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At the first women's soccer game in 1881, players were chased off the field

An illustration of the first official international women's soccer match in 1895.
An illustration of the first official international women's soccer match in 1895.
Archival magazine illustration

Last night, the United States Women's National Team won the World Cup with a 5-2 victory over Japan. The victory was follow by a flurry of Twitter hashtags and real-world celebrations.

It's a sign of just how radically soccer has changed over the years. The May 9, 1881, edition of the Glasgow Herald described what appears to be the first-ever women's international match. That game featured high-heeled boots, condescension — and a widespread insistence that women shouldn't play soccer.

Held between Scotland and England, the game was called "a rather novel match": players wore jerseys, stockings, knickerbockers, belts, high-heeled boots, and cowls on the field. Media reports were peppered with bemused (and condescending) sentences, including: "The game, judged from a player's point of view, was a failure, but some of the individual members of the teams showed that they had a fair idea of the game."

According to one report, recounted in From the Back Page to the Front Room: Football's Journey Through the English Media, the game ended when the women were chased off the field (admittedly, we don't know if the booing was due to misogyny or general soccer hooliganism). Many of the players in that game used pseudonyms, either out of social propriety or for protection. A report of a subsequent game, appearing in the Dunfermline Journal, went even further, saying it would "probably be the first and last exhibition of a female football match in Glasgow."

Women's soccer took many decades to catch on

These early soccer matches were followed by intermittent competitions, with a March 23, 1895, game recognized as the first official match. Though the women were allowed to play in proper soccer shoes, they still wore blouses, caps, and knickerbockers on the field (and even this was considered somewhat revolutionary). Though the game was well-attended and even made stars (Nettie Honeyball was the most famous name to come out of the match), the women's sport faded into relative obscurity.

Of course, it was a long journey from cowls and being chased off the field to the excited viewings of last night's championship game — in 1982, 100 years after that pioneering game, the Glasgow Herald said women's soccer still "suffers from not being taken seriously."

But despite the bumps, there's inarguably been a change in the reception of the women's game. Today's Glasgow Herald doesn't report on a "novel match" played by women using pseudonyms. The headline reads: "Lloyd hero for World Champions USA."

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