LGBT History Month | Focus on Football – Lily Parr

This LGBT History Month, Rainbow Devils will be featuring LGBTQ+ figures from footballing history.

Lily Parr (1905-1978)

In the 1920s, during a time when women’s football had reached unprecedented popularity, Lily Parr was one of the most celebrated players in England.

Born in St. Helens, Parr showed a keen interest in sport from an early age. Her brother taught her rugby & football, and she was skilled in both. She spent hours on her own, perfecting the technique of the power kick, allowing her to score from anywhere on the pitch.

She made her debut for St Helens Ladies in 1919 at just 14. Her second game against Dick, Kerr Ladies impressed so much that the opposition’s manager asked her to join the team. She accepted and moved to Preston, embarking on a prolific career.

Dick, Kerrs was a pioneering team in women’s football. They were the first to tour Europe and the USA and at the heart of this progressiveness was Parr.

Parr scored 43 goals in her first season and quickly began to attract huge crowds. One game at Goodison Park drew a crowd of 53,000, a record attendance for the women’s game that remained until 2012. Matches involving Dick, Kerr Ladies were played for charity. By the end of the club’s 48-year existence, they’d raised £175,000.

The FA though saw things differently. They accused the club of using too much money on expenses and not donating enough to charity. They also made clear their view that football is quite unsuitable for women. In 1921, the FA banned women from playing at grounds controlled by FA-affiliated clubs, a ban which hampered the women’s game for 50 years.

While playing for her new club, Preston Ladies, she worked at Whittingham Hospital & Lunatic Asylum. There, she met her partner Mary. Despite the persecution at the time, Parr was openly gay and refused to hide it. Parr continued to play until 1950. By then, she had, according to most estimates, scored a career total of over 900 goals.