Emma Clarke: England’s first black female player?

Jun 9, 2020

Life Stories

Emma Clarke

Beginnings

Born in Liverpool in 1876, Emma Clarke grew up in Bootle; she learned her playing with local youngsters in the street. She was encouraged by ‘Mrs Graham’ (the suffragist and football enthusiast Helen Matthews); from 1895 Emma played often for ‘Mrs Graham’s XI’.

The Flying Winger

Fast and athletic, Emma Clarke usually played on the right-wing. She took part in the first ‘official’ women’s match under FA rules in 1895 (her team British Ladies South, lost 7-1). Emma played for ‘Mrs Graham’s XI’ on a tour of Scotland in 1896; most games were attended by large crowds. In 1897 Emma and her sister played for a team called ‘The New Woman and Ten of her Friends’ against ‘Eleven Gentlemen’ (the women won 3-1). Emma carried on playing until 1903.

Life story after football

Until recently, little or nothing was known about Emma Clarke’s life after 1903. She was brought back into history by a play Offside, produced by Futures Theatre Company in 2014 to celebrate women’s football. In 2019 a memorial plaque to Emma Clarke was unveiled at Campsbourne School in London, not far from where Emma played for British Ladies South in 1895.

Thinking points

On December 12th 2019 a plaque was unveiled by the Haringey council (London) remembering ‘’Pioneering Black British female footballer’’ Emma Clarke. Among others prof. Jean Williams discusses the complexity of knowing exactly what the ethnicity of Emma Clarke was. In an article she evaluates the available sources to discuss what we already know about the life and origins of Emma Clarke.

Educators could look at the life story of Emma Clarke and work with young people to consider these questions:

  1. What is the role of historians in further researching the life of Emma Clarke?
  2. How should historians work to “uncover” personal histories?
  3. What are the opportunities and risks involved in doing so?

Find out more

Read more background information at Women in football, or this article in The Guardian. Emma Clarke was honoured with a plaque at a Hornsey school, check it out here. Also, the FA celebrated her life with an article. A recent blogpost by Prof. Jean Williams goes into more detail about how much there still is to know about Emma Clarke.

COVER Image

Bibiana Steinhaus Woman in charge, 2008 (Wikimedia Commons)

Emma Clarke (back row, second from left) made her British Ladies team debut in 1895 (Photo: Stuart Gibbs, Wikimedia Commons).

Life Story

Emma Clarke was England's first black female football player. Her story is one diversity, overcoming racial prejudices and education.

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Article Tags:   19h century  |   diversity  |   ethnicity  |   gender history  |   social history

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