This article is part of Overlooked, a series of obituaries about notable people whose deaths have gone unreported in The Times since 1851.
In 1921, the Football Association, the governing body of English football, effectively banned women from playing the sport, saying it was “totally unfit for women”. But by then, a standout player named Lily Parr had already made a name for herself with her on-field skills.
Her fame was part of the growth of women’s football at the time, exemplified by the match she played at Liverpool’s Goodison Park, which drew a crowd of around 53,000, with thousands more outside the stadium. (it remains biggest crowd 99 years until the women’s club football match Atlético Madrid face Barcelona In front of 60,739 fans in March 2019. )
The association’s ban hampered Parr’s career and barred her and other women from playing in stadiums, but she competed wherever possible in fields and parks in England and abroad, and remained a prominent figure for the same team, Dick Carr Women’s Football Club, for 31 years.
In 1927, the British newspaper Leicester Mail described her as “a player of amazing agility and speed” with “chariot-like kicks”. By the time she retired from football in 1951, she had scored her estimated 1,000 goals.
Parr was “a great player on a great team,” said Gail Newsham, author of his 1994 book. Book In ‘In Our Own League!: Dick, Car Ladies 1917-1965’, she contributed to the club’s great success alongside other star goalscorers such as Florley Redford and Jenny Harris, as well as the team’s longest-serving captain, Alice Kell.
Football officials began lifting bans in the 1970s, not only in England but also in other countries. The first official Women’s World Cup was held in 1991 and interest in the event has grown significantly since then.
This year, the Women’s World Cup, which is being held in Australia and New Zealand, has expanded from 24 teams to 32 teams.
Club competition in England is also growing. The Women’s Super League started in 2011 and she turned fully professional in 2018. In the United States, the National Women’s Soccer League started in her 2013.
In 2002, Parr became the first woman. induced She is now inducted into the Hall of Fame at the National Football Museum in Manchester, where a life-size statue of her was installed in 2019, also the first female British footballer to do so.
“We have come a long way since the days of Lily Parr and she deserves to be recognized as a true pioneer of the sport,” said FASA spokeswoman Marzena Bogdanovich. in the Guardian paper in 2019.
Lillian Parr was born on 26 April 1905 in St Helens, about 16 miles northeast of Liverpool, to Sarah and George Parr, glassworkers. In her early years, she used to play soccer on the streets with her siblings.
Women’s football has been played in England since the late 19th century, but the First World War brought an opportunity for women’s football. As men were sent to fight and women went to work in the country’s factories, the government encouraged football as an after-work activity.
Parr worked for Dick Carr & Co., a locomotive factory that had switched production to munitions during the war, and joined the company’s team as a left-back around the age of 15.
Newsham wrote that while her demeanor may have been rough and brusque, her wit and dry sense of humor have forged strong friendships with many of her teammates.
According to a supposedly false story, when the teams were playing at Ashton Park in Preston, England, north-west of Manchester, a professional male goalkeeper declared that a woman could never score a goal from a man. Parr, famous for his powerful left foot, accepted his challenge. She lined up to take a penalty kick against him and broke the man’s arm on the shot.
Parr later switched to the left wing and had an explosive run in 1921.
On 5 February of the same year, she scored a hat-trick (three goals in one game) against Nelson in England. She scored another goal three days later against Stalybridge in a 10-0 win. The following week, she scored five goals in a 9-1 win over Liverpool at Anfield against an All-Star team assembled by comedian Harry Weldon. In May of the same year, she scored all her goals in a 5-1 win against her visiting French team.
According to Newsham, Parr’s shooting and crossing ability and her imposing physique (she was about 5 feet 10 inches tall and beefy) made her an instant star, scoring 108 goals in 1921.
That year the team won all 67 games they appeared in, scoring around 448 goals in the process and allowing just 22 goals. Other players, including Redford and Harris, also contributed to the team’s dominance. For example, in a match at Barrow in April 1921, the team won 14–2 with seven goals from Redford, four from Harris and three from Parr. Redford was the season’s top scorer with 170 goals.
On 5 December 1921, the Football Association unanimously passed a resolution declaring football “should not be encouraged” among women. It ordered all clubs in the association to “refuse to use the ground for such matches”. As virtually all stadiums were owned by association clubs, women’s football of any scale was effectively banned.
Similar bans were common around the world for much of the 20th century. The momentum that had been building since the First World War came to a halt, and women’s sports withered.
Despite this, Parr’s team continued to play in front of small crowds and on tour abroad. In 1922 she captained a trip to the United States. In October of the same year, the team drew 4-4 with the men’s team in Washington, DC. According to some sources, President Warren G. Harding started the game and signed the game ball.
Continuing to play, Parr trained to be a nurse and worked at a psychiatric hospital northeast of Preston, then known as Whittingham Hospital. Some see her pa as a symbol of queerness, but there is no evidence that she was gay.
“Like all great football stars, there are as many myths as there are facts, and we all embroider her story with our own influences,” he said. Jean Williams, Professor of Sports History at the University of Wolverhampton. “That’s why she means so much to so many people.”
Parr’s career lasted well into his 40s. She played her last match in 1951. In 1965 she retired from nursing. A few years later she was diagnosed with breast cancer and had her double mastectomy. She lived until women’s football was legalized in 1971, but she died of cancer at her home in Preston on 24 May 1978. She was 73 years old.
It’s only in recent decades that Parr and her club’s achievements have come to be recognized. Her team’s historical indicators are now Former Preston factory site, Stadium in Preston North End and Ashton Park. The British National Football Museum Permanent exhibition about her life In 2021.
“Lily is the lens through which we look at women’s football in the ’20s,” says Belinda Scarlett, then the museum’s curator of women’s football. told the Guardian “It will tell the story of every woman she’s played with or against.”
She added, “If these women’s groups hadn’t fought the ban and played wherever there was space to play football, women’s football probably wouldn’t have survived.”