What about the Dick, Kerr Ladies?

dkl It doesn't take much of a sharp eye to notice that of the more than 100 articles that I've posted on Big Soccer about American soccer history, only a few have been about women's soccer. It's not that I'm one who distains women's soccer. Far from it. There are two main reasons why I've shied away from women's soccer in these articles. First, most of American women's soccer is of fairly recent vintage. Its events and people don't often lend themselves well to inclusion in a series about history. Second, I have attempted to write about things that haven't already been written about over and over. For more than 20 years, the U.S. women's national team has been a very high-profile team, not a fertile field for obscure topics. I have found a few events in women's soccer that met what I was looking to write about, but not many.

So why haven't I written about the Dick, Kerr Ladies, the women's team from Preston, England, that made a successful United States tour in 1922? They meet the criteria I'm concerned about and seem to have been the first women's team to play in the United States. The problem is that in the last few years, I have become rather a skeptic about that tour.

I'm not a skeptic about the Dick, Kerr Ladies' achievements in England, such as their attendances of up to 53,000 and their long record of dominating other English women's teams. But their place in American soccer history, and thus in this series of posts, rests entirely on that eight-game United States tour in the fall of 1922, a tour on which they played all their games against men's teams, with a record of three wins, two defeats and three ties. Four of those games were against pro teams from the American Soccer League, and produced a record of 1-1-2, with 17 goals scored and 16 goals allowed. Press reports that the men took it easy on them have long been dismissed as examples of gender bias committed by male sportswriters.

Is this really believable? Could the amateur Dick, Kerr Ladies have played on a even basis with professional men's teams, just because they were English? It seems like a stretch to me. Think of the professional women golfers who have entered men's events in recent years, Annika Sorenstam and Michelle Wie. They have not fared well. Think of records in track, a sport where the minutes, seconds, feet and inches are the same length for everybody. The current women's world records in most events are at about the same times, heights or distances that the men's world records in those events were 90 or 100 years ago. Those results seem to have been affected by the fact that the men usually are bigger and faster. That size and speed say nothing at all about whether the men's efforts or the women's efforts are more worthwhile, but they do affect the score, and make me a skeptic about the results on that 1922 Dick, Kerr tour.

Women's soccer is terrific, and I have agonized over the outcomes of U.S. women's team games almost as much as I have over the men. But I have trouble with the idea that in 1922 a team of women amateurs played teams of men professionals to a standstill. I look at the results of the 1922 American tour of the Dick, Kerr Ladies, which produced 69 goals in only eight games (itself a sign that there was not much defense being played), as something very difficult to take completely at face value.