Helen Graham Matthews
Born in Montrose in Scotland, Helen “Graham” Matthews got to love football after seeing a men’s match between England and Scotland. In 1881 she founded a women’s team called ‘Mrs Graham’s XI’; where she played as goalkeeper. (At that time many people claimed it was ‘grotesque’ to see women playing football; so female players often hid their real identity by using false names to avoid being targeted). That first match attracted a big crowd but had to be abandoned because rowdy spectators invaded the field of play.
Spreading the Women’s Game
Soon after the 1881 match, women’s football was banned in Scotland. Soon after the 1881 match, women’s football was banned in Scotland. Helen Matthews joined forces with ‘Nellie Honeyball’ (pseudonym of another player) and the formed a team in England: ‘The Lady Footballer’. Later, Helen Matthews organised matches between ‘Mrs Graham’s XI’ and Scottish men’s teams. In 1895, at Crouch End, London, 11 000 people saw ‘Mrs Graham’s XI’, called British Ladies North, win 7-1 against British Ladies South; the first ‘official’ women’s football match under Football Association rules.
It only became known that ‘Mrs Graham’ was Helen Matthews in 1900. She was also a fierce campaigner for Votes for Women. Interest in her career did not really revive until more than 100 years after her death.
Educators could look at the life story of Helen Matthews and work with young people to consider these questions:
- Why did women’s football become popular in the late 19th century?
- Why were many people so hostile to women playing football that the players had to use false names?
- Why has there been a revival of interest in recent years about the early women’s game?
Find out more
Find out more in this article, or read John Blake’s “Girls with Balls: The Secret History Of Women’s Football”.
Scottish suffragette and women’s footballer Helen Graham Matthews in 1895 [Photo: Messils, Russell and sons, in Wikimedia Commons, public domain].
Helen was one of the founding figures of the women’s game. She was a suffragist and a campaigner for women’s rights. She was the first woman to set up the stall for serious women’s football.
LIFE STORIES To discover now
Do you wanna know more?
HISTORY CAN BE EXPLORED THROUGH THE LIVES OF INDIVIDUALS
Browse our collection of stories about football history and inclusion. With the history of football being made up of millions of stories, of individuals and communities, of movements and processes, we offer stories that can inspire our cultural conversations today.
Get to know untold stories where individuals are making history with football. When faced with insurmountable challenges, individuals past and present can use football as a cultural force to foster positive change in society. We honour these individuals and tell their ‘untold’ stories in short videos.
Explore our innovative educational resources that use football’s history, heritage and legacy to engage young people. The resources include ready-made lesson plans and historical source collections for school history education as well as toolkit with activities for non-formal settings.
BBC Sport’s Football Focus visits Bundesliga side FC Union Berlin, a “rebellious” football club from East Berlin with a special set of fans, playing their first season in Germany’s top flight 30 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall.
In the wake of the 2015 migration peak, activists and volunteers across Europe have been involved in supporting refugees, sometimes with the simple act of offering space and friendship to participate in football through grassroots clubs to help newcomers integrate.
LATEST POST You may also be interested in
Through examples from football, we can encourage students to think out of the box on complex issues such as equality and inclusion, and ask thought-provoking questions.
What if your students could talk with someone who has been hurt by a football chant, asking them why and analysing the chant with them?
Teaching students about gender inequality in football and the ethics of advertisements by analyzing image sources.
FC United is a documentary about racism in Belgium and gives much needed voice to the affected.