Lily Parr was born in St Helens on 26th April, 1905. Her brother was a keen sportsman and he taught her how to play football and rugby.
Barbara Jacobs has pointed out in The Dick, Kerr's Ladies: "She (Lily Parr) was as adept at rugby as she was at football, spending hours on her own perfecting the technique of the power kick. She'd sorted that out by the time she was thirteen and in football could score from any place on the pitch, or in rugby kick the finest penalty or drop goal. A left-footer, her ability was natural, magic, but honed by her refusal to conform to the art of being a woman. She wasn't having any of it."
In 1919, the 14 year old Parr started playing football for the St Helens Ladies football team. Her second game was against Dick Kerr Ladies. St Helens lost 6-1. Alfred Frankland, the manager of the team from Preston, was very impressed with the performances of Lily Parr and her team-mate, Alice Woods. After the game Frankland asked the two women to join his team. He also offered to arrange for them to live in Preston. Lily agreed to live in the home of fellow player, Alice Norris.
Frankland agreed to pay Lily 10 shillings every time she played for the team. This worked out at about £100 in today's money. Lily was a great success and in her first season scored 43 goals for the club. Gail J. Newsham wrote in her book on the team, In a League of their Own (1994) about Lily: "Standing almost six feet tall, with jet black hair, her power and skill was admired and feared, wherever she played. She was an extremely unselfish player who could pin-point a pass with amazing accuracy and was also a marvellous ball player. And she was probably responsible in one way or another, for most of the goals that were scored by the team".
In 1920 a local newspaper wrote about this talented 14 year old: "There is probably no greater football prodigy in the whole country. Not only has she speed and excellent ball control, but her admirable physique enables her to brush off challenges from defenders who tackle her. She amazes the crowd where ever she goes by the way she swings the ball clean across the goalmouth to the opposite wing."
One of her team-mates, Joan Whalley, remarked on Parr's sense of humour: "When the older players were getting ready for a match, there were elastic stockings going on knee's and strapping up of ankles, there were bandages here there and everywhere. Then Parr walked in, and she stood looking around at them all and said, "well, I don't know about Dick Kerr Ladies football team, it looks like a bloody trip to Lourdes to me!"
In 1920 Alfred Frankland arranged for the Federation des Societies Feminine Sportives de France to send a team to tour England. Frankland believed that his team was good enough to represent England against a French national team. Four matches were arranged to be played at Preston, Stockport, Manchester and London. The matches were played on behalf of the National Association of Discharged and Disabled Soldiers and Sailors.
A crowd of 25,000 people turned up to the home ground of Preston North End to see the first unofficial international between England and France. England won the game 2-0 with Florrie Redford and Jennie Harris scoring the goals.
The two teams travelled to Stockport by charabanc. This time England won 5-2. The third game was played at Hyde Road, Manchester. Over 12,000 spectators saw France obtain a 1-1 draw. Madame Milliat reported that the first three games had raised £2,766 for the ex-servicemens fund.
The final game took place at Stamford Bridge, the home of Chelsea Football Club. A crowd of 10,000 saw the French Ladies win 2-1. However, the English Ladies had the excuse of playing most of the game with only ten players as Jennie Harris suffered a bad injury soon after the game started. This game caused a stir in the media when the two captains, Alice Kell and Madeline Bracquemond, kissed each other at the end of the match.
On 28th October, 1920. Alfred Frankland took his team to tour France. On Sunday 31st October, 22,000 people watched the two sides draw 1-1 in Paris. However, the game ended five minutes early when a large section of the crowd invaded the pitch after disputing the decision by the French referee to award a corner-kick to the English side. After the game Alice Kell said the French ladies were much better playing on their home ground.
The next game was played in Roubaix. England won 2-0 in front of 16,000 spectators, a record attendance for the ground. Florrie Redford scored both the goals. England won the next game at Havre, 6-0. As with all the games, the visitors placed a wreath in memory of allied soldiers who had been killed during the First World War.
The final game was in Rouen. The English team won 2-0 in front of a crowd of 14,000. When the team arrived back in Preston on 9th November, 1920, they had travelled over 2,000 miles. As captain of the team, Alice Kell made a speech where she said: "If the matches with the French Ladies serve no other purpose, I feel that they will have done more to cement the good feeling between the two nations than anything which has occurred during the last 50 years."
