Memorial to most successful women’s football team of all time established in centenary year
A permanent memorial to honour the most successful women’s football team of all time, Dick, Kerr Ladies, has been officially unveiled at Preston North End’s football ground.
The six metre-wide granite plaque, the first of its kind in the world, sits on the Sir Tom Finney end of Deepdale Stadium and includes the names of all Dick, Kerr Ladies founding players who set up the team while working in a local munitions factory 100 years ago.
The University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) is one of seven sponsors of the plaque, alongside BAE Systems, FWP Architects, Preston North End, the Professional Footballers’ Association, The Football Association (FA) and UEFA.
It was officially unveiled on Friday 22 December, to mark the centenary year of the team. The granite memorial was unveiled by Gail Newsham, author of 'In a League of Their Own'! A history of Dick, Kerr Ladies FC, who has worked hard to preserve the team’s legacy since 1992, Former Everton and England goalkeeping legend Rachel Brown-Finnis and Sheila Parker, who started her playing career with the Preston team and went on to become the first captain of the England team in 1972.
Today is probably the proudest day of my life and I can’t find the words to adequately convey how honoured I feel to have been part of unveiling this wonderful tribute to the Dick, Kerr Ladies.
Gail said: “Today is probably the proudest day of my life and I can’t find the words to adequately convey how honoured I feel to have been part of unveiling this wonderful tribute to the Dick, Kerr Ladies. They have waited far too long for their place in the spotlight, but finally they are centre stage and will be remembered forever. I am eternally grateful to everyone who worked so hard to help make a dream become a reality.”
Rachel commented: “The unveiling of the memorial is truly an honour to be part of. It represents the 'wonder years' of women's football and is now being remembered forever. It's so important to understand the history to inspire the stars of the future.”
Known as the pioneers of women’s football, on Christmas Day it will be exactly 100 years since the Dick, Kerr Ladies played in front of 10,000 spectators at Preston North End. They subsequently went on to become world champions, complete an unbeaten run of over 320 games and raised the equivalent of £10 million for war related charities. The team soon became established as the best in the country and played in front of their biggest crowd in 1920 when 53,000 spectators came to Goodison Park, Everton, to see them play St Helens. Such was the popularity of the game that between 10,000-14,000 people were locked out unable to gain admission. A ban of women’s football by the FA in 1921 then effectively set the women’s game back 50 years.
Other former players, including June Gregson who played for the Ladies in the 1940s and 50s and was the oldest past player present, were at the official opening along with family members of the original team including the grandson of founding player Grace Sibbert, David Coulton, and Valerie Conn, the granddaughter of the team’s first ever captain Alice Kell.
Sheila Parker said: “Being a former Dick, Kerr Ladies player and then becoming the first England Ladies captain, it is a real honour being asked to unveil this historic memorial. The players deserve it as they brought women's football into the sporting world. It means so much to me that this memorial has actually happened so that now everyone can see and will now know who the Dick, Kerr Ladies players were and their names will never be forgotten.”
The Dick, Kerr Ladies memorial is a fitting tribute to 100 years of a remarkable football club and an important reminder of the amazing work that this group of women did for the women's game and wider community through their fundraising efforts.
Rachel Pavlou, National Women's Football Participation Manager from The FA, said: "The Dick, Kerr Ladies memorial is a fitting tribute to 100 years of a remarkable football club and an important reminder of the amazing work that this group of women did for the women's game and wider community through their fundraising efforts.
“As well as the club’s players, staff and administrators, the memorial also celebrates the fantastic, dedicated volunteers who have worked tirelessly to continue the Dick, Kerr Ladies' legacy - it is through their hard work and commitment that the club lives on 100 years after it was first founded."
The granite plaque rounds up a year of centenary celebrations. In May, Gail worked with the Preston Historical Society to erect a blue plaque at the former Dick, Kerr & Co factory building on Strand Road where the team originally formed. UCLan, as a keen supporter of the Dick, Kerr Ladies legacy, has also worked with Gail over the last year on a variety of activities. It has hosted a conference to highlight discrimination against women in sport and the University’s Law School, along with Gail, has created a museum display documenting the history of the team that will be exhibited in and around the county in schools and public places. In addition, UCLan Sports Arena hosted the first National Women’s Walking Football Tournament alongside a Centenary Dinner at Preston North End in July.
UCLan Pro-Chancellor, Chair of the University Board and Preston North End Deputy-Chair David Taylor said: “On behalf of UCLan and also in my capacity as Deputy Chairman of PNE, I am delighted that the Dick, Kerr Ladies Memorial will be in place before Christmas. The contribution these women made are a critical part of Preston’s heritage and we can all join together in celebrating their achievements.”