Archives for posts with tag: First World War

Dick Kerr Ladies 1922

By the mid point of 1918 sources on the Aintree Ladies team start to become fewer and fewer as the local papers carry only a hand full of articles on the team.

After the game at Goodison many must have thought that the Aintree Ladies were here to stay. This must have seemed even more unlikely as they took on the biggest team in the country, Dick Kerr’s Ladies from Preston.

An article in the Liverpool Echo stated that the two teams had already met but no source evidence could be found for this game. Their second game however was to take place at the New Brighton Tower Ground just across the Mersey on the Wirral.

Its unlikely many would recognise this ground today but in the early 20th Century the ground was one of the largest in area boasting 60,000 capacity. The New Brighton Tower Company had built the ground as a summer attraction and it was used for Football in the winter.

The Tower Ground had been home to New Brighton Tower FC who were a founding member of the Second Division. But tiny attendances meant the team only lasted two seasons.

For the Aintree team playing at the Tower Ground was not a step down and was a fitting place to play Dick Kerr’s Ladies.

The game had received very little promotion so the attendance was extremely low but still managed a gate receipt of £300.

In the Liverpool Echo a short description was given of the game which simply stated that Dick Kerr’s Ladies had won 1-0. The article also stated about the game ‘As a game it was quite interesting, fairly fast, and was a surprise to those who believe it would be a shoving match…’

The article went on to say the coaching of Mr Little had really improved the Aintree Ladies performance in recent months. However Dick Kerr’s were the better side with the article sating ‘But Preston’s representatives were the bigger and better in height and weight and in the defence they had a habit of packing their goal that made Aintree look crushed out.’

Although the article had little mention of the game it did carry a sizable opinion piece titled ‘Come to Stay-Not Come to Blows’ discussing whether Ladies football would continue to grow.

The author believed ‘I think their stay will be long in the lad of Football. They have a keen sense of the right thing to do, keep the ball on the turf and show stamina that one could not have thought possible.’

Continuing on such a positive note the article stated that they could head balls well and ‘…did not spin when the ball hit their curly locks.’ Alongside this the ladies very rarely lost their cool or came to blows with other players.

With such praise one would have believed that like Dick Kerr’s the Aintree Ladies would continue to rise. But if the quantity of sources is anything to go by then they pretty much fell of the face of the earth. After this game the Liverpool Echo made only one glancing mention of the team was made around a game against the Amatol Munitions Ladies team which was postponed.

The team seem to rise and catch the imagination of the local press and public but in the long term they fell into obscurity. Why is difficult to answer without the source material but perhaps a lack of different opponents had led to the public to become disinterested.

What ever the reason for their sudden departure from the world of Football their legacy should not be forgotten as their contributions laid the foundations for the meteoric rise in the Ladies game of the 1920s.

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Goodison (unknown game)

The Aintree Munitions Ladies team had spent several months visiting grounds in Wirral, Chester, Wrexham, St Helens and yet they had never actually played a game in the city they lived and worked in, Liverpool.

Touring the more provincial towns did however give the ladies the opportunity to perfect their skills as footballer in front of ever growing crowds. The introduction of the Haymarket Munitions Ladies added a new dimension as the ladies could play a team not handicapped like many of the men’s teams they played.

By April 1918 the Aintree Ladies had raised around £600 for the Sportsman’s Ambulance fund and played in front of an estimated 30,000 spectators over the months. With increasing interest in the ladies game it would only be a matter of time before a ground more use to men’s First Division football would request the lady’s services.

The game at Prenton Park in 1918 had heavily involved the Everton Chairman of Directors Mr W R Clayton and so it was not surprising he arranged for the Aintree Munitions Ladies to play Haymarket Munitions Ladies at Goodison.

The Aintree Ladies would make their debut at one of the county’s great stadiums on Easter Monday with a high attendance expected. The Liverpool Echo carried an article claiming the women had scored 55 goals this season without conceding a single goal. Although completely untrue the Aintree Ladies were the stronger side going into the game.

Unlike previous games the match at Goodison was to raise funds for the Fallen and Disabled Footballers Fund.

Although the local press had lost a fair amount of enthusiasm for the ladies matches they gave the game at Goodison a good billing.

Aintree kicked off and their dominance of the game began as Haymarket struggled to make it past Miss Geddes and Burrows in the Aintree defence. Miss Geddes was described as ‘Thompson like’ and received great applause from the spectators.

Aintree however struggled as the Echo stated the length of the pitch was too much for the ladies who failed to score from their breakaways due to being so tried from the run up field.

