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'Unsuitable game for females' said the FA – but the girls played on and beat the boys

By Black Country Bugle  |  Posted: June 19, 2014

  • Jean today, in her Handy Angle silk shirt

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AS their opponents knew only too well, the Handy Angle Ladies just keep on coming forward. Following our original piece on page 32 of the May 22 edition, we've been contacted by another member of that all-conquering women's football side.

Jean Greenfield (nee Wood) of Wordsley not only still has the scrap book she kept during her time with the team in the early 1960s, she also has three of the countless trophies that Handy Angle collected during their reign.

"I was good friends with Mary Rides, daughter of the coach, Harry Rides," Jean told us. "We stayed in touch after she left for college. When Harry died, Mary wanted to share out all the trophies he'd kept from those days, and so I was given three of the ones I'd played a part in winning."

The number of cuttings in the scrapbook proves just what a stir the Handy Angle side caused; but some of them are testament to just how much of a thorn in the side of the footballing establishment they had become.

One press article, from an unnamed paper, addresses what had become a high profile issue. For years, coach Harry Rides had been pushing the Football Association to grant women's football official recognition. The FA's lack of response suggested they were in no mood to consider it, and a debate grew up around the issue of women in certain sports. Under the heading 'Should Girls Play Football?', the paper wrote:

"Women today are no longer prepared to sit back and applaud their menfolk for their athletic prowess, rather they set an example in some of the recognised sports considered 'suitable' for women and for men alike.

"But until recently men have been able to claim football entirely for themselves; now all over the country women are taking an interest in the game, forming clubs, and demanding recognition by the Football Association.

"Finding teams to play is a major problem for the Handy Angle club, for there is only one other ladies' club in the Midlands, the Darlaston Ladies, but in the North of England there are 17 and the Brierley Hill club go off to play against these teams, today in their own minibus, bought for them by Mr Peter Kinnear, the managing director of Handy Angle.

"The Football Association have set their faces firmly against ladies' football clubs, will have nothing to do with them at all; only recently a team from Chipping Norton were told by the FA that football 'is not suitable for females' and their appplication to affiliate to the Oxfordshire FA was rejected."

Attempting to defend their stance, an FA representative told another paper, "I think our powers have been exaggerated as far as the girls are concerned. If a firm owns a pitch, it is entirely their responsibility what matches are played on it."

This was disingenuous at best. Any club who played in a league affliated to the Football Association, and that was virtually every amateur league in the country, would not be allowed even if they wanted to, to offer their pitch to Handy Angle. Nor would affliated referees or linesmen be allowed to officiate at their games.

There were very few sites left for them to play on; even their training had to take place in Kingswinford Park.

Fortunately many of the local companies who in those days often had their own football pitches, were much more open-minded than the FA, and offered the Angles use of their facilities.

Undaunted by the FA snub and the problems it placed in his team's way, Harry Rides did everything he could to push the players to the absolute peak of their abilities. As well as insisting on two training sessions per week for the girls, he organised games against Brierley Hill Grammar School boys to ensure his side were as well prepared as possible.

"There was a bit of leg-pulling about it," he said, "my son was playing in the team and the girls beat them 3-2 in their last match."

Jean recalls that their training took place every Wednesday and Sunday, with a seven mile run beforehand just to warm up.

"We were very fit and extremely well trained," Jean recalls, "and with no league for us to play in, all the women's teams just had to play each other as and when. There were quite a few about, but not many locally. There were Darlaston and Halesowen, but the others were further afield. Foden Motorworks was one we used to play against, and Boston was another I remember."

Jean's scrapbook also covers the TV All Stars games (see last edition) which had taken place three times against a specially assembled charity team of comedy, music and light entertainment stars. The first two games the girls had lost, but the last one they had won 5-3, putting Bernie Winters, Ronnie Corbett, Bernard Bresslaw and co well and truly in their place.

Jean has very fond memories of those celebrity games. She told us:

"We played them at Porth, Rhondda Valley and Reading, and always had a great time. We had a meal afterwards, and sat with members of our team alternating between the celebrities. I remember sitting between Bernard Bresslaw and Norman Rossington, and they were lovely, very friendly. Bernard Bresslaw was really funny."

The programme from the TV All Stars game in Porth includes pen portraits of the Handy Angles players. Written in the comedy spirit of the day, they're almost wince-inducing to read now, including descriptions, vital statistics and plenty of innuendo.

Here's a sample:

"Barbara Henley (19, blonde, single) right back. 35-24-36. Fast and good ball player. (Fast on her feet, we mean).

Val Aston (20, blonde, single) right half. Clever and tricky. (You want to see her in a clinch).

Shirley Lloyd (22, brunette, married) pivot. 38-26-38. Good stopper. (Good at saying 'no', too).

Gladys Plant (19, brunette, single) left half. 35-26-38. Nips in and out. (You don't say!)

Jean Richardson (26, blonde, married) inside right. 36-26-38. Very clever player. (Cards, tennis, rugby, men – you know how it is with these blondes).

Margaret Botley (22, brown, single) outside left. 34-24-36. Fast. Good shot right foot. (Good passes too. Mostly at men)."

Jean's most striking possession from her Handy Angle days, is her silk shirt.

Specially made to order viaformer Wolves player Jimmy Mullen's shop in Stafford Street, Wolverhampton, it's as dazzling today as it was when she first wore it. And Jean was more than happy to pull it on again for old times' sake!

Did you play football for a women's team back in the days when it was still frowned upon by the powers that be? Write in, give us a call, or email gjones@blackcountrybugle.co.uk.

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