IWM: Preston Ladies v Bolton Ladies match ball Calendar
10 Mar 2023
What is it?
It’s the football that was used in the first half of a game between Preston Ladies (Formerly the Dick, Kerr Ladies FC) v Bolton Ladies on the 25 November 1939. This was played at Headingley, the home of Leeds Rugby League club. It was a charity game, raising £26 for Leeds General Infirmary and ending in a 3-3 draw. The ball was raffled off at half-time and signed by players from both sides.
How did it come to be in the museum?
In 1939 William Henry Rolls was an engineer living in Leeds with his family. They lived at Kirkstall, not far from the Headingley ground and John went to the game, where he won the ball in the half-time raffle. He passed it onto his children, Margaret, John, and Philip, who kindly donated it to the museum in 2022. They recognised that such balls were rare and wanted to see it preserved for future generations to help tell the story of women’s football.
Why is it so important?
It’s a rare item relating to two teams that defied the FA’s hostility to women’s football. In 1921 the FA banned its member clubs from hosting women’s games, which is why this game as held at a rugby league ground, as it was outside the FA’s control. Dick, Kerr Ladies, were the most famous team of 1920s and 1930s, although they had changed their name to Preston Ladies by 1939.
Today, the Bolton Ladies are less well known but they are no less important. They continued to play through the Second World War and in the post-war year, raising money for a variety of charities. They and other teams kept women’s football alive in this period, challenging those who believed that it was not suitable for women.
What is unique about this ball?
While footballs might often be signed for charity or commemorative purposes during or after a game, for them to survive is quite rare. Leather can perish and signatures can fade due to exposure to light. This is in very good condition for a ball that is over 80 years old, and is the only one in the museum’s collection relating to women’s football in this period.
Some of the signatures have also survived. The historian Stephen Bolton, who has shared information about this game, has identified a number of them. There are six each from the Preston and Bolton sides that were named in the press prior to kick-off.
One signature that sadly isn’t on the ball is that of Nellie Halstead, one of the goal-scorers for the Bolton Ladies side. She was a noted runner, having won bronze for Great Britain in 4x 100 meters relay at the Los Angeles Summer Olympics in 1932. On her return to her hometown of Radcliffe, 10,000 people turned out to celebrate her achievement.
With thanks to the Rolls family for their generous donation and Stephen Bolton for sharing his research and expertise.