By the end of the first half the scored stood at 0-0 with Aintree failing to capitalise on their dominance.

The slightly longer interval however gave the ladies time to regroup and both teams came out with much more vigour. Aintree however came out the better side pressuring the Haymarket defence time after time. But the best efforts of the Haymarket defence could not stop Aintree and Miss Williamson drew first blood for . Molyneux, one of Aintree’s top scorers made it two from a corner and then scored the third.

Aintree won a penalty which Molyneux stepped up to take, however Haymarket’s Miss Blacklock cleared the shot with no difficulty. This did not dampen Aintree though as they scored their fourth from a free kick. Miss Reece eyed up the goal, shot and found the back of the net.

The final score was 4-0 to Aintree.

The attendance of at the game is not clear but according to Everton FC records the gate receipt for the game was £211 13s 4d, which was a considerable sum.

Several days after the game an opinion piece was place in the Liverpool Echo about the game which summed up well the changing attitude towards the ladies game ‘Many must have gone to Goodison Park on Monday Morning for a pantomimical affair, and they had their eyes opened. There were laughable incidents of course but some of the players showed such good form that the possibilities of Ladies football had to be recognised.’

By playing at Goodison the home of one of the biggest men’s team in the country Aintree and Haymarket had come of age in the sporting world. From this one would expect the two teams to go even further…….but did they…..?

Tranmere ww1 women 0052

Tranmere ww1 women 0041

The Aintree Munitions Team after playing men’s teams and themselves would at Prenton Park taken on their biggest challenge as they took on the North Haymarket Munitions Factory Team.

There is not other mention of the Haymarket team in the Press before the game against Aintree but it is likely they too played teams internally at their factory and then men’s teams.

This game would become a turning point in the course of women’s football in the Merseyside area. The reason for this was the involvement of Mr W R Clayton the chairman of directors at Everton Football Club. Clayton helped arrange this and later games for the Aintree team. Why he became interest in women’s football is unclear but he may have seen the numbers who were willing to watch the women’s game and saw there was a profit to be made.

Unlike the Birkenhead North game the local Wirral press did publise the game fairly well. In the day leading up to the game it was said that the completion would be a good one as there was not ‘no love lost’ between the two teams.

There is no image from this game which is a real shame as the kits the ladies wore sound some what outlandish. The Aintree girls wore blue jumpers with red facings and the North Haymarket team worn green jumpers with salmon coloured ties and green caps.

The pitch that day did not sound to be in the best condition but the Birkenhead News reported ‘…the mud did daunt them, and their courage was almost Spartan-like…’ The previous evening had seen very heavy rain and the pitch was little more than quagmire.

From the start Aintree took control of the game and appeared to be more experienced of the two sides. Haymarket attempted to break through the Aintree defence but Nellie Woods beat back the Haymarket girls and ‘dumped’ several players into the mud.

The crowds were in a roar of laughter when players fell into the mud as for many this game was comical event. One player was even seen washing the mud off her face in a dirty pool which had appeared on the pitch over night.

The girls didn’t seem to mind the mud and they could be just as physical as the men. After one girl lost the ball to another she race up to her opponent and pulled at her hair resulting in her losing her hat.

But some observed the skills of the players and saw the women’s game in a new light. One player Clayton for Aintree speed was complimented by the skilful pass she made to Tyson who put the first goal in the back of the net.

The Birkenhead News described the rest of the first half was ‘…a series of bustling tactics without substantial result, and the Grand National crowd finished up with a goal to the good.’

In the second half Aintree showed their dominance with Reece adding a second and third goal for Aintree. With the 90 minutes nearly up Clayton again put an impressive ball into the path of Jones this time who made the final score 4-0 to Aintree.

The Birkenhead Advertiser stated ‘The football abilities of the girls was such that some of the male clubs will have to look to their laurel if they wish to crow over their female rivals.’

Although much of the match reports focused on the comedic value of women’s football the Birkenhead Advertiser also discussed the skills of the women’s teams in the way they did men. The Advertiser stated Haymarket ‘…could not cope with the rushes of this clever quintette of girls…’

Alongside this specific players were being picked out not for their hilarity but their attributes as a footballer. Miss Mabel Wilson and Miss Nellie Woods were singled out for Haymarket who the journalist believed their defensive skills stopped the score being trebled. For Aintree Miss Clayton’s forward skills made her the stand out player.

After playing at Prenton Park the Ladies then moved on to Chester and Wrexham to continue their charity work whilst improving their skills.

