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Monday, June 17, 2019

Guest blog: Hey’s Ladies of Bradford, the forgotten football champions of Yorkshire.

In the first of our blogs looking back on the history of women's football we would like to thank our good friend Dr. David Pendleton for allowing us to use his research article featuring one of the teams who pioneered the game in West Yorkshire as a guest blog. 
Since the article was put together documentation of a further 12 games have found.

Hey’s Ladies of Bradford,
the forgotten football champions of Yorkshire

Dr. David Pendleton

Thanks to Kathryn Hey for this image.


The exponential growth of women’s football has brought with it a welcome re-examination of the history of the women’s game. Unsurprisingly, Dick Kerr’s Ladies of Preston feature heavily in much of the coverage, but there are many other examples waiting rediscovery. One is the Hey’s Ladies, a team based at the Hey’s Brewery in Bradford. The workers, largely from the brewery’s bottling plant, rose to become a serious challenger to Dick Kerr’s and Hey’s Ladies were often promoted as the champions of Yorkshire.

While the story of the team is worthy of attention in itself, this examination of Hey’s Ladies’ football team also allows a snapshot of the tensions of gender, sport and the workplace that were partly a continuation of issues that arose during the Great War. Hey’s Ladies were a product of their age and many of their achievements, and setbacks, are transferable to other works based women’s football teams of the era. By retelling their story we are able to deepen the history of women’s football and give a timely reminder that expansion and popularity brought challenges in the 1920s that are likely to be repeated as the women’s game enjoys another era of growth. 

Munitionettes, mill girls and the Great War

Before delving into the story of the Hey’s Ladies it is worth placing their achievements into a historical framework. Pinning down the first recorded game of women’s football is a moveable feast, as the digitisation of British newspapers carries on apace, undoubtedly ‘firsts’ will be claimed and debunked with  growing regularity. Until recently, academics viewed a match at Inverness in 1888 as being the first recorded game, whatever the truth of that statement, there is no doubt that it was the First World War that transformed women’s football. With so many men fighting at the front it was the women of Britain who stepped forward to fill the gaps in the workplace. They worked in factories, drove trams, delivered the post and much else besides. It is estimated that over one million women entered the workplace during the war. The cultural impact of the empowerment of women, who did not even have the right to vote, cannot be overstated. Particularly given the context of the Suffragette campaign which had been suspended for the duration of the Great War.

The influx of women into hazardous industries, particularly munitions factories, raised official concerns. Government supervisors were sent to observe and make recommendations as regards the welfare of the newly employed women. One recommendation was that sporting activities should be encouraged. Football was taken up with such zeal that it almost became the official sport of the so-called ‘munitionettes' - the nickname deriving from the factory production of munitions (shells, bullets, bombs, etc) for the armed services. However, although the munitionettes were a highly visible element of women’s football, many other industries that employed large numbers of women also spawned football teams. As will be shown, that is supported by developments in Bradford with the formation of teams from iron works, textile mills and a brewery.

From at least 1917 women’s football teams were active in Bradford. In the September of that year a match took place at Bradford Park Avenue featuring teams from the factories of Thwaites Bros. Ltd. iron works of Thornton Road and Phoenix Dynamo Manufacturing Ltd. Bradford City’s 1911 FA Cup winning manager Peter O’Rourke referenced these games when he wrote in support of women’s football in the Yorkshire Weekly Record. The matches were probably played in aid of injured servicemen and the families of men killed in action. Inevitably some of the women playing would have had fathers, husbands, brothers or sons who had been killed or wounded, so participating in the games would have been deeply personal to them.

Undoubtedly, the most famous of the women’s works’ teams was the Preston based Dick Kerr’s Ladies who popularised the women’s game after the war. By the 1920s they had become the de facto England women’s national team. By contrast most of the Bradford based works’ teams appear to have disbanded after the war ended in 1918. However, one team, perhaps inspired by Dick Kerr’s, was formed in 1921 as Manningham (or Lister’s) Ladies. The bulk of the team was made up of Lister’s Mill hockey team. Both teams played in the same yellow and black colours and were part of a huge paternalistic sports section that was provided by both the mill owners and subscriptions deducted from the workers’ wages.

When it was announced that Maningham Ladies would meet the famous Dick Kerr’s Ladies at Valley Parade, there was considerable interest in their preparations. A large crowd watched their final practice match on the Manningham Mills’ Scotchman Road playing fields. Several photographs appeared in the local press of the training and the left-winger Holden was said to be ‘the Dickie Bond of the team’; Bond being Bradford City’s famous England international winger.
Miss Derry captained both Lister’s football and hockey teams. In a press interview she said she had seen Bradford City play twice, but the majority of the players had never been to a match. The inexperience showed during practice when some of the players forgot which way they were playing. However, Derry, and her team mate Bogg, had gained valuable experience when they played the previous week for a combined Yorkshire and Lancashire team that had met Dick Kerr’s at Leeds.

