New exhibition celebrates women’s football trailblazers

A major new exhibition celebrating the all-conquering interwar team, Rutherglen Ladies FC, who defied a ban on women’s football to inspire future generations, opens today (FRIDAY) at the Scottish Football Museum.

The new exhibition, which will be at the Hampden museum for six months, opens to the public ahead of the 100th anniversary of The FA’s ban on women’s football.

Funded by Museums Galleries Scotland, it is based on research by women’s sports historian Dr Fiona Skillen, of Glasgow Caledonian University, and football historian Steve Bolton.

During the 1920s and 1930s, Rutherglen Ladies FC’s players had to battle against the odds just to play matches, as the FA and the Scottish FA, across the border, deemed the game ‘quite unsuitable for females’. A ban was enforced on December 5, 1921.

Led by superstar captain Sadie Smith, the grandmother of singer-songwriter Eddi Reader, Rutherglen Ladies toured Ireland, played in exhibition games in front of thousands and raised money for charity.

Dr Skillen, senior lecturer in history at Glasgow Caledonian University, said: “There’s a perception that women’s football didn’t happen in Scotland between the Victorian period and the mid-1950s. This research shows that it did. We are rewriting the history books with our discoveries.

“Rutherglen Ladies showed incredible resolve and resilience and had to overcome significant barriers just to play the game. They deserve recognition for their unique place in history.”

Steve Bolton added: “In many ways the 1920s were the darkest decade for women’s football and yet this pioneering team of Scottish women footballers toured England, Scotland and Ireland.

“They survived the pernicious effects of the 1921 English F.A. ban and prospered; beating the ‘World Champion’ Dick Kerr Ladies and securing their place in history. They were magnificent.”

Eddi Reader, whose grandmother Sadie Smith captained the side, said: “I am very proud of her. I was taken aback when I found out because her footballing prowess was never mentioned. They got banned but they didn’t care and they continued to play. I like that punk attitude”

Rose Reilly MBE, a Scottish Sports Hall of Fame inductee and a World Cup winner, who attended the exhibition preview, said: “Rutherglen Ladies are the true pioneers of women’s football, hats off to them.

“I am so proud of them. They paved the way but their story got buried.”

Richard McBrearty, Curator of the Scottish Football Museum, said: “To host this fantastic exhibition is a real coup for the Museum, we’re delighted to be open after the pandemic and we look forward to welcoming visitors to find out more about the trailblazing ladies of Rutherglen F.C.

“The national stadium is now the rightful home of the Scotland Women’s National Team, and the female players of the 1920s and 30s paved the way for the progress we’ve seen since then.”

The exhibition traces the development of the team from its foundation in 1921 through to disbanding in 1939.

It explores the lives of the manager J.H. Kelly and the players themselves, whilst also telling the story of their ground-breaking tours in Scotland, England and Ireland. It will be on display in the Football Museum at Hampden for six months after which it will go on tour to various venues around Scotland for a further eighteen months.

To book your visit to the Scottish Football Museum to see the Rutherglen Ladies F.C. exhibition, visit: or come along to the SWPL Cup Final on Sunday 5th December.

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