How women's football was banned for 50 years in England

ITV News Reporter Amy Lewis looks forward to the future of women's football after the Lioness' inspired the next generation with their incredible win

The Lionesses' success has "changed the way women’s football is viewed in this country", former England international Alex Scott said.

Their Euro 2022 final with Germany was watched by an average of 11 million people on TV on Sunday, a record for a women’s football match in the UK.

The audience peaked at more than 17 million in the closing minutes of the 2-1 victory, according to overnight figures released by the ratings organisation Barb.

This is also a record for a women’s football game.

Separate figures from the BBC show that coverage of the game was streamed 5.9 million times across the iPlayer and BBC Sport website.

These record figures suggest the game's popularity looks set for a boost, but the template was first set as far back as a century ago.

Packed-out stadia

Women's football was attracting sell-out crowds and hosting international fixtures in the early 1920s, almost ten years before its players could even cast a vote in the UK.

Perhaps the game's first trailblazers were Dick Kerr’s Ladies, based in Preston.

Their most famous fixture came on Boxing Day in 1920, when 53,000 reportedly filled out Goodison Park in Liverpool, with thousands more outside.

But their impact went beyond football as the team reportedly raised thousands of pounds for charity - as much as £3,000 for the Boxing Day match, which is the equivalent of around £40,000 today.

There were a number of women’s clubs even before Dick Kerr's came to prominence.

The first football match came in 1895, when a team from the north thrashed a side from the south 7-1.

In the 1890s, there was a women's team in north London reported to have attracted a crowd of 10,000 to a game at Crouch End.

Three decades later, in 1920, Dick Kerr's won the first women's international game against a French XI 2-0 in front of a crowd of 25,000.

Banning women

Then came a devastating blow for the women's game, with the FA voting to ban them from playing on Football League grounds.

The line-up of the England Women's Soccer team that is to face France at the Wimbledon Football Club in 1974. Credit: PA

The ban would last for 50 years, with these infamous words from the FA Council explanation particularly stinging: "The game of football is quite unsuitable for females and ought not to be encouraged."

Women were not forbidden from playing the sport outright, but a ban from playing in a stadium forced a massive downturn in attendance as teams had no choice but to play in parks and fields.

Lifting the ban

After nearly half a century in the wilderness, the Women's FA was formed in 1969, which would trigger a key change back in favour of the sport.

By 1971, the FA had lifted its ban, with the first women's FA Cup final coming that same year - Southampton beat Stewarton and Thistle 4-1.

The first official women's international in Britain was then played at Greenock in 1972, with England beating Scotland 3-2.

In 1984 came the first ever women's European Championship and England made it to the final to face Sweden.

The Swedes won the first leg 1-0, while England won the return fixture by the same scoreline - before losing on penalties.

It would take nearly 40 years, but that final was a significant step towards reaching the pinnacle of the women's game.