Wolves Foundation have linked up with curators at the Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust who have produced a 19th century women’s football kit which is now on display to the general public.
Celebrating the start of the FIFA Women’s World Cup, the special project has seen two separate kits produced to mark the increasing popularity of the women’s game, with one now on display at Blists Hill Victorian Town and another, which will eventually go on show at Wolves’ Museum.
For the kit, Alison Phillips, Senior Costumer Interpreter at the Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust, took inspiration from a photograph of the Lady Footballers South Team in The Sketch newspaper in 1895. In it, the women are wearing loose blouses, knickerbockers, shin pads and boots. Alison has handmade a version of the team’s kit in the Trust’s on-site costume studio in Coalbrookdale, in Wolves’ striking gold and black colours.
Blists Hill is an open air museum which brings to life the sights and smells of a working Victorian town in 1900, at which time Wolves had a men’s team whose kits would have been recognisable to the Victorian residents of Ironbridge Gorge.
Lauren Collier, interpretation curator at the Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust, said: “Early women’s football teams like the Lady Footballers South were part of the movement that aimed to improve women’s lives and opportunities in the late 19th century and prove that women were just as capable as men. They were also very popular, drawing in crowds of up to 10,000 people for their matches.
“Yet despite their apparent popularity and the training the players did with professional male footballers, they were ridiculed by the press, who called their games comical and focussed heavily on the women’s appearance and outfits. The Football Association also actively targeted these women’s teams by barring ‘lady footballers’ from playing on men’s’ club grounds, which ultimately led to their demise.”
With her work at the Costume Project, Alison is used to bringing historical garments to life, but producing a football kit was a first!
“There is limited archive information available about women’s football, especially about what the players wore,” she explained.
“However, we found photographs and written accounts which gave us enough information to produce this striking kit.”
The growth of women’s football has been mirrored at Wolves, where the successful ladies’ team are now far more embedded within the club both at senior and academy levels, with the Foundation also holding sessions and encouraging more girls and women to play the game.
Anna Price, captain of the Wolves Women team and a Wolves Foundation ambassador, is the club’s record appearance holder, featuring over 300 times. She said: “The kit looks fantastic and it’s great to see the Wolves colours with a retro twist.
“I made my debut as a 15-year-old in 2001 and, even since then, the women’s game has come on leaps and bounds. It’s great to see the opportunities that are out there for women and girls at the moment.
“To have Wolves Women playing at Molineux a couple of times last season shows how far we have come. We owe a huge amount to these pioneers who fought for the right to play football.”
The women’s football kit will be on display in the window of the Drapers shop in Blists Hill Victorian Town for the duration of the Women’s World Cup and throughout the summer. It will appear alongside other sports-themed historical clothing to tie in with the museum’s Victorian Seaside Experience event from 26th July to 3rd September and on the catwalk at the Fashion Through The Ages fashion show in Coalbrookdale on 22nd and 23rd September.
Wolves will keep a second version of the kit which will ultimately go on display as part of the Wolves Women exhibit at the Museum.
Any link-up between the club and Ironbridge is always that extra special, given that Wolves and England legend Billy Wright was born in the area and is remembered with two plaques in the region honouring his life and achievements.