Mrs Graham: Promoting the Women’s Game

Jun 5, 2020

Life Stories

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.

Thinking points

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

  1. Why did women’s football become popular in the late 19th century?
  2. Why were many people so hostile to women playing football that the players had to use false names?
  3. 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: South West News Service, public domain)

Scottish suffragette and women’s footballer Helen Graham Matthews in 1895 [Photo: Messils, Russell and sons, in Wikimedia Commons, public domain].

Life Story

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.


Article Tags:   19h century  |   diversity  |   gender history  |   Industrial Revolution  |   social history

Do you wanna know more?



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.

Educational Resources

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.

Trending Stories

The Climb to Equality

The Climb to Equality

Football Makes History spoke with Laura Youngson, co-founder of Equal Playing Field and co-owner of the world record for highest altitude official football match ever played. This is the story of why we wanted to retell this story, and how we did it....

LATEST POST  You may also be interested in

Football: A People’s History of Europe?

Football: A People’s History of Europe?

In cooperation with the festival “Forum on European Culture”, we spoke with author David Goldblatt about the value of football for Europe, taking historical perspectives.

Playing the game for peace

Playing the game for peace

On this day, 21 September, we look at how playing a game of football can contribute to peace by looking at the work of the NGO Childrens Football Alliance.

September in Football

September in Football

As the UEFA 2020 European Championships got pushed ahead one year, we provide you with a 365-day #onthisday series of posts to help all fans out there to go back in time, think, and reflect.

Football speaking out in perspective

Football speaking out in perspective

Football represents a large cultural space in society. It is not isolated from political developments. How have football players used this space to achieve their social goals?

Share This