ALINA MATINIAN / AIPS in UTRECHT** —- It is difficult to pinpoint’s football’s initial appearance in human existence on a long journey towards the imminent Opening Match of the UEFA Women’s EURO 2017 in the Netherlands.

First mentions indicate that a ball game similar to football has been played since ancient times. From then on it has been developed and modified with 1863 seeing the first Football Association founded in England.

This institution was responsible for codifying the laws of the game and organising matches between member teams. By the end of the century, football has gained enormous popularity with the United Kingdom. Surprisingly, this interest came not only from men but also from women.

Dutch captain Mandy van den Berg facing the media at an eve-of-event press conference

The pursuit of gender equality in late-19th-century British society spilled over into football where women began insisting on the right of participation.

This led to the creation of the first women’s football club in 1895. The British Ladies were established by Lady Florence Dixie and Mary Hutson to prove that women could be the sporting equal of men.

In addition to the football club, they founded a women’s football association whose aim was to achieve high level of attention for female football and make it comparable with the male game.

FA prohibition

On March 23, 1895, British Ladies played their first official match. On that occasion the team was divided in two: one represented the North and the other the South. About 10,000 spectators attended but their reaction ranged between ridicule and reprobation.

Nevertheless, Lady Florence did not give up and took one more step toward her main goal. She organised and sponsored two-year tour for British Ladies which generated great feedback from the British press. However, football continued to be less about sport but rather about politics and the fight for women’s rights.

In 1917 one of the most popular football clubs, Dick, Kerr Ladies, was created. It comprised women working in the factories in place of their menfolk who had gone off to war.

Despite the growth of popularity of women’s football, early-20th-century society was not ready to accept it. In 1921 the Football Association forbade women from playing football officially for what proved to be 50 years.

However, a renewed feminist movement after the Second World War saw the creation of an International Association of Women’s Football in 1957 and then, nine years later, the first unofficial world tournament played in England.

Ban lifted

The English ban was lifted in 1971 and the following year the United States made sports and especially football accessible for everyone with the Title IX educational funding act. In 1984 UEFA took over recognition and responsibility for women’s matches and tournaments.

Nowadays female football lacks nothing in terms of recognition by comparison with the men. UEFA and FIFA have established prizes for the best women players and award them every year, just as with the men.

As women’s football becomes more and more popular so some players have become famous even among people not interested in sports. These include the United States’ Alex Morgan and Germany’s Nadine Kessler who won the Euro in Sweden in 2013 is now a women’s football adviser to UEFA.

** AIPS is the international sports journalists’ association with 10,000 members worldwide and which is currently running a Young Reporters project in the Netherlands with the cooperation and support of European federation UEFA. More information at / Follow Alina Matinian on Twitter @aamatinyan