A Kit Of Their Own

On 9th June 2019, the England Women’s football team took to the pitch at the Stade de Nice for their first match of the Women’s World Cup. They wore white, with red and blue striped cuffs, andsported the Three Lions (or maybe the Three Lionesses) on their shirt. This was the first time in the 140-year history of women’s football in England that a national team wore a kit that had beenspecifically designed for them.

England Women’s Football Team (‘The Lionesses’), June 2019.

Even on a practical level, the new England Women’s strip is of huge significance. Up until now, female players have worn kits designed for the masculine body. Often baggy and ill-fitting, the strip made the players less aerodynamic and caused discomfort while playing. The new kit is designed for and fitted to the female shape. For the first time, sportswear technology has been channelled into the development of a specifically female, professional-standard football kit, in order to support and enhance the performance of these top-level players.

England Women’s Football Team, UEFA Women’s Euro, June 2005.

Kirsty Pealing of England, ca. 2004.

Beyond this important practical progression, the new strip allows the England Women’s team to construct a unique visual identity, distinct from that of the men’s team. Academic discourse has, inrecent years, focussed on the interrelation of sport and gender. Jayne Caudwell and Jennifer Hargreaves, among others, have highlighted how, since the Victorian period, sport has become central to both the symbolic construction of masculinity and the lived experience of many men. As such, women have historically been excluded from sport on organisational, symbolic and cultural levels. These deeply engrained attitudes towards sport have often resulted in the derision ofwomen’s sport, clearly highlighted in the criticism female footballers have received via social mediain recent years. The implication of such criticism seems to be that women’s football is merely an inferior version of the men’s game, which is held as the pinnacle of what football as a sport can be.Despite the many and varied successes of England Women in the last 30 years, their kits – identical to the male strip – arguably visibly reinforced this perception of female football as merely anextension of the men’s sport, their achievements and identity drowned in the din surrounding men’sfootball.

Twitter Comments on Women’s Football, June 2019.

Twitter Comments on Women’s Football, June 2019.

The new strip, by contrast, creates an aesthetic associated exclusively with the England Women’sfootball team. Worn by players, it links this aesthetic to their performance and the pride and support it generates. Worn by fans, it expresses an allegiance to specifically the England Women’s team. Furthermore, it allows for a differentiation between the men’s and women’s games.

While perhaps, in an ideal world, there would be no distinction between the two, in reality the sports have developed in different ways. Men’s football is highly professionalized and skilful, but has also seen large-scale organisational corruption, while enormous salaries and invasive media attention is arguably damaging to the well-being of players. Women’s football aims to take a more holistic approach. At a talk I recently attended at the British Library, a representative of the F.A. suggested that there are structures in place to support female players, providing financial advice, career support and mental health provision, issues that she believes were historically overlooked in themen’s sport. Fans present at the same talk suggested that the sport itself had its own distinctive andpositive attributes, describing it as ‘football like it used to be’. Other fans praised female players for the efforts they make to interact with fans and the safe, friendly atmosphere of the crowds. The visually distinctive new England strip allows both players and fans to celebrate these unique aspectsof women’s football.

England Women’s Football Team (“the Lionesses”), June 2019.

That is not to pit men and women’s football against one another. Personally, I would love in the future to see them learn from one another in order to create two equally skilful, equally holistic sporting structures. Because, for those of us who love sport, two sets of high-quality football to watch can only be better than one.

 

Bibliography/Further Reading

@lionesses Instagram account

Hargreaves, Jennifer, Heroines of Sport: The Politics of Difference and Identity (London: Routledge, 2000).

Hargreaves, Jennifer, Sporting Females: Critical Issues in the History and Sociology of Women’sSports (London: Routledge, 1994).

Caudwell, Jayne, ‘Gender, Feminism and Football Studies’, Soccer and Society 12, no. 3 (2011), pp. 330-344. Accessed online via British Library.

Caudwell, Jayne, ‘Reviewing UK Football Cultures: Continuing with Gender Analyses’, Soccer and Society 12, no. 3 (2011), pp. 323-329. Accessed online via British Library.