Cavendish Street Ground

After receiving a large amount of press surrounding their games at Seacombe and Port Sunlight the enthusiasm for the ladies game seemed to dissipate. The Liverpool Echo who covered both games suddenly seemed disinterested in the games and the Birkenhead News and Advertisers slowly trickled off for awhile at least.

The next game after the Port Sunlight match was to be played at the Birkenhead North Ground, the Dock Enclosure near the Docks. The game was to be held on the 22nd December and the first mention of the game came ten days earlier as the Birkenhead Advertiser stated the Aintree Filling Factory Ladies would play themselves, the A team would pay the B team. This would be the first time the Aintree Ladies would play another women’s team in public.

Very little build was given to the game and the only other article for the game was on the day of the game. The Birkenhead Advertiser stated the people of Birkenhead North would have the chance of ‘…witnessing the female sex disport themselves on a football field this afternoon…’

Just like the games before hand the ladies were playing to raise funds for the Sportsmen’s Ambulance Fund. As a reward Councillor W W Kelly granted the ladies free seats in the Theatre Royal where Mr Evelyn A’ Dell’s No. 1 company were playing ‘Because Love Made You Mine.’

Like the build up to the game there appears to be little coverage of the games itself with only a small article in the Birkenhead Advertiser. The Advertiser stated ‘Once again these fair and smart enthusiasts on Saturday gave a display worthy of the name of Football.’

Although the first half was described as being end to end with plenty of give and take the first half ended with no goals. Five minutes into the second half the ‘blues’ scored a magnificent shot from the outside right. The ‘Reds’ pushed on and soon gained an equaliser from some smart play by the ladies.

In front of a large attendance both ladies teams pushed on for the win and grasped at very opportunity. However the Blues were the victors as they found the back of the net from what the Advertiser described as a remarkably fine shot.

No further information was found for this game.

The Ladies would next take on their biggest test to date as the Ladies from the Haymarket Munitions Factory Team challenged Aintree’s dominance. The game would take place at Prenton Park in January 1918.

Football Echo 1917 012blog

The Aintree Munitions Ladies football team as the name would suggest rose from the factory where they spent their days building weapons of war. The Aintree LNC National Filling Factory began production in July of 1915 filling and assembling 8 inch shells. As the men had already been drafted into the war effort women took up the role of this highly dangerous job.

Just like men had done before the war the women wanted to play sport with their work colleagues.

The first appearance of the Aintree Munitions team came in the November 1917 as the Liverpool Echo announced they would play a charity match in Seacombe on the Wirral. The game was to be played at Vernon Park on Birkenhead Road against the Wilson’s Mill men’s team.

Although his was their first public game they had already beaten eight other teams and only conceded one goal.

Little mention of the men’s team was made in the preview of the game other than they would play with in handcuffs. The women’s team however had individual player analysis telling reader which players to look out for.

The Echo singled out several players to watch. One such player was M Warner who was the terror of the team fearing nothing and could tackle as well as any according to reports. The centre forward (not named) is too a player to watch as she has scored at least once in all of their previous games.

Interest in the game was high with 2000 tickets sold in advance of the game which even matched the war time attendance of local team Tranmere Rovers.

Although there was a great deal of build up to the game little was written about the actual game itself and there are conflicting reports on the score. However the Football Echo did give a brief match report.

The ladies turned out that day in long red belted tunics over black knickers (shorts) and black stockings which the Echo reporter described as ‘…both appropriate and becoming.’

The men started the first half in a very attacking manner at first not feeling too handicapped by their hands being tied. However each attack was pushed back by the strong defence of the Aintree ladies team and several men got the ladies to undo their handcuffs.

By the end of the first half however the ladies were 2-0 down and their unbeaten run looked to becoming to an end.

The second half however the ladies were a different team as they knocked six past the men’s team. The scorers according to the Football Echo were B Fredrickson, R Higgins, M Warner, L Molyneaux and F M’Allister for the ladies. The final score according to this report was 6-5 to the ladies.

The cartoon above printed a weeks after the game however states the final score being 7-3 to the ladies and referred to the team as ‘Doughty Ladies.’ The cartoon came with a poem which read

‘I’ve seen the girls at hockey, seen them sing and dance
Seen them flirt at croquet, both in England and in France
But for fun and games and vigour, the thing that beats them all
Was the munitions girls from Aintree – Grand Nationals- at Football’

This game would become the first of many the Aintree Munitions Ladies team would play before the end of the war. These early games though paved the way for the post war explosion in the women’s game and one can only wonder whether any of these ladies knew the legacy they would leave.

