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11 June 2020

Mapping Irish women's football

This is a guest post from Helena Byrne, Web Archivist at the British Library and a member of  The Football Collective,  a dedicated network of people who wish to bring critical debate to football.


The Irish Ladies XI, The Northern Whig and Belfast Post, 5 August 1932, via British Newspaper Archive

This is a call for all football historians that may have come across references to Irish women’s football of any code prior to and including 1973. When this project first started in January 2019 it was commonly believed that women’s football governing bodies were established in Ireland from 1973 onwards. However, as there is little known about the history and development of women’s football in Ireland it was only recently established in academic spheres that the first women’s football governing body was the Northern Irish Ladies Football Association (NILFA). The NILFA was recognised by the Women’s Football Association (WFA) in December 1972 just a few months before the Ladies Football Association of Ireland (LFA) in 1973 (possibly February) (WFA Archive, British Library MS 89306/1/3).

Although some involved in organising women’s football were aware that the NILFA, which a short time later switched out ladies for women, were established in 1972 the Irish Football Association (IFA) have their founding date as 26 November 1976. This is not surprising as the voluntary nature of women’s football would have meant that many of the original founding members may have only been around for a few years. In addition, there could have been a break in play due to The Troubles as 1972 was one of the bloodiest years on record. 

This project is calling on the crowd to share any newspaper references they may have come across prior to and including 1973.


France v Irish eleven at Grosvenor Park, Belfast, Belfast News-Letter, 12 August 1936, via British Newspaper Archive

How to get involved

You can nominate the newspaper references you have here:

Originally the nomination form was due to run for six months, then this was extended for a further six months.  However, the project has gathered over two hundred nominations so far and there are many more independent researchers and academics uncovering news clippings about Irish women’s football, that it was felt that the collection period should stay open until further notice.

How the data will be shared

Each newspaper reference will be marked on the map with the details supplied by the nominator and will include the name of the person(s) who nominated that reference. The raw data of nominations up until June 2019 can be viewed here.

After online form closes the data will be cleaned up and deposited with News collections at the British Library. The data will be published as an open source data set that can be accessed by anyone interested in women’s football history.

What to nominate

We are interested in any references to women’s football or female involvement in men’s football on the island of Ireland from any newspaper even if it was published outside Ireland. This includes women attending football matches, being involved in the running of a team as well as playing any code of football such as soccer or Gaelic etc.


It is hoped that this project will start a conversation amongst researchers interested in Irish sports to do more to document the history and development of women’s football. Women’s football of any code only started to become popular in Ireland from the mid 1960’s onwards, but very little is known of what went before. By collaborating through this public form, we can start to piece together the knowledge that exists within the research community and identify where the gaps in our knowledge lie.

Helena Byrne

A version of this post was first published on the Football Collective website

20 May 2020

Three favourite newspaper books - chosen by Steve Tate

We are publishing a series of posts on favourite books about newspapers. We have asked members of the British Library's news collection team and some outside experts each to name three books about newspapers that they treasure and would recommend to others. The books can be wholly or partly about newspapers, they can be fact or fiction, they can be familiar or unfamiliar. No book can be picked twice, and no one taking part can choose one of their own books.

We hope readers will enjoy the series and seek out some of the recommendations. The choices below have been made by Dr Stephen Tate, Blackburn College University Centre.

Catling200My Life’s Pilgrimage, Thomas Catling. London. John Murray, 1911.

The recollections of Thomas Catling provide a welcome insight regarding the practicalities of nineteenth-century newspaper journalism. Catling spent most of his working life on Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper in London, rising from compositor to editor. He joined the Sunday newspaper in 1854 and retired in 1906. It is a book with a rich seam of enlightening anecdote and opinion.

All three books in my selection are memoirs of newspaper journalists. They would not have been published had the authors not tasted success. But all three experienced work at the humdrum level of journalism before talent and luck saw their careers advance. In my endeavour to rescue the world of the workaday reporter from a surprising neglect in contemporary press historiography, books like Catling’s have opened up avenues of research and moments of understanding.

The author touches upon the pounds, shillings and pence of his trade; the career path from composing case to the editorial room; the role of the sub-editor; the interaction of the press with the worlds of theatre, fiction-writing, the law and politics; the mechanics of production; the practicalities of reporting crime; edition structures. The narrative is piecemeal, discursive, meandering . . . but there are dates, names, events and situations. What a feast!

Watson200Memoirs of Robert Patrick Watson: A Journalist’s Experience of Mixed Society, Robert P Watson. London. Smith, Ainslie and Co, 1899.

For a historian researching the trade of the sporting journalist, the above title offers few clues as to its worth. But its 500 pages are packed with detail outlining the at times rambunctious, disorderly world of sport in the second half of the nineteenth century.

Watson was born in 1848 and the book covers his reporting assignments for Sporting Life, Bell’s Life in London, Sportsman and Sunday Referee, covering pugilism, pedestrianism, water sports, wrestling, cycling, billiards, endurance feats and much else besides. His dalliance with sports periodical proprietorship is also covered.

