Chelcee Grimes pays tribute to the first women’s football team | Soccer | sport

Women’s Euros: Chelcee Grimes helps recreate historic photo

“The first few minutes were enough to show that women’s football is totally out of the question,” wrote the now defunct Daily Sketch newspaper. “A footballer needs speed, judgement, skill and courage. None of these four qualities were apparent on Saturday.”

The photo was a tribute to the first women’s team of 1895 (Image: Getty)

The Jarrow Express, a local newspaper observing the play in Crouch End, north London, was equally scathing.

“The members of the British Ladies’ Football Club have played their first game in public. We hope it will be their last.” How times have changed. As UEFA Women’s Euro 2022 kicks off tomorrow at Old Trafford, more than 250 million viewers in 52 countries are ready to watch the Lionesses of England take on Austria.

After years on the bench, women’s football has finally been elevated to center stage thanks in part to greater funding at grassroots level, notably from the National Lottery, which has invested more than £50million in the sport at home. over the past 10 years.

To celebrate this remarkable transition and encourage today’s hopefuls, former Liverpool Ladies footballer – and singer-songwriter Chelcee Grimes – joined members of the Community Team to pay tribute to the first female players by recreating the Original photo of the British Ladies’ Football Club team from 1895.

Chelcee, 30, who flaunted her own footwork at the recent Soccer Aid charity tournament, poses as UK women’s captain Nettie Honeyball and is flanked by members of the Saltley Stallions and Stafford Soccer Mums in an image shared exclusively with the Daily Express.

“I’m in awe of them,” Chelcee says of the trailblazing sportswomen. “It’s hard even now to be a woman in football and when I grew up and started playing 20 years ago it wasn’t a cool thing to do. To think that these women were playing at the times are amazing.”

Players wore replicas of the button-up blouses, puffy bloomers and heeled boots worn by their 19th-century counterparts. The outfits were part of the “rational dress movement”, which actually aimed to liberate women from corsets and skirts. To modern eyes, accustomed to stretchy, form-fitting football bands, they appear restrictive and uncomfortable.

“It was crazy to think of women playing in those outfits,” Chelcee remarks. “I try to find the best fitting kit and choose how to wear my socks, but they had no choice.”

At the time, women weren’t expected to break Victorian standards of decency – but playing football was still an exercise in early feminism.

“It was part of the call for the emancipation of women,” says Professor Jean Williams, a university professor specializing in the cultural history of sport.

The British Ladies’ Football Club was formed in 1894 by Dumfries aristocrat Lady Florence Dixie, a women’s rights activist, and Mary Hutson, a middle-class woman who played under the pseudonym Nettie Honeyball.

“I would say Nettie Honeyball was the first international superstar in women’s football,” says Professor Williams. “Think of all the things we want more of in football today: more female leadership; female-owned teams at clubs; more women in sports media and more top role models – Nettie Honeyball was all in one.

Nettie Honeyball

Women’s football pioneer Nettie Honeyball (Image: Getty)

“She pioneered women’s leadership in football and used it as a vehicle for women’s rights.”

Dixie was the president. She never played football but loved hunting, fishing and horse riding and believed that women should have the same sporting rights as men.

“Lady Dixie made it clear that if she were to be part of the club, the players would wear ‘rational dress’, look like footballers and play football,” Professor Williams said.

The women played their first professional football match in Edinburgh in May 1881 in a game between Scotland and England, but it proved controversial. A second match, staged a few days later in Glasgow, was marred by hundreds of men invading the pitch and in 1894 medical professionals called for women to be banned from football altogether.

In the face of widespread hostility, Nettie remained defiant. She courted the press for six months to build hype and get free print advertising. Speaking to the Daily Sketch, she said she had “a firm resolve to prove to the world that women are not the ‘ornamental, useless’ creatures that men have imagined”.

The players were coached by former Tottenham Hotspur player Bill Julian and trained for several months at a park near Alexandra Park racecourse in north London. Nettie’s savvy marketing skills paid off: the first women’s game drew 10,000 spectators.

Chelcee Grimes

Grimes playing Soccer Aid (Image: Getty)

“He proved so popular that the club fractured into different teams,” says Professor Williams. “They played 160 games all over the UK in attendance for the paying public and until 1902 they played games against men’s teams which proved to be the biggest draw of all.”

That same year, the FA banned women from playing against men. Then, in 1921, they introduced a total ban on women in football, which lasted 51 years.

“It was almost like starting over,” Chelcee says. She remembers kicking a ball against a sidewalk outside her house from a young age. I was an only child until I was 16 so football was my thing,” she says. “There were only boys on my street so it was either football or doing my homework, so I chose football.”

His grandfather saw an advertisement in the newspaper for the Ian Rush Football School and took Chelcee for trial. “I was the only girl there, I didn’t even have a pair of football boots,” she recalls. When the Liverpool Ladies scouts saw her play, she won a place.

But Chelcee noticed that her teammates were only surviving financially by juggling their dream and another job. As the only girl on her school’s team, she quit professional football at 16 to become a singer-songwriter.

She has since written for Kylie and Dua Lipa. “At that time, music was financially safer for me, but if I was that age now, I would probably want to go all the way because that’s an option now and it’s up to the National Lottery to fund the women’s football, to keep it alive and give girls a chance,” she said.

A note of melancholy creeps into her voice as she ponders what could have been. “I’ve had more success as a songwriter in recent years, and that’s led me down other paths, but there’s a part of me that maybe wishes that if I played now, I would go all the way,” she said.

National Lottery funding has injected more than £5.7billion into grassroots sports over the past 25 years, but it’s its funding during the pandemic that has proven to be a lifeline. The club Chelcee’s little sister Imogen played for until recently has been one of the beneficiaries.

“A lot of grassroots teams would have folded if not for the money invested by the National Lottery,” Chelcee said. Money can be used for kit, tournaments or travel.

It’s not just about scoring goals, says Saltley Stallions central midfielder Sana Gill, 31. “It empowers women to build bridges and break down barriers in so much more than sport,” she says.

“As I started to play socially, my passion for the game and this concept pushed me to push the limits of the club even further by building the team and managing it to become a successful unit that now plays in the league at 11 competitively.”

Ellie Roberts, one of the founding members of the Stafford Soccer Mums, helped establish the team in 2016 as part of a Staffordshire FA initiative to involve women in sport.

She hadn’t been active since school and most of the original nine had never kicked a ball before, as football was “for the boys” when they were young. Now they have over 50 members.

“I always feel better after working out,” says Ellie, 43. “I would always say to anyone who says goi try. You don’t have to be super fit, super fast or super skilled – I’m definitely not – just wanting to have fun.”

Like all women, Chelcee loved the opportunity to portray these daring heroines who have been largely forgotten by history. “They were pioneers and shameless rebels,” she says.

She thinks the future of women’s football is bright. “It’s not just me and my team like before,” she says. “It’s an ocean of girls playing now and it’s amazing. I want it to continue like this and grow as much as possible.”

So, what are her predictions for the Lionesses? “Is it too early to say he’s coming home?” she laughs. “Hopefully they can make it to the final and then anything can happen. Fingers crossed for the girls.”

And no one would cheer louder than Nettie and Lady Dixie if they could. “All those women (of the British Ladies’ Football Club) would be smiling and proud to be the first to start it all,” Chelcee said. Because watching women have equal fun has been the biggest win of all.

About the author