Soon after arriving back in Preston, Alfred Frankland was informed that the local charity for Unemployed Ex- Servicemen was in great need for money to buy food for former soldiers for Christmas. Frankland decided to arrange a game at between Dick Kerr Ladies and a team made up of the rest of England. Deepdale, the home of Preston North End was the venue. To maximize the crowd, it was decided to make it a night game. Permission was granted by the Secretary of State for War, Winston Churchill, for two anti-aircraft searchlights, generation equipment and forty carbide flares, to be used to floodlight the game.
Over 12,000 people came to watch the match that took place on 16th December, 1920. It was also filmed by Pathe News. Bob Holmes, a member of the Preston team that won the first Football League title in 1888-89, had the responsibility of providing whitewashed balls at regular intervals. Although one of the searchlights went out briefly on two occasions, the players coped well with the conditions. Dick Kerr Ladies showed they were the best woman's team in England by winning 4-0. Jennie Harris scored twice in the first half and Florrie Redford and Minnie Lyons added further goals before the end of the game. A local newspaper described the ball control of Harris as "almost weird". He added "she controlled the ball like a veteran league forward, swerved, beat her opponents with the greatest of ease, and passed with judgment and discretion". As a result of this game, the Unemployed Ex Servicemens Distress Fund received over £600 to help the people of Preston. This was equivalent to £125,000 in today's money.
On 26th December, 1920, Dick Kerr Ladies played the second best women's team in England, St Helens Ladies, at Goodison Park, the home ground of Everton. The plan was to raise money for the Unemployed Ex Servicemens Distress Fund in Liverpool. Over 53,000 people watched the game with an estimated 14,000 disappointed fans locked outside. It was the largest crowd that had ever watched a woman's game in England.
Florrie Redford, Dick Kerr Ladies' star striker, missed her train to Liverpool and was unavailable for selection. In the first half, Jennie Harris gave Dick Keer Ladies a 1-0 lead. However, the team was missing Redford and so the captain and right back, Alice Kell, decided to play centre forward. It was a shrewd move and Kell scored a second-half hat trick which enabled her side to beat St Helens Ladies 4-0.
The game at Goodison Park raised £3,115 (£623,000 in today's money). Two weeks later the Dick Kerr Ladies played a game at Old Trafford, the home of Manchester United, in order to raise money for ex-servicemen in Manchester. Over 35,000 people watched the game and £1,962 (£392,000) was raised for charity.
In 1921 the Dick Kerr Ladies team was in such demand that Alfred Frankland had to refuse 120 invitations from all over Britain. The still played 67 games that year in front of 900,000 people. It has to be remembered that all the players had full-time jobs and the games had to be played on Saturday or weekday evenings. As Alice Norris pointed out: "It was sometimes hard work when we played a match during the week because we would have to work in the morning, travel to play the match, then travel home again and be up early for work the next day."
On 14th February, 1921, 25,000 people watched Dick Kerr Ladies beat the Best of Britain, 9-1. Lily Parr (5), Florrie Redford (2) and Jennie Harris (2) got the goals. Representing their country, the Preston team beat the French national side 5-1 in front of 15,000 people at Longton. Parr scored all five goals.
The Dick Kerr Ladies did not only raise money for Unemployed Ex Servicemens Distress Fund. They also helped local workers who were in financial difficulty. The mining industry in particular suffered a major recession after the war. In March, 1921, the mine-owners announced a further 50% reduction in miner's wages. When the miners refused to accept this pay-cut, they were locked out from their jobs. On April 1 and, immediately on the heels of this provocation, the government put into force its Emergency Powers Act, drafting soldiers into the coalfield.
The government and the mine-owners attempted to starve the miners into submission. Several members of the Dick Kerr team came from mining areas like St. Helens and held strong opinions on this issue and games were played to raise money for the families of those men locked out of employment. As Barbara Jacobs pointed out in The Dick, Kerr's Ladies: "Women's football had come to be associated with charity, and had its own credibility. Now it was used as a tool to help the Labour Movement and the trade unions. It had, it could be said, become a politically dangerous sport, to those who felt the trade unions to be their enemies.... Women went out to support their menfolk, a Lancashire tradition, was causing ripples in a society which wanted women to revert to their prewar roles as set down by their masters, of keeping their place, that place being in the home and kitchen. Lancashire lasses were upsetting the social order. It wasn't acceptable."
The 1921 Miners Lock-Out caused considerable suffering in mining areas in Wales and Scotland. This was reflected by games played in Cardiff (18,000), Swansea (25,000) and Kilmarnock (15,000). Dick Kerr Ladies represented England beat Wales on two successive Saturdays. They also beat Scotland on 16th April, 1921.