On 13 April 1921 Manningham Ladies played Dick Kerr’s Ladies at Valley Parade.  Bradford City’s captain George Robinson acted as referee, while other City players Frank O’Rourke and Dickie Bond ran the lines. Around ten thousand spectators saw Dick Kerr’s run out comfortable 6-0 winners, but the Manningham Ladies, despite being formed only six weeks before the game, were said to have given a good account of themselves. The £900 raised by the match was split between Bradford Hospitals and Earl Haigh’s Fund for former servicemen. After the game both teams dined at the Great Northern Victoria Hotel. Later they took in a show as guests of honour at the Alhambra Theatre.

Yorkshire’s Champions, Hey’s Ladies

                                          Thanks to Kathryn Hey for this image.

Although the Manningham Ladies appear to have been short-lived, their achievements appear to have been the inspiration behind the formation in April 1921 of another Bradford based team, Hey’s Ladies, made up of workers from Hey’s Brewery of Lumb Lane, Manningham. The two teams met one another during a five-a-side ‘sport carnival’ at Bradford Park Avenue on 6 August 1921. Around 8,000 spectators watched a men’s competition featuring sides from Barnsley, Bradford City, Bradford Park Avenue, Halifax Town, Harrogate, Huddersfield Town, Hull City and Leeds United. The ladies match saw Hey’s defeat Lister’s Ladies 2-0. That game in some ways represented a change in women’s football in Bradford, it could be argued that Lister’s Ladies epitomised the charitable, one-off, nature of some women’s football in the wake of the Great War, whereas Hey’s Ladies signalled something more permanent and perhaps a shift in societal attitudes?

The fact that it was another Manningham team is suggestive that there may have been an element of support, or inspiration from, Bradford City AFC whose Valley Parade ground was within a mile of Manningham Mills and only a few minutes walk from Hey’s Brewery. The links between the Hey family and Bradford City AFC are particularly compelling. Herbert Hey, a worsted manufacturer, but directly related to the brewers, had been a director of Bradford City AFC between 1910 and 1913 and was vice-president of the club between 1921 and 1922. Arthur Hey, the general manager of the brewery, was also a director at Valley Parade between 1927 and 1929 and again between 1933 and 1947. Judging by newspaper reports it appears that it was Arthur Hey who was the driving force behind Hey’s Ladies. The majority of women’s teams were headed by a male administrator. The lack of female leadership off the field probably reflects the nature of women’s work and commitments within the family home. In comparison to their male counterparts leisure time would have been far more constrained. However, in the absence of company records, it is impossible to establish whether Hey’s Ladies was formed due to Arthur Hey’s close associations with the game of football, or whether it was the women themselves who initiated the team. The latter is a possibility, as ‘there is much to support the view that playing football was an activity initiated by women’. Another factor that should be borne in mind is that Hey’s Brewery used football imagery in their advertising, so their support of Hey’s Ladies could have been a recognition of the popularity, and advertising opportunities, offered by women’s football in the early 1920s. What is certain is that women’s football fell on fertile grounds at Hey’s Brewery and it is without doubt that Hey’s Ladies received enthusiastic backing from the company.

The close links between Hey’s Brewery and Bradford City AFC almost certainly led to Hey’s Ladies making their public bow at Valley Parade in a fund raising match in aid of the ‘New Motor Lifeboat Fund’. It was the beginning of a long association between the city of Bradford and the RNLI as the success of the fund led to a lifeboat being named ‘City of Bradford’ which was based at Spurn Head at the mouth of the River Humber. The fund raising match enjoyed civic patronage as the Lord Mayor of Bradford, Lieut-Col. Anthony Gadie, was credited with organising the event. It took place on 19 October 1921. Inevitably, the famous Dick Kerr’s Ladies provided the opposition. Acting as linesmen were Bradford City’s Scottish international keeper Jock Ewart and centre forward Frank O’Rourke. Hey’s Ladies lost 4-1, with E. Jackson scoring the consolation goal. The attendance of 4,070 raised £184 for the New Lifeboat Fund.

