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.
Educators could look at the life story of Emma Clarke and work with young people to consider these questions:
- What enabled a ‘fleet-footed dark girl’ from Merseyside to become the first known black female footballer in England?
- Why was so little awareness of her life until more than 100 years after she died?
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.
Emma Clarke (back row, second from left) made her British Ladies team debut in 1895 (Photo: Stuart Gibbs, Wikimedia Commons).
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