They Played At The Racecourse: No. 1 – Lily Parr

A regular series chronicling great or unlikely players to play on the famous turf of the Racecourse Ground.

Match: Dick, Kerr’s Ladies 2 – 1 St. Helens Ladies

Date: 19th February 1921

Crowd: 10,000

She'll break your arm, you know

You may not have heard of Dick, Kerr’s Ladies or Lily Parr but in the early 1920’s, both were big news. Formed by factory girls in Preston towards the end of the First World War, they captured the imagination and support of a nation playing exhibition matches around the country, raising money for charities – particularly for the care of men injured during the First World War.

They were celebrities – followed by newspapers wherever they went and playing matches in front of huge crowds.  It’s estimated that between their formation in 1917 and the FA ban on women’s football in December 1921, they raised £60,000 for charities (the equivalent of £16 million today).  In 1921 alone, they player in front of over 900,000 spectators – that’s more people than watch Liverpool at home in the Premier League each season.

And Lily Parr was their biggest star. A teenage prodigy, she was aggressive, skilful and powerful. She scored 43 goals in her first season as a 14-year old and would have been only fifteen when she played at the Racecourse. She went on to score over 900 career goals and, famously break a male goalkeeper’s arm when he tried to stop one of her shots. She was an inaugural inductee into the National Football Museum’s Hall of Fame.

In the winter of 1920-21, the Dick, Kerr Ladies’ star was at its highest. They’d packed out Goodison Park’s 53,000 capacity on Boxing Day 1920 with a further 14,000 disappointed supporters locked out. Five days before playing in Wrexham, they’d played in front of 25,000 fans at Anfield.

So in that context, the 10,000 strong crowd who turned out at the Racecourse to watch Dick, Kerr’s play St Helens was nothing unusual. Dick, Kerr’s tended to only play where they could ensure that sort of a crowd. It is testament to the popularity of women’s football at the time that Wrexham AFC averaged little over half that for their maiden season in the Football League.

The choice of opposition was typical.  St Helens Ladies were the default opposition when no local side was up for the challenge.  And unlike most other women’s teams at the time, they could actually guarantee Dick, Kerr’s a competitive match.

They certainly delivered a competitive match at the Racecourse – St Helens led for most of the game before Florrie Redford equalised and the unstoppable Lily Parr gave them the win.

The Lancashire Evening Post describes the game as follows:

dick, kerr's wrexham