Family members of original team officially reveal plaque at former Dick, Kerr & Co factory
The first blue plaque dedicated to women’s football has been unveiled in Preston this week to celebrate the centenary of the Dick, Kerr Ladies Football Team that went onto become the most successful women’s football team in history.
The plaque was added to the former Dick, Kerr & Co, now Alstom, factory building on Strand Road where the team originally formed one hundred years ago. The grandson of founding player Grace Sibbert, David Coulton, and Valerie Conn, the granddaughter of the team’s first ever captain Alice Kell, officially unveiled the plaque.
They were joined by former players 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, and June Gregson who played for the Ladies in the 1940s and 50s. Former Everton and England goalkeeping legend Rachel Brown-Finnis also attended the ceremony along with Rachel Pavlou from the Football Association (FA).
Gail Newsham, author of 'In a League of Their Own'! A history of Dick, Kerr Ladies FC, has worked hard to preserve the team’s legacy since 1994. She commented: “I have been championing the Dick, Kerr Ladies for twenty-five years. No other town or city in the world can boast the proud history of this pioneering team. I have always believed in them and been in awe of their success. They certainly deserve this long overdue honour. This blue plaque is the first in the world for the best in the world. Words cannot express how thrilled I am for them today.”
The grandson of player Grace Sibbert, David Coulton, commented: "I feel extremely proud to have been asked to share the unveiling of this deserved plaque in memory of the Dick Kerr, Ladies Football Team. The ‘legend’ that is Dick Kerr was passed on to me by my grandmother Grace Sibbert and her daughter Edna Sibbert, my Auntie. The part my Grandmother played in getting the team started in 1917 always fills me with pride whenever I see photos of the teams or read about their exploits as pioneering ladies footballers.
“A great deal of thanks must be given to Gail Newsham who has made the media and public aware of the great journey those ladies embarked on 100 years ago. Today’s unveiling is a fitting tribute to the girls of Dick Kerr and the memories they have left to us and the future of women’s football."
It is hoped the blue plaque will be the predecessor to a bronze commemorative Dick, Kerr Ladies relief plaque planned for the city in the future. Already, the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) has committed to providing some of the funding for the bronze plaque, with other local partners being invited to contribute.
A great deal of thanks must be given to Gail Newsham who has made the media and public aware of the great journey those ladies embarked on 100 years ago
University of Central Lancashire Pro-Chancellor and Chair of the University Board David Taylor commented: “The Dick, Kerr Ladies story is a key part of Preston’s sporting heritage. In our role as a civic university, we are delighted to work alongside Gail and the many other hard working volunteers to highlight and commemorate the amazing achievements of these pioneering women.
“The Dick, Kerr Ladies all came from very traditional working class backgrounds and became the most successful women’s football team in history. For the people who live, work and study in our city, their success is something we should warmly celebrate.
“We have already given our backing to establishing a bronze relief in Preston to further celebrate these amazing sporting trailblazers and look forward to working with Gail on several other events planned this year to mark the Dick, Kerr Ladies centenary year.”
Formed at a munitions factory during the First World War, the Dick, Kerr Ladies played their first game at Deepdale on Christmas Day 1917 when 10,000 spectators came to watch them notch up the first of many famous victories and £600 was raised for the wounded soldiers being cared for at the Moor Park Military Hospital. That sum today would be worth over £38,000.
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.
As part of the 100th anniversary year, UCLan 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 is hosting the first National Women’s Walking Football Tournament on 2 July alongside a Centenary Dinner at Preston North End the day before.
View more pictures from the event via our Flickr page.