A century after Lily Parr made history in women’s football, the chain-smoking, goal-scoring star is finally in the public eye.
Given the meagre column inches dedicated to women’s sport in the UK, you’d be forgiven for thinking female talent was in short supply. Most of us can probably only name a handful of women’s sporting achievements, thanks to the occasional smartphone notification (on that note, anyone watching the Women’s World Cup this weekend?) and that’s without taking into consideration the rich history of trailblazing talent, past and present, who have increased the visibility of women in the game.
You probably won’t be familiar with Lily Parr, then, a pioneer of English women’s football in the 1920s, who has become the first female player to be commemorated with a statue in the UK nearly a century after her ground-breaking career took the world of football by storm.
The iconic football star, who was the first woman to feature in the museum’s Football Hall of Fame in 2002, has at long last made a return to the National Football Museum in the form of a life-size bronze sculpture.
The statue, which is situated in the player’s zone on the first floor of the museum, is the first monument of a female footballer to be unveiled anywhere in the UK, and joins the ranks of 110 statues of legendary male players in the museum.
Created by sculptor Hannah Stewart, the monument was commissioned by England Women’s team sponsor Mars as part of their #SupportHer campaign, and has been unveiled on the eve of the Women’s World Cup in France this weekend, which seems the perfect time to redefine #squadgoals on 21st century terms.
Born in 1905, Parr rose to prominence in her hometown of St Helens as the star player of the Dick, Kerr Ladies, a football team made up of female workers from a munitions factory in Preston, Lancashire.
As millions of young men marched off to the frontlines, interest in female football surged, and Parr quickly gained a reputation for her signature strong-footed cannonball shot, which she showcased to full effect in front of 60,000-strong crowds.
In 1920, Parr represented England in the first recognised women’s international game, where England beat France in a triumphant 4-0 showdown, and on Boxing Day that year, she helped Dick, Kerr Ladies to victory against St. Helen’s Ladies in front of 53,000 fans at Goodison Park.
Only a year later though, women’s football was outlawed by the FA who deemed it “unsuitable for females,” and, like so many other remarkable women from history, Parr faded from view as men’s football once again took centre stage after the First World War.
According to former England and Arsenal captain Faye White, the statue is a much-needed tribute to the woman who scored over 900 goals over the course of her 32-year career, and paved the way for the England Lionesses, who play in the World Cup this weekend.
“I think it’s a huge moment because it shows the focus on us and the credibility of the women’s game,” she explained.
“I think it’s great we’re looking at the history and appreciating the history to show where the game has come from and where it is getting to because in the last five years or so there has been so much more interest in the game.”
Movingly, the official unveiling was a real family affair, with Parr’s cousin, June Patten, taking charge of the big reveal.
“I am very proud and pleased that’s she’s receiving this recognition,” she remarked, before explaining that her cousin would have been taken aback to witness her fame if she was alive to see it today.
“Knowing our Lil, her language would be choice and she would think, ‘What the hell’s this fuss about?’ if she saw it. She was very modest about her achievements.
“We as a family didn’t think about her as a footballer, she was just our Lil.”