The story of Scotland v England, Ravenscraig and the first women’s international
The stadium stands on the outskirts of Greenock. Set back from the town centre, with the River Clyde flowing to the north, its distinctive single stand looms over a cinder running track surrounding a playing field.
Upgraded for the 2014 Commonwealth Games, Ravenscraig Stadium is home for the local Greenock Juniors and, to the west coast of Scotland’s thriving athletics scene, a training ground and field of dreams.
On a cold November afternoon in 1972, it was also a place for outcasts, a refuge for footballers who had been actively obstructed in their efforts to play the game.
That bitter winter’s day, the players would lay down a marker, running out for the first ever meeting of the Scotland and England women’s football teams. In doing so, they served a permanent reminder of the obstacles women face in football and how they can be overcome by sheer talent and determination.
When this match kicked off at 2.30pm on Saturday November 18 in Greenock in 1972, women’s football was still officially banned in Scotland.
Not only had the Scottish Football Association prevented member clubs from hosting women’s football matches in 1924 and 1925, but it had also been an active voice against the game’s development in the decades that followed.
In 1971, inspired by the success of unofficial women’s World Cup competitions, UEFA held a vote to bring unofficial women’s organisations under the banners of their respective national associations.
There was one single dissenting voice. Scotland were the only one of 32 nations who voted against and it would take a further three years for the SFA to reluctantly give token recognition to women’s football in Scotland.
Breaking through the barrier
Having been forced to run their game underground and without any official financial or logistical support, the SWFA were more than capable of organising their own matches and laying their own foundations. They did not get – or care for - the SFA’s official approval for this historic tie.
Talks had been going on for some time between SWFA secretary, Elsie Cook, and Pat Gregory, her counterpart in England and together the two women worked on travel, stadium hire and other logistics.
The English association (WFA) had more power and experience in these matters, with over 200 teams in their organisation. Conversely, there were just six women’s clubs in Scotland at the time and Cook relied on a ‘provvy cheque’ or loan to pay for the strips and on charity, with Rangers FC stepping in to loan the women their shorts.
With a far bigger pool of talent to dip into, England were widely recognised as favourites for the game at Ravenscraig.
Not for the first time in their history, the Scotswomen proved to have scant respect for either the odds or their opponent’s reputation.
Victory in defeat
On a rock-hard pitch, with a biting wind cutting across them, Scotland raced to a two-goal lead through Mary Carr and Rose Reilly.
The latter was just 17 years of age and over the next decade or so she would prove to be one of the leading stars in world football and one of the greatest female players of all time.
Rose would pursue her dream of professional football to France and then Italy and be banned ‘sine die’ by the SFA for her impertinence. She was duly adopted by the Italians, went straight into their national team, and rewarded them with a strike in their 1984 Mundialito (little World Cup) victory.
Sylvia Gore pulled one back for England in the game at Ravenscraig, shortly before half-time.
Then, in the second half, the away side’s experience and superior fitness began to show and, with the Scots tiring, Lynda Hale and Jeannie Allott clinched the 3-2 victory.
However, when the final whistle sounded that day the game was a triumph, a victory for women over the football authorities who had attempted to hamper and restrict them at every turn.
We weren’t taken seriously, the SFA refused to acknowledge us. They said, ‘Football’s not for women’. We had that attitude from the Scottish population – men and women. We were ridiculed in the press, by everybody. Because of the prejudice we faced, it made us all the more determined to keep going.