Watson worked at a time when the reporter was often called upon to act as referee and stake-money holder in prize contests and he foregrounds his role as event judge and occasional organiser, nowhere hinting at any pride in writing style or journalistic prestige. For the author and his paymasters the role of reporter is subsidiary. It is an unwitting testimony to the uncertain status of the sports reporter before the adoption by the cheap popular press of codified team games as part of its editorial agenda.

Macadam200The Macadam Road, John Macadam. London. Sportsmans Book Club, 1957 (originally published London. Jarrolds, 1955.)

This is a fragmented, anecdotal stroll through the author’s career as Greenock shipyard apprentice, provincial newspaper telephone boy, drama critic, sub-editor and, eventually, leading Fleet Street sports reporter. Its leitmotif is perhaps best summed up in a sense of drift through the 1920s to the 1950s and that drift captures, I think, the essence of the stories of many journalists’ working lives.

Macadam suggests his book, and thereby his career, ‘. . . goes nowhere in particular from nowhere very important’, with ‘. . . accidents and divergencies along that road’. But (despite a concluding element of whimsy) it provides a valuable understanding of how some careers take shape, together with the pinched circumstances of weekly paper existence, the happenstance of job moves and the excitement and pressure associated with the quest for sports story exclusives to fuel the national newspaper juggernaut. He describes the ‘harrowing experience’ of being among the press pack on an England football international tour, the newsmen ‘. . . watching each other like cats for fear of the unconsidered trifles of news that might have escaped their own eyes’.

Steve Tate

17 May 2020

Three favourite newspaper books - chosen by Paul Gooding

We are publishing a series of posts on favourite books about newspapers. We have asked members of the British Library's news collection team and some outside experts each to name three books about newspapers that they treasure and would recommend to others. The books can be wholly or partly about newspapers, they can be fact or fiction, they can be familiar or unfamiliar. No book can be picked twice, and no one taking part can choose one of their own books.

We hope readers will enjoy the series and seek out some of the recommendations. The choices below have been made by Dr. Paul Gooding, Lecturer in Information Studies, University of Glasgow.


Curranseaton200Power Without Responsibility: Press, Broadcasting and the Internet in Britain, James Curran and Jean Seaton, London: Routledge 2018 (8th edition)

This book borrows its title from a scathing attack on the press barons Lord Beaverbrook and Lord Rothermere, by then leader of the opposition Stanley Baldwin in 1931. I think it’s fair to say that these polemical undertones permeate a book that serves two valuable purposes. First, it provides a wide-ranging history of the press and broadcasting in Britain from around 1800 to the present day. Second, it provides a series of proposals for the reform of the contemporary institutions of the press. The value of these complementary parts is underlined by the fact that the book is now in its eighth edition and translated into several languages.

That said, the part that still chimes with me is the way that Curran and Seaton force us to reconsider not just the institutions of the press since the digital turn, but our own thinking around the underlying technologies. Vincent Mosco described technologies as entering a state of “powerful banality” – here, the authors describe the awe-struck state that is expressed by our continuing capitalisation of the Internet, and the impact that this wonderment has upon our ability to effectively critique its related institutions and technologies.


DeeganTransferred Illusions: Digital Technology and the Forms of Print, Marilyn Deegan and Kathryn Sutherland, Farnham: Ashgate 2009.

Deegan and Sutherland write at length about the pasts, present and future of historical newspapers, but in reality the scope of the book is much broader. It explores the forms and institutions of print, and it spans newspapers, books, publishers and libraries. Each of these is considered through the lens of large-scale digitisation of library collections, allowing the authors to explore how digital remediation redefines our interaction with the diverse forms of print.

What really stood out for me is that this is a book written by, and for, scholars and practitioners of information, and the links it draws between the material history of forms such as historical newspapers and the curatorial decision involved in contemporary digitisation practice. It recognises the way that digitisation recovers the textual legacy of materials such as historical newspapers, while also providing an account of the ways in which the resultant digital facsimiles reformulate those texts. In short; come for the chapters on the nineteenth century press, stay for the interventions into digitisation theory and practice.


Truth200The Truth, Terry Pratchett, London: Doubleday, 2000

I’m generally of the view that most lists of book recommendations can be improved with a liberal dose of Terry Pratchett, and the world of newspapers is no different. The Truth tells the story of William de Worde, a professional scribe and exiled son of nobility, who inadvertently creates and becomes the editor of the Ankh Morpork Times, the first newspaper in the Discworld’s history. It’s a tale of investigative journalism in the highest echelons of society, of the challenges of speaking truth to power, and of a vampire photographer who turns to dust whenever he uses the flash.

Pratchett’s books became increasingly satirical throughout his career, using fantasy to shine a light on the social and political hierarchies of our world. The Truth explores the challenges posed by those who try to hold the powerful to account, in the face of a printing press characterised as a beast that is constantly, terrifyingly hungry for words. Pratchett’s understanding of the human condition means that so much of his writing remains relevant: right now, as we process the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on our lives, the misspelt motto of the Ankh Morpork Times is particularly pertinent: “The Truth Shall Make Ye Fret.”

Paul Gooding