The pioneering Manchester football team that defied a national ban and helped shape the women’s game

The Manchester club were bold and defiant through a dark time for women’s football
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Women’s football in the UK in 2023 continues to grow, with the Lionesses setting the national standard and aims. Club football is also attracting large crowds, and this is certainly the case at Manchester City and Manchester United. 

Yet the women’s game in this country hasn’t always looked so promising. For nearly 50 years, 1921 to 1970, women were banned from playing the sport on associate members pitches, with an FA statement at the time of the ban reading: “The game of football is quite unsuitable for females and ought not to be encouraged."

During this time, a team from Manchester defied the ban and went on to be successful in Europe. Manchester Corinthians were formed in the late 1949 by Percy Ashley, primarily so his daughter Doris could play the sport. Ashley was a scout for Bolton Wanderers and a local referee. 

The club went from strength to strength despite the FA ban, by 1951 they had won a number of local cups and tournaments. 

A stand out moment for the club, who were founded at Fog Lane in Didsbury, was playing in Germany as an unofficial England side. They defeated a women's side representing Germany, and during the 1950s and 60s they took part in other tours which took them as far away as South America and the Caribbean.   

Shortly after they returned from this lengthy 12 week tour, Corinthians ventured to Italy. During this tour they played at the home grounds of some of Italy’s biggest football clubs including Juventus and Milan. 

The team continued to play throughout the 20th century, and even after they were dissolved and became Woodley Ladies in the early 1980s, they had made their mark on the women’s game. By the time this happened, the FA ban on women’s football had been lifted and within 10 years, the first official FIFA Women’s World Cup would take place. 

Blue Plaque awarded

Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham with former Manchester Corinthians Ladies players at the plaque unveiling (Photo: Mayor of Greater Manchester) Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham with former Manchester Corinthians Ladies players at the plaque unveiling (Photo: Mayor of Greater Manchester)
Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham with former Manchester Corinthians Ladies players at the plaque unveiling (Photo: Mayor of Greater Manchester)

On October 6, Manchester Corinthians Ladies team were given their own blue plaque to officially recognise their role in improving the women’s game. The plaque is at the site of their first ground and the site of their formation, Fog Lane in Didsbury.

Two murals created by artist Gavin Renshaw have also been unveiled. The event was attended by a number of former Manchester Corinthian players as well as Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham.