The First Lionesses Remember the First Match, 50 Years On

by Dom Smith

As the England team finish their training session in Teddington, the rain takes its leave for a moment and in its place a second group of older women floods the pitch. They look delighted to meet the England players, grinning, chatting, and posing for photos. But these women are not merely England fans. They are the first Lionesses.

Today is a monumental day. Today is the 18 November 2022. Today is the 50th anniversary of the Lionesses’ first official match. On this day in 1972, a group of amateur female footballers — many of them teenagers — took to the pitch in Greenock, Scotland for the first ever England women’s match.

100 years prior, to the month, England’s men had played their first game. They too had faced Scotland in Scotland.

Now a collection of early Lionesses congregates on the main training pitch at Teddington’s Lensbury Hotel, meeting their heroes who are fresh from winning the Euros under Sarina Wiegman in July. The present-day Lionesses recognise, though, that they may not have been here if it hadn’t been for England’s trailblazing football women. They are each other’s heroes.

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Lynda Hale scored two of England’s goals as they edged Scotland 3–2 in that historic first match.

Years ago we had outsight rights. Do you not know that terminology?” She jokes about the archaic name of the primary position she played, as she speaks to EnglandFootball.org.

“A No7, a winger. It was 2–1 and then I scored to equalise. Someone put a cross in, it bounced on the concrete pitch, straight over the goalkeeper’s head and we won 3–2. They wouldn’t even walk out on it [today], let alone play on it. It even started to snow.”

Hale played for Southampton for most of her ten-year England career.

“At the time you were proud because you’re representing your country. But nobody really knew except your family and friends. You didn’t get all the publicity. It was nothing like it is now. We got a letter with the press of The FA on it.”

She remembers The FA’s ban on women playing football, but it never deterred her from practising. “I was 18. All I wanted to do was play football. I wasn’t involved in the politics of it all, and it never really affected me. We had three games a year. I was born too early,” she chuckles.

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Hale points to a rough patch of grass at the far end of the field. “You see over there, there’s a bit of turf? That’s what we used to play on: pitches like that. They had lumps and bumps in it, but you got on with it.”

Sue Whyatt was an England goalkeeper in the same era. She plied her trade at Macclesfield Ladies, one of the 44 teams that formed the Women’s Football Association (WFA). She beams as she speaks about Mary Earps, England’s goalkeeper on that fateful Euros journey in the summer.

“In that Spain game, when that lob was going in and she got right back and tipped it over…ah, it was just fabulous,” Whyatt recalls. Reflecting on meeting Earps on the training pitch moments before, she is reflective.

“She said thank you to me, and I feel very humbled because I was not the player that she is now. But then again, we didn’t have the same opportunities. We virtually had to train ourselves.

“But the ladies who formed [the WFA] actually played through the ‘50s and ‘60s. So we’re stood on their shoulders. They’d kept that game going all through the bans.

“[In 1972, I was] 16, just a kid. I did play at primary school until the parents [from other schools] complained, only because we were winning. Gordon Banks was my absolute hero. He gave me a tip on how to take penalties once. And it worked!”

15 years later came Tracy Scragg (née Davidson), who first took her place between the sticks for the Lionesses in 1987.

“We’d meet on a Friday night for an England game on a Sunday because everyone worked,” she recalls.

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“I played at the old Wembley, and that was amazing. You walked out and it was like walking on a spring carpet. I played in some little warmup games, ten or 15 minutes each way against Scotland, before the main event — before the men came out.”

Asked whether the exposure the Lionesses of today get makes her at all jealous, Scragg is quick to bat the question away. But she is admittedly envious of one former Lioness…

“You know when Alex [Scott] was on Strictly? I thought: that could have been me!”

The FA have done a good job to increasingly honour England’s history by integrating the first Lionesses into the fold in the last few years, but there is still work to be done to make them feel fully appreciated for their pioneering exploits.

Discussion turns to the current England women’s kit worn by the Lionesses as they won the Euros.

Scragg says: “Could you get your hands on one? I’m desperate to get my hands on one of them.” You wonder whether The FA could and perhaps should sort out free England kits for the Lionesses of yesteryear to be given. In many ways, that feels the least they could do for a generation forgotten about for far too long.

“We went to Wembley last year,” remembers Hale. “They herded us round — everybody that played for England. At half-time they got us all downstairs and just told us to walk round the pitch. We weren’t allowed on the grass and nobody knew anybody. They never introduced you in years or names.”

She compares her experience meeting the Lionesses over lunch at Teddington to being a shepherded guest at the Lionesses’ defeat to Germany at Wembley in 2019 to “That’s why this is a bit more thoughtful,” Hale says.

Whyatt considers the impact of England’s triumph under Wiegman. “What’s really lovely to see is how they’ve inspired so many young girls. And they really do engage after the game; they’re just so good at that.

“After that performance in the Euros, I was in bits. The fact that they won the Euros has actually made us less invisible. In our 50th year, for them to win the Euros, well, it’s almost like fate. The fact you’re part of the England family, that’s very moving.”

Hale thinks back to having to work full-time in order to finance her England career. She knows the Lionesses of tomorrow will continue to benefit from experiences she never had. But she also knows the significance of her place in the living, breathing history of English football.

“I was a traffic warden,” she remembers. “I wish I was born now. It’s going to be just growing and growing and growing, but I’m proud that we started this. Never forget what came before you.”

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