Dissertation Discussion: Daisy

What is the working title of your dissertation?

‘A Class of Football … Well Worth Watching’: Women’s Football Clothing, 1915-1921

What led you to choose this subject?

I’ve always been a huge sports fan, although growing up in Devon I would choose to watch rugby over football every time! But I started playing football with a team in London a year and a half ago and absolutely fell in love with playing the sport. My Dad and I have discussed women’s sport a lot since I started playing as I feel this is a real moment in history for women in sport; many individuals and teams are finally getting recognition for their talents while there is funding coming in at a grassroots level that just wasn’t there previously. My Dad mentioned a documentary he’d watched on women’s football during World War One; how popular it was, gathering crowds of up to 53,000, and how it was subsequently banned in 1921. Unbelievably, the ban wasn’t lifted until 1971. As someone who has benefited so much from playing sport, I found the idea of so many women being banned from playing football really shocking and sad. I also feel that so many people don’t understand this important moment in the history of women’s sport and why, in consequence, women’s football is significantly underdeveloped compared to the men’s game. I was already planning on focusing my dissertation on the period of the 1910s, because I think it is such a sudden period of change from the old Victorian values to the modernity of the 1920s, so to focus on women’s football in this period seemed an absolutely perfect topic!

Favourite book/article you’ve read for your dissertation so far and why?

A match report of a women’s football match in Preston from 1918. The journalist seems so enthused by the sport and so in support of the female players, it’s really heart-warming. My favourite quote is: ‘The attendance at Deepdale on Saturday shows there is distinctly a public for Ladies Football in Preston and … the girls play a class of football that … make[s] the game well worth watching’.

Favourite image/object in your dissertation and why?

An image of the Yorkshire Ladies and Dick Kerr Ladies in front of the large crowds at Deepdale stadium.

Yorkshire Ladies and Dick Kerr’s Ladies, 1921, postcard, Alice Kell Collection, National Football Museum Archives, Preston (Photo: National Football Museum).

Favourite place to work?

I’ve really enjoyed working in the Library Study Room at Vernon Square; it’s got big mullion windows which let in the sun and frame the view of the trees next to the building. I also love working in the Periodicals Room at Senate House Library which has comfy Chesterfield sofas where you can curl up with your laptop. Although sometimes it’s slightly too comfortable to be conducive to work …

Football Flashback: Discussing 1940s American Football Dress

It’s College Football Bowl game season in the U.S.! Every year in December and early January, American collegiate football teams compete in post-season bowl games based on National ranking, culminating in a play-off for the National Championship. Inspired by a slight detour in our seminar last week, as well as a love for American football, I wanted to discuss the dress of American college football players and cheerleaders from the 1940s in comparison with contemporary uniforms.

The football uniform of the 1940s differs greatly from the ones seen on the field today—the padding underneath the jersey is lighter, and the helmets much less protective. The players in the image below are seen without metal face guards or mouth guards, greatly contrasting with American football players today, who have multiple layers of massive and enveloping padding and protective gear. The players in the 1940s have plain jumpers and shorts (without team names or sponsorship logos!) with a relatively simple cut and style that does not differ between teams. The style is much looser and less form fitting than the contemporary football uniform.

Rose Bowl 1944, Image via the PAC 12 Website

American cheerleaders of the 1940s also wore jumpers, typically with collared blouses underneath, and flowing round skirts. The saddle shoe, worn with white crew-length sport socks was extremely popular, and became a classic feature of the cheerleader uniform. The 1940s cheerleading uniform was significant in function; it allowed for more mobility and movement while performing in uniform. The contemporary cheerleader uniform now ranges in style: shorter skirts, cropped tops, shorts, or dance dresses. Thankfully, the pom-poms have remained the archetypal cheerleader accessory.

University of Maryland Cheerleaders, 1949

Stylistically, American football and cheerleading uniforms have changed drastically in the past 80 or so years. The contemporary football and cheerleader uniforms developed in a direction valuing safety and freer movement.

Good luck to my football team, the USC Trojans, who are playing in the 2017 Cotton Bowl on the 29th of December!

By Arielle Murphy