The visits of Dick Kerr’s to Bradford was just a small part of the Preston based team’s prodigious charitable and fund raising work. However, when women footballers played several matches to aid striking miners in Lancashire, it arguably gave the Football Association the excuse they were looking for in order to stifle the popularity of teams such as Dick Kerr’s. In December 1921 the FA banned women from playing on Football League grounds. Although the intricacies of the ban will not be discussed in this article, it is worth reproducing the FA statement in order to illustrate the pressures being faced by the women’s game:

Complaints having been made as to football being played by women, the council feel impelled to express their strong opinion that the game of football is quite unsuitable for females and ought not to be encouraged. Complaints have also been made as to the conditions under which some of these matches have been arranged and played, and the appropriation of receipts to other than charitable objects. The council are further of the opinion that an excessive proportion of the receipts are absorbed in expenses and an inadequate percentage devoted to charitable objects. For these reasons the council request clubs belonging to the association to refuse the use of their grounds for such matches.

Arthur Hey informed the Yorkshire Evening Post that, despite the FA ban, Hey’s Ladies ‘would continue so long as the girls wanted to play’. He defended women’s football saying that ‘the girls enjoy playing football, they worked all the better for it and were much better in health’. Hey thought that it ‘was as if the FA were jealous of the girls encroaching on their sacred preserves’. He viewed the governing body’s actions as ‘interference practically amounting to impertinence’ and challenged the FA to divulge any evidence of alleged abuse of expenses. He stated that Hey’s Ladies only charged expenses if they undertook an ‘exceptionally long journey’. However, Hey did reveal that the players were paid ‘broken time’ if they suffered a loss in wages. The only fixed expense was insurance against injuries. This was in line with similar recompenses paid by Dick Kerr’s and may have been a standard model across the women’s game. He said that the ladies team had cost the brewery £60 in subsidy since their formation eight months earlier.

Perhaps partly in defiance of the ban, Hey’s met the previously unbeaten Doncaster Ladies on Boxing Day 1921 in a match that was advertised as ‘the championship of Yorkshire’. Hey’s won by five clear goals and in subsequent publicity they were referred to as the ‘Yorkshire champions’. Despite the hyperbole, the charity work continued and on 7 January 1922 Hey’s Ladies met Dick Kerr’s to play a match in aid of the Wakefield Workpeople’s Hospital Fund. Due to the Football Association ban they were forced to play at Belle Vue, home of Wakefield Trinity Rugby League Club. The use of a Rugby League ground is illustrative of the creative thinking women’s football was forced to adopt in order to find venues on which to play and circumvent the FA ban. Around 5,000 spectators saw, what was termed, a thrilling 1-1 draw. Florrie Redford opened the scoring for Dick Kerr’s after only ten minutes with a strong cross shot. Mabel Benson in the Hey’s net, got a hand on the ball, but could not prevent the goal. Despite losing ‘Tiny’ Emmerson with a twisted knee after fifty-five minutes, Hey’s pressed hard for an equaliser. It came five minutes from time when the little centre forward, E. Jackson, got through to score with a brilliant shot. Despite heavy pressure Dick Kerr’s hung on to preserve their unbeaten record. A rematch was arranged to take place at Greenfield Stadium, Bradford. The ground was a well-known athletics ground and had been the home of Bradford Northern Rugby League Club for one season in 1907/08. The match was to be played in aid of Manningham Soldiers Fund. Unfortunately, heavy snow caused its postponement, but the match eventually went ahead on 18 February 1922. Bradford East MP Captain Loseby kicked off the game. The match was a high-scoring 4-4 draw. 

Perhaps partly in recognition of the prowess of Hey’s Ladies, Bradford was becoming something of a centre for women’s football. The inaugural meeting of the English Ladies FA had been held in the city in 1921 and Bradford had been selected to host the 1922 English Ladies FA Challenge Cup Final. However, a suitable ground could not be found and the final had to be relocated. The difficulty in finding grounds in the wake of the FA ban was illustrated when in March 1922 Bradford Rugby Union Football Club applied to the Yorkshire Rugby Union to host a game between Hey's Ladies and a French touring side. James Miller of Leeds opposed the application, saying that football was not suitable for women, and when they tried to play it they made a ridiculous exhibition of themselves. He was supported by the Rev. Huggard of Barnsley who said that ‘they respected, and loved their women, and therefore ought not to encourage them to do anything derogatory to their position, or anything that would be unseemly’. The application was refused.

The match was moved to what was rapidly becoming Hey’s home ground, Greenfield at Dudley Hill. The French team, Olympique de Paris, contained five athletic champions in their ranks. Their arrival in Bradford caused great interest and they were photographed on the steps of their base, the Rawson Hotel (owned by the Hey’s Brewery), before the match. The game was played in aid of Rheims Cathedral Restoration Fund and the Bradford Hospital Fund. The cathedral had been severely damaged by German shelling during the Great War. It was portrayed as a war crime and a British Empire Fund for Restoration of Rheims Cathedral was launched. It eventually raised 443,000 francs and, in an act of solidarity and gratitude, a plaque was laid in the cathedral commemorating British and Commonwealth soldiers killed in France. On 28 March 1922 an estimated 3,000 spectators saw Hey’s defeat their French opponents 2-0. Among the match reports is a line that suggests that Hey’s may have been poaching players from other Yorkshire clubs as it was said that Lucy Bromage had ‘again’ turned out for Hey’s. Bromage usually played for Doncaster Ladies and was the daughter of the former Derby County and Leeds City goalkeeper Harry Bromage.