Nov 17 1917 Birk Adpic

The Aintree Munition’s Girls teams had made their public debut in early November against a men’s team in Seacombe. The game had been greatly enjoyed but as the Wallasey News stated ‘Neither side could be said to take the game seriously, but the spectators did not expect to see League football.’ You have to wonder whether this was because the men’s team lost…

Regardless the Aintree Ladies had secured their second public game arranged for the 17th November at the Pool Bank Enclosure in Port Sunlight. The charity game was again collecting for the Sportsmen’s Ambulance Fund and the Ladies were to play the New Ferry Bible Class men’s team who had won their last six games.

A large crowd was expected to witness what the Birkenhead Advertised described as ‘…a real tit-bit, as the girls are not ‘duds’ at the game…’ To draw more attention to the game the Port Sunlight and Bromborough Pool Bands would march around the area collection donations and encouraging spectators to follow them to the ground.

The Munition’s Girls team had few changes from the game at Seacombe with only a few extra reserve players. What was quite noticeable was the addition of a trainer, a Mr J Gemmell, who had refereed the game at Seacombe. Gemmell according to the Birkenhead Advertiser was a ‘…well known player, and under his careful tuition they are performing in great style, plying vigorous, bustling football.’

Nov 21 1917 Birk Adpic

The Birkenhead Advertiser went on to say the ladies team had beaten eight other ladies teams from their factor, scoring twelve goals in one game. They apparently challenged any ladies team in the country.

Turning out in the same kits at Seacombe (long red belted tunics over knickers and black stockings) the ladies team won the toss. Like at Seacombe the men’s team were to play with their hands tied.

The ladies looked determined to win from the outset with a hard battle being fought in the midfield. However first blood went to the Bible Class as H Jones scored.

But with in a matter of minutes the Ladies had take the lead with Miss Frederickson equalising and F McAllister putting the ball into the back of the net to make the score 2-1 to the Ladies.

After dusting themselves down the Bible Class team began several strong attacks which resulted in a goal. J Parry equalised for the men after some clever passing the Birkenhead Advertiser stated. No sooner had Parry scored the equaliser he scored again to put the Bible Class head 3-2.

The second half got under way and appeared to be just as hard fought as the first half. Miss Frederick scored her second of the day equalising for the Ladies and was soon followed by McAllister to put the ladies ahead. But Bible Class captain Nall equalised as the ladies lost their lead again.

The game continued to be tit for tat as the Ladies and Bible Class scoring one after another until the final whistle was blown with the score at 6-6.

The game raised ₤60 for the Sportsmen Ambulance Fund.

The Ladies next game would be played at the Birkenhead North End ground but instead of men they would play women.

BA Dec 1917pic

At the end of the 2012/13 season this blog and the Tranmere Rover’s match day programme produced an article about players who had been involved in the First World War. The article stated that Thomas NcNaught was the only person to have played for Rovers and to be killed in the War. But as the article stated it was not conclusive he was the only one as further research was required.

Whilst researching the Aintree Munitions Girls in 1917 I happened upon a small article by one of three brothers, James Devaney (who played for Hoylake FC), from Greasby who were all in the service at some point during the war. Sadly one of the brothers had been killed the previous year, George Devaney.

Before the war George had been a keen sports man and before joining the army was goalkeeper for Tranmere Rovers. George has been describe as one of the best-known all round sportsman from the Wirral and he played for several local teams including, Gilbrook Mission and Hoylake.

He moved from Hoylake FC to Wrexham and made 195 appearances for the Welsh side at the Racecourse. After winning a Welsh Cup medal without conceding a single goal he was transferred to Tranmere in 1911.

George always believed in keeping fit which probably gave him the skills to be almost unbeatable in front of the Rover’s goal. His natural abilities made him an instant hit at Prenton Park and the future for George looked bright.

Sadly like so many of his generation the War cruelly took his life before he was able to show his full potential.

Sapper George Devaney had been serving with the Cheshire Field Company Royal Engineers and after only a few weeks of frontline service was killed on the 4th November in France during the Somme Offensive.

The article by George’s brother James spoke of how Football had given him and several of his footballing friends the edge in fighting the war. Three of James friends had connections at Prenton Park with one being Joe Mercer whose war record is discussed in an earlier article.

Harold Lees made two appearances for Tranmere in the 1911-12 season and played for several other clubs before finishing his career at Hoylake FC. It is not known whether he survive the war but this true gentleman does not appear to have been involved in sport after the war.

