What is the Women’s World Cup?
On July 5, 2015, more than fifty thousand soccer fans were just settling into their seats at BC Place Stadium in Vancouver, Canada. They were there to watch the final game of the Women’s World Cup. It was Japan vs. the United States. These same teams had played in the final in 2011, and now they were playing again four years later.
In 2011, Japan had beaten the United States. Would they be able to repeat the victory?
If you didn’t arrive on time to the game, this is what you would have missed. In the third minute, Carli Lloyd, the captain of Team USA, rushed down the pitch (the playing field) and directed a well-placed corner kick from Megan Rapinoe into the net. A corner kick is a free kick from the corner of the pitch. This goal was the fastest one ever made in a Women’s World Cup final. The score, United States 1–Japan 0.
Next, US team member Lauren Holiday took a penalty kick. (This happens when the other team has broken a rule.) At first, Japan’s defenders kept the ball from going in. But they bungled it in front of the goal. Lloyd slipped into the confusion and gently tapped the ball into the net. Only five minutes into the game Carli Lloyd had scored the second goal! The score was now United States 2–Japan 0. A goal by Holiday fourteen minutes in made it 30.
And just when the spectators thought they could take a moment to catch their breath, Carli Lloyd did it again! At midfield, she pounded her foot against the ball as hard as she could. That sent it soaring halfway across the length of the pitch. The crowd went wild! It was an astonishing goal. It gave Carli Lloyd the first hat trick (three goals made by the same player in a single game) in the final of a Women’s World Cup. The score: United States 4–Japan 0.
Team USA scored one more goal. Despite Japan getting two goals, the final score was 52. Team USA won! Lloyd was named Player of the Match.
It was an unforgettable Women’s World Cup!
In 1999, the Women’s World Cup was played in the United States for the first time. Since then, women’s soccer has become incredibly popular in this country among kids and teens. There are more than three million soccer players in the United States between the ages of five and nineteen, and about 1.4 million of them are female. Chapter 1: First, a Bit of History
Soccer, or football as it is called in many countries including England, is the most popular sport around the world. It has a very long history. It can be traced back more than two thousand years to Asia, the Americas, and Europe. But the modern-day version of the game began in England.
There, in 1863, the Football Association (FA) was formed. It set rules for the game. These include forbidding tripping opponents or touching the ball with the hands. At first, football was entertainment for the British working class. By the late nineteenth century as many as thirty thousand people would come to watch the big matches. As the popularity of the sport grew, women wanted to play. They wanted to create women’s teams and leagues. Would they be allowed to do this?
The Football Association would not get involved. They had set the rules for men’s games only.
In the late 1800s, women didn’t have the same rights as men. They were expected to be proper and ladylike and stay at home to care for their families. They were not supposed to be running around a muddy football field.
But women were determined to take part in the sport they enjoyed.
The first women’s international match took place in 1881 when England played against Scotland. Between 1881 and 1897, more than 120 organized matches were recorded. But there still wasn’t an organization, like the FA, to watch over and record matches or tournaments. Then, in 1895, a woman who called herself Nettie Honeyball (her real name may have been Mary Hutson) started the British Ladies’ Football Club. Honeyball placed ads in newspapers to encourage women to play football. She often said that “women are not ornamental and useless creatures” and that “the manly game could be a womanly game as well.”
On March 23, 1895, the first women’s match that played by FA rules took place in London. The women’s teams represented North and South London. The match was advertised in newspapers. About twelve thousand people came to watch. Many of the onlookers cheered, but lots of others shouted awful things at the players. Several newspapers ran articles making fun of the women players’ appearance and the way they dressed.
None of this stopped Nettie Honeyball, though. She took the British Ladies’ Football Club on a tour of England. The women played on men’s fields and in men’s stadiums.
Unfortunately, by the end of the tour, only a few hundred fans were showing up. The first attempt to make women’s football popular was not a success. What was going to happen to women’s football?
No one was quite sure. Chapter 2: A War Changes Everything
World War I began in 1914 after the murder of an Austro-Hungarian nobleman. This terrible war lasted from 1914 through most of 1918. Strangely, it helped to save women’s football in Britain.
As British men went off to fight, women took over their jobs in factories across the country. Many made military supplies and equipment. The factories were filled with dangerous machinery and harmful chemicals. Some factory owners thought it might be good for the women workers to play football during their lunch and dinner breaks. It would keep them strong and healthy.
Were the factory owners doing this to support women’s football?
Not exactly. They thought it would help the women do their jobs better!
Soon these women began to set up football teams. Their games raised money for charity and the war effort. One team became extremely popular and successful. The team was named for the factory where the players worked—a train manufacturer called Dick, Kerr and Co.
The team was started in 1917. It drew ten thousand people to its very first match, and, over time, helped to make women’s football a real sport in its own right.
That year, on the day after Christmas, the first England vs. Ireland game took place. There was an England vs. Scotland match the following year, and in 1920, England played France. Women’s football was growing in popularity even outside of Britain. When the Dick, Kerr’s Ladies played against the St. Helens’ Ladies on December 26, 1920, fifty-three thousand fans came to watch. More than fourteen thousand fans were turned away. This was the largest crowd ever for a women’s football game in Britain. This record lasted for more than ninety years, until the London Olympics in 2012.
Lily Parr of the Dick, Kerr’s Ladies team was one of the greatest players of all time. She was the fourth of seven children and grew up playing football and rugby with her brothers. In 1919, she was recruited to the Dick, Kerr’s Ladies. She was close to six feet tall and only fourteen years old at the time! A teammate said Parr had “a kick like a mule.” Parr scored forty-three goals in her first season.
Between the years of 1917 to 1921, there were about 150 women’s teams in England. The women had become genuine celebrities. But by the end of 1921, disaster struck for women’s football.
The women’s teams got too
popular. Men had steadily been returning home from war and taking back their jobs. Women were forced back into their homes to care for their families.
Not only did the men take back their jobs, they also didn’t want women playing what they still considered their sport. The popularity of women’s football had become a threat to men’s football. The men’s teams didn’t draw nearly as many fans. The FA now changed their view of women’s football again. Doctors were consulted. Dr. Mary Scharlieb, a London physician, said, “I consider it a most unsuitable game, too much for a woman’s physical frame.”
On December 5, 1921, the FA banned women from playing the game. The organization stopped them from using the men’s pitches and facilities. FA referees were told they could no longer work at women’s matches.
Soon the growth of the men’s game surpassed the women’s game. Other countries, including Norway in 1931, France in 1932, Brazil in 1941, and West Germany in 1955 joined the FA ban. From then on, women’s football was played only occasionally for charity events.
The ban resulted in a terrible setback for women’s football.
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