What appears to have been Hey’s Ladies final flourish came in the six team Whitehead Lifeboat Shield competition. Played during May 1922 it featured: Doncaster Ladies, Hey's Ladies, Huddersfield Alexandra, Huddersfield Atalanta, Huddersfield Ladies and Keighley. Hey’s defeated Huddersfield Alexandria 4-1 and Huddersfield Atalanta 4-0 en route to the final. Around 5,000 spectators witnessed the final at Greenfield when Hey’s defeated Doncaster Ladies 4-0. The Lord Mayor of Bradford Thomas Blythe presented the shield to Mabel Benson, the victorious Hey’s captain. After winning the shield Hey’s Ladies appear to have played only a handful of matches before switching to cricket in 1925. Hey’s met their old adversaries Dick Kerr’s at Burnley and Castleford in 1923, 1924 and 1925. The seemingly abrupt ending also occurred to the women’s game in the Leigh and Wigan areas.

Hey’s Ladies first reported cricket match was played against a team from the Bradford Dyer’s Association. Hey’s Ladies scored 105 for the loss of four wickets.  The Dyers’ Association side was all out for nine.  ‘Tiny’ Emmerson (a winger from the football team), took seven wickets for seven runs.  Margaret Whelan (scorer of several goals for Hey’s Ladies) captured three wickets for two runs.  The team played in the Bradford Ladies’ Evening Cricket League. In 1931 they won all four cups offered in Bradford.

In the wake of the FA ban the women’s game has been described as being placed in a state of ‘suspended animation’, it is likely that the fate of Hey’s Ladies is representative of that process Until the revival of women’s football in the 1980s, the game in Bradford was reduced to one off events such as the floodlit 1953 match between Preston Ladies and Manchester at Odsal Stadium. On a purely local level, occasional charity games between women’s teams continued to take place. One example being the 1956 game between the Queen Tigers, from the Queen public house on Thornton Road, and a team from Fairweather Green Working Men’s Club. The game raised £12 10s for Fairweather Green WMC annual children’s treat. According to newspaper reports the match was a lively affair with much screaming and hair pulling. At one point both goalkeepers were reportedly embroiled in a fight for the ball. 


Why did women’s football become a popular spectator sport and why was it confined to a relatively brief period. The linkage with the Great War and the fact that the game had a social purpose that enabled women’s football to side step the constraints imposed by gender politics and stereotypes. In particular, the tapping into the narrative of the ‘plucky heroine’ that emerged during the Great War as women were ‘thrown into traditional male roles at home, in the work place and on the sports field’, meant that games during this era avoided condescending and hostile perceptions that have dogged women’s football. It has been argued that spectators were more receptive because the matches were charitable events that raised money for the families of soldiers killed or wounded at the front.

Hey’s prowess on the field of play, the meeting of the English Ladies FA at Bradford in 1921 and the abortive attempt to host the 1922 English Ladies FA Challenge Cup Final, illustrate that Bradford was one of the key locations during the first phase of women’s football during, and shortly after, the Great War. Hey’s Ladies adoption of cricket in 1925 may reflect the pressures brought to bear on the management of Hey’s Brewery, who were also involved at board level with Bradford City AFC during the same period, by the FA ban. However, the fact that the social context of women’s football’s charitable role and workplace emancipation had lost some of its focus by the early 1920s could also have been a factor.

It could be argued that the subsequent chaotic and light hearted matches, as represented by the 1956 game at Fairweather Green, represented the ultimate victory of those who sought to crush women’s football in the wake of the Great War. The high minded ideals of charity, emancipation and solidarity had fallen a long way. The fact that the FA’s ban on women’s football was not lifted until 1971 reflects poorly on, and asks uncomfortable questions of, the so-called people’s game.  Even after the ban was lifted it was another decade before women’s football began a long overdue rehabilitation. However, as the country commemorates the centenary of the Great War, perhaps at long last the munitionettes, the mill girls and Yorkshire’s champions, Hey’s Brewery Ladies, can begin to take their rightful place in the sporting and social history of Bradford and beyond.
Since putting this article together evidence of a further 12 games have been found.

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