The third friend was Billy Fenner who has a long history with Tranmere Rovers Football Club. He was given his first trial for Rovers in 1908 against Middlewich in a game which Tranmere won 4-1. Unfortunately he was not signed as he appeared to have weak tackles which was a problem for a full back.

Billy went on though to play for Wrexham where he blossomed as a footballer and he won the Welsh Cup. His success attracted Football League interest and he was soon signed to Bury who were playing in the First Division at the time. In all he made 57 appearances for Bury over three seasons before rejoining Wrexham.

However with travel becoming so difficult during the early stages of the war Billy joined Tranmere Rovers. He moved to Rock Ferry and eventually signed up to the Liverpool ‘Pals’ regiment in 1915.

Billy was injured in the army which kept him out of the game for two seasons at Rovers. Trying to get back into the team he appeared in a public trial match in 1921 but he had lost his edge due to his injury and was not resigned by Rovers.

The article in the Birkenhead Advertiser gave us a glimpse of some of the names and lives that were touched by the First World War. The Author James Devaney talked of football giving him and others the edge to be better soldiers. Unfortunately Lance Corporal James Devaney of the Royal Engineers was killed in action on the 30th October 1918 just twelve days before the Armistice was signed.

Special thanks to Gil Upton and George Higham for the background information

Next year marks a hundred years since the start of the First World War. For four years the country sent its young men to the killing fields of Europe and the Middle East.

The Wirral like the rest of the country gave its generation of young men over to the war effort. It is hard to find a school, a church and town square in the borough that does not bare the names of those lost in this horrific war.

Tranmere Rovers was one of a lucky few clubs which did not see all its players go to war. The proximity to Cammell Lairds meant many players were involved in vital work at the shipyard meaning they escaped the hell of trench warfare.

However some young men associated with Tranmere Rovers found themselves in khaki uniforms and in foreign lands.

There is little known about soldiers who were associated with Tranmere Rovers being involved in the war and much of this information comes from what was reported in the Birkenhead News.

Only one former Tranmere player appears to have been killed during the Great War. Thomas McNaught had grown up in Birkenhead and attended the Birkenhead Institute school before becoming a teacher at the Rock Ferry Council School. He was known in the area for his football skills which gained him a place in Tranmere’s Reserves before he moved to Hoylake FC.

At the outbreak of war he was one of thirty local teachers who all signed up for the King’s Liverpool Regiment. On the 14th March 1915 he was hit in the head whilst carrying bandages to an injured comrade. His commanding officer believed that his concern for his injured friend led him to forget to take cover. He was buried in the field and the location of his grave is still unknown.

As a sign of respect the flag at Prenton Park was lowered to half mast and the players all worn black arm bands at their next home game.

McNaught is the only Tranmere player so far discovered to lose his life during the First World War.

Tranmere players were still involved in the war. At the beginning of the 1915-16 season the Birkenhead News reported ten players from the club had joined the services but it did not say which players.

In 1915 it was reported in the Birkenhead News that Jack Ellis a Tranmere first team player had been injured during the invasion of Gallipoli at Suvla Bay. Another player Haires was also injured but little information was known about him.

No other reports of injuries or deaths are stated in the Birkenhead News again until 1918 when Tranmere legend Johnny Campbell appeared in the paper. He had been shot in the head near Cambrai in France and was being treated in a German hospital after being captured. He returned to Prenton Park after the war but he forever kept a piece of the war with him as the bullet that had injured him in France was never removed from his head. Campbell went on to play for Rovers in nearly 250 games before retiring in 1929.

Joe Mercer Senior another Rovers player joined the war effort but was sadly captured. After spending two years in a prisoner of war camp he returned to Prenton Park and made 36 more appearances. But the years in a prison camp had taken their toll and Mercer left Rovers in 1921. The camp had affected his mental and physical state terribly and after a short stay in a sanatorium he died in 1927 being only in his mid thirties.

Tranmere Rovers Captain Ralph Holden joined the Army in 1916 when conscription started. He survived the war quite well but his luck ran out within weeks of the war ending as he lost a leg in France. In 1919 a testimonial was held in his honour and 5,000 supports came to the game raising £450 for the former player.

Players that joined Tranmere after the war had also played their part. Tom Stuart who joined Tranmere in 1919 had been in the King’s Liverpool Regiment and was injured on three occasions before the war ended. Stuart made 192 appearances for Rovers.

In 1920 William Rainford and Arthur Sudgen also fought in the war but little is known about their contributions.

Although the cost of the war on players was small the cost on the fans and the community was high. The names now in stone are a reminder not of their sacrifice but the lives that were never lived, fathers never made, husbands never married.