Book - 'Unsuitable for Females'

With the England Women's football team playing a friendly tonight, and in Euros action next week, Tony Cross took a timely look at Unsuitable for Females: The Rise of the Lionesses and Women’s Football in England by Carrie Dunn, out now from Arena Sport...

First, before you read this review, you should know that Carrie Dunn is a friend of mine. However, I have approached reading this book and reviewing it in with the same spirit I suspect Carrie Dunn would have if she was reviewing something I had written – as honestly and constructively as possible.

This is a guide to the history of women's football in England. From the late-19th century and the women who first started to play football – despite being frowned upon – and then built teams and fledging Women's leagues. Then we get to the FA's infamous 1921 ban on women's football, a game they said was..."quite unsuitable for females." But which might have been more based on the worrying popularity of teams like Dick, Kerr Ladies* during World War One.

But women didn't stop playing football after 1921. They played in works teams and local teams ignoring the FA's rules that meant they couldn't use the facilities of men's teams and just found their own places to play and their own officials. Gradually, despite the continuing sexism and - frankly - pettiness of the FA an amateur women's game began to form, including fledgling international teams. Each decade saw further steps forward until the FA was forced, by UEFA and FIFA, to accept Women's football as official. The story then takes us through the 80s, 90s and into the new millennia and up to the present day and beyond.

Dunn has taken one person or one incident or team as the hook for each chapter that then expands to tell the story of an era more generally. Sometimes information is scarce. Sport is often edited out of social history – or was until recently - but women's sport, like a lot of women's history, suffers even more from the lack of sources. The invisibility of women in history in general is even more obvious in the history of women's sports. But Dunn does a good job of explaining those gaps and telling the stories that can be told without that information. Women's football has a more precarious existence than the men's game, certainly at the upper levels.

The increasing popularity of the women's game is also part of this story, although I found it interesting that some of the older players weren't quite as enamoured of this new popularity as you'd expect and it isn't jealousy about money like it often is in the men's game, it seems to be a genuine fondness - nostalgia? - for a more amateur ethos. Money spoils sport. Professionalism comes with a pressure that perhaps weren't there before. You hear it a lot when people talk about sport.

I recommend this as an excellent overview of the changing nature of the women's football. There are lots of great stories in here and there is a chance for people - mainly women, obviously - to have their stories told and Dunn helps tell them well.

*When I first read about the history of women’s football, I’m sure there was no comma in Dick Kerr Ladies. Now it is Dick, Kerr Ladies, which is correct but bizarrely irritating.

Follow Tony on Twitter @Lokster71

Image - Amazon

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