She wasn’t having any of it.” Parr may kick a ball, and kick it exhausting; one future team-mate would describe her as having a “kick like a mule”.

As males left to battle in World Warfare One, Britain’s munitions factories have been short-staffed. They turned to ladies to fill the areas left, albeit on half the pay of their male counterparts. Throughout lunch breaks, ladies did what the boys did earlier than them – they kicked a soccer round. The supervisors have been initially suspicious earlier than they realised this could possibly be a option to enhance productiveness, and groups have been shaped.

In 1919, the Dick, Kerr Women group, representing a manufacturing facility in Preston, met the St Helens Women group. They misplaced 6-1external-link, nevertheless it was St Helens’ 5ft 10in 14-year-old winger who caught the attention of the opposition supervisor Arnold Frankland. He provided Parr and her team-mate Alice Woods an area on the group and a job within the manufacturing facility. Frankland agreed to pay Parr 10 shillings each time she performed for the group – and a supplementary fee of a packet of Woodbine cigarettes.

In her first season, Parr scored 43 targets earlier than she turned 16. An area newspaper mentioned there was “in all probability no higher soccer prodigy in the entire nation.” She reportedly broke a male goalkeeper’s arm as he tried to dam one in all her pictures.

Essentially the most astonishing second got here on 26 December, 1920. Greater than 53,000 folks have been inside Everton’s Goodison Park stadium to look at Dick, Kerr Women, with round 12,000 caught exterior, unable to get in. They beat Parr’s former group, St Helens Women, 4-0.

The group performed 67 matches in 1921, with the gamers holding down full-time jobs. They twice represented England in matches in opposition to Wales – each of which they gained – they usually additionally beat Scotland.

The Dick, Kerr Ladies football team in line on a goal line, with Lily Parr at the front holding a football
Lily Parr (entrance, holding the soccer) was the star participant for the Dick, Kerr Women group

Nonetheless, the Soccer Affiliation – the game’s governing physique – have been additionally watching. Dick, Kerr Women usually performed matches to boost cash for native staff, significantly for out-of-work miners, who the working class gamers felt a powerful connection to.

The FA dominated in 1921 that girls may not play at main venues, which meant they might not elevate cash for charity and must play on leisure grounds as a substitute. FA members have been additionally barred from officiating any ladies’s soccer match.

Ladies’s soccer had been tolerated throughout the warfare as a result of it raised morale. However that they had not anticipated its post-war recognition, one which was genuinely threatening the boys’s sport. On 5 December, they declared soccer was “unsuitable for females”.

Parr’s skilled profession was over on the age of 16.

Nonetheless, the group continued. Frankland took them on a tour of the Unites States of America, the place they performed 9 males’s groups in entrance of crowds of 10,000. In a single journey, Parr and three of her team-mates took on the USA’ ladies’s Olympic relay group for a race over 1 / 4 of a mile. They gained.

The group was renamed Preston Women in 1926 and Parr remained with them. By the point she was named captain in 1946, it was reported she had scored 967 of the group’s 3,022 targets, and had missed simply 5 matches. Throughout this time, she had certified and continued to work as a nurse, in addition to turning into the primary in her household to personal her own residence. She and Mary labored on the identical hospital and have been open about their relationship.

In contrast to male homosexuality, lesbianism was by no means unlawful in England. Laws was rejected due to a worry that any consideration would encourage ladies to discover homosexuality.external-link

Parr performed her final sport in August 1950, aged 45. She scored one final time in a 11-1 thrashing of Scotland. She scored just below 1,000 targets in her lengthy profession, however she had been robbed of knowledgeable one.

Parr died of most cancers in 1978, aged 73. She lived to see the FA overturn their choice to ban ladies enjoying on affiliate grounds – in 1971, 50 years after it had been imposed – and the governing physique would, in 2008, problem an apology for its remedy of ladies’s footballers in Parr’s time.

A statue of footballer Lily Parr housed in the National Football Museum in Manchester
Lily Parr was the primary feminine footballer to be commemorated with a statue

Parr’s legacy, as a footballer and an LGBT+ icon, has grown since her demise. The Lily Parr Exhibition Trophy was performed between LGBT+ soccer groups from England, France and the USA between 2007 and 2009.

She was the primary lady inducted into the English Soccer Corridor of Fame on the Nationwide Soccer Museum in 2002 in Manchester, the place a statue was constructed of her in 2019 to commemorate her achievements. The museum can even be opening a gallery devoted to her in spring this yr.

What Parr achieved was exceptional, and but, it may have been extra. How many individuals missed out on seeing Parr and her team-mates play? What number of feminine footballers have been misplaced due to the FA’s ruling? And what number of women and boys would have been impressed to take up the sport if that they had been capable of see gamers of Parr’s high quality on the largest phases?

However Parr’s legacy lives on. It’s there each time a feminine footballer breaks a report, or an occasion is offered out, or a participant is well known for her footballing prowess. The success of the ladies’s sport is a testomony to Parr and people she performed alongside.

You may watch a function on Lily Parr’s life on Soccer Give attention to BBC One at 12:00 GMT on Saturday, 6 February.

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