The Football Association was appalled by what they considered to be women's involvement in national politics. It now began a propaganda campaign against women's football. A new rule was introduced that stated no football club in the FA should allow their ground to be used for women's football unless it was prepared to handle all the cash transactions and do the full accounting. This was an attempt to smear Alfred Frankland with financial irregularities.
On 5th December 1921, the Football Association issued the following statement:
Complaints having been made as to football being played by women, the Council feel impelled to express their strong opinion that the game of football is quite unsuitable for females and ought not to be encouraged.
Complaints have been made as to the conditions under which some of these matches have been arranged and played, and the appropriation of the receipts to other than Charitable objects.
The Council are further of the opinion that an excessive proportion of the receipts are absorbed in expenses and an inadequate percentage devoted to Charitable objects.
For these reasons the Council requests the clubs belonging to the Association refuse the use of their grounds for such matches.
This measure removed the ability of women to raise significant sums of money for charity as they were now barred from playing at all the major venues. The Football Association also announced that members were not allowed to referee or act as linesman at any women's football match.
The Dick Kerr Ladies team were shocked by this decision. Alice Kell, the captain, spoke for the other women when she said: "We play for the love of the game and we are determined to carry on. It is impossible for the working girls to afford to leave work to play matches all over the country and be the losers. I see no reason why we should not be recompensated for loss of time at work. No one ever receives more than 10 shillings per day."
Alice Norris pointed out that the women were determined to resist attempts to stop them playing football: "We just took it all in our stride but it was a terrible shock when the FA stopped us from playing on their grounds. We were all very upset but we ignored them when they said that football wasn't a suitable game for ladies to play."
As Gail J. Newsham argued In a League of their Own: "So, that was that, the axe had fallen, and despite all the ladies denials and assurances regarding finances, and their willingness to play under any conditions that the FA laid down, the decision was irreversible. The chauvinists, the medical 'experts' and the anti women's football lobby had won - their threatened male bastion was now safe."
Alfred Frankland responded to the action taken by the Football Association with the claim: "The team will continue to play, if the organisers of charity matches will provide grounds, even if we have to play on ploughed fields."
Frankland now decided to take his team on a tour of Canada and the United States. The team included Lily Parr, Jennie Harris, Daisy Clayton, Alice Kell, Florrie Redford, Florrie Haslam, Alice Woods, Jessie Walmsley, Molly Walker, Carmen Pomies, Lily Lee, Alice Mills, Annie Crozier, May Graham, Lily Stanley and R. J. Garrier. Their regular goalkeeper, Peggy Mason, was unable to go due to the recent death of her mother.
When the Dick Kerr Ladies arrived in Quebec on 22nd December, 1922, they discovered that the Dominion Football Association had banned them from playing against Canadian teams. They were accepted in the United States, and even though they were sometimes forced to play against men, they lost only 3 out of 9 games. They visited Boston, Baltimore, St. Louis, Washington, Detroit, Chicago and Philadelphia during their tour of America.
Florrie Redford was the leading scorer on the tour but Lily Parr was considered the star player and American newspapers reported that she was the "most brilliant female player in the world". One member of the team, Alice Mills, met her future husband at one of the games, and would later return to marry him and become an American citizen.
In Philadelphia four members of the team, Lily Parr, Jennie Harris, Florrie Haslam and Molly Walker, met the American Women's Olympic team in a relay race of about a quarter of a mile. Even though their fastest runner, Alice Woods, was unavailable through illness, the Preston ladies still won the race.
Dick Kerr Ladies continued to play charity games in England but denied access by the Football Association to the large venues, the money raised was disappointing when compared to the years immediately following the First World War. In 1923 the French Ladies came over for their annual tour of England. They played against Dick Kerr Ladies at Cardiff Arms Park. Part of the proceeds were for the Rheims Cathedral Fund in France.
Dick, Kerr Engineering was eventually taken over by English Electric. Although they allowed the team to play on Ashton Park, it refused to subsidize the football team. Alfred Frankland was also told that he would no longer be given time off to run the team that was now known as the Preston Ladies.
Frankland decided to leave English Electric and open a shop with his wife in Sharoe Green Lane in Preston where they sold fish and greengroceries. He continued to manage Preston Ladies with great success.
Some of the players also lost their jobs with English Electric. Over the years Frankland had raised considerable sums of money for Whittingham Hospital and Lunatic Asylum. The hospital was always willing to employ and provide accommodation for Frankland's players. This included Lily Parr, Florrie Redford, Jessie Walmsley, Lily Lee and Lily Martin. In 1923 Frankland persuaded Lizzy Ashcroft and Lydia Ackers, two of St Helens best players, to join Preston Ladies. Both women went to work for Whittingham Hospital.
While working at the hospital Lily Parr met her partner Mary and together they bought a house in Preston. Lily continued to work and eventually became a Ward Sister at the hospital.
During the General Strike English Electric stopped Preston Ladies from playing on Ashton Park. Alice Norris pointed out: "It was our training night and we were told not to go up to Ashton Park anymore. Something must have gone wrong between him (Frankland) and the firm."
Despite the lack of sponsorship, Preston Ladies continued to be the best team in England. In 1927 they beat their rivals for the title, Blackpool Ladies, 11-2. Lily Parr, Florrie Redford and Jennie Harris all scored goals in the game.
Alice Woods stopped playing for Preston Ladies when she married Herbert Stanley in September, 1928. Other players like Alice Kell got married and gave up football. Florrie Redford emigrated to Canada in 1930 to pursue her career as a nurse whereas Carmen Pomies returned to France. Jennie Harris kept playing until the mid-1930s.
Lily Parr, who never got married, continued to play football for Preston Ladies. Lydia Ackers, who played for many years with Parr argued that: "I have never seen any woman, nor many a man, kick a ball like she could. Everybody was amazed when they saw her power, you would never believe it."
Joan Whalley was another one who played in the same team as Lily Parr later wrote: "She had a kick like a mule. she was the only person I knew who could lift a dead ball, the old heavy leather ball, from the left wing over to me on the right and nearly knock me out with the force of the shot.... When she took a left corner kick, it came over like a bullet, and if you ever hit one of those with your head... I only ever did it once and the laces on the ball left their impression on my forehead and cut it open."
Some shrewd observers believed she was good enough to play for a club in the Football League. Bobby Walker, a Scottish international player, belied that she was the "best natural timer of a football I have ever seen." Alfred Frankland went further describing her as the "best outside left playing in the world today."
On 8th September, 1937, Preston Ladies beat Edinburgh Ladies to win the "championship of Great Britain and the World". Preston won 5-1 with Lily Parr scoring one of the goals. Joan Whalley, who was only 15, also scored. A World Championship Victory Dinner was held at Booths Cafe in Preston.
Alfred Frankland made a speech where he claimed: "Since our inception we have played 437 matches, won 424, lost 7 and drawn 6, scored 2,863 goals and had only 207 scored against. We have raised over £100,000 in this country and in foreign lands for charity. We have won 14 silver cups, 5 of them outright, and hold a trophy awarded for the most meritorious assistance given to ex-servicemen."
Preston Ladies only played a small number of games during the Second World War. The rationing of petrol made it difficult to travel to games. Alfred Frankland also worked as a ARP Warden during the war and did not have the time to organize games.
In 1946 Lily Parr was made captain in recognition of 26 years service. She had only missed 5 games since joining the team in 1920. The local newspaper reported that she had scored 967 goals out of the teams total score of 3,022.
The Football Association refused to lift its ban on women players. In 1947 the Kent County Football Association suspended a referee because he was working as a manager/trainer with Kent Ladies Football Club. It justified its decision with the comment that "women's football brings the game into disrepute".
In 1950 Alfred Frankland calculated that since 1917 Preston Ladies had played 643 games. Of these, they had only lost 9 games. He also claimed that that the team had raised £140,000 for charity.
Lily Parr was aged 45 when she played her last game on 12th August, 1950. She scored a goal in an 11-1 victory over Scotland. During her long career she had scored more than 900 goals. Preston Ladies folded in 1965. Five years later the Football Association agreed to lift its ban on women's players.
Lily Parr retired from the hospital in the early 1960s. A life-long smoker she developed cancer and in 1967 had a double mastectomy. Lily commented: "It's taken me 62 years to grow these, now they have taken them off me!" She refused to give up smoking and asked her friends to bring in packets of Woodbines while she was in hospital.
Lily Parr died of cancer in her home in St Helens on 24th May 1978. In 1992, Lily Parr, England's best ever woman player, was inducted into the Football Hall of Fame at the National Football Museum in Preston.