Women may have been playing “football” for as long as the game has existed. Evidence shows that an ancient version of the game (Tsu Chu) was played by women during the Han Dynasty (25–220 CE). Two female figures are depicted in Han Dynasty (25–220 CE) frescoes, playing Tsu Chu. There are, however, a number of opinions about the accuracy of dates, the earliest estimates at 5000 BCE. Reports of an annual match being played in Scotland are reported as early as the 1790s. The first match recorded by the Scottish Football Association took place in 1892 in Glasgow. In England, the first recorded game of football between women took place in 1895.
Association football, the modern game, also has documented early involvement of women. In Europe, it is possible that 12th-century French women played football as part of that era’s folk games. An annual competition in Mid-Lothian, Scotland during the 1790s is reported, too. In 1863, football governing bodies introduced standardized rules to prohibit violence on the pitch, making it more socially acceptable for women to play.
The most well-documented early European team was founded by activist Nettie Honeyball in England in 1894. It was named the British Ladies’ Football Club. Nettie Honeyball is quoted, “I founded the association late last year , with the fixed resolve of proving to the world that women are not the ‘ornamental and useless’ creatures men have pictured. I must confess, my convictions on all matters where the sexes are so widely divided are all on the side of emancipation, and I look forward to the time when ladies may sit in Parliament and have a voice in the direction of affairs, especially those which concern them most.”  Honeyball and those like her paved the way for women’s football. However the women’s game was frowned upon by the British football associations, and continued without their support. It has been suggested that this was motivated by a perceived threat to the ‘masculinity’ of the game.
A Welsh women’s football team pose for a photograph in 1959
Women’s football became popular on a large scale at the time of the First World War, when employment in heavy industry spurred the growth of the game, much as it had done for men fifty years earlier. The most successful team of the era was Dick, Kerr’s Ladies of Preston, England. The team played in the first women’s international matches in 1920, against a team from Paris, France, in April, and also made up most of the England team against a Scottish Ladies XI in 1920, and winning 22-0.
Despite being more popular than some men’s football events (one match saw a 53,000 strong crowd), women’s football in England suffered a blow in 1921 when The Football Association outlawed the playing of the game on Association members’ pitches, on the grounds that the game (as played by women) was distasteful. Some speculated that this may have also been to envy of the large crowds that women’s matches attracted. This led to the formation of the English Ladies Football Association and play moved to rugby grounds. (